Our Ship Canal has provided a century of connections

Seattle’s future as a major city began 100 years ago, with the grand opening of the Ballard Locks and the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

SIMILAR TO OTHER grand construction projects in Seattle, such as the Denny Hill and Jackson Street regrades, the building of the locks at Ballard, during the construction of the Ship Canal, became a must-see for residents. The best spot was a viewing platform on a bluff overlooking the site on the Ballard side.

To the unnamed author of an article in Railway and Marine News, a Seattle-based trade publication, the construction at the locks symbolized the great future that lay ahead for the city: “The work being pushed is a sight worth seeing by all those public spirited men who see in every movement of the giant crane, lift of the dredge or dumping a load of earth from the steam shovel scoop, many steps nearer to the completion of this great work which will give to the port of Seattle an additional deep fresh water harbor that will have no equal in the United States.”

Work on the locks began in August 1911. The first task was to build a temporary dam, called a cofferdam. Made of wood piles and walls that sandwiched fine clay, the cofferdam ran for about 2,300 feet in a giant “C” around the locks’ site. By early August 1912, the waterproof cofferdam was built and the pit within dredged and pumped free of water. Next came construction of a wooden trestle down the center of the pit, followed by the erection of two gantry cranes that spanned the worksite and facilitated movement of heavy loads, particularly concrete. South of the dam was the temporary channel that had been dredged to allow water and boats to move in and out of Salmon Bay.

Editor’s note

In commemoration of the centennial of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and Lake Washington Ship Canal, David B. Williams and Jennifer Ott have written a history of the passageway between the lakes and Puget Sound, “Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal” (HistoryLink, 160 pages, $24.50). The following is a condensed excerpt from Chapter 4 of the book. Previous chapters address the geology, Native American history and decades-long battles over funding, location and design. Finally, in 1909, the U.S. Congress approved the money for a plan proposed by Chittenden, who had been commander of the Seattle District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Despite the approval, two years passed before work began on the locks, under direction of the…

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