Seattle's Pike Pier was a busy terminus for steamships and stern-wheelers alike in the early 20th century. Profits from the Gold Rush of the 1890s helped build the waterfront piers that served a variety of merchants.

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IN THE GAGGLE of vessels hugging the sides of the Pike Street pier it is the 1,200-ton wooden steamship Santa Ana that shows a full profile. It may be backing out of the slip between the Pike Street and Schwabacher’s piers. However, there is a chop on Elliott Bay and the black smoke from the ship’s stack may be pushed east by a breeze. Perhaps the Santa Ana is coming home from Alaska to the Northwestern Steamship Co. (the name written on the pier) terminus.

The Pike Pier is a triumph of preservation for us, as are the other “Gold Rush piers” that still line up behind the photographer of this scene — and behind Jean Sherrard’s photo, too. Both the “now and then” were snapped from the water end of Pier 57, the old Milwaukee Railroad pier. All the old piers follow the angle into the bay prescribed for them in 1897, although all were built in the early 20th century. The wealth got from warehousing and wharf rates during the Gold Rush of the late 1890s allowed the dock owners to build these conforming and bigger piers after the greatest excitement of the rush settled down.

The Pike Pier was planned in 1903 and completed a year later by Ainsworth and Dunn. They also rented space to the steamship line and Mount Vernon farmer Willis Wilbur Robinson, whose name is writ large along all sides of the pier. Robinson stuffed Skagit River stern-wheelers with hay for delivery to the pier until railroads did the hauling cheaper.

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About 1911 Robinson’s block letters were replaced by ones for a steamship agent named Dodwell. In 1916 Dodwell was replaced by Pacific Net and Twine Co.

Ainsworth and Dunn sold fish primarily. They started the move of fish merchants from south of Yesler’s Wharf to the north end of the central waterfront in the mid-1890s.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at

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