Before drivers could cruise — or, more realistically, get stuck in traffic — across Lake Washington on Highway 520 or Interstate 90, their only option was to drive around the lake or catch a boat.

Going around the lake was difficult, thanks to rough terrain and insufficient roads. And the Montlake Cut, Ship Canal and Ballard Locks wouldn’t connect Lake Washington to Puget Sound until 1916.

During the late 1800s, shipyards sprang up on the shore, and steamboats began moving people across the lake, according to HistoryLink.

The first public ferry on Lake Washington was launched March 8, 1900. The boat, named the King County of Kent, was built by the Moran Brothers. The Seattle Daily Times described it as a “double-ender modern vessel patterned after the most approved designs of up-to-date boats of her character and cost the county $22,000 to build.”

It would run a route between Kirkland and Madison Park. A new ferry, Washington of Kirkland, would soon take over the route.

This new public-ferry system would clash with the private ferry business led by Capt. John Anderson, who also owned a shipyard in Houghton, now the site of Carillon Point in Kirkland.


During the tense years, Anderson would show up at the dock before the scheduled county-run ferries and load waiting customers on his boats, according to HistoryLink. (Other stops served by ferries included Juanita, Leschi, Mercer Island, Newport, Bellevue and Medina.) After a legal battle, the county was able to get Anderson to stop.

By 1919, Anderson was put in charge of county ferries as the system was losing money. His appointment was viewed as a way to appease public and private interests.

Doom was inevitable for the lake ferry system with the increasing popularity of the automobile and rail. That same rise in popularity led to the construction of a bridge across the water.

On July 2, 1940, the Lake Washington floating bridge officially opened to a crowd of thousands.


But hanging on to the old ways was the ferry Leschi. This last Lake Washington ferry would continue a route between Madison Park and Kirkland for 10 more years before making its last run Aug. 31, 1950. Crowds gathered to take part in the last trip, with many reminiscing to The Seattle Times about how they would miss the route.

Capt. Frank Gilbert had worked on the Leschi since January 1900, when it had sidewheels and was powered by steam.

That last trip across the water was the end of the Lake Washington ferry system.

Now, almost 70 years later, leaders have been looking at a possible return of ferries on the lake as a way help ease road traffic.