Early success as a busy port opened up to support a thriving tourist trade, tech sector and more.
Seattle’s waterways have weathered waves of change over the years. The once rough-and-tumble port city has evolved into a hub not only for shipping, but also for the tech sector, food and wine, and, thanks to the area’s natural beauty, tourism.
The city’s shipping roots run deep and reach into many aspects of local business. For example, in 1901, Pier 4 was built at the end of Seneca Street by the Northern Pacific Railroad. It handled both cargo and passenger service over the years, and was renumbered as Pier 55 during World War II. Today, Pier 55 is used as the Seattle terminal for Argosy Cruises, which offers a variety of recreational cruises around the area.
After World War II, Piers 54, 55 and 56 shifted from handling shipping cargo to catering to the growing tourist trade. Local landmarks like Ivar’s Acres of Clams restaurant, the Seattle Aquarium and Ye Old Curiosity Shop helped bring visitors to enjoy the city’s offerings.
A catalyst for some of those changes was Captain Lynn Campbell, who founded the company that would eventually evolve into Argosy Cruises, now celebrating their 70th anniversary.
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Campbell, who passed away at age 101 in 2013, helped develop Seattle’s tourist trade. He formed the Spring Street Water Taxi company. The organization initially transported crews and supplies to ships in Puget Sound. Three years later, Campbell offered harbor tours to visitors and his cruise boats became a civic fixture. The thriving business was sold in 1990 and renamed Argosy Cruises, which continues to run a variety of tours from Pier 55.
The demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is the latest ripple in the ebb and flow of changes to the land and seascape of Seattle over the years, opening up access to waterfront to visitors and businesses alike. “I couldn’t believe how large the viaduct footprint was until it was gone,” Argosy Captain and Director of Vessel Operations Chris House says. “The waterfront looks so different now.”
Argosy Cruises Captain Paul Dudley concurs. “It’s absolutely amazing now that the viaduct is gone,” Dudley says. “The constant rattle and hum with the viaduct is history. That area is now tremendously open. But the viaduct or the lack of the viaduct is only one of many changes on the waterfront.”
Dudley and House have experienced countless changes over the years. “I have so many great memories of how Seattle has changed from the vantage point of being out in the water on a cruise,” House says. “The cool thing about experiencing the development of our city is going on multiple trips over the months and over the years. I remember back when Bill Gates was building his house on Lake Washington. We would cruise by it every day and watch it morph. Now all these years later the vegetation practically covers it.”
And then there is the evolution of Lake Union. “Not much went on there back in the day,” House says. “But now it’s a recreational hub with people on paddle boards and sea planes landing. There are wine-tasting cruises headed to Lake Union. It’s hard to believe it’s the same place it was years ago.” Locals and visitors alike flock to events like the SLU Block Party, South Lake Union Saturday Market, and attractions like the Center for Wooden Boats and MOHAI, the Museum of History and Industry.
Argosy Cruises and Lynn Campbell’s fleet have had an unusual vantage point while the city has morphed around its vessels over the past 70 years.
“Who knows what’s ahead of us,” Dudley says. “I’m sure 20 years from now this city will look very different but we’ll still be out there on a cruise and the city will still be Seattle.”
Argosy Cruises, your “friend with a boat,” has your ticket to the best views and history of Seattle.