The Foss Waterway Seaport’s Working Waterfront Museum made a splash May 11 during its grand opening festivities celebrating the facility’s re-opening after an 18-month closure for construction.
Located in the historic Balfour Dock building, Puget Sound’s premier maritime heritage and education destination now features exhibits highlighting the unique stories of Tacoma’s maritime past.
Known more as a logging town before the Northern Pacific Railroad entered the area, Tacoma did not truly become a booming metropolis until a port operation was developed. “That is what’s interesting about Tacoma’s maritime history,” said Curator of Collections Joseph Govednik. “In many cases, cities were built first, and ports were developed later. But in Tacoma, the port came first, and the city followed.”
The Balfour Dock building itself has a unique story to tell. Located at the home of Tacoma’s original port, it is the last remaining intact building linked to Tacoma’s commercial and industrial maritime past. The building was a part of what was known as the mile-long wheat warehouse designed to accommodate cargo-carrying ships using the port in the early 1900s.
“It’s amazing to think that a worker in 1905 could look out some of these windows and see just what we’re seeing today,” Govednik said.
As part of its permanent collection, the museum features an entire exhibit showcasing the history of the building itself.
“Anybody who is proud of Tacoma’s history would enjoy this museum,” he added. Joseph Govednik, Curator of Collections
The museum also features a variety of restored vessels on display, each with unique ties to Tacoma. Govednik is especially looking forward to launching a new exhibit on June 22, featuring 23 classic, recreational pleasure crafts, on loan from members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society. Several are currently on display now, as a preview of the upcoming collection.
The organization regularly works with local school districts by offering unique, educational field trip options for students of all ages. In the past year, 600 students have participated in Foss Waterway Seaport-sponsored programs and tours through the organization’s “Science on the Sea” program designed in partnership with marine research vessel providers.
The museum itself is located in one-third of the building, and renovation is still needed throughout the remainder of the building. If the organization raises enough money, organizers hope to be complete by 2015.
The most recent renovations provided seismic upgrades, and also removed an aging brick wall in the front of the building, replacing it with a wall of glass. The construction needed for the remainder of the building could cost up to $8 million, which covers the building exterior, science program space, exhibits and interior finish and the installation of an HVAC system. When the project is complete, it will become the largest maritime heritage and education center on the West Coast.
Behind the museum walls is a boat shop staffed entirely by volunteers – some are lifelong ship builders, and others are simply interested in learning what it takes to build and restore vessels. The boat shop also offers workshops led by master boat builders designed for local artisans as well as novice boat builders, to celebrate and preserve maritime construction and craft.
“After everything is completed, we will become the premier moorage destination in Puget Sound,” Govednik adds.
Volunteers in the boat shop are even tossing around the idea of developing a program designed for disadvantaged youth, to introduce them to a trade they may not be familiar with.
Anyone interested in donating to the cause can become a member by joining at various levels ranging from $25 to $1,000 or more. Members can enjoy additional programming while supporting the organization’s mission to educate and inspire.
“We provide information that should be embraced and shared,” Govednik added. “Tacoma has such a rich history, and by becoming a member, people can be a part of preserving and supporting that.”