By Marianne Lincoln
Saturday afternoon I wandered to the Town of Steilacoom, parked my car and bought a ticket for the Anderson Island Ferry. As a walk on, I spent $5.15 for the ticket, but since I needed more than two hours on the island, parking was $6.
In between the interruptions by trains rolling over the tracks, we boarded the ferry, most by car, but myself, I walked on. My friend Ann, a resident of the island, picked me up and gave me an afternoon tour.
The crossing is fairly brief and the day was overcast without precipitation. A gentle breeze merely ruffled the surface of Puget Sound. We left the car and briefly sat upstairs on the cushioned leather seating. I used the upper deck to take some panoramic photos of Ketron, McNeil, Fox, Anderson and Eagle Islands.
On the deck a man approached and asked if I travel this route regularly. I answered no, but I have done it before. He said it was his first trip and he was a stranger to the area. I pointed out each island and told him the name. He asked about the large building on McNeill Island. It began as a prison in 1875, it was a Federal Prison until the state took it over in 1981. McNeil Island Penitentiary closed in 2011. The only remaining prisoners are the sex offender unit.
Closer to Steilacoom is Ketron Island. The ferry actually stops there a couple times a day. There are only about 7 families that reside there. Ketron was originally names Kittson Island by the explorer John Wilkes. William Kittson worked at the first site of Fort Nisqually as a clerk and had Wilkes respect because they had both fought in the War of 1812. Over the years, the name of the island through typos and misinterpretations became Ketron.
Ann and I jumped back in the car and disembarked the Christine Anderson Ferry. Our first stop was the island’s General Store. It held everything you might need in a hurry when you don’t have time to take the ferry to the mainland, groceries, produce, deli salads, desserts, DVD’s, clothing and hardware. The Girl Scouts were outside working on their last cookie sale weekend. Ann introduced me to their moms. It is a small community, almost everyone knows each other.
We stopped off a minute at Ann’s home where I watched a bald eagle fly to its nest of youngsters. Then we were off to the local park. A large portion of acreage on Anderson Island was bought by a company that subdivided it into small lots for development. The development is currently call Riviera. The homeowners association maintains roads, parks and other amenities all over the island. Use of these facilities are for the members only and include pleasant lakefront picnic areas on Lake Josephine and Lake Florence.
There is one elementary school building on the island, which has between 35 and 48 students attending each year. It is part of the Steilacoom School District. Older children take the ferry to the mainland for school each day. There is a historic school house on the island as well. It has been restored and is used as a clubhouse. There is a small park across the street called Tom White Park. There are likely many stories about Tom White. He did a lot of dozing for property owners on the island. In my personal experience anyone with a bull dozer in Pierce County has many stories to tell.
The most famous inlet on the island is by far Oro Bay. In 1792, it is said Peter Puget stayed overnight there during a storm on his expedition of Puget Sound in May of the year. Local historian Dave Jacobsen says most believe the encampment was at the site where the yacht club is located. There is a project working to build 3 sites to memorialize Peter Puget for his expedition on the sound. One of those sites is at Oro Bay. The bay has two marinas and you can’t miss the old ferry boat moored there. There are also a few pens at the marina for aquaculture.
Jacobs Point Park, a former youth camp, juts into Oro Bay. It was recently purchased by Forterra (formerly Cascade Land Conservancy) for conservation. You can park near the road and hike into the area. Historically, it once held a brick making facility.
Our last stop was the Anderson Island Historical Society Museum, which is not open this time of year. But we could stop on the grounds, peek in the windows and look at the old buildings, orchards and gardens. There are old tractors, a millstone and even a pilot house from a former Anderson Island ferry, complete with the wooden wheel.
We buzzed past Andrew Anderson Marine Park on Carlson Cove, because there wasn’t time to take the long walk down to the beach. It is now connected by easements with trails to Andy’s Park and Jacobs Point Park. This stretches across the island from Oro Bay to Carlson Cove. An old public boat launch that currently has broken concrete and is hardly usable was a great place to catch a glimpse of the other side of Eagle Island.
And as the islander all know, your time to visit is dependent on the schedule of the ferries that cross to the mainland. It was time for Ann to drop me off at the landing. I walked on board and captured a few more photos as we sailed back in to the dock at Steilacoom.