July 7, 2012
On this warm summer day in July, we hop on board the Queen of Seattle steamboat for a leisurely cruise around Lake Union near downtown Seattle.
There’s a big crowd on hand today for this one of a kind trip across the lake.
The Queen of Seattle departs from Lake Union Park, where the Museum of History and Industry is located. Inside, the ship is decorated like an historic 1880’s steamboat complete with dining areas and a bar.
We cast off from the Lake Union departure dock and glide slowly out into the lake.
The Queen of Seattle was built in the early 1980’s in Rancho Cordova, California and was originally named the “Elizabeth Louise”. The vessel operated sightseeing cruises along the Sacramento River for 20 years before eventually being sold and moved to Ketchikan, Alaska. There she was renamed the “Alaska Queen” and operated narrated excursions. Finally, in November 2009 she was moved to Seattle.
The Queen features three decks, with the top deck offering great views of the city and sights along the way.
As we turn around to head out from the dock, we catch a glimpse of the Space Needle in the distance.
We glide by Seattle’s Gasworks park. In 1906 a coal burning gas plant was built here on the 20 acre site. Later converted to crude oil, eventually the import of natural gas in the 1950’s made the plant obsolete. The city acquired the site for a park in 1962, and it was opened to the public in 1975. The boiler house has been converted to a picnic shelter with tables, fire grills and an open area. The former exhauster-compressor building, now a children’s play barn, features a maze of brightly painted machinery.
Lake Union is a popular location for houseboats. One of these was made famous by the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. In 2008, this famous houseboat that was featured in the film as Tom Hanks’ home sold for 2.5 million dollars.
In the distance we can see the Aurora bridge, or as it’s officially known – The George Washington Memorial Bridge. The bridge was opened to traffic on February 22, 1932. The bridge is 2,945 ft long, 70 ft wide, and stands 167 ft above the water.
The next bridge we encounter is the Freemont Bridge. It’s a double-leaf bascule bridge that connects Fremont and 4th Avenue North. It stands 30 feet over Seattle’s Fremont Cut between Fremont and Queen Anne. The Fremont Bridge was opened on Friday June 15, 1917 at a cost of $410,000. In 2006, the bridge underwent major restoration. It opens an average of 35 times a day, which makes it the most frequently opened drawbridge in the United States and one of the busiest bridges in the world.
Even though our Queen of Seattle steamboat was built in the 1980’s, the drive shafts and steam engine that powers her is from the 1800’s. It’s alright though, because she’s expertly cared for by a well-experienced retired engineer from the Washington Ferry system.
The last bridge we encounter on our journey is the Ballard bridge. It is the last of four bridges across Lake Union. Built in 1917, it has an opening span of 218 ft and a total length of 2,854 ft.
Ballard is a neighborhood located in the northwestern part of Seattle. Ever since it’s founding in the 1800s, Ballard residents maintained their independence from neighboring Seattle, even though they depended on Seattle for much of their water supply. Finally on May 29th, 1907, residents voted to allow Ballard to be annexed to Seattle because of severe water shortages. To this day, Ballard residents remember that day by draping city hall with black crepe and flying the flag at half mast.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks is a complex of locks that sits at the west end of Salmon Bay, part of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal. Locally as the Ballard Locks, it maintains the water level of Lake Washington and Lake Union, prevents the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound into these fresh water lakes, and allows passage of boats between the lakes and the Puget Sound.
On our return to South Lake Union, we’re treated to some special entertainment starting with a demonstration of the ship’s own unique steam powered calliope.
Later, everyone joins in the fun in live performances.
Unfortunately, our journey on the Queen of Seattle has come to an end. As we return to the departure dock in Lake Union Park, we can recall all the fun we’ve had on board this historic steamboat.