100 Years of Boating History
The BoatShop at Eddon Boatyard perpetuates skills and traditions of a working waterfront
By Abigail Thorpe
In 2003, plans were introduced to demolish the Eddon Boatyard, which had fallen into disrepair, and replace it with a gated community. What could have been the end of an historic Gig Harbor landmark became a new beginning, as four community members rallied behind the boatyard and presented an alternative plan to preserve the site and its history.
“Four supporters grew to dozens and ultimately hundreds,” recalls BoatShop President Guy Hoppen. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation issued a grant to help with community outreach, and ultimately through the support of elected officials and the community, a bond was issued to save Eddon Boatyard in November of 2004.
Today, Eddon Boatyard serves as a working waterfront that harkens back to its early beginnings and the boating and fishing industry that is foundational to Gig Harbor. The Gig Harbor BoatShop, which moved into the restored Eddon Boatyard in 2010, is central to the preservation of this history, delivering hands-on boat building and skills-based programming to community members and visitors.
“Boats being built and repaired at the Eddon Boatyard secures a use at the historic site that is over a century old,” explains Hoppen. “The nonprofit Gig Harbor BoatShop providing the community at large and our guests opportunities to experience that craft and heritage through events and programming broadens the cultural impact of that history and assures that skills and knowledge is passed down.”
The BoatShop’s mission to preserve Gig Harbor’s historic waterfront and the craft of wooden boat building has resulted in a thriving educational hub that perpetuates the working waterfront skills, uses and traditions that have marked this area for generations.
Back in 1920, Norwegian immigrant Conrad Anderson first founded the Anderson Boat Co. at the site where Eddon Boatyard sits today. The company built mostly commercial fishing vessels—the purse seiner Equator is still owned by his great grandson today. In the 1940s, the boatyard passed over to Art Glein, who built the existing buildings when he opened the Glein Boat Company.
After the freeze of 1950, Ed Hoppen and Don Harder of Eddon Boat Company in Tacoma purchased the property, and so began Eddon Boat Company. The partnership didn’t remain, but Ed and his wife Marty continued to run the boatyard, and over its 28 years in business in Gig Harbor, thousands of boats were repaired and dozens of new boats launched, most notably the first 26-foot Thunderbird sailboats.
Breck Adams purchased the yard in 1978, when it became Blue Heron Yachts, after which the boatyard became investor owned in the mid-‘80s, when it remained a boat repair facility, but ceased to be owner-operated, and eventually fell into disrepair.
Today, restoration efforts have returned the boatyard to its former glory, and it once again functions as a symbol of Gig Harbor’s rich nautical heritage. After nearly 16 years of restoration and millions of dollars, the boatyard is near completion. The iconic Eddon Boatyard brick house that was built in the 1940s is almost completely restored, and the downstairs space will be used for year-round programming by the BoatShop for years to come, as well as being available for small community gatherings and meetings.
The marine railways, the final step in the restoration process and a critical piece of infrastructure, are expected to be completed this coming summer, allowing for movement of boats to and from the water, and the start of an historic vessel documentation program and a boat repair training program.
The Eddon Boatyard is currently operated as a boat building and repair facility, just as it was originally designed for. The BoatShop offers a range of programs for locals and visitors, including tours of the 63-foot purse seiner Veteran, a Family Boat Building Program where participants learn to build a 12-foot skiff in two days, and a host of other workshops.
While the BoatShop closed during the pandemic to help protect the health of the community, they hope to resume classes and programs as 2021 unfolds, and will populate the website with program updates as they move through the spring and summer.
“We look forward to resuming our successful menu of public programs as the public health crisis is brought under control,” explains Hoppen. “Among the most exciting new offerings is ‘Mini Boat School,’ where six participants will help build a carvel-planked motor launch in a 12-week, three-days per week class. We hope to begin in late summer, early fall.” The BoatShop also plans to continue expanding its programming on the Veteran to include waterfront excursions and portions of a commercial fishing crew training program.
“‘If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are,’ writes Wallace Stegner in The Sense of Place. To those of us that have lived here for 20 years or more, Stegner’s voice rings familiar,” reflects Hoppen. “The community casting their ballots to save the Eddon Boatyard was at least, in part, a vote to secure a community ‘sense of place.’ Whether just gazing at the historic structure while walking by, accessing the waterfront to paddleboard, or participating in skills programs or events inside the boatyard, the community’s connection to the legacy and history of our working waterfront is secured. That’s important.”
The BoatShop survives on the generosity of those who donate or attend programs, foundation grants, auction proceeds and the help of generous volunteers. Individuals and families are invited to get involved by volunteering, donating funds or items, and participating in events. To learn more, visit GigHarborBoatShop.org