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Shenandoah Inching Closer to Completion

Grants continue to drive project forward

By Colin Anderson

Photo Courtesy of The Harbor History Museum

The Harbor History Museum is full of maritime treasures that give visitors a glimpse of what life was like when Europeans first settled in the area. While it continues to wow with its rotating exhibits and unique artifacts, the museum’s showstopper, the FV Shenandoah, just received some much-needed additional grants that will keep the massive restoration project on track.


The Shenandoah is a 65-foot purse seiner, which was donated to the Harbor History Museum in 2000. Since the donation, a team of volunteers have been painstakingly restoring the fishing vessel, which was owned by Tony Janovich, who donated it to the museum shortly after his retirement. “One of the last remaining examples of the fishing boats built at Skansie Shipyard between 1912 and 1940, the Shenandoah is truly one boat with three lives,” explained Museum Curator Stephanie Lile. “When launched, she was a tender bound for Alaska. She was converted for seining in the 1930s and fished most of her career in the San Juans. Once complete, she will be a teacher of historic preservation and stewardship of our natural resources.”


While most restorations on the vessel have been funded through grants and generous community donations, in order to protect the vessel from the weather, a massive enclosure would need to be constructed. The Harbor History Museum decided to apply for a grant through the Washington State Heritage Capital Projects Fund. The Washington Heritage Capital Project Coalition was formed by the organizations that are undertaking projects recommended for funding by the grant review panel for the Washington State Heritage Capital Projects Fund. The coalition works to help ensure that the $9.161 million in capital funds that are recommended to support its 36 projects make it into the 2021-2023 state budget. The Shenandoah project earned the number one ranking on the list and is line for a grant of $450,000 once the legislature approves this year’s budget. The Harbor History Museum was thrilled by the news, and Stephanie believes they made an excellent case for funding. “I think they really appreciated that we are not only preserving our maritime history but also preserving what we preserve by enclosing the Shenandoah.”


Projects featured here have gone through a rigorous review process and have been ranked in order of funding preference by the coalition. The goal is to ensure that all approved projects receive funding, but even if a few are cut from the budget, it’s highly unlikely the Shenandoah will be—considering its top ranking.


“Our total project budget is just over $2 million, so getting this grant is an important step toward completing the project,” said Stephanie. The museum has to match every state dollar, however, with $2 in private and in-kind funds, something that many in the community are stepping forward with. “We’re very grateful for donors such as Jim and Carolyn Milgard and Dr. Jon Kvinsland, who stepped up to support the project early on.” The museum still has to raise a minimum of $25,000 by June 1, 2021, in order to make the cash match obligation for this grant.


The Harbor History Museum recently received even more great news when it learned of approval of additional grant money through the Save America’s Treasures program, which falls under the umbrella of the National Parks Program. While the State Heritage Capital Projects Fund will complete the enclosure surrounding the vessel, this grant will be enough to complete the final restoration projects on Shenandoah itself, assuming the museum can again raise the matching funds, which stand at about $130,000. “While we’ve had donations of $50,000, $100,000 and $200,000, even the $25 contributions are much appreciated. Every donation really does make a difference,” said Stephanie.


The Shenandoah was built in 1925 at the Skansie Shipyard for Pasco and Mattie Dorotich and their son John. The Dorotichs came to Gig Harbor between 1900 and 1910 from the Croatian community in Port Guichon, Canada. Pasco had left the old country when just a boy. Stephanie believes the boat was named after a dirigible, a large propelled blimp that circled Puget Sound in October 1924, just months before she was launched. That airship, The USS Shenandoah, was a marvel of technology and innovation, a reflection of the dreams that built her namesake. It’s just one of the many fun facts and features the museum hopes to share with visitors once it’s completed and guests are allowed to board the vessel and see it firsthand.


Much of the restoration has been completed, and the new grant money will provide the funds needed for the final finishes on the Shenandoah. A team of 10 volunteers, many of which are retired woodworkers, some who’ve been with the project since its beginning, continue each day to bring the Shenandoah back into its original form. Current focuses are restoring the deckhouse and creating a new traditional wooden mast that the Shenandoah would have had in 1925. The team is also removing wood rot and where there is too much damage replacing the type of wood with wood that matches the original.


The Atlas engine is also being restored with a grant from the RPM Foundation. The grant also provides a scholarship opportunity for someone to work alongside a retired marine merchant engineer and gain firsthand knowledge of these unique engines. Applications are available soon, and you can contact the museum directly for more information.


The Shenandoah is on display in the Jim and Carolyn Milgard Maritime Gallery, and with the museum now open again, visitors can get right up close, and even interact with the restoration crew. Right now there is a special exhibit going on as well called ‘Treasures from the Shenandoah.’ It includes items found on board by the restorers like old toys, cigarette boxes and other unique artifacts. The team found all sorts of interesting tidbits when searching the cracks and crevasses, many more than 70 years old.


The Harbor History Museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm. Admission is free thanks to a grant from the City of Gig Harbor. Outside visiting hours, you can also see the Shenandoah from the Donkey Creek Trail, which runs directly behind it.


While a few matching funds are still needed, Stephanie is confident the Shenandoah will be completed just in time for a very special day. “April 2025 we’ll have everything done, just in time for its 100-year launch anniversary,” she said.


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