Sunday, March 25, 2012

The 'C.C. Calkins' Calliope

It always astounds me how many amazing stories manage to reveal themselves when researching what seems, at first, a minor local history detail.

Today is a great example of that. I started out looking at what appeared on the surface a minor point: The historic Kirkland ferry clock. As a part of the current restoration effort, I have already amassed quite a bit of information, but in fact checking a few details regarding Captain John L. Anderson, who donated the clock to Kirkland in 1935, this seemingly quick and simple task ended up taking the better part of a Saturday, even with the benefit of a business-class, high-speed internet connection.

In my travels, I encountered a wide variety of occurrences, most of which I will share in later posts, but in relation to the Kirkland ferry clock found a unique musical steamboat, the first of its kind on Lake Washington.

John L. Anderson, born in Stenunsund, Sweden 1868, hailed from a seafaring family and at age 14 left home and went to sea as a cabin boy on a lumber and ore hauling ship his uncle owned. He fell ill on his second voyage and was put ashore in Quebec where, upon recovering, he took a job with the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

In 1888, Anderson, then 22, came to Seattle, Washington Territory, where he landed a series of deckhand jobs on various Puget Sound-based vessels.

A young and amazingly bright, ambitious lawyer-turned-speculator from Wisconsin named Charles Cicero Calkins, who went by “C.C. Calkins” professionally. Calkins, typical of many 1880’s-era speculators, came to Seattle in 1887 with $300 dollars cash and ambitious dreams. Within 10 days of his arrival he’d purchased about 21,000 acres on $19,000 of credit and within the year he held $170,000 worth of real estate, much of it on Mercer Island with his grand vision—he called it East Seattle.

Calkins and his business partners had purchased vast tracts of land on Mercer Island where they planned to carve out East Seattle, a beautiful resort community which still exists as a neighborhood on Mercer Island’s northwest shore. East Seattle’s centerpiece was the ornate, three story luxury hotel Calkins built in 1889. To shuttle guests and residents to East Seattle from Leschi Park on the Seattle side, his East Side Land & Development Company built a 78 foot steamboat—he humbly named the C.C Calkins--on the lake, south of Leschi, at John Taylor’s sawmill.  It was launched inauspiciously on March 21, 1890 with extra men being rounded up to wrest her free.
The Calkins Hotel stood on Mercer Island from 1889 until 1908 when it burned to the ground. 

Calkins personally hired the 22 year-old Anderson, who was part of the C.C. Calkins's inaugural crew, officially her quartermaster. He was given a place to live by her skipper, George Rodgers, a 42 year-old from Wisconsin. The third member of the CC Calkins's crew was its engineer, Captain Rodgers’ younger brother, Frank. It sounds like Frank may have missed his calling in life and was at heart a musician. He constructed the boat’s largest piece of equipment: a grand, boiler-supplied steam calliope which he mounted topside. It blew off a lot of steam, literally, when Frank played it, and his love of his music offset all the extra boiler stoking he had to do to keep the boat’s pressure up. 

The C.C. Calkins c.1890, I'm guessing that George Rodgers at the wheelhouse, Frank Rodgers on deck, left, and young John Anderson, right.

Frank’s great musical moment came in May, 1891 when the C.C. Calkins greeted the visiting President Benjamin Harrison. As Harrison approached the dock, Frank entertained the sizable crowd with his pipes, first with “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” followed by his rendition of “Home Sweet Home.” Harrison boarded the steamboat Kirkland for a spin around the lake and the C.C. Calkins and a flotilla of other boats followed, with Anderson tossing roses after the president’s boat as Fred serenaded with Lake Washington’s only steamboat calliope.         

Click here to see a short YouTube to hear music coming from a steamboat calliope.

 This is not the C.C. Calkins, but shows another 19th century steamboat-mounted calliope.

Also, if you could have had any song played, what would you have chosen?


Vanessa said...

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

Jana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jana said...

Love it! I second Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Bicycle Built for Two would be fun, too.