Excerpt from the 2011 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form
by Katie Chase of Artifacts Consulting

The Skansie Family in Gig Harbor

The Skansie family, from the coast of Dalmatia in present-day Croatia, first set foot in Washington Territory in 1889 with the arrival of Peter Skansie.  By the turn of the century, Peter had sent for his three younger brothers – Mitchell, Andrew, and Joe (Joseph).  All four brothers significantly contributed to the development of Gig Harbor with their involvement in commercial fishing, shipbuilding, and the region’s
early ferry system.

The Skansie Family & the Skansie Shipyard

Upon Peter Skansie’s arrival in Washington Territory, he settled at Wollochet Bay (south of Gig Harbor) and found work at the local brick factory.  Peter worked at other brickyards and various lumber mills, from Gig Harbor to Tacoma. When he learned of other Croatians settled at Gig Harbor, he soon moved to the small community.  Once settled in Gig Harbor, Peter connected with his fellow Croatian countrymen and even switched occupations with their encouragement.  Eventually, he began fishing with the Jerisich brothers, John and Mike, the sons of early Gig Harbor pioneer Samuel Jerisich.

Peter sent for his three brothers and when they arrived in Gig Harbor they joined Peter in fishing.  When Peter first started fishing in the waters of the Puget Sound all the boats were man-powered, but in 1905 Peter and his brothers began experimenting with gas-powered engines.

Around 1905, the Skansie brothers were the first in the area to build a gasoline-powered fishing boat. They did so at first by re-fitting boats with a gasoline powered engine. Usually the motors were quite small, between 6 to 8 horsepower; the Skansie brothers originally used a 7 horsepower engine. Although these were powerboats, there were neither masts nor a turntable to hoist in the nets. This work was all done by hand. However, with the introduction of a motor, the boats were not able to go as far as Alaska.

Peter and Andrew continued in the commercial fishing industry, while Mitchell and Joseph went the route of shipbuilding.  Mitchell found success in boatbuilding, leaving Gig Harbor for work in the Sunset Boat Company in Seattle in 1907.  Mitchell returned to Gig Harbor in ca. 1912 and opened his own boat building and repair yard, the Skansie Shipyard.  Mitchell’s brother, Joseph, joined the Skansie Shipyard business and later co-founded the Washington Navigation Company with Mitchell.  Joseph also went on to pilot ferryboats out of Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

The [Skansie] shipyard became quite successful and in its heyday, around 1925, employed over twenty Gig Harbor citizens.  The Skansie Shipyard was well known for building quality fishing boats and ferries for his [Mitchell Skansie] other venture, which operated several routes for Pierce County during the first half of the century.

Two Generations of Skansie Fishermen Prior to arriving in Washington Territory, Andrew Skansie had a career as a successful stonemason in Croatia.  He used that skill to build his family’s home.  However, he soon became a fisherman alongside his brother, Peter, when he arrived in Gig Harbor. Andrew briefly participated in his brothers’ shipyard business, but was running his own fishing boats after 1908.  Andrew acquired property near the location of the old Gig Harbor Lumber Mill on the western banks of the bay.

In ca. 1910, Andrew began constructing a one-story brick house for his family and a small wood-framed net shed for his business.  Andrew also set two deepwater moorage pilings out in the harbor for mooring his fishing vessels.  Andrew’s brothers, Mitchell and Joseph, soon located the Skansie Shipyard on adjacent property. Although the businesses were operated separately, their respective vessels and buildings visually occupied a significant portion of the Gig Harbor waterfront.  The Skansies, both as fishermen and boatbuilders, were renowned in Gig Harbor.  Andrew and Peter and their Skansie-built boats enjoyed an impressive reputation and their purse seiner Avalon remained a fixture in the harbor for several decades.  Mitchell Skansie built the 66-foot seiner Avalon in 1912 and the Avalon continued in active use with the Skansies’ fishing business until her sale in 1990.

Fishing primarily for salmon, the Skansie boats traveled up the Sound to the San Juan Islands and out the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Cape Flattery.  Peter continued fishing with Andrew until his retirement in 1930 due to an enlarged heart.  Andrew retired in 1940, passing on the family business to his sons, Antone, Vincent, and Peter.

When Andrew handed over the reins to his sons in 1940, his second son, Antone, took over as skipper at the young age of 24 and continued in that capacity until his own retirement in 1987.  Antone became known as one of the best skippers in the Gig Harbor commercial fishing fleet. In addition to his skill as a fisherman, Antone excelled at machine work and took great care of the brothers’ equipment working in his machine shop in the back of the net shed.

Andrew’s oldest son, Vincent or “Vincie,” was an equal partner in the business with Antone and served as Deck Boss.  Vincent began fishing with his father at the age of 16 in 1927 aboard the purse seiner Vernon.  Although Vincent fished as far north as Alaska and the Bering Sea and spent time on other seiners, notably Spiro Babich’s Dependable in souther California, Vincent spent most of his career on his family’s Avalon. Vincent, like Antone, retired from fishing in 1987, and they sold the Avalon in 1990.  The two brothers lived together in the house their father built until Antone’s death in 2001. Vincent passed away in 2002.  Andrew’s youngest son, Peter, started as an equal partner in the business with his brothers when his father retired in 1940.  Peter typically ran the skiffs and the nets as well as maintained the engine of the Avalon.  In addition to his partnership with his brothers in the family fishing business, Peter also worked as a machinist and consultant for the Foss Tugboat Company, living with his family for many years in Federal Way.  In his later years, Peter moved back to the family home in Gig Harbor.  Following the deaths of Antone and Vincent, Peter, along with his son, Michael, worked with the City of Gig Harbor to turn their family property into a public park evocative of the community’s maritime heritage.

As new development and commercial marinas have displaced many of the historic net sheds, the remaining structures are an integral visual link to Gig Harbor’s historic fishing industry.  Although Gig Harbor boasts the largest collection of historic net sheds in all of Puget Sound, the Skansie Net Shed is one of only 17 extant net sheds remaining in the community.  Two of these remaining structures, the Skansie [Brothers] Net Shed and the Peter Skansie Net Shed, were built as early as ca. 1910, while the other net sheds date from a period between 1920 and the 1950s.  Both the Skansie [Brothers] Net Shed and the Peter Skansie Net Shed feature associated houses, which contribute to their significance by visually depicting the important relationship of fishing families to the water.  Many fishermen built their homes adjacent to the water and/or their net sheds.

While the Peter Skansie Net Shed also has an associated house, it has been extensively altered.  The Skansie [Brothers] Net Shed & House is one of the best examples of a local fishing net shed and house extant in the state.  It is the only location in Gig Harbor with both an intact net shed and associated house that dates from as early as ca. 1910.  This collection of resources tells “a century of stories that are shared by other local fishing families that lived an isolated lifestyle” in the south Puget Sound.


The Skansie Net Shed & House Historic District contributed to the growth and development of Gig Harbor’s fishing industry.  The Skansie brothers’ commercial fishing operations was one of the most respected outfits in the community and their family actively fished the waters of Puget Sound for over 100 years, from the time the oldest brother, Peter, arrived in Washington Territory in 1889 until his nephews’ retirement in 1987.  Additionally, the Skansie Net Shed & House Historic District serves as an important link to not only the community’s fishing industry, but the Croatian heritage of many of its earliest settlers.  The Skansie Net Shed & House Historic District continues to demonstrate the vital role the Skansie family played Gig Harbor’s fishing and maritime heritage.

More history on the Skansie Brothers.

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