are several Corsairs in
the lake. This one is in rather poor condition but others have been
recovered and one is displayed in the Seattle Museum of Flight.
between the foothills of the Cascade Mountain range and the Puget Sound
lies Lake Washington, a lake that contains an extraordinary history.
Many call the shores of Lake Washington home. Residences include many
prominent citizens, major industries, and until recently, the U.S.
Navy. Three major floating bridges cross the Lake. One is State Route
520 and the other two comprise the western end of Interstate 90. Prior
to bridge construction Lake Washington had it’s own ferry system.
Washington is the largest lake in western Washington. The lake is
approximately 20 miles long encompassing 71.5 miles of shoreline and 28
square miles of land. In the center of the lake is a large island
known as Mercer Island. I-90 travels across the island connecting
Seattle with the eastside communities of Bellevue, and Issaquah.
The average depth of the lake is 110 feet and it’s deepest spot,
northwest of Mercer Island, is about 220 feet deep. Since the lake
surface is about 21 feet above mean sea level, its deepest point is
nearly 200 feet below sea level.
end of the lake is home to the Boeing Corporation’s Renton commercial
aircraft plant where all Boeing 737’s, and 757’s are assembled. The
Cedar River, one of two main tributaries, flows past the plant and
enters the lake. The other tributary, known as the Sammamish Slew
enters the lake at the northern end. The U.S. Navy made it’s home on
the northwestern shores in an area known as Sand Point.
Over the years
many unfortunate accidents have occurred on the lake. The remains of
these accidents and the stories they tell are contained within the
lake’s depth. Arguably the most remembered accident on the lake was the
sinking of the old I-90 bridge. In 1990 the bridge was undergoing
reconstruction and was scheduled to reopen servicing the eastbound
lanes of I-90. In November of that year a fierce storm blew in and
ravaged the bridge. Waves crashed over the bridge deck filling pontoon
structures that provided flotation. Within hours the bridge, which was
a floating structure, began to sink. Section after section gave way and
fell to the bottom of the lake approximately 300 feet below. The bridge
was eventually replaced with a new floating bridge.
This Seabee amphibious seaplane
recovered from 73 feet of water has revealed little of it’s mysterious
of Transportation is not the only agency to sustain losses in Lake
Washington. The U.S. Navy has had its share of aviation mishaps. When
you dive underwater you expect to find sunken ships, old bottles and
coins, but nothing can prepare you for a fully armed PB4Y-2, a four
engine bomber larger than a B-17, resting upright on its landing gear.
The World War
II Navy aircraft may be one of the more dramatic things in the lake,
but there are many others. In 1991 UAS completed the first
comprehensive survey of the lake bottom. UAS used side-scanning sonar
to locate at least seven military aircraft including a huge martin
Mariner PMB flying boat, more than one hundred sunken boats and ships,
a train, several sunken forests, the pontoons of the old I-90 bridge.
and links are of four Navy wrecks currently held within the lake’s
depth. In addition one potentially civilian aircraft was recovered by
Washington, History and Mystery
shortly after takeoff on a training mission this Lockheed PV2D Harpoon now
rests in over 100 feet of water. This aircraft, seldom visited by
divers, is still in good condition.
of years, prior to the turn of the century, Native Americans inhabited
the shores of Lake Washington. They called it ha’cuy’lake and the
people who lived in the eighteen house sites scattered along its shore
were called hachua’bsh, the ‘lake people’. They caught fish from the
lake and nearby streams. They hunted vast numbers of waterfowl in the
extensive marshes along the shore as well as muskrats, otter, raccoons,
deer and elk.
The lake would
seem to have been a perfect Eden for these people, but in their
folklore it has an otherworldly, even frightening character. Legends
identify places along the shore haunted by dangerous supernatural
beings: monsters that sucked swimmers to their doom, huge spotted
serpents with horns on their head that caused terrible landslides, and
a race of dwarfs who drove people insane. One told of a man who tried
to capture an elk in the lake and got his shirt caught in its antlers.
Both disappeared underwater, and some time later their bodies appeared
in Puget Sound near Richmond Beach. Some sort of mysterious,
subterranean channel connecting the lake with the Sound seemed to have
swallowed them. Another legend claimed the lake itself swallowed Mercer
Island every night and disgorged it every morning.
perception reflected the peoples’ long relationship with the lake, and
its own dramatic history. Clearly, the lake was a mysterious place
whose depths held powerful secrets. Some of these revealed themselves
when the Europeans settled the land and began to change its character.
completed the Lake Washington Ship Canal, connecting the lake with Lake
Union and Puget Sound in 1916, the lake’s level was lowered about nine
feet to match that of Lake Union. The exposure of the lake’s near shore
shallows wiped out most of the salmon spawning beds and killed the
wapato plants harvested but the Native Americans. The Black River,
which was then the outlet for the lake, was also destroyed. The Black
River flowed from the south end of the lake into the Duwamish River and
exposed lakeshore revealed a number of interesting things. In Union
bay, the wooden stumps of an ancient fish trap poked above the mud. At
the mouth of the May Creak, near Kennydale, the remains of campfire
circles indicated the lakeshore had been even lower in the past. Even
more interesting and mysterious were the forests of drowned trees that
surfaced at several places along the lakeshore.
still attached to the snags and well preserved, identified most as
Douglas Fir. An old legend told of a man who went to the southern end
of Mercer Island to strip bark off the drowned trees. Dried, this made
excellent fuel for his house fire. But he began to experience strange,
unpleasant sensations. These, others claimed, were produced by
supernatural dwarfs inhabiting the tree trunks. The dwarfs resented the
man stripping off the bark as much as a person who would have his
clothes taken away.
hiding just beneath the surface of the water or rising above presented
a navigational hazard. In 1919 workers removed nearly 200 of them or
dynamited their tops to within 30 feet of the surface. The remaining
trees stood upright in 60 to 120 feet of water. Huge landslides seem to
be the likeliest way these forests ended up in the lake.
is known about the incident that caused the crash of this PB4Y-2 Privateer. The Navy
attempted to salvage the aircraft shortly after but the attempt
resulted in the loss of the two inboard engines.
concluded that an enormous ice sheet gouged out the lake basic during
the ice age. They speculated that the lake had once been an arm of
Puget Sound. Duwamish Indian legend recalled a time when the lake
contained salt water. In the late 1950s core samples taken from bottom
sediment confirmed the legend. For a brief period, thirteen to fourteen
thousand years ago, the sea had invaded the lake basin. The delta
building from the ancestral Cedar River soon pinched the arm from the
Sound and melt water from the ice sheet and from other streams created
a deep freshwater lake. The lake was already mature when the eruption
that produced Oregon’s Crater Lake left a telltale layer of ash on the
bottom about 6,800 years ago.
bottom has a ‘W’ shaped profile, with steep sides plunging to a floor
which gently rises in the center due to the movement of silt by
seasonal convection currents. Near shore, a wave cut terrace rings the
lake 40 feet below its present surface, evidence of earlier water
levels. As the Cedar River delta grew it dammed more water in the lake
basin raising its level.
Washington’s bottom sediments and the objects resting in them provide a
detailed history. Carbon 14 measurements of the submerged trees
indicate that a number of events occurred around 3,000, 2,500, 1,700,
and 1,100 years ago. The latest group of trees helped date an
earthquake believed to have occurred along a break in the North
American Plate called the Seattle Fault. Scientists believe that an
earthquake along this fault, which runs roughly east to west from the
Kitsap Peninsula through Seattle’s business district, beneath the lake
bottom, and out past the Sammamish plateau, lifted the southern portion
of the fault. Restoration Point, at the southeastern end of Bainbridge
Island, was raised as much as 20 feet and Alki Point in Seattle rose 13
earthquake, estimated at 7 to 7.5 on the Richter Scale, caused
rockslides in the Olympic Mountains, and sent several forests-covered
sections of Lake Washington’s shoreline into the lake. Two of these
slides produced the sunken forests on the west and southeast sides of
Mercer Island. The third was on the northeast shore of the lake at O.
O. Denny Park. An analysis of sunken forests from Mercer Island
indicated they died sometime in the fall, winter, or spring between the
years 894 and 997 AD.
landslides were catastrophic events. Sections of Mercer Island more
than 150 feet high collapsed, traveling nearly a quarter mile before
coming to rest deep in the lake. Their plunge sent huge waves sweeping
across the lake’s surface and slamming into the shore, probably
devastating native villages. Little wonder they regarded the southern
end of Mercer Island with dread.
in the south end of the lake this Martin
Mariner PBM-5 flying boat now rests mostly covered in
silt. The object of court battles, salvage operations, and looting,
this wreck has a extensive and varied history.
other trees in the lake suggest massive landslides occurred earlier,
and other evidence suggests one happened as recently as 300 years ago.
These disasters and a relentlessly rising lake level must have
contributed to the Indian’s ambivalent feelings towards the lake;
feeling that are preserved in their folklore. Scientific data also
suggests that similar disasters are likely to occur in the future.
The history of
Lake Washington is often shaped by natural disasters but human tragedy
also shapes the lake. Contained in the lake are bits of history known
only to a few adventurous explorers. Aided with high-tech equipment UAS
has located a train of coal cars lost to the lake in 1875.
belonged to the Seattle Coal & Transportation Company, one of the
early local business enterprises that succeeded in putting Seattle and
the eastside on the map. In the fall of 1863, surveyor Edwin Richardson
discovered coal beside a stream later named Coal Creek. Wagons hauled
sacks of coal down to the lake where it was transported to the west
shore by sail boat, rowboat, or Indian canoe. Six weeks later,
prospectors discovered a richer coal seam south of the Creek at a place
called Newcastle, named after the famous English mining town. To bring
the coal form Newcastle to Seattle, the company constructed a
cumbersome system of tramways and barges to haul trains of iron-wheeled
wooden cars. Each cart was capable of carrying two tons of coal from
the mines to bunkers on the Seattle waterfront. In January 1875, the
sternwheeler Chehalis was rounding the northwest point of Mercer Island
when a gale blowing from the south tipped the barge it was towing and
sent 18 cars plunging into the lake. They remain where they sank, well
preserved in 200 feet of water, many of them upright and still carrying
their cargoes of coal.
UAS has taken
the lead in crafting laws to preserve the state’s underwater
archaeological resources in an effort to prevent these and other wrecks
from becoming vandalized and to ensure proper conservation and
restoration. Hopefully, one day the train may be on display in Renton
and some of the aircraft will find shelter in the Museum of Flight.
Lake Washington has always been a valued for its beauty and as a
natural resource. We are now coming to understand its value as a