Ericksen’s no throughway

A recent Review editorial suggesting that Ericksen Avenue may eventually become a throughway fails to recognize the history of the street, the merits of local history and cultural tourism, the popularity of the pedestrian walkway, the special and historic trees along the lane, and the irregular mismatched intersection of Ericksen Avenue and Bjune Drive at Winslow Way.

Seven historic buildings on the east side of lower Ericksen are among the first row of houses built contiguous in Winslow. That was “Ship Yard Row” or “Flag Alley” as folks of differing nationalities first called it and flew their flags there. There were other contiguous dwellings on the Island when those on “Flag Alley” were built circa 1902 – Suquamish houses on Rockaway beach might be considered as such, as were mill-town residences in Port Madison and Port Blakely.

Early homes in Winslow and homesteads on the island were mostly farm houses and thus spread sparsely across the landscape of tree stumps and timber. The homes of Chris Ericksen and his coworkers at the new Hall Brother’s Winslow Shipyard & Marine Railway were among the first that were built close together in Winslow. There were a few near the Madrone steamer landing, too.

Remember, Winslow was first named “Madrone” because of the madrona trees on Eagle Harbor’s north shore and one particularly large one at the foot of Madison where folks caught the boat. That should be a good reason today to save the madronas in Winslow Waterfront Park, don’t you think?

When the shipyard was built in the winter of 1902-1903, folks who worked there did not need a lot of space around their homes for a dairy cow and a garden orchard, as most did. Their industrial employment gave them a living that allowed homes to be built close together. They could soon purchase needed goods from a few new stores. However, many hauled lumber to build their homes – a board or two at a time... on their shoulders... and in row boats... from their jobs at the Port Blakely Mill. That’s what Chris Ericksen did.

Those folks also learned the benefit of having a few fruit trees, gardens and chickens to hedge against rise and fall of economic tides. Clams helped then, too.

On the west side of “Flag Alley,” we have lost two historic homes. Shipyard owner Henry Knox Hall’s mansion was destroyed by fire in 1935 when it was owned by the Dare family. It burned to the ground, yet its award-winning rhododendrons and deciduous trees planted by renown local horticulturist Will Cave still stand south and east of the museum. The beautiful home of Hall Brothers Shipyard’s secretary, Edward Hall Lincoln (a cousin of President Abraham Lincoln), and his wife, Jenny (Elofsen), was demolished in recent years with nary a whimper – replaced by townhouses. Before making their home in Winslow, the Lincolns resided in a Port Blakely shipyard home at the east end of today’s Seaborn Road. Father Vincent Gowan of Saint Barnabas Church and his wife lived there for many years.

The museum has an old photo of “Flag Alley” and Ericksen Avenue “back in the day.” There are more flag poles than trees. Today, by comparison, the “alley” is lush with trees — a beautiful lane, a favorite of pedestrians and tourists on foot.

The lower avenue, with the seven contiguous historic buildings, was identified in 1987 by state historic preservation officers as an eligible National Historic District. Property owners celebrated with historic markers. City planners and developers gave it a stroll, made it a special “Overlay District” and saved “Shipyard Row” from road-widening bulldozers. Trees were saved, too, and the sidewalk was carefully put on the west side of the street. Much of old Winslow is still standing. Islanders can get a copy of the 1909 Kitsap County plat map of Winslow at the Bainbridge Island Museum and use it to walk the streets, noting the in-filling that has taken place and marveling at the old buildings still standing. The old buildings include Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, and houses that once belonged to Harry Wallace, Captain Jensen, Captain Wyatt, Billy Grow, Ebenezar Frank, William Finch, Chris Ericksen, and even the cozy home of the town’s first school teacher. How about staging an “Historic Home Tour” during an August full moon featuring kerosene lantern light and acoustic music to share a sense of this place?

Maybe we should rename Ericksen Avenue “Ericksen Lane,” and, while we’re at it, Highway 305 “Island Parkway.” Then we might slow down and appreciate the natural beauty and history that surrounds us. And until someone figures out a way to put in a good roundabout at the misaligned intersection of Bjune and Ericksen – after Winslow Way’s needed repairs – let’s enjoy this special lane and thank the people who helped make it so. There have been many.

Gerald Elfendahl is a local historian.

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