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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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Paul Pressentin memories, Chapter Three

(Rokport Ferry)
      Will D. "Bob" Jenkins shared this photo of the early hand ferry from his collection for his book, Last Frontier in the North Cascades. The photo was taken in 1916. The caption reads: Ferries such as this served foot traffic and, like the big scows on which horse-drawn wagons crossed the Skagit, were operated by the current of the river, flowing diagonally against the hull. The woman wearing a hat is my mother. The Indian lad with the pole is Andy Tom, whose father, Frank, was a renowned crafter of canoes.

      This is one of a series of four newspaper stories that featured interviews with Paul Pressentin and other members of the von Pressentin family, who were key pioneers of the upper Skagit River. The family was possibly the most publicized of all the early 1870s settlers and is the subject of the most features in the Journal. Margaret Ann McCormick McLoughlin shared the story. She now lives in Washington, D.C., and I met her and her husband David at the von Pressentin family reunion in 2001. She is the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth (Pressentin) McCormick. Elizabeth was in turn the daughter of Edward Pressentin, and the granddaughter of A.V. Pressentin, both subjects in the story below. This story was undated but was apparently written in 1957, since Ed Pressentin became postmaster of Rockport in 1924 and his brother, Bert, says in the story that Ed had been postmaster for 33 years. Our transcription has only been lightly edited for correction of spelling or to provide continuity. Colored underlined links direct the reader to background essays elsewhere in the Skagit River Journal. You may want to read the whole essay before clicking on the links. You will find links to all the family stories at the bottom.

Steamboats raced up Skagit on Bacon Fuel
By John B. Neal, Skagit Valley Herald [undated, but apparently written in 1957]
      Two sternwheelers raced against the Skagit currents toward Rockport. An even match, until they reached the riffle near Charles von Pressentin's homestead near Birdsview.
      One vessel, bucking the swiftest channel, began to lose ground until someone, possibly the captain or a crewman, thought of the bacon. Large strips, perhaps a whole side, some three feet long and eighteen inches wide, were heaved into the boiler room furnace.
      Black smoke belched against the overcast, the [sternwheeler] kicked more rapidly against the shallow channel and the boat launched ahead of its opponent.
      Such is the river lore told by Bert Pressentin of Rockport. His authority, of course, was his cousin, Paul Pressentin, son of Charles. The von Pressentins, or Pressentin, as the family calls itself today, are synonymous with the settlement of the upper Skagit Valley. Rockport isn't an exception.
      Bert Pressentin's father, Albert von Pressentin (known later as A.V.), came to America from his native Germany. In 1884 he came to Skagit county, locating at Birdsview.

      A Skagit River sternwheeler of the era, this one docked near the mouth of the river. Courtesy of the Dan Royal Stump Ranch collection.

(Rockport Hotel)
Rockport Hotel, photographed almost new in 1902 for the Sebring's Skagit County Illustrated magazine

Settled at Sauk
      Four years later [Albert] von Pressentin settled at Sauk, where he established a store. It burned. But with the hired help of Indians, he shipped more lumber and more supplies to open another store and later established a hotel and store at what is now called Rockport.
      That was about the time the railroad came up the valley in 1901. The railroad and the hotel and store were the results of the Ruby Creek gold strike. Ruby Creek, now covered with water backed up by Ross Dam, appealed to thousands of fortune hunters.
      Edward Pressentin, who was born in 1889, recalls when the prospectors came by sternwheeler to this last landing on the river, Rockport.
      That was why steamboat captains pushed their boats to the limit. Prospectors and miners were ready to pay a premium to the fastest boat. After all, the earlier the strike or the claim files, the better chance for success.
      Bert was born in 1902 in his father's hotel [in Rockport], 22 rooms in addition to dining room, kitchen and front rooms.

Post office opens
      The school and post office opened in 1901 and 1904 respectively, Bert Pressentin said. He should know for he attended the school there and his brother, Ed, became postmaster in 1924. [In addition to sorting mail, Bert Pressentin helps operate the family store.
      [A.V.] Pressentin began operating a ferry in 1904 [at Rockport] to serve customers across the river. In 1910 the county took over. Frank Tom, an Indian, was the county's first ferryman. And at $30 a month, too. Now the ferry is the only one left on the Skagit. The operators, J.E. (Joe) Holbrook and Hobert Clark, both of Rockport, said that more than 200 cars use the ferry on average summer days. This time of year the traffic drops to about 125. The traffic isn't all local, either. Seattle and Snohomish as well as Whatcom county cars cross the ferry even in winter.

Hotel burns
      Rockport hasn't grown since the early days. It's still a trading point — Pressentins still operate a store although the hotel burned some four years ago. Most of the residents work in the woods or in construction, Bert Pressentin said.
      There is a volunteer fire department and an American Sunday School Union Sunday school. These about sum up organizations in Rockport.
      The children attend school up to the sixth grade in Rockport, then go on to Concrete.
      Rockport, Pressentin said, isn't an old town as far as Skagit history goes, but it still exists as study of what Skagit communities were like in former years. There has been little change.

(Rockport Ferry)
      A later version of the ferry, from a postcard in the Mike Aiken collection. We are looking northwest, with the town of Rockport on the bluff overlooking the rail yards and the river. The photo was taken sometime before 1951 because the Rockport Hotel is still standing; best guess is the 1920s-'30s.

Links, background reading and sources
Other interviews with Paul Pressentin
Other stories that include von Pressentin information

      See this Journal website for a timeline of local, state, national and international events for years of the pioneer period.
      Search the entire Journal site.
      Due to continued popular demand, in the interest of furthering our "open source" policy, we are assembling a collection of CDs that will include MS Word files of our pioneer profiles and town profiles from years 1-5, so that you can print them individually at your convenience. Inquire for details today via email or see our site about the planned CDs offering.

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(bullet) Story posted on Nov. 15, 2001, last updated Aug. 30, 2006
(bullet) Did you enjoy this story? Remember, as with all our features, this story is a draft and will evolve as we discover more information and photos. This process continues until we eventually compile a book about Northwest history.
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