Duwamish Waterway

History of the Duwamish Waterway

Photo courtesy of Museum of History & Industry

In 1906, following a number of destructive floods in south Seattle, Wash., caused by the shallow and meandering Duwamish River, surrounding communities and towns petitioned Congress to straighten and deepen the river.

In 1913, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began rechanneling the river by excavating and dredging more than 20 million cubic yards of mud and sand. Within 10 years, the Corps had changed the Duwamish from a nine-mile river to a five-mile engineered waterway. In addition to solving the ongoing risk of flooding, the straighter and deeper waterway also allowed for easier navigation by ships.

The soil excavated during the rechanneling-combined with an additional 4 million cubic yards removed during the regrading of Jackson and Dearborn streets-was used to construct the 350-acre Harbor Island to separate the mouth of the waterway into two separate channels.

Duwamish  -- history: GRAPHIC OF 9 MILES TO 5-MILE RIVER
Photo courtesy of Brick Tudor Studios

With the wider and deeper Lower Duwamish Waterway, sea vessels were now able to move beyond Elliott Bay into what would eventually become the industrial and commercial core of Seattle.

In 1936, the U.S. Government ordered 13 of Boeing's newly developed B-17 Flying Fortresses-the nation's first four-engine bombers. Boeing purchased a 28-acre parcel of land along the Lower Duwamish Waterway and constructed a 60,000 square foot assembly building to house the government's growing need for military aircraft. The complex was formerly known as U.S. Air Force Plant 17, but that name was later changed to Plant 2 because it was Boeing's second airplane assembly site.

By the time the U.S. entered into WWII in 1941, the facilities expanded to almost 1.7 million square feet of manufacturing space. The United States owned and controlled the majority of the facilities as part of the B-17 program through Emergency Plant Facilities contracts and later through the Defense Plant Corporation, until Boeing purchased it in 1966.

To protect Plant 2 from any foreign surveillance that might recognize its military significance, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers camouflaged the building's roof to look like a hillside neighborhood dotted with homes and trees. From the air, the disguise transformed the Plant 2 rooftops so that the massive building seemed to disappear into the residential communities surrounding it.

Duwamish: History -- ROSIE THE RIVETER

As more and more men left the assembly lines for the front lines, Boeing recruited women to fill the vacancies on the B-17 assembly lines. Known as Rosie the Riveters, they worked in two shifts and on multiple assembly lines, building an average of 12 B-17s each day.

By the end of World War II, a total of 12,731 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers had been built, with more than half having come from Plant 2. In addition to supplying the military with nearly 7,000 B-17s, Plant 2 also provided thousands of Washington men and women with manufacturing and industrial jobs.

Under government contracts, Boeing produced many other military aircraft at Plant 2 including the B-29 Superfortress bomber, the B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress, many of which are still in service with the U.S. Air Force. In total, Boeing manufactured more than 10,000 large bombers and other military aircraft for the United States and approximately 72 commercial aircraft at Plant 2.

The facility has not been an active part of Boeing's airplane manufacturing operations for more than 40 years. It will be completely demolished by December 2011.

Over the years, the Lower Duwamish Corridor has served as home to hundreds of large and small businesses, including manufacturing and industrial companies such as the Ford Motor Company, the Georgetown Steam Plant, the Jorgensen Forge, and the Isaacson Steel Company.

For decades, these companies and others performed a variety of heavy commercial and industrial operations and activities including metal manufacturing, container storage and shipping, marine construction and fuel processing.

In 2001, the Lower Duwamish Waterway was listed as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.