30 days of biking: Bellevue’s whaling past in the shadow of high rises

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This is the view that most would expect from Bellevue — high rises soaring above a downtown park that’s a focal point for high-end stores like Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus.

But less than a mile away on the city’s waterfront stand structures left over from the city’s gritty past as one of the last whaling ports in the U.S.

I headed up here on one of the most pleasant Easter Sundays I can remember in the Pacific Northwest. It was a day made for cycling.

I left home and headed along Lake Washington and across the Mercer Slough to a hilly, circuitous route through an old artist’s colony — Beaux Arts. The wide expanse of the nearby Bellevue Downtown Park already was filling with families on their Easter strolls.

I sat in the sun for a moment, then headed out in search of Bellevue’s little known maritime history down on Meydenbauer Bay, about a mile away.

Today it’s the home of cabin cruisers and swank yachts. But in the first half of the last century, it was home to the American Pacific Whaling Fleet.

(Those are the whaling ships moored at the old dock. The building subsequently burned down, but a similar structure exists today.)

William Schupp moved his company’s headquarters to Bellevue after Lake Washington gained access to Puget Sound through the Ship Canal in 1917.

None of the industry’s unsavory business was conducted here; whales were hunted off the Alaska coastline and whaling stations in Alaska handled the blubber.

But at the end of the season, the fleet pulled into Meydenbauer Bay for repair and to allow the fresh water to kill off the barnacles and worms that damage salt-water vessels.

Columnist Marty McOmber wrote in the Seattle Times a few years ago that most of the time the whaling fleet was little more than a curiosity. The only excitement occurred when the 150 of so crew members left in the fall or arrived in the spring.

The demand for whale products began to slump in the 1930s, and the Navy prohibited whaling during World War II. The ships were outfitted for military service during the war, and Schupp was never able to get the business going again before he died in 1948.

Even so, the University of Washington’s collection of the records of Schupp’s son says the company was probably the last full-scale whaling operation in North America.

The site of the old American Pacific Whaling fleet is the present-day Bellevue Marina. On a day like today, dozens of bicyclists will ride past on Lake Washington Boulevard as they ride between Kirkland and Bellevue.

30 Days of Biking

Total days — 8/8

Total miles — 121

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bikingbis.com/2012/04/08/30-days-of-biking-bellevues-whaling-past-in-the-shadow-of-high-rises/


    • Phyllis Orrick on April 8, 2012 at 9:56 pm
    • Reply

    Nice story about the whalers, Biz. Looking forward to more reports from your 30 days.

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