BY DAVID WELTON
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
October 14, 2015
Captain George Morse, a New England seaman and early settler of Oak Harbor, recognized that spanning the turbulent waters of Deception Pass was critical to the future of Whidbey Island. As early as the 1880s, he saw the potential for a bridge and, as a newly elected state representative, in 1907 he proposed building the two spans and anchoring them on tiny Pass Island between Canoe Pass and Deception Pass.
Not everyone agreed with his vision, however. Many private transportation companies ran small passenger and freight boats on Puget Sound and nearby waterways and rivers; they were known as the “mosquito fleet.” Berte Olsen, who owned a ferry service at the north end of Whidbey Island, saw the double-span link across the watery passes as the road to ruin and lobbied successfully against construction.
Finally, funds were allocated and the two-span bridge was built in the mid-1930s by the Puget Construction Company of Seattle for $482,000. Young men from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), sent by the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression, carved out the approach to the two-lane structure and expanded facilities at the adjacent park. Island residents celebrated the opening of the bridge on July 31, 1935.
The American Legion Band—with tubas, cornets, trombones and drums—led the parade across the bridge while playing patriotic tunes and Sousa marches prior to speeches by regional dignitaries. Easy access to Whidbey Island soon led to a growth spurt in Oak Harbor and the establishment of the Navy Base.
Denman Moody was only three years old in 1935, but he recalls crossing the new bridge during trips to Whidbey Island from the family home in Sedro Wooley. He has played the double B-flat base tuba since seventh grade and marched in Air Force Bands from 1953 to 1955.
He and his tuba linked to the past when they participated in the 50th anniversary memorial of the bridge opening with the Whidbey Island Community Band in 1985, and he still plays with the WT Preston Jazz band in Anacortes.
“This silly horn has taken me and my wife to places I never would have gone to otherwise,” he said. “I’ve met many people.”
Moody presently volunteers with the Whidbey Island Historical Society where he shares “a fountain of misinformation” with visitors. His first choice for a personalized license plate, “OOMPAH,” was taken so his truck now sports “BBFLAT.”
Incidentally, his brother-in-law learned his trade in the CCC and had a career operating heavy equipment in the construction industry.
David Welton is a retired physician and staff photographer for Whidbey Life magazine. Current photos by David Welton.
“Then, and Now” is an occasional series of historical Whidbey Island photographs paired with contemporary images by David Welton. If you have a story to share, contact email@example.com.
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Nice job, David. You dug up some intriguing old photos and lots of interesting facts about the bridge. I enjoyed reading the article very much.
My hat is off to Claire Moore for her input, and to Dianna for the lead!
A lovely combination of human and historical. I’m grateful for your research, writing, and photography, David.
The building of the bridge was as amazing as it was important.
Love the connection from the past to present with your creative pictures, as we do tend to take these events and places of the island for granted.
Thanks Jean, the bridge is such an iconic image for us and it’s interesting to think about it in the early days.