Hidden History: Deception Pass ferry sailed successfully for years

When I first arrived to this picturesque island, and the never camera shy Deception Pass Bridge was finally unveiled to me, it literally took my breath away.

With its frightening height, gorgeous evergreen scenery, and swirling blue waters underneath, I could not turn my eyes away even as my breaths of “wow” fogged the car window.

I imagine I’m one of thousands who visit the bridge each year and have the same reaction when crossing or even just sneaking a peek at the landmark bridge. There are, however, probably only a handful who know — or even wonder — how early Whidbey Islanders traveled along those deceiving waters before the bridge was completed in 1935.

My answer came one day when all I heard from my father was “how’d ya’ like to take a hike?” and I made a beeline to the truck, eager to go see or do something new.

As we drove toward Deception Pass State Park, I was thrown off track when we passed the park entrance and continued up the highway to make the turn at Cornet Bay Road. We passed the busy Cornet Bay marina with its many eager and patient fisherman. Where was this hiking destination? We then passed a sign reading “Hoypus Point” and drove down an engroved path leading to a circular parking lot. Finally, we were out of the car. We hiked down a wooded path until the trees parted and we reached our destination: the tip of Hoypus Point.

“OK, here we are,” my dad announced. It didn’t look like much, but there it was, the hidden history we’d been seeking. A tattered cement block protruded from the low tide. It was the remnants of the landing for the Deception Pass ferry. Wait, there was a ferry here?

After the hike with my dad I wanted to expand the history lesson to find more about this once booming north end ferry. I headed to the library to dig up the rest of the dock’s history. It took some time as the information about the Deception Pass Ferry mostly consists of a few scattered bits and pieces.

Deception Pass Ferry, a small “cup and saucer” ferry, serviced the Pass waters back in the early 1900s. Berte Olson and her husband, Agaton Olson took the automobile ferry service under their wing for 15 years from previous owners John Lang and sons, whom had acquired the tug and scow from Cornet Bay store owner Fred Vinson in 1915.

Berte Olson was recognized as not only the owner of the long-time ferry service, but also as the designer of its two boats, Deception Pass that served Whidbey and Fidalgo, and Acorn which ran from Strawberry Point to Camano Island. She was also quite possibly the first female captain in the nation. Among her skills was her aptitude at ship maintenance and skill as a construction supervisor, business manager, and pilot.

The ferry service — originally just Agaton’s fishing boat towing a scow —sailed every hour. It took a few night trips during emergencies, as needed, or because of late returners from Fidalgo Island’s Blout Point, or Yokeko Point, to Hoypus Point. The boats carried four vehicles at a time, as well as a few walk-on passengers. Unfortunately for Berte Olson and her husband, as their business prospered, the bridge was in early phases of planning. In an attempt to stop the construction of what would ultimately drown her business, Olson decided to pull out all her guns. The Olsons stood firm in opposing the bridge’s proposal bill in an ongoing six year war. Berte even tried to use her heavy political influence to get then Governor Roland Hartley to veto any bridge funding. In the end, and as we all must assume, the battle was lost. Once the bridge building commenced, there would come the time when memories of the ferry service would fade.

Fortunately for the Olsons, they went on to captain other ferries in the Puget Sound area once out of business at Cornet Bay. As for the ferry itself, as last heard, it was sold to Roy Neil whom gave it the name “Favorite.”

Dorothy Neil, the late beloved historical writer of Whidbey Island and reporter for the Whidbey News-Times, also got a first glance at the end of the Deception Pass ferry when returning from delivering her first baby girl in 1935. In her book “A Bridge Over Troubled Water: The Legend of Deception Pass” she recounts boarding in Anacortes, with baby in tow, and looking out at what was then a small gap between the ends of the yet to be completed bridge. I can only imagine they looked like hands reaching out towards one another.

With what I have come to learn now and I have returned a number of times to the hidden path leading to the ferry dock remains. I sit peacefully at the inviting picnic table along the beach, and only imagine the long-lost lives and stories of the passengers of Deception Pass ferry as they boarded for the journey or departed to tasks awaiting them next.

Have Hidden History to suggest? Reach columnist Tammy Brinker at tammybr2@hotmail.com.