Restoration of 109-Year-Old Lightship on Lake Union

The old lightship Swiftsure is undergoing restoration on Lake Union, since it will eventually go on display near the area for art exhibits, maritime classes and training, and more.

As the Seattle Times reported yesterday, the 109-year-old lightship has a unique history. With 50 years of service as a floating lighthouse up and down the West Coast through storm and calm, the Swiftsure has led a long life in Puget Sound waters. Once in 1916, the ship was the rescue vessel for 155 people near Cape Mendocino, CA when their ship ran aground. Another exciting moment in the ship’s history was during World War II, when the Swiftsure fired a shot across the bow of a troop-transport ship near San Francisco Bay.

In case you’re not sure what a lightship is – they were used in locations where building a lighthouse on land was not possible. Lights from these ships were visible for more than 20 miles and helped direct other vessels safely. Their use was discontinued when technology for navigational equipment surpassed their effectiveness.

The Northwest Seaport owns the 136-foot, steel-hulled Swiftsure. It’s president, Shannon Fitzgerald, expects the ship to become a place for rotating art exhibits, meeting space rentals, training and workshops, or museum displays. “[It could be] A place to get away from the office, roll up your sleeves and do some fun projects with some fun people,” he said.

Northwest Seaport had actually already used the lightship for education projects and events since it purchased the ship in 1966, but the condition required a major renovation to keep it afloat. The Swiftsure was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989, and was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Those distinctions helped get the Northwest Seaport some grants to use toward its renovation, which will help with the $1 million project. Another $1 million is necessary for additional restoration and maintenance, which will be supplied through fundraising.

Swiftsure has been at the Lake Union Drydock for the past few weeks, where its wooden deck and deckhouses – both rotted – were removed. It is now being cleaned and inspected. A new deck will be installed on the ship’s steel frame, and the rest of the restoration process will happen from the Swiftsure’s berth at the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park. Visitors will be allowed onto safe areas of the vessel to watch the work as it progresses.

Read more about the project, and view other pictures on the Seattle Times website.

Featured photo by Greg Gilbert for the Seattle Times.

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