Thea Foss Waterway

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Thea Foss Waterway
City Waterway
LocationTacoma, Washington
Coordinates47°15′44″N 122°26′14″W / 47.2623214°N 122.4373462°W / 47.2623214; -122.4373462Coordinates: 47°15′44″N 122°26′14″W / 47.2623214°N 122.4373462°W / 47.2623214; -122.4373462
EtymologyThea Foss
Part ofCommencement Bay

The Thea Foss Waterway,[1] formerly the City Waterway,[2] is a north–south inlet of Commencement Bay separating downtown Tacoma, Washington, from the Port of Tacoma.


Tacoma was the site of an early sawmill in 1853. The deepwater port began to boom in the 1870s, sailing ships and steam tugs called in. The Northern Pacific Railroad arrived, by way of the Columbia River in 1874,and the port began to boom (the line via Montana was finished in 1883, but access from California and Nevada did not come till 1891). Tea, wheat lumber, coal, and apples were moved. Trade with Asia exploded. A through railway line was built across the Cascade mountains at Stampede Pass in 1890s and Tacoma began is longtime rivalry with its upstart neighbor 25 miles to the north.

Thea Foss, the waterway's namesake, founded the Foss Maritime Company on the inlet in 1889.[3] She expanded with rowboats, naptha launches and steam tugs. Foss Tug became the pre-eminent towing company in Puget Sound. Today Foss is the largest tug concern on the Pacific Coast.

Initially, the railroads owned the foreshore, as they continue to do till this day. But the City Fathers of Tacoma saw the need to wrest control of the land and build the port. In 1919, the Port of Tacoma was established to capture Panama Canal Traffic, and the sprawling port was expanded into the river delta. Another major railroad arrived--the Milwaukee Road, and it brought further trade.

Sawmills, cedar shingle mills, boat yards, wharves, graneries and warehouses proliferated in the area. Railroad yards extended on the flat foreshore. Fishworks, and processing plants were set up on the shore.

Cleanup and redevelopment[edit]

101 years ago, the Thea Foss Waterway was a thriving industrial center. Industry began to dwindle in the area, and by 1981, the Thea Foss Waterway was almost entirely abandoned. In 1983, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed the Thea Foss and Wheeler-Osgood waterways as part of the larger 12-acre (49,000 m2) Commencement Bay Superfund site. The final cap from the Superfund cleanup action on the Thea Foss Waterway occurred back in February 2006.[4] As of 2010, planned development is underway along the waterway. When complete, the new development will feature parks, residential areas, and office space. A public esplanade will run along the length of the waterway. 7 of the 15 development sites are either constructed or have specific plans for redevelopment. The project is overseen by the Foss Waterway Development Authority Board (FWDA).

Local leaders see the Thea Foss Waterway as an economic opportunity, and seek to restore it to the commercial hub that it once was.

Northern portion of the Thea Foss Waterway, looking west across the waterway toward downtown Tacoma. The Murray Morgan Bridge is to the left. Commencement Bay is to the right.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thea Foss Waterway". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. September 1, 1990. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  2. ^ "City Waterway". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. September 10, 1979. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  3. ^ History of Foss Maritime
  4. ^ Commencement Bay, Nearshore/Tideflats, Environmental Protection Agency.

External links[edit]