1915: The Official Start of a Schooner’s Longtime Service on the Pacific Coast

April 29, 1915

In San Francisco, the schooner SS Wapama began a long and varied career when she was officially entered into service as a ship of the Charles McCormick Lumber Company. The “ownership oath” for this acquisition of the Wapama was completed on that date by Sidney Hauptman, the company’s secretary.

Two days later, the Wapama departed from San Francisco for her maiden voyage under the command of Commodore Edward Jahnsen. This voyage was completed on May 3 with the arrival of the vessel at Astoria, Oregon.

The wooden-hulled, steam-propelled Wapama, featuring two masts and measuring 216.9 feet (66.1 meters) in length, was built by the St. Helens Shipbuilding Company on Sauvie Island. (Sauvie Island is located along the Columbia River in Oregon; it is one of the largest river islands in the United States.) 

The Wapama was one of many steam schooners that operated during that era as a key part of the then-thriving Pacific coast lumber industry. The Wapama routinely transported passengers and general cargo from San Francisco to Oregon, and then loaded up on lumber and new passengers before making her way back to San Francisco. 

While initially placed into service by the McCormick Lumber Company, the Wapama changed owners a couple of times during her first decade of existence. She was transferred back to the McCormick Lumber Company in 1925, and spent the remainder of the decade continuing to ferry lumber, passengers, and general cargo between San Francisco and Oregon. 

As many of her fellow steam schooners were retired and allowed to deteriorate with the onset of the Great Depression, the Wapama found new life as a passenger-and-cargo ship for the Los Angeles-San Francisco Navigation Company starting in 1930. Before end of that decade, the Wapama had been renamed the Tongass and was operated by the Alaska Transportation Company to deliver passengers, cargo, and mail to several Alaskan coastal communities. 

This ship was eventually named the Wapama again and, starting in 1963, displayed at the San Francisco Maritime Museum as the last surviving example of more than 225 wooden steam schooners that were once vital to the Pacific coast lumber trade. The Wapama was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984.

Ultimately, however, the Wapama fell victim to decay caused by such factors as dry rot. The vessel had to be demolished when there was not sufficient funding to effectively mitigate those corrosive impacts. This dismantling of the Wapama took place in 2013.  Before that process was carried out, though, various components of the ship — including its engine and pilot house — were given to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park for permanent display there. The Wapama’s designation as a National Historic Landmark was formally withdrawn in 2015.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on the SS Wapama, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wapama_(steam_schooner) and https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-dpt-xpm-2013-12-06-tn-dpt-me-1208-ship-leaves-the-harbor-20131206-story.html

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