Crowded Ballard Locks, circa 1960. (Photo courtesy Washington State Archives.)
Whether you know the man-made channel connecting the saltwater of Puget Sound with the freshwater of Lake Union and Lake Washington as the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Ballard Locks, or the formal Hiram Chittenden Locks, the history is the same.
One of the Northwest’s best-known pioneers, Thomas Mercer, suggested in 1854 to connect the region’s natural bodies of water on the newly established community’s first Independence Day celebration. Mercer declared Tenas Chuck to be Lake Union, perhaps as a suggestive hint of what the future held for the body of water.
Ballard Locks circa 1960. (Photo courtesy Washington State Archives.)
On July 4, 1917, at the Ballard Ship Canal and Locks official opening ceremonies, which were held after some 17,000 marine vessels had already passed through the locks, the SS Roosevelt led a grand celebration of 300 vessels of every size and shape in the procession through the new construction.
The SS Roosevelt was followed by a reading of a telegram from the great canal builder himself, Theodore Roosevelt, who congratulated the city of Seattle. Roosevelt said, “The celebration is of consequence to the whole country.” To add to the spectacle of the 1917 event, one of Bill Boeing’s first airplanes flew overhead in celebration, a prelude to Seafair.
The locks were eventually named for General Hiram Chittenden, an appropriate choice as he was a tireless proponent for the construction of the Ballard Ship Canal and Locks. The locks continue to attract not only seafaring vehicles but tourists alike, over 75,000 a year!