Exhibits

Foss Waterway Seaport celebrates the rich maritime history of Tacoma and the Puget Sound region through interpretation, education, and events hosted in the historic Balfour Dock building. Exhibits within the Seaport showcase the history of the region and the life residing in and around its waters.

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Permanent Exhibits

Puyallup People: First on the Waterways

For millennia, the Puyallup people have lived by, traveled on, and drawn sustenance from the Puyallup River, its creeks, and the nearby shores of what is now Puget Sound. Although they have face oppression since settlers first arrived in the mid-1800s, the Puyallup have persisted and maintain a strong connection with the waterways.

Gillnetting on the river, c. 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Puyallup Tribe, Historic Preservation Department

Working with the Puyallup tribe, Foss Waterway Seaport invites you to experience a snapshot of the many changes the Puyallup have experienced in the past two centuries. From the land on which they once and now settled, to maintaining the right to fish, First on the Waterways explores the dramatically changed world of the Puyallup.

Read the lore surrounding the creation of the Sound and its river life. Learn about the life of the Puyallup before its Western settlement. Hear about the relationships formed with the waterways and see how fishing on the Sound has changed over the past 200 years. See the importance of canoe carving and travel. Watch the transformation from tree to canoe. Build a plank house wall or balance a canoe. Hear spoken Lushootseed and understand the meaning behind each season.

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Where Rails Met Sails

G-scale railroad circuit

In 1873, Tacoma became the western terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad. As the railroad continued to grow and solidify its position within Tacoma commerce, the Northern Pacific began construction of an immense warehouse practically one mile long. Construction on the building finished in 1900, and became a grain transfer facility.

Sit inside a life-sized model of steam locomotive. Run trains along a to-scale model of the Tacoma Wharf. Learn about Tacoma Union Station. See the photographs of Jim Fredrickson, pictures of the Norther Pacific Railway in its heyday.

Where Rails Met Sails celebrates the Northern Pacific Railroad and its impact on not only Tacoma, but also the entire Puget Sound region.

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Balfour Dock

The Balfour Dock building, c. 1960s-1970s

Our building is the last remaining intact section of a continuous heavy timber frame warehouse called the Mile Long Warehouse. The building was a marvel that defined Tacoma’s waterfront for almost a century.

Explore the history of the Tacoma waterfront warehouses inside last stretch of the Mile Long Warehouse. Learn about the longshoremen who once worked along the docks. See the tools they used in their daily labors. Witness the transformation of the building from one warehouse among many, to the beautiful building seen today.

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Humpback & Fin Whale

Articulated juvenile humpback whale skeleton

Fin whales and humpbacks and harbor seals, oh my! Learn more about the resident and visiting marine mammals that can be found in Puget Sound.

Try standing next to our fin whale skull (a whopping 17’ longer than the average human’s) and get a sense for how big these majestic animals really are. Learn about how whales filter food through their baleen as you stand beneath an adolescent humpback whale.

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Sport & Industry Fishing

The Pacific Northwest is world famous for the delicious salmon and other fish that come from the Pacific Ocean. However, the fishing industry has had its many ups and downs. See the tools used by industries and private citizens in this exhibit about fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

Kids can learn the parts of a fishing boat as they climb aboard our Columbia River gillnetter, Faith. See a wide variety of outboard motors, some dating back to the early 1900s! Feel the difference between different pulleys as you haul weights at our pulley station.

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Mosquito Fleet: The Ferry Fleet of South Puget Sound

The Tacoma was one of the ferries that served in the Mosquito Fleet, c. 1920s

Before there were roads winding up and down the shores of Puget Sound, the easiest way to travel was along the waterways. When cities began to form along the coast, entrepreneurs saw an opportunity. Swarms of buzzing steamboats could be seen across the water, and they quickly gained a nickname: the Mosquito Fleet.

Learn more about the charismatic characters and sleek steamships that once made their own schedules across the Sound. From model ships, to helmsman’s wheels, to the stories of the men and women who worked within the Fleet, walk through this brief, but bustling, period of history.

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Willits Brothers Canoes

The Willits Brothers workshop on Day Island, c. 1920s-1940s

Renowned for their fine lines, beautiful finish, and nearly identical builds, the canoes built by the Willits Brothers earned a place among local legends of Puget Sound. Earl and Floyd Willits produced roughly 900 canoes out of their small workshop on Day Island, but those few canoes still standing remain coveted staples of boatbuilding history.

See the stunning canoes hand-crafted by the Willits Brothers. Catch a peek of the only non-canoe ever built by the Willits Brothers: the Willits launch. Learn more about the methods the brothers used to build these immaculate vessels.

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Temporary Exhibits

For more information on our temporary exhibits, CLICK HERE.