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Two in Tow & On the Go: Shenandoah tours closed during construction

Posted on August 4th, 2023 By:

This week, our intrepid editor Mr. Vince Dice took readers behind the scenes on the epic journey to restore the Harbor History Museum‘s favorite Skansie seiner, the Shenandoah.

I’m here to shamelessly piggyback on his writing fame and fortune to tell you a similar story — but with a family-fun twist. It’s a tale of two little children, the slam of a door, and an unplanned climb aboard a very tall fishing vessel.

But first, if you haven’t read Dice’s expertly woven tale about this historic commercial fishing boat and its importance to Gig Harbor, which I linked for you (twice — cough, cough), here’s a quick rundown on what the Shenandoah is all about. I was going to summarize it, but then I found this neat way the museum peeps so eloquently described it on their capital campaign page:

Our Shenandoah tour

Once upon a time, (about two weeks ago), the kids and I accidentally went on one of Shenandoah’s very last public tours before construction began to wall up the building in large glass panels around her. But don’t worry, I won’t rub it in, because I also have the scoop on this landmark vessel’s very next — and extra special — public tour in September.

When Clara, Wyatt, and I covered the Harbor History Museum’s “I Spy: The Secret Museum” exhibit last month, we explored every last corner of the building’s east wing. Strangely enough, throughout that activity, we kept hearing the distinct and sudden jolt of a door slamming shut.

It was so strange! We thought perhaps some very angry individual wished to express their scornful wrath a bunch of times by taking it out on a supply closet … or something. Although, such a scenario seemed odd, given the quiet and respectful tone a museum typically invokes within its patrons.

In either case, parents tasked with corralling kids in public places don’t have time to

dwell on matters of mysterious doors, so it was quickly forgotten.

That is, until our favorite new docent friend from the “I SPY” story, Janet Stahnke, asked if we wanted to go outside to get a little looks-y at the museum’s big Shenandoah boat project.

The kids immediately replied with a resounding “YES!” while skipping after her while I winced and tried to sort out the mental math for how many possible lightening-fast mom interventions would be required for keeping a 7- and 9-year-old from breaking off historic boat parts from the city’s prized 98-year-old heritage vessel.

The door

In a happy coincidence, the door mystery was solved two seconds later! Turns out, what we were actually hearing was the museum’s back door leading to Shenandoah’s outdoor gallery. Once we walked through, the kids and I discovered no slamming was actually involved, it was just the type of door with a push bar making it a little louder than other door types in an otherwise hushed environment. (Fun fact: did you also know that push hardware is also universally called a “panic bar”? Yikes!).



Little details

The tour ended up being so cool! We went with a few museum guests we didn’t know, and Stahnke wowed us all with her amazing roster of fun facts about the boat’s restoration process and history.

She told us about how the boat was designed to be a cannery tender to haul fish to Alaska to be processed. Later, the boat was outfitted for a different job — to catch fish in big commercial nets called purse-seiners.

To reflect both uses, the restoration crew is designing one side of the boat to look like a canning tender and the opposite side as a fishing boat. They can do that since the boat is a museum display now and not returning to the water.

Our docent also explained how the restoration crew patched and smoothed the nail heads that had emerged over the years along the worn sides of the hull. (Fun fact: remember the  first time we met “the” Shenandoah at the Kids’ Gig playground?)

Then came the stair climb up onto the boat’s deck, located high above the sleeping quarters. The deck tilts forward slightly, but public safety railings are being installed. And, on that day, the kids were really careful to “watch their feet!” (as I like to yell from behind them basically anywhere we go). We also held hands, a lot.

The sleeping cabin was off limits still but in the eating quarters, our docent explained that the little kitchen was designed for life at sea. This meant no doors on the kitchen cabinets since they could swing open on stormy waters and toss your plates every which way. Instead, the cabinets had neat little stacking/slot systems for dishware that kept those suckers in place should travel conditions go topsy-turvy.




In the wheelhouse, the skipper had a sheltered steering option, away from the rain. But Stahnke said crews actually liked to steer on top of fishing boats at a metal helm, away from the tiny little wheelhouse windows that made the horizon hard to view. Ah, the open sea!


Restoration volunteers have done a ton of other work to restore the vessel in much more scientific language than I’m using and they’ve been documenting the progress for over on Facebook. When you scroll through their albums, make sure to read the captions on each picture for the most fascinating details. Meanwhile, museum director Stephanie Lile tells me they’re about 80 percent done with the boat’s restoration. After those safety rails are installed up top, they’re finishing the crew quarters, engine room, and fish hold; completing the galley and skipper’s quarters; and running in all new electrical among other behind-the-scenes tasks and conservation stuff.

Unfortunately, now Shenandoah’s entire gallery is closed for construction (and the boat with it). With heavy equipment lifting beams and installing windows overhead, public access will probably be nixed until the gallery construction is complete at the end of November.

Special date

However, that special tour date I promised you is coming up! The only opportunity to access Shenandoah before the holidays is at the museum’s History Rocks event on Sept. 16.

“We will be leading hard-hat tours in small groups,” Lile said.

After construction but before the Shenandoah Exhibit/Maritime Gallery’s official debut in early 2025, intermittent public access could happen, Lile said.

“Eventually, there will be a whole new school program developed for Shenandoah, shaped similarly to our popular Midway School Experience,” she said. “News on that will follow later in the project.”

…. which reminds me, I really need to get in on that 1900s class sesh. Think I could get Clara and Wyatt to wear frilly little pioneer kid clothing?

Anyway, I hope you get to see the Shenandoah work in action soon!

Mom and two kids standing with water and boats in the background.


Tonya Strickland is a Gig Harbor mom-of-two, longtime journalist, and Instagram influencer in the family and travel niche. Her blog, Two in Tow & On the Go, was recently named among the 10 Seattle-Area Instagram Accounts to Follow by ParentMap magazine. Tonya and her husband Bowen recently moved to Gig Harbor from California with their two kids, Clara (9) and Wyatt (7). Find her on Facebook for all the kid-friendly places in and around Gig Harbor.