The Famous Elwell Boat Captains of Snohomish County

Related to the Elwell family by marriage, I was thrilled to find out what an important role the Elwells played in the history of Washington State, specfically Snohomish County.

“In the summer of 1900, Captain Charles Wright sold the City of Bothell and then the Snohomish and Skagit River Navigation Company was formed by Captain Charles Wright, Captain Charles Elwell, and Captain Vic Pinkerton. It was then decided to build a boat for towing on the Snohomish and Skagit rivers.

“Captain Charles Elwell made the hull model and Bob Houston was given the job of building the Black Prince.” Dimensions of the Black Prince were: hull, 93 feet; over-all length, 112 feet; beam, 19 feet; depth of hold, 5 feet; tonnage measurement was 159 gross tons, according to the captain…

…The first crew on the Prince in 1901, was Captain Elwell; Captain (Engr.) Wright; engineer Mike Hertzberg; Captain Pinkerton; Forrest Elwell, deck hand, and Wes Harbert, fireman.

“In the late summer of 1901, she made a trip between Novelty and Tolt. In 1902, the Prince took a two from Haskell Slough (near Monroe) to the mouth of the Snohomish River.”

…”In 1922, Captain Harry Ramwell of the American Tugboat Company purchased the Black Prince. She was sold to the Everett Port Commission in the year of 1935 for one dollar. The Port Commission then turned her over to the Everett yacht Club.”
“Time marches on and we found that the Black Prince was too small, too old, and too expensive to repair. She was dismantled in the late fall of 1956 to make room for a larger clubhouse.”

“As a memorial to the sternwheeler days, the paddle wheel of the Black Prince sits on the lawn of the Port Commision Office on the Everett waterfront.”
Stump Ranch Online – Black Prince – reprinted from the Skagit Valley Herald, October 7, 1964

The Black Prince ran up and down the rivers of Snohomish county, providing transportation for local and immigrating families, and moving supplies and materials to the outlying Pacific Northwest in the foothills of the Northern and Central Cascade Mountains.

Two Elwells were directly involved in the history of the Black Prince. Charles Elwell (1865-1947) was part of the original team that helped to build and captain the paddle wheel boat. Forest Elwell (circa 1880-1970), brother of Charles, became captain of the Black Prince in 1907. Charles and Forest were the sons of John Elwell (1843-1895) and Susan (Guaquiath Kektidose (Guag-Wah-Ah)), an Indian from the Snohomish Tribe, and a descendant of the famous Chief Seattle.

Another departed old timer whose life work was as a tow boat operator on the Skagit and Snohomish rivers was Capt. Forrest Elwell, 90, who passed on at Everett.

He was more than a real pioneer; his grandmother was a sister of chief Seattle. He made his home in Mount Vernon many years where he skippered the river tugboat, Black Prince, well known to so many in delta areas and in Mount Vernon. Later he built the Ora Elwell. The boats took tows of logs from upriver to rafting areas on the lower Skagit, Skagit Bay and some on to Everett, and some of his boats also were in towing service on Snohomish river.

In his later years he was skipper on the Black Ball Ferries from which he retired in 1954. There he was captain on the ferry Quillayute on the Anacortes-San Juan run. In 1933 he was asked to serve for two terms as a member of the state planning commission as the Skagit authority on flood control, bank erosion and soil erosion.

The Everett Yacht Club took over the Black Prince as headquarters on its retirement and today a banquet room there is named for the old boat, with a model of it occupying a place of honor in the foyer.
John Conrad’s obituary notes: Colorful Lives 1970 Pioneer Picnic, part 1

For more information on the Elwell brothers and their adventures on the Snohomish rivers and Pacific Northwest, see:

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Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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