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Whidbey Island
and The Legend of Deception Pass

Chapter Ten

'Father' of the Deception Pass Bridge

Captain George Morse is recognized as the "father" of the Deception Pass Bridge. The New England seaman had sailed his ship across two oceans and finally through a narrow waterway between two Northwest Islands, a waterway that had been debated for years as to whether it was the mouth of a river, or even the mouth of a waterway thought to have extended across North America, the concept of which had drowned many explorers of that early day.

When Captain Morse made Oak Harbor his home, the town was little more than a village situated on the shore of a slough that ran parallel to the all-embracing shore of the harbor. It would be many years before the town would be incorporated as Oak Harbor, on an Island in Puget Sound, available only by boat. But the visionary often overshadows reality, as future Islanders were to realize.

Captain Morse took land just north of the town, land now occupied by the Roller Barn and the Neil Tower Museum. The two-story frame house built by the seaman for his big family stood for many years.

Morse, in 1907 became a local representative to Olympia, and carried his dream to the governing body of the new state. He was instrumental in passing a bill through the Legislature calling for the building of a bridge over Deception Pass.

In 1908, the bridge site was studied, drawings made, and an appropriation of $20,000 made for approaches on both sides of the Pass. A miniature of the proposed bridge was displayed at the Alaskan-Yukon Exposition of 1909, but the small model was destined to be the only Deception Pass Bridge that Captain Morse would ever see. His children and grandchildren were the only ones to see the Captain 's vision come to reality.

In 1935, when the bridge was dedicated, Sadie Morse Davis, daughter of Captain Morse, wrote: "It was the greatest disappointment of his (Morse's) life when the bridge bill was thrown out, and the money used for other purposes." Sadie Morse Davis lived to see her father's dream come true.

But the Deception Pass Bridge was not to die. In 1918 the project was unsuccessfully promoted as a "war necessity," and in 1921 state legislators wrote an appeal to Congress, citing the military importance of the bridge. That also failed.

Then came the American Legion effort that included the forming of the Deception Pass Bridge Association. With the help of state Representative Pearl Wanamaker of Island County, Representative William McCracken of Skagit County introduced the 1929 Bridge Bill that passed the legislation unanimously. It was one step forward, but one step backward when Governor Hartley vetoed the bill!

The American Legion reorganized the Bridge Association under the direction of Lyle Muzzall, then manager of Oak Harbor's prestigious Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association. Albert Hoffman, 1931 Representative from Island County made another effort to gain funds for the project, but was unsuccessful. In March of that year headlines in the Island County Farm Bureau News read: "Senate Leaders Place Thumbs Down on Deception Pass Bridge!" The article, however, in a subheadline, stated "Bridge Has Become State-Wide Issue. Bridge Boosters More Determined Than Ever." It was a tough fight.

In 1933 the reelected Wanamaker had a bill passed that granted the State Parks Department permission to build a toll bridge if state funds failed.

By the summer of 1933 the long-awaited dream was on its way to becoming a reality. Under President Franklin Roosevelt's Public Works Administration, funds were granted for unemployment relief in the middle of the country's worst depression of all time. But it wasn't all over.

State money was solicited from newly elected Governor Martin and other officials, and $245,000 was allocated by the government along with $150,000 in County funds and $87,000 in Federal funds. When the State Highways bids were called in June of 1934, the contract was awarded to Puget Construction Company. Soon supplies were flowing, work camps established, and on August 6, 1934 excavation began on the Canoe Pass Bridge.

Captain Morse died in 1915, 20 years before the Bridge was dedicated. His grave, in the Pioneer Cemetery, is covered with rock from the Whidbey side of the Pass, in commemoration of the Captain 's "vision"!

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