117-Year-Old Shipwreck Found in Puget Sound

The S.S. Dix went down while ferrying passengers between Seattle and Bainbridge Island

Black and white image of small ferry
The S.S. Dix was part of the "Mosquito Fleet" of vessels that ferried passengers around Puget Sound. Northwest Shipwreck Alliance

On November 18, 1906, the S.S. Dix collided with a larger steamship and sank to the bottom of Puget Sound. At least 42 passengers died in the wreck, which is one of the worst maritime disasters in Seattle history.

Now, underwater explorers say they’ve located the Dix’s final resting place. They announced the discovery last week, reports KIRO Newsradio’s Feliks Banel. The ship sits upright at the bottom of Elliott Bay near Seattle’s Alki Point, submerged under roughly 600 feet of water.

The Dix, a small wooden ship built in 1904, was part of the “Mosquito Fleet” of privately owned vessels that ferried passengers around Puget Sound between the 1830s and the 1930s.

“Before roads, the area relied on these boats for transportation and commerce,” according to the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. “Unpredictable and dangerous, the ferry system battled weather, water conditions and boiler accidents to connect communities.”

Measuring roughly 100 feet long, the Dix traveled back and forth between downtown Seattle and Port Blakely on Bainbridge Island. It made the roundtrip journey 19 times per day, reports CBS News’ Stephen Smith, with each leg lasting about 40 minutes.

At the time of the wreck, the ship had just left Seattle and was heading across the bay. The captain was making the rounds to collect passengers’ tickets, leaving a ship’s mate at the helm. What went wrong isn’t clear, but a few minutes later, the Dix crashed into a bigger vessel loaded with iron ore named the S.S. Jeanie.

The smaller Dix sank almost immediately. Though an estimated 35 passengers were rescued, dozens became trapped on the lower level and went down with the ship. The tragedy was shocking because the Mosquito Fleet was the “only way to travel because of the dense forests in the area, and two million people a year took these steamers,” said Andrea Mercado, director of the Log House Museum, to the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s Debera Carlton Harrell in 2006.

“Steamers were so safe and reliable; they went everywhere in Puget Sound, yet out of the blue, this very tragic, very quick event occurred,” she added. “It impacted small communities and all of Seattle.”

Black and white newspaper front page
The deadly wreck made headlines in 1906. Northwest Shipwreck Alliance

Two men, Jeff Hummel and Matt McCauley, say they’ve known the location of the Dix since 2015 but kept it a secret until now. McCauley is president of the Northwest Shipwreck Alliance; Hummel is one of the alliance’s directors and the CEO of the exploration company Rockfish.

“There’s a lot of sediment covering the main deck,” says Hummel to FOX 13 Seattle’s Lauren Donovan. “The vessel is covered in large sea anemones. So it’s very difficult to see the actual structure of the vessel.”

The two men have made other discoveries, including the S.S. Pacific, a 225-foot steamer that sank off Cape Flattery in 1875.

Eventually, they hope to work with the Washington state legislature to help preserve and protect the Dix.

“It’s important to pay respect to the vessel and the people that have been lost, and we’d like to see some legal mechanism for protecting it,” Hummel tells KIRO Newsradio.

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