Downtown Kirkland's 1930s-era Ferry Clock Restoration Gets Underway

Kirkland’s historic ferry clock might soon be repaired and restored to it’s original glory, at least if the spunky Sue Contreras, a Kirkland Park Board member and the ambitious group she’s assembled get their way.


From 1905 until 1950, Seattle-bound Kirklanders lined up at the foot of Kirkland Avenue to board a ferry crossing the lake to Madison Park. In an era when wristwatches were an expensive luxury item, riders depended on the town’s ferry clock for both the boat’s schedule and time of day.  In 1935, a man whose career made him value Kirkland gifted the town a clock, and it’s remained on Kirkland Avenue sixty years after Kirkland’s last ferry departed.

The clock was originally configured with two light globes at the top, one on each side, and another light illuminated its face. Several past ‘beautification’ efforts removed the ferry schedule and lights, repainted it from the original light blue to a teal and added a large copper plate covering the front where the ferry schedule was previously displayed.


Sue Contreras was long bothered that the clock had frozen at 1:33 and last year she started an effort to finally get the clock restored to its original grandeur. She spoke to city staff who agreed that repair was necessary, but then came the biggest challenge: finding a person in the digital age with the knowledge and parts to repair a 76 year-old electric clock!


Contreras asked her friend--and fellow Kudos Kirkland volunteer—local historian/author Matt McCauley, what he knew about the clock. She also tracked down a specialized repair technician—a Horologist—in Spokane. McCauley searched the old East Side Journal newspaper, locating a few stories about the clock.  He also unearthed some pre-‘beautification’ photos. Last September, with the horologist’s guidance, a city crew successfully removed the clock without damage.


The clock was donated by Capt. John Anderson, to whom McCauley had devoted an entire chapter in his best-selling 2010 Kirkland history book, ‘A Look to the Past: Kirkland.’ According to McCauley, Anderson’s was a rag-to-riches story: a 20 year-old Swedish immigrant who stepped off a ship at the Seattle waterfront in 1888 with only $20 to his name and eventually landed a deckhand job on a Lake Washington steamboat. He saved his earnings and within a few years purchased his own lake steamboat and with its revenues he began buying other lake boats as well as lakefront property.  After amassing a small fleet, he bought a controlling interest in the small boatyard located at today’s Carillon Point and also developed private lakeside resort parks at Houghton, Bellevue and Mercer Island. King County operated lake ferry service from 1905, but by the early 1920s the system was hemorrhaging money. In 1922, the county hired the ever-successful Anderson to run its system and he quickly brought things under control financially. He retired in 1935, shortly after he donated the clock to the people of Kirkland, and died in 1941.


After the clock was removed in September, Contreras quickly went to work, contacting the Kirkland Heritage Society (KHS) for additional information because she and the city wanted the clock restored to its 1935 configuration. Contreras hoped to locate a front-view photo with its light globes in place and the ferry schedule mounted below the clock face. Sadly, KHS’s collection does not have such an image of the clock.  At a March 16 meeting of the group formed by Contreras to facilitate the clock’s restoration, KHS president, Loita Hawkinson, reported that the KHS board had approved a $500 donation and she pledged $100 personally. Kirkland Public Works Department’s Mark Padgett has been working with restoration firms and estimated costs to restore the clock to its 1935 appearance are roughly $7,000. KHS Past President Bob Burke is researching grant money availability, but even with that, it is likely public donations will be needed to complete the clock. Anyone interested in donating to the restoration fund should contact attention Sue Contreras, who also wants to hear from anyone with clock photos taken prior to 1950. These would be immensely helpful to the restorers, even if the clock is just in the background of a parade or similar event—photos would be scanned and the originals promptly returned.


[box type="note" style="rounded" border="full"]Please note: A reader has written to Kirkland Views stating that photos used in this article were originally posted online by him and that he was not properly credited. The author of this article has been notified of this communication. We appreciate the correction. To view many more photos from Kirkland's past, please visit[/box]