Out for a Row
On December 15, 1899, students at the University of Washington accepted an offer from developer and rowing aficionado E. F. Blaine to help establish a rowing club on campus. Within a year enough money was raised and support garnered to build two four-oared rowing gigs, a boathouse, and a dock and float for the boats. Crew racing gained official (if unfunded) university recognition in 1903.
A few years later, UW hired Hiram B. Conibear as its first salaried rowing coach, assisted by former Cornell University oarsman Mark Odell. In 1912 Conibear recruited English boatbuilding brothers Dick and George Pocock to make a racing shell for his varsity crew. The Pococks later went to work for Bill Boeing, building pontoons for his seaplanes, but continued to build racing shells, for both the UW and other rowing programs.
After World War I the rowing crews began using a converted military seaplane hangar on Union Bay as the ASUW Shell House, which soon also housed George Pocock's workshop. Dick Pocock had left Seattlle in 1922 to build shells for Yale, but George -- after quitting his job at Boeing later that same year -- remained at UW and devoted the rest of his life to building racing shells, later joined by his son, Stan Pocock. In 1923 the Husky varsity oarsmen propelled a Pocock shell to the school's first national championship in any sport when they defeated Navy in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's Poughkeepsie Regatta. And in 1936, in another Pocock-built shell, the UW varsity eight won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Nazi Germany, a story detailed in the best-selling book The Boys in the Boat.
Husky crews have been a powerful and often dominant force in conference, NCAA, and international competitions ever since. In 1949 the rowing program moved into the new Conibear Shellhouse, but this year the original ASUW Shell House was designated an official Seattle landmark, and fundraising is underway for its restoration and rebirth as a multiuse waterfront center.
Cold Wind and Snow
On December 18, 1955, Staff Sergeant John M. Horan -- an Army paratrooper -- was forced to bail out of an ice-covered plane high above the Cascades. Wearing only his winter dress uniform, boots, and an overcoat, Horan survived four days in a snowbound wilderness before hiking 12 miles out of the mountains to safety.
And speaking of pre-winter weather, we note that December 17 seems to be a nexus of chilly history. On that day in 1871, record snow blanketed much of the Puget Sound region, and it was so cold that the Snohomish River froze. On December 17, 1990, a windstorm tore through Puget Sound and cost Washington State Ferries more than $3 million in damages. And beginning 10 years ago this week, on December 17, 2008, two weeks of awful winter weather battered the state.
NEWS THEN, HISTORY NOW
Work to Be Done
On December 15, 1868, 24-year-old Chun Ching Hock -- believed to be Seattle's first Chinese immigrant -- opened the Wa Chong Company, a general-merchandise store at the foot of Mill Street (now Yesler Way.) Chun moved back to China in 1900, but remained an owner of the company, which later moved to 719 S King Street -- now home to the Wing Luke Asian Museum -- in the Chinatown-International District.
Merged into One
On December 19, 1898, the Skagit County towns of Sedro and Wooley merged after almost a decade of rivalry. Sedro began as a coal town and incorporated in 1891, right around the time railroad developer Philip A. Woolley platted his own namesake company town right next door. Even after the merger, some of the residents sought to maintain each half's individual identity.
Streetlights to Run
In 1929 Tacoma was facing a dark holiday due to a drought-caused power shortage, and the municipality had the bright idea to ask the federal government for help. After some debate, the navy sent the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington to the city. It steamed into port on December 17, plugged the ship's powerful generators into the city's system, and supplied about a quarter of Tacoma's electricity for nearly a month.