Looking Back: Deception Pass, before and after

Deception Pass in 1912, before the bridge.

Before – a treasured photo

For me, old books hold a special place in my heart. A few years ago, as a volunteer at Humble House, Sno-Isle Genealogical Society’s library at Lynnwood’s Heritage Park, I was straightening some of the books on the shelves, when I found treasure in the form of a photo in a 1912 publication. Now in public domain, the book was published by Robert A. Reid of Seattle—also compiled and written by him.

The book, Puget Sound and Western Washington, Cities—Towns—Scenery is a little worn and has a rather ordinary name, but inside its covers is a historical gem. When I saw the photo of a boat making its way through a narrow waterway, and then read its location—I was caught up in some special history of Western Washington, as well as some personal memories of my own.  Today, the area surrounding the waterway is one of Washington State’s most photographed and well-traveled locations—certainly, a favorite destination for thousands of people

Wait a minute, something appears to be missing from this old photo. Yes, there is something very important missing—in our day an impressive bridge spans the narrow passage. The addition of the Deception Pass Bridge has completely changed the scenery.

Some history of Deception Pass

An informational marker at the entrance to the bridge tells some of the history of Deception Pass and its location:

To the north of this narrow passage is Fidalgo Island, so named for the for the Spanish explorer Lieutenant Salvador Fidalgo. To the south is Whidbey Island, second largest island in the contiguous 48 states, which Captain George Vancouver while exploring this region in 1792, at first sight thought to be a peninsula. Further exploration conducted by him, disclosed the existence of this intricate channel. Upon the realization that he had been deceived as to the character of the large island, Vancouver gave to this channel the name of Deception Passage, and in naming the island, he honored his trusted officer, Joseph Whidbey.

As an important part of our earliest history, we should remember that long before the Vancouver Expedition found and mapped the passage in June of 1782, during its expedition for Great Britain, these waters were used by the Coast Salish people.

The first and only sea captain known to have sailed a square-rigged ship through the turbulent waters was Capt. Thomas Coupe (1818-1875), the founder of Coupeville. Capt. Coupe went to sea at the age of 12, and became the master of several different sailing ships.

Before the building of the Deception Pass Bridge, an unscheduled ferry was used to cross between the two islands.

Deception Pass Bridge from Library of Congress in public domain.

After – Building the Deception Pass Bridge

The Deception Pass Bridge actually has two spans, one over Canoe Pass to the north, and the other over Deception Pass to the south. Pass Island is between the two spans.

Construction of the bridge began in August of 1934, and the completed bridge was dedicated on July 31, 1935—with about 700 cars crossing the bridge that day.

During the Great Depression, the Deception Pass Bridge was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal-era construction programs, which were established during his administration to put people back to work. The cost was approximately $482,000, with funding made possible through the federal government’s Public Works Administration (PWA) and county funds.

The young men who lived in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps were responsible for building the roads leading to the bridge from both sides. The Civilian Conservation Corps, another of President Roosevelt’s ideas, was a work relief program that gave millions of young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression. The CCC is often considered the most successful of all the New Deal programs.

A personal memory

Not long after the Deception Pass Bridge opened, as a child standing at the side of the bridge and looking at the turbulence of the waters far below, I never gave a thought about the future and my own chance to travel that water passage to the sea. My first trip through those waters was in 1974 while aboard our commercial fishing boat heading from Edmonds to Southeast Alaska. Looking at the beautiful scenery from a completely different viewpoint, made it an awe-inspiring journey for me.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of early-day Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. She is also an honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.


  1. Really enjoyed your article, especially how you weave in names that people already know, thereby anchoring them into history. I am going to have to get that book!

  2. Sam — The only place I have seen it is at the Sno-Isle Genealogical Society at Lynnwood’s Heritage Park. They get donations from people retired and downsizing and/or from estates, so many of the books they have are now in public domain. There is another old photo in the book that I am interested in and have saved a copy.

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