I am sure almost everyone wants to know how and why every town and city got its name. So Gig Harbor would not be any different.
Many of the names here in Washington State are Native American, and those like were named by either Captain Vancouver or Captain Charles Wilkes. In the case of Gig Harbor like some of the other local places were named by Captain Wilkes. On one his exploring travels in 1840 he found his way to Gig Harbor. There was a heavy storm and wanted to find shelter; however, his ship was unable to come into the harbor because the entrance is not very wide and not very deep either. If it wasn’t so busy you could easily swim from one side to the other on the entrance. So Wilkes anchored his ship outside the harbor, and went into the harbor with smaller boats called gigs. In 1841 Wilkes published a map for at that time the area was part of the Oregon Territory. On the map he named the harbor he had visited Gig Harbor.
There were other towns and cities that he named on the map along with Mt. Rainier, and Puget Sound. They were named after two men who accompanied on his exploring.
In 1867 was when Gig Harbor became settled first by families from Croatia. When they came being fisherman along with boat building, and logging. My Nightingale grandparents came to Gig Harbor in the late 1910s. My grandfather came here after growing up in Birmingham, England and my grandmother from Nebraska. My grandfather first spent a little time in Canada on the way here. He started working first at Bremerton Ship Yard and then went to work at Tacoma Light Company where he worked on the construction of Cushman Dam.
My dad was born in Seattle but grew up in Tacoma. His brother and sisters were born in Bremerton. While my dad was growing up my grandparents had a place in Bremerton along with the home in Tacoma. In the 1920s my grandparents purchased property on the east side of Gig Harbor. In those days most of the inhabitants on the east side had cabins like my grandparents, and only spent time in Gig Harbor on some weekends and during the summer. Before the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was built in the 1940s the only way to come to Gig Harbor was by ferry. The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge went up in May of 1940 however went down in November of 1940 in a storm called Galloping Gertie. My dad was living in Gig Harbor at the time in the cabin when the Galloping Gertie happened. Actually he told me he had been on the bridge that day only a few minutes before the bridge collapsed.
Now there are two Tacoma Bridges the second being finished in 2007; however, the first bridge that was there by itself for many years finished being built in 1950. So during the time between Galloping Gertie and building of the first bridge the ferry went back into business so my dad returned to living in Tacoma while still coming out to Gig Harbor on the weekends.
When I was born our family along with my grandparents lived in the cabin. Shortly after my younger brother was born my dad worked and added onto the cabin into a full-fledged house which is still standing today. On the east side of the harbor most of the homes that I knew growing up are no longer there they have been replaced by larger homes. There are only about four or five houses that are still there including our old house today. All the rest were torn down replaced by new houses. Also, some more houses have been added over the years as well.
Though most of the homes were being lived in year around when I was growing up there were still some that were used only on the weekends and the summer. Now almost everyone lives there all year round.
When the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was built in 1950 more people came out to live in Gig Harbor and the smaller communities nearby. At that time there were several small grocery stores around in those small communities. Most of them are still in business today.
Anyway now you know more about how came about and got its name. I find it real interesting to find out how towns and cities were named. One last fact when I was growing up we did not have street names until around the time I graduated from high school in the 1970s. Though we never moved our address changed like four times while I grew up. The street names in Gig Harbor are all named after those early settlers.