Seaport Exhibits

Tacoma-This is Your Waterfront!

The Seaport's Museum is a place where stories are told with artifacts from our permanent collection and on extended loan. Some of our permanent exhibits include sharing the stories of Puget Sound's Mosquito Fleet, A Maritime Lego Display, Numerous Classic Boats, and A new train exhibit entitled Rails to Sails.

The Puyallup People: First on the Waterway

First on the Waterways: The Puyallup People, (spuyaləpabš)


The Foss Waterway Seaport is proud to present The Puyallup People: First on the Waterways, an exhibit exploring the history of the Puyallup People and their intimate connection to the Salish Sea and the Puyallup River.

With significant support from the Puyallup Tribe, this exhibit is sure to expand your knowledge about the tribe through a variety of exciting artifacts, interpretative panels, and multimedia installations.


The Foss Waterway Seaport maritime museum is located on Puyallup land, and this is an important story to tell,” said Seaport Museum Executive Director Wesley A. Wenhardt.  For millennia, the Puyallup people have lived by, traveled on, and drawn sustenance from local waterways. The Puyallup maintained strong connections to Puget Sound, the Puyallup River, and the creeks and streams that feed into it. The exhibit shows the historical and traditional connections between the Puyallup people and the waterways, how the tribe persevered in maintaining those connections, and what the relationship looks like today. 


The exhibit highlights the life of the Puyallup People in the South Sound, including canoe building and fishing technique, resource utilization, diet, recreation, world view, and contact with other tribes and later explorers. To tell this story accurately, the exhibit content has been developed in partnership with local members of the Puyallup Tribe.

The story of the Puyallup portrayed in the exhibit will cover past, present, and future relationships with the water and access to it. The exhibit will provide visitors with an appreciation of the impact and culture of the Native Americans who lived here. In addition to being viewed by the public, the exhibit will add to local school curriculum through on-site programs, and provide a space for Native American-based public and educational programming at the Seaport.


“Generous support from the tribe’s historic preservation office and language department contributed to the development of the exhibit,” said exhibit curator Chris Fiala Erlich.


“We are impressed with the sensitive and comprehensive approach the Seaport has taken, guided by the curator Chris Erlich,” said Brandan Reynon Assistant Director, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Tribal Archaeologist, Puyallup Tribe of Indians. A series of cultural programing activities were scheduled at the Foss Waterway Seaport including canoe paddling, carving, weaving and dance. The exhibit also coincided with Tribal Canoe Journeys which was hosted locally by the Puyallup People in July 2018.      


This special exhibit received financial support from the City of Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission’s 2016 Heritage Project Grant, The Puyallup Tribe, TOTE Maritime, Port of Tacoma, Bruce Dees & Associates, Connelly Law Offices, Foss Waterway Development Authority, Frederickson Power LP, Georgio’s Catering Company, P n J Machining, Inc., Pro Call Center, Inc., Sound Glass Sales, Inc., T.R. Trucking, Inc., Tacoma Community College, and Foss Waterway Seaport. The exhibit was curated by Chris Erlich and fabricated by KelTech Plastics of Tacoma.







Half Moon Yard

Rails to Sails

In 1873 Tacoma became the western terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad. As the railroad continued to grow and solidify its position within Tacoma commerce, the Northern Pacific began construction of an immense warehouse practically one mile long. The building was completed in 1900, and became a grain transfer facility.

Our Where Rails Met Sails Exhibit is designed to celebrate the Northern Pacific Railroad and its impact on not only Tacoma, but the entire Puget Sound region. Join us during your visit and return to the beginning of what is now the Foss Waterway Seaport.

Foss Waterway Seaport Image

Fishing the Sound

Fishing, in both sport and instustrial forms, has played an impotant role in the economy and lifestyle of Puget Sound.  Tacoma is the home of many shipbuilders who manufactured fishing vessels of all sizes.  Come and see models of commercial vessels manufactured by Martinac on the Thea Foss Wateray as well as smaller locally made boats for sport fishing.  This exhibit includes an incredible collection of vintage fishing lures and equipment on loan to the Seaport. 

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Willits Canoes

The Willits brothers, Earl and Floyd, built canoes in their Day Island factory on the west side of Tacoma.  They manufactured canoes spanning many decades, beginning in 1908 and concluding in 1967 with over 900 examples built.  Also in this exhibit is a one-of-a-kind 20-foot launch, built in 1929 by the brothers.  Learn about this local story of a cottage industry that produced products highly sought after by canoe enthusiasts.

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Vintage Scuba Exhibition

The Vintage Scuba exhibit is a colaboration between the Seaport's maritime museum and Flashback Scuba Museum.  This exhibit showcases early scuba equipment from the 1950s and 1960s.  This exhibit includes how breathing devices work, model of an early wood diving bell, breating tanks, and hard-helmet diving gear.  There are models of Jacques Cousteau's famous underwater exploration vessel Calypso, which was built locally in Puget Sound at the Ballard Ship Yard.  One of these models visitors can climb aboard!  Children will enjoy the coloring activities of underwater scenes and finding characters from "Finding Nemo" hidden throughout the exhibit. 

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Mosquito Fleet

The Mosquito Fleet was a name given to the steam ferries that once crossed the "Liquid Highway" of Puget Sound during the decades spanning the turn of the 20th Century.  Before the era of paved highways the preferred mode of transportaton between waterfront communities in Puget Sound was by ship.  This exhibit showcases many of the nameboards recovered from Mosquito Fleet vessesl prior to their demolition after retirement.  Large ships wheels from the steamships Iroquois and City of Bremerton are on display.  Many handcrafted models of steamships may be viewed, along with an eight-foot long model of the Tacoma. This exhibit will delight anyone with an interest in steam ferries!

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An Ocean Transformed

An Ocean Transformed - art with a message, is an educational exhibit featuring marine debris sculptures designed and built by Sherman Elementary School (Tacoma Public Schools) students from as part of 2015 Seaport education pilot program. The five amazing sculptures invoke strong visual messages and are sure to encourage best practices in everyone who views these wonderful art pieces. Plan to visit the Seaport to see the exhibit, read the students' journals, enjoy the students’ creativity and take to heart the messages they impart! To enhance this exhibit we also have a 32-foot plastic whale on display. Learn more about the pilot program.

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Balfour Dock Building Exhibit

Our building is the last remaining intact section of a continuous heavy timber frame warehouse that defined Tacoma’s waterfront for almost a century. The Balfour Dock Building Exhibit is a key exhibit in our permanent collection. The exhibit showcases the history of our building complete with a piece of the heavy timber truss that supported the original wharf. Learn more about our building's history while viewing this amazing structure.

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Boats for all Occasions

See our wonderful collection of classic recreational boats in an exhibit called "Boats for all Occasions," which includes original Andrew Foss rowboats; Willits canoes: Faith, our Columbia gillnetter outfitted for youth boater education; hand-built small craft for cruising local waterways, and impeccably restored Poulsbo boats. Also included are a number of models from the Mosquito Fleet era.

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Boat Shop

Our active Heritage Wooden Boat Shop allows Seaport volunteer boatbuilders to celebrate and preserve traditional maritime construction and craft.
Our boat shop provides:

  • The chance for our guests to observe restoration and/or new construction work on Thursdays & Saturdays when our Boat Shop is open.
  • A showcase for traditional maritime crafts and construction skills
  • Workshops by master boat builders who are part of the Seaport volunteer boat building team
  • Copies of historic vessels for the Seaport’s boat livery to be offered as rentals in the future
  • Opportunities to learn about restoring and maintaining boats and maritime artifacts

Volunteer opportunities in our Boat Shop are available for people at all skill levels. Click here.