The Nation’s Most Popular Locks

Ballard, once a town populated primarily by Scandinavian fishermen, is now a popular neighborhood in northwest Seattle (I previously wrote about Ballard’s recent boom in popularity here and Ballard’s famous holdout here). Two of Ballard’s defining features are associated with the waterway that separates the neighborhood from the city: the Ballard Bridge and the Ballard Locks.


The Ballard Locks and the Lake Washington ship canal were constructed in the early twentieth century (the Locks are celebrating their centennial 2016-2017!). The Locks were created to enable traffic between Puget Sound and Seattle’s series of lakes, allowing timber to be easily shipped out by boat. While the majority of traffic today is no longer commercial, the Locks are the nation’s busiest lock system with around 50,000 vessels passing through each year. The Locks are also a National Historic Site and are a popular destination for tourists both on foot and by boat.

Happy centennial to the Ballard Locks (it’s a big year, another centennial!) and keep your eyes open for centennial events this year and next. A schedule of upcoming events is located on the Locks’ centennial page, here.



Sources and Further Reading:

Don’t miss the Ballard Locks centennial page, Making the Cut. Find current events here as well as history (including a short video).

Read more about the Lake Washington Ship Canal here. The article is short but the historic photographs are worth your time!

The Ballard Locks also have their own page (aside from the centennial website).

The Locks and the ship canal are just two of the engineering feats that changed Seattle’s early landscape. David Williams recently wrote a book, Too High and Too Steep, about how Seattle’s landscape has been altered throughout its history. Local writer Knute Berger also recently explored the topic of Seattle’s altered landscapes.

Scroll down for a sampling of some of the best boat traffic I’ve caught during visits to the Locks. These include the one of the Washington State ferries, which was making it’s way to dock for repairs (this photo courtesy of my awesome brother). The architecture of the Locks buildings is also fantastic. I love the mushroom-like roofs of the lock-side offices.









5 thoughts on “The Nation’s Most Popular Locks

  1. Amazing infrastructure! A cut through the landscape to make work, to make money, to support families, to grow…and then it is superseded by newer technology, newer infrastructure…for the same ends, no? Thank you for your photo-journalism–inspirational.


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