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End of an era

A bit of Freeland’s Socialist history came tumbling down this week when the old dock next to Freeland Park was torn down.

At the same time, the demolition made room for Freeland shipyard Nichols Brothers Boat Builders to do tidelands restoration work, something required by federal and state regulators after a ship launch last year damaged eelgrass beds and Holmes Harbor fish habitat.

The dock was one of the last structures still around from the early 1900s. Crumbling piers and rotted wood made it unsafe for public use. A fence has blocked access to it for more than a decade. During the years it has been rebuilt, restored and shorred up. The dock was built around the turn of the century as the the site of Freeland’s former cooperative store.

The dock’s current owner, Matt Nichols, chairman of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, said the final chapter had to be written for the dock this year.

“The time has come to take it down,” he said. “It’s dangerous and unsightly.”

Nichols purchased the dock this summer as part of his company’s agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers. The agreement stems from Nichols Brothers failure to obtain a shoreline permit to build a rail launch system for the 350-foot sternwheeler Empress of the North in June 2003.

Still Nichols appreciates the history of the harbor, that was once the business center of Freeland. His office now sits on the footprint of Freeland’s first grocery store and post office.

Nichols said the area at the foot of the harbor was all there was to Freeland in the early 1900s. The dock was an integral part of a working harbor that included a saw mill, a cash store, post office and machine shop.

“A private ferry from Everett landed here,” Nichols said.

Over time, Freeland’s business district moved up to Main Street, but the dock continued to be a center of activity. For many years it was used by barges to transport gravel, from the nearby pit on Highway 525, until trucks become more cost effective.

This is the second time Nichols Brothers has purchased the dock. During a portion of the company’s 40-year history, the dock was used for doing work on the boats the company builds. The company sold the dock to Taylor Seafoods, an acquaculture company that made an attempt at developing a mussel business in the harbor, in the early 1990s. Nichols Brothers paid about $50,000 to get the dock back, according to Matt Nichols. The company will spend an additional $200,000 to remove the dock and restore fish habitat in the vicinity of the demolished dock.

With the dock gone, the beach from Freeland Park is now unobstructed all the way to the Nichols ramp. Nichols hopes locals will take advantage of the open space.

“The sign on the beach says welcome,” Nichols said. “With the dock gone, there is nice even flow for people to walk the beach between the park and our ramp.”

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