Lakebay Marina and Resort owners look to showcase farm history

Bud Ulsh remembers as a child sneaking into the farm co-op building built over the water in Lakebay. He would climb around feed sacks and other agricultural goods waiting to be ferried across the South Puget Sound to other parts of the Key Peninsula and to Tacoma.

The dock that once led people to Mosquito Fleet boats also doubled as a place for residents to fish for perch and dive into the waters below.

“I got my head stuck in the mud once when the tide was too low,” Ulsh, 81, recalled recently from his home just a short drive from the Lakebay waterfront. “I had the guts to do anything.”

The dock and building still span the shallow waters of Lakebay, just past Mayo Cove. They’ll be on display Saturday for the Key Peninsula Farm Tour, an annual event that highlights the area’s rich farming history.

Lakebay Marina and Resort owners Mark and Cindy Scott joined the tour this year.

Why did they want their property to be represented? “It was the farm co-op, and it’s nice for people to realize there is a lot of farm history here,” Mark Scott said.

The Scotts have owned the marina and surrounding property just shy of two years. They’ve spent that time slowly rehabilitating the site.

They’ve replaced 500 planks on the dock, added railings, restored the former co-op building that later became a marina hall and resurrected the Lakebay Cafe. They also hope to rescue the white house and cabins on the upland part of the property.

The Scotts try to source the food for the cafe from local suppliers, including tomatoes from My Mother’s Garden up the hill from the marina and Minder Meats in Bremerton.

“The thing that is wonderful about having them on the farm tour is, the Lakebay Marina is the site of the first farm co-op on the peninsula,” said Carolyn Wiley, president of the farm tour. “Our historic society has spent a great deal of time researching the history of the facility as a farm outlet.”

The theme of this year’s tour is the Key Peninsula’s change from a logging community to a farming community, Wiley said. That fits the Lakebay Marina and Resort, which was tied to one of the region’s first logging families before it diverged into agriculture.

Carl Lorenz moved to Lakebay in the late 1800s and built a sawmill. After a long trip to ship his lumber to Tacoma, Lorenz realized there was a need for better water transportation in the area.

He and his sons amassed a series of boats — known as the Mosquito Fleet — to move people and supplies between stops on the peninsula and across the Sound. The engine from Lorenz’s flagship steamboat, The Tyrus, now powers the Virginia V, the last example of an operational steamer from the fleet.

Lorenz’s steamboats would navigate the narrow channel from Mayo Cove into Lakebay, where they would tie up at the dock and wait for cargo to be loaded and unloaded.

It was 1928 when the property became home to the Western Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association. There were 378 members, said Judy Mills, president of the Key Peninsula Historical Society.

The co-op had feed for animals, as well as tractor and other equipment, and it stored dairy products headed to Tacoma. Daily shipments largely consisted of eggs, Mills said. An average of 150 cases were sold per week to Tacoma, averaging $1,000 a day in sales.

“In those days, the only way for people to get stuff was by boat,” said Ulsh, whose father Jim Ulsh worked on the steamboats and earned the nickname “Sea-going cowboy” for his ability to lasso pilings when tying up a boat.

Dick Lawson, 74, who was born and raised 2.5 miles from the Lakebay Marina and Resort, remembers working aboard those boats.

“I was 15 years old and I handed them 100-pound sacks,” he said.

“I worked there on the boat until they took the contract away at the end of 1955.”

Lawson worked on the Burro, the last Mosquito Fleet vessel to operate out of Lakebay. As roads improved and trucks started replacing the boats, the co-op moved from Lakebay, Ulsh said.

Around that time, the building over the water and dock was transformed to a boating destination. Docks were added, and area yacht club skippers were soon motoring to Lakebay.

A large dance floor added to the former co-op building was a big draw, Ulsh said.

“They would party and have a good time,” he said.

Eventually, small cabins were built on the waterfront, and the property was converted to the Lakebay Marina and Resort.

Mark Scott, who grew up on Wollochet Bay, remembers visiting the Lakebay Cafe as a child. Now a Bainbridge Island resident, he has spent two years trying to rebuild the site of his childhood memories.

“I’m glad we’ve done it because everybody’s been so excited,” Scott said of the Lakebay community and area boaters.

The Scotts would like to see the property listed on a historical register, but after trying three times and failing to have it placed on Pierce County Historic Register, they are now looking to the National Register of Historic Places.

They still have a long way to go to restore the property. Scott estimates there’s close to $3.5 million worth of work ahead, which is one reason he would like the historical designation — to open the door to preservation grant money.

But he also wants the site recognized for its significance in the community, he said.

“I’m just a steward of the property for a short time,” he said. “I’d like it to continue for future generations, and I want to keep the historical character.”