Our History

It’s written in the boats…

In the summer of 1957, Dick Wagner was walking across the Fremont Bridge and noticed a man struggling to install a mast on his boat at the marina below. Dick stopped to help. That very moment would start a journey that built one of Seattle’s most beloved maritime heritage organizations and a national leader in traditional boat education for people of all ages.

About ten years later, Dick and his wife Colleen were out to dinner. That night Colleen had two things on her mind: their soon-to-be-born child and what to do with the growing collection of small boats tied up around their houseboat under the Aurora Bridge – both caught Dick by surprise.

In 1968, the Wagners began renting boats from their floating home. After a decade of growing popularity for their rental operation, the Wagners – along with their patrons who quickly grew to become close friends – decided to start a “living museum” in 1976 called The Center for Wooden Boats. The Center for Wooden Boats officially received a nonprofit 501(c)3 status in 1979.

Their growing collection of traditional wooden craft led to the establishment of The Center for Wooden Boats. They believed that the purpose of their collection was education and that the most effective means of education was direct experience. The Center for Wooden Boats became a hands-on maritime museum where the exhibits were put in the water and the public was encouraged to use them.

Dick, Colleen, and a young Mike Wagner are sitting in a cat boat
Three smiling children are standing on the dock on a sunny day
The Center for Wooden Boats boat shop and docks in the 1980s
The original Center for Wooden Boats oar house
Docks with rigged sailbots and volunteers in the 1980s
Volunteers standing on the dock holding large sweeps
CWB Founders Dick and Colleen Wagner break ground with volunteers
The Center for Wooden Boats festival in the 1970s