Shipbuilder John Kruse,
pictured approximately 1893.

Shipbuilding in
Nineteenth Century Coos County

A Look Back at
John Kruse

(as appeared in the September 1997
issue of The Whole Shebang)

story by Ann Koppy
photos courtesy of Coos County Historical Museum

For nearly 100 years, the shipbuilding industry in the Coos region made significant contributions to the area's growth and development.

Henry Heaton Luse in Empire City (now the Empire District of Coos Bay) and Asa Meade Simpson in Old Town North Bend built the first sailing ships on Coos Bay in the mid 1860's. Their legacy was continued by the widely-known master shipbuilder John Kruse.

Simpson's Old Town sawmill in North Bend where many local ships originated.

Born June 7, 1835 in Kiel, Denmark, Kruse emigrated to the United States in 1854 after serving as cabin boy on a German coastal schooner. After a stay in San Francisco, he relocated to Gardiner City (now Gardiner) on the central Oregon Coast. In 1865 the thirty-year old built his first two-masted schooners, the Wm. F. Brow and the Pacific.

In 1867 he settled in Old Town North Bend and went to work for Asa Simpson as master shipbuilder. Until his death on January 4, 1896 he supervised the Simpson Lumber Company interests. He constructed thirty-one vessels, among them barkentines, steam and wind-powered schooners, and steam-powered bar tugs.

He was married twice, first to Mary Lyons, who bore a son, John William. After Mary's tragic death at a young age his second marriage to Alice Pattee (1853-1930) produced seven children: Virginia, Sarah, Grace, Frederick, Archie, Julius, and George. The family lived on a 700 acre farm at the head of navigation on Isthmus Slough, which empties into the upper reaches of Coos Bay. The land they homesteaded is now known as Greenacres. Kruse was affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Masonic Lodge.

His primary occupation was shipbuilding, but he also directed his attention to another community concern. He wanted the children of Old Town to have a place for their education, so he built a schoolhouse. Typically, citizens also celebrated weddings and enjoyed entertainment in it. In the 1880s he served on the Board of Directors of the North Bend School District.

The Western Shore
(painted by grand-daughter Dorothy Kruse Irvin)
she was John' Kruse's signature creation.

He may be best remembered for producing the Western Shore, the fastest and largest clipper of her time. With sail plans drawn by Robert Simpson and hull designed by Asa Simpson, her name is legendary in Pacific Coast maritime history for setting several sailing records. Launched in October 1874 from Old Town North Bend, the 204 ft. fully-rigged vessel was made from Port Orford white cedar and Douglas fir. Mahogany, laurel, and myrtle panelled the cabin.

Four months after leaving the ways, she sailed from San Francisco to Liverpool, England, carrying lumber from Coos County to San Francisco and wheat to England. The trip around Cape Horn at the tip of South America took just 104 days. The return to San Francisco required 110 days and the journey from that city to Astoria, Oregon took forty-eight hours. After loading wheat at Portland, she set sail for Liverpool and navigated the course in 103 days. All of these crossing established records.

After the arduous passages to England, the Western Shore was put in dry-dock to inspect for damage. Her seams had held. Only $40.00 in repairs was required, testimony to the superiority of the Simpsons' and Kruse's craftsmanship.

The $80,000 vessel was short-lived, however. In July 1878 she struck Duxbury Reef, near Point Reyes, California. All crew members were saved, but she was totally wrecked and her cargo of coal lost.
Kruse continued to build ships until his death on January 4, 1896 at age 60. In 1895, he began construction of his 32nd vessel, the four-masted barkentine, Addenda, but illness forced him to quit. He is remembered by family and friends as a respected citizen who combined integrity and business acumen. His and Alice's burial sites are at Pioneer Cemetery in Marshfield (now Coos Bay).

 The Simpson Spar Yard in Old Town North Bend circa 1900. This location is identified as being where the ferry crossed. The workers are cutting a keel for a boat.