A Hundred Years Ago

(Words and Performance by: Bob Kotta and Mariide  –  Tune: Traditional  –  Song Notes: by Alice Winship)


Bob Kotta


A hundred years is a very long time  –  Oh, aye oh
A hundred years is a very long time  –  A hundred years ago

In eighteen hundred and eighty-nine  –  Oh, aye oh
A tug was launched so strong and fine  –  A hundred years ago

In Portland town her keel was laid  –  Oh, aye oh
The tug WALLOWA was her name  –  A hundred years ago

At Columbia Bar she towed the ships  –  Oh, aye oh
Then made Alaskan Gold Rush trips  –  A hundred years ago

When she was burned and seemed a loss  –  Oh, aye oh
Was sold, rebuilt the ARTHUR FOSS  –  A hundred years ago



A towin’ logs all up and down  –  Oh, aye oh
To the mills around the Puget Sound  –  A hundred years ago

In Tugboat Annie when Hollywood came  –  Oh, aye oh
The tug NARCISSUS was her name  –  A hundred years ago

From steam to diesel in ‘34  –  Oh, aye oh
In ’41 she was caught by the war  –  A hundred years ago

The last American to sail away  –  Oh, aye oh
From Wake Island in December’s gray  –  A hundred years ago

They took her name for a supertug  –  Oh, aye oh
Renamed THEODORE, still towin’ logs  –  A hundred years ago

Retired and given back her name  –  Oh, aye oh
To Northwest Seaport home she came  –  A hundred years ago

In a hundred years she’s seen some jobs  –  Oh, aye oh
From sailing ships to supertugs  –  A hundred years ago

For a hundred years her story’s told  –  Oh, aye oh
Of the wind and the rain and the sea so cold  –  A hundred years ago

Now she’s the pride of Washington State  –  Oh, aye oh
And she worked hard to make her great  –  A hundred years ago

Upon blue waters she’s still found  –  Oh, aye oh
She’s the proud old lady of Puget Sound  –  A hundred years ago.


This song is based on a traditional tune, with new lyrics written by Mariide and the late Bob Kotta.

You can read a couple of versions of the traditional lyrics here and here.

As the lyrics were re-written by Mariide and Bob, the song is about the Arthur Foss, an historic tugboat built in 1889, owned by Northwest Seaport and docked at the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park in Seattle.

The Arthur Foss is one of the oldest tugboats in existence and part of the history of the Pacific Northwest. Long before Boeing and Microsoft drove our economy, this ship was hard at work on Northwest waters.

In her 121 years afloat, the Arthur Foss has seen a lot of changes along Northwest shores. Launched at Portland in 1889 as the steam tug Wallowa, she was built to tow sailing ships over the Columbia River bar.

She was caught up in the gold rush fever of 1898, and made several voyages up the Inside Passage towing barges packed with would-be gold miners and supplies. (The Arthur Foss is the last Alaskan Gold Rush vessel still operating.) She served in the Pacific during World War II, and was the last American ship to escape Wake Island before it fell to the Japanese invasion.

She briefly became a movie star in the 1933 movie Tugboat Annie, playing the garbage-barge towboat Narcissus. But her greatest role in the Northwest economy was her work in the timber industry, towing log booms to mills around the Puget Sound, mostly that same Douglas Fir that makes up her massive hull.

Retired after 80 years of hard work, in 1970 she was donated by Foss Maritime Co. to her current owner, Northwest Seaport. Here she began a new life as a teaching tool and floating museum.

This song was originally recorded by the group Victory at Sea, and released by Victory Music, a non-profit organization that supports acoustic music. The CD is still available, and is recommended as one of the best compilations of songs by various Northwest musicians.

Bob Kotta was Executive Director of Northwest Seaport in the early 1990s, then left to become Curator of Education at the The Kendall Whaling Museum. He passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2000, and is much missed in musical circles in the Northwest and beyond.

Mariide has been a leading light of Northwest folk music since the 1960s. She helped originate the Northwest maritime music scene in the 1970s, and was in the groups Victory at Sea and St. Elmo’s Choir. She continues to perform and write songs, although she is perhaps better known at present for her wry political songs.

  • Words by Bob Kotta and Mariide
  • Tune, traditional
  • Performed by Bob Kotta and Mariide (From the album “Victory Sings at Sea”)
  • Recorded at OMB Studios, Bainbridge, WA
    • Lead vocal: Robert Kotta and Mariide
    • Chorus: Andy Bartels, Mike James, Philip Morgan, Teresa Morgan
    • Bodhran: Teresa Morgan
    • Whistle and banjo: Philip Morgan


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