Connecting people to

new ideas, old traditions

and each other through

art, nature, and history.

       about photography trends

image image image image image image image
* * * * * * *
FIG Weekend Open Studio
Sat Nov 28 @10:00AM - 04:30PM
Deck the Old City Hall
Sat Nov 28 @12:00PM - 05:00PM
Visit with Santa at Deck the Old City Hall
Sat Nov 28 @12:30PM - 02:30PM
FIG Full STEAM Ahead
Sat Nov 28 @12:30PM - 02:30PM

who focused on activities in and around their Orcas Island home, the Seattle shipyard, and collected "Antelope Doc" Alaska gold rush images.


Robert Moran

Robert Moran was born in New York City on January 26, 1857. In 1875, at the age of 18, he followed Horace Greeley’s advice and went west, to San Francisco. The whole nation was economically depressed at the time, and Moran spent his last $15 for a steerage ticket to Seattle, where he arrived on November 17, 1875, with ten cents in his pocket. Moran found work as a laborer, and soon found success as a steamship engineer.

As he gained success, Robert’s older brothers Edward and Peter followed him to the northwest. In November, 1881, Robert married Melissa Paul. He saved enough money to bring his mother, five younger brothers, and two sisters from New York. In 1882, at the age of 25, Moran quit steamboat engineering and started a marine shop with his brothers.

Mayor Moran

In 1887, Robert Moran was elected to the Seattle City Council. That next year, Moran’s name was brought up as a possible Republican candidate for mayor and in July, 1888, Moran was elected mayor of Seattle.

On July 6, 1889, a fire wiped out 30 blocks of downtown Seattle, and destroyed an area covering more than sixty acres. Mayor Moran’s actions in quickly rebuilding and remodeling the destroyed areas inspired confidence, and he was re-elected in July, 1889.

Over a six-month period after the fire, the population of Seattle doubled. Moran was responsible for the city's new municipally-owned water system.

The Moran Brothers Company

Moran’s shipbuilding plant was destroyed in the fire, but he and his brothers re-opened for business just 10 days after the fire. The Moran Brothers Company prospered during the 1890s. Their first government job was in 1895, a contract to furnish the U.S. dry dock at Charleston Navy Yard with boilers, engines and pumps. Moran struck up a friendship with Senator Watson Squire, who used his influence to award the Moran Brothers a contract to build a U.S. Navy torpedo boat in 1895. The torpedo boat Rowan was launched in 1896.

Almost simultaneously, Moran won the contract for the Coast Guard boarding boat Golden Gate, the first all-steel boat built and launched in Washington State. The Golden Gate was completed and launched in February, 1897.

During the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, the Moran Brothers stayed home and struck it rich refitting old boats and supplying them with new machinery. The brothers also constructed a Yukon River fleet of 14 stern wheel river steamers and four freight barges.

The U.S.S. Nebraska

By 1900, the Moran Brothers Company was known nationwide as a premier shipbuilder. In 1901, the Moran Brothers Company won the contract to build the battleship Nebraska (BB14). The keel of the battleship was laid on July 4, 1902, and over the next two years more than 1,000 workmen were employed in the making of the battleship. The Nebraska was launched on October 7, 1904. Over the next two years the battleship was in the shipyards, undergoing many changes in armaments. It was commissioned on July 1, 1907, the last battleship in the Virginia Class, and was regarded as the flagship of the United States Navy.

The Nebraska was part of the "Great White Fleet" in 1908 and also saw action off Veracruz in 1914 and 1916. During the First World War, the Nebraska served as a training ship and as an escort of mercantile convoys. In 1923, the Nebraska was dismantled and sold for $37,100 to a California scrap metal dealer.


Building the Nebraska was the apex of Moran’s shipbuilding career, but it put a great strain on Robert Moran, and he retired from shipbuilding in 1906. Moran retired to Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Island Archipelago, in Puget Sound. He eventually acquired 7,800 acres on Orcas Island. The name of his estate, Rosario, came from the local post office.

Construction of the Rosario Estate began in 1906, and was overseen by Moran himself. Upon completion, Rosario was called the "Showplace of the San Juan Islands."

The living-dining room features rich Honduran mahogany and teak woodwork reminiscent of ship’s carpentry. The windows of the mansion are long, narrow bays of 7/8 inch Belgian plate glass used for ship’s glass. The Music Room, on the second floor, features a 26 rank Aeolian "player" pipe organ. The exposed pipes in the room are a facade; the real pipes are hidden behind mahogany lattice work. There are several stained glass works, including the depiction of the harbor of Antwerp, Belgium. The anchor chain of the Nebraska was used to tether horses in the circular carriage drive fronting the mansion.

Moran’s last project was a 132-foot yacht, the Sanwan, built over several years and launched in 1916. After the launching ceremony, it suffered from benign neglect and was later turned over to Moran’s son, Frank.

Moran’s wife, Melissa, died of cancer in 1932. By then all of Moran’s sisters and brothers had died, and he was no longer able to maintain his sprawling estate. Even with advertisements in National Geographic and Fortune, Moran had trouble selling his estate during the dark days of the Great Depression. In 1938, the estate, including 1,939 acres, was sold to a California industrialist for only $50,000. Moran lived in a small home on Orcas Island until his death on March 27, 1943, at the age of 86. The Rosario estate was sold a few times during the 1950s, and in June, 1960 was opened to the public as Rosario Resort.

The Collection

The Moran Brothers Collection was donated to the Whatcom Museum of History & Art by the National Park Service and Rosario Resort. The collection contains over 650 glass plate negatives illustrating a variety of shipbuilding endeavors, family photographs and photographs of Rosario Resort.

At some point in time, Moran acquired 33 images stamped "Yukon Views by Antelope Doc." Nothing is known of the enigmatic "Antelope Doc", and so anyone knows anything about "Antelope Doc," please e-mail the Photo Archivist.

source: Peacock, Christopher M. Rosario Yesterdays (Eastsound, WA: Rosario Productions, 1985)

Additional repositories of containing Moran Brothers materials:

Wednesday - Sunday, noon-5pm;
open Thursday until 8pm; open Saturday at 10am

250 Flora Street, Bellingham, WA 98225  

Family Interactive Gallery (FIG)
Wednesday - Saturday, 10-5pm; Sunday noon-5pm
250 Flora Street, Bellingham, WA 98225


Thursday - Sunday, noon-5pm; for select programs.
121 Prospect Street, Bellingham, WA  98225

Wednesday - Friday, 1-5 pm.
201 Prospect Street, Bellingham, WA 98225

Learn more about visiting our campus.

Copyright © 2015 Whatcom Museum, Website by: | Softwired | H Street Studio | Straightup Communication | Privacy Policy