The connection to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Siuslaw River made Florence a natural hub for industry. The shifting river channel and mouth made early navigation unpredictable. The lack of stable conditions made establishing a thriving harbor difficult for early settlers.
Transporting goods up and down the Siuslaw River was aided by the construction of the North and South Jetties. Assembly of the jetties began in the early 1890s with the assistance of the Army Corps of Engineers and federal funding. As funding resources were exhausted, little work was done on the jetties in the following years. The formation of the Port District in 1909 revitalized the efforts to make navigational improvements to the Siuslaw River with the aid of the River and Harbor Bill of 1910. With community support, the harbor was improved and the jetties were completed in 1917.
The first cargo ship to cross the bar at the Siuslaw River was the S.S. Alexander Duncan in 1877 traveling up river to the Duncan Cannery where it delivered machinery, livestock, plants, supplies, and the Duncan family organ. In the following years, several ships began to frequent the Florence area taking goods to and from the canneries along the Siuslaw River. Tugboats aided in the navigation of the Siuslaw River bar for cargo vessels supporting the mills and canneries.
The Siuslaw River was the main mode of transportation in the Siuslaw Valley as settlement was established. Ferry travel was used to travel across the River between Florence and Glenada. The ferry traveled diagonally across the Siuslaw River, and the old landings can still be seen on either side of the river.
As the Oregon Coast Highway System developed, ferry travel increased drastically. The ferries could not keep up with the increase in traffic. In their 1934-35 Biennial Report, the Oregon State Highway Commission called the ferry system along the Oregon coast a "barrier to the growth and development of the Oregon coast region."
The first ferry on the Siuslaw River began in 1885 and was operated by ex-Norwegian Sea Captain Harry Olson. Transferred from service on Coos Bay in 1929, the Tourist I replaced the previous vessel as the Florence-Glenada Ferry. It operated on the Siuslaw River until the Siuslaw River Bridge was completed in 1936.