“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Mark Twain, American writer and humorist
We’ve spent a bit of time here in Port Townsend learning the history of the place. Obviously, it revolves around the water and the shipping and transportation industries. Even today, it still revolves around the water: tourists arrive by ferry, the marina is full, there is a maritime learning center teaching wooden boat building, sailing, and other nautical pursuits, restaurants have patios overlooking the water, gulls fly overhead and people walk along the beach.
Originally inhabited by the Chimakim, Hoh Klallam and Quinault Indians, it was named Port Townshend by Captain George Vancouver for his friend the Marquis of Townshend. Someone must have thought this too difficult to pronounce, dropped the ‘h’ and shortened it to Townsend. It was larger than Seattle and some called it the ‘City of Dreams’ when there was speculation that the railroad would build a spur out to the tip of the peninsula to link up with the ships coming from Asia and around the horn from American and Europe. This caused a rash of building both homes and businesses in anticipation.
The town at this time had two distinct sections: the ‘downtown’ section, about 2 blocks wide, on the water level, and the ‘uptown’ area which was up a steep bluff. The
There was a slew of beautiful Victorian homes built in this ‘uptown’ section.
And, large brick businesses were built along the main street in the downtown area below the bluff, on the waterfront.
This was the heyday of Port Townsend and it grew by leaps and bounds. The port was large and ships from many countries landed here. Logging was a major industry and timber was being shipped out. It was larger than Seattle and many thought it would be the major port on the Western coast.
During this time, the military realized the importance of keeping the shipping channels open through Puget Sound and built 3 forts to guard this. Fort Worden was one of these forts and it is now possible to walk through and explore the bunkers built during the early 1900’s.
Here’s one of the spotting towers built to help the gunners aim their large guns. One of the other forts was built on Whidbey Island which you can see in the slit below.
During this time Port Townsend was also known as ‘Bloody Port Townsend.’ There were loads of sailors, loads of soldiers, loads of loggers and the town seemed to be wide open. Bars, gambling houses, brothels - all reigned supreme. Here are some advertising cards that the young women passed out to attract customers.
(In Vegas, they are still passing out cards though the young women look much different - some things just never change.)
During this time, the city fathers decided that they did not want their families mingling with the people in the ‘downtown’ area so they built their homes and stores for their families on the bluff above the downtown.
Oops, a recession hit, the railroad decided it would be too expensive to build this far when those ships could actually sail all the way to Seattle to meet the railroad. Shortly after this the dreams became nightmares and the town itself fell into a recession, many left town and the buildings became vacant.
Slowly but surely, Port Townsend recovered but it never attained the prominence that it once had. Today the economy is built upon tourists and a paper mill on the south side of town. The town also has a reputation for the arts and there are many different art festivals. Port Townsend is a neat town to visit and explore.