Thursday, August 6, 2015

Port Townsend

Port Townsend from the Whidbey Island ferry
In 1792 Capt. George Vancouver was exploring the Pacific Northwest and stumbled upon the Puget Sound.  Near its entrance he found a good, safe natural harbor and named it after his buddy, the Marquis of Townshend.  The Marquis was a high mucky-muck known at the time primarily for making Irishmen miserable but now long since forgotten.  So much so that at some point in time they dropped the "h" out of his name and no one noticed.

The settlement of Port Townsend was officially established in April, 1851 and was early on called "the City of Dreams" due to speculation that this would become the largest commercial harbor on the west coast.  By the latter part of the 19th century it was a well known and active seaport with speculators buying up property and building homes on the theory that the northern transcontinental railroad line would end there and most major shipping north of California would go through the town.

Victorian house preserved by neglect
Then, in the 1890s, a depression hit the U.S. and the Northern Pacific Railroad decided it wasn't worth the extra cost to build a line across the Tacoma Narrows, that the little ports at Seattle and Tacoma would work just fine, so the bottom fell out of Port Townsend.  Large hotels and business buildings were left unfinished and ornate Victorian homes became unsalable, many of them abandoned.  The result was that while the old architecture on the east side of the Puget Sound was demolished and built over as the cities expanded, that of Port Townsend was largely spared (through neglect)  until the impetus for historical preservation and restoration finally hit in the 1960s. 
Numerous Victorian homes were refurbished and turned into homes for retirees or, commonly, bed and breakfast lodgings.  The Port Townsend Historic District was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

Most opulent post office I've ever seen
A drive through Port Townsend today takes you in a zig-zag path past over 50 historic houses and buildings.  The city has styled itself as something of an arts enclave  hosting numerous festivals and workshops.  In addition to the Fiddle Tunes festival we attended, there are music festivals for jazz, blues, voice, chamber music and more.  There are schools for dance and woodworking and for the woo crowd there is a "mind/body institute".

Port Townsend boatyard - a west coast mecca
In the 1960s they filled in part of the harbor and lagoon to expand the town's boat yard and it has become a mecca for wooden boat building and repair.  It is the home of the Wooden Boat Foundation and the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building.  Since some updating in the 1990s the yard is capable of hauling out boats up to 150 feet long with up to 30.5 foot abeam.  Boats are brought to Port Townsend from all over the west coast for refitting.  We spent a morning wandering around the yard taking pictures and marveling at how they operate.  I assume the yard has experts and craftsmen for hire, but it looked like a lot of the boat owners were doing the work themselves.  They are braver men than I. I just paid someone else to caulk my RV roof fer cryin' out loud, and it doesn't even have to float.

The Barn
Just south of Port Townsend down US 101 is the small town of Quilcene.  There, in keeping with the local artsy ethos, they host  the Olympic Music Festival.  Their summer long "Concerts in the Barn" series is presented weekends in a dairy barn on a 55 acre farm.  We went with my brother and his wife to a concert there by a group of seven musicians from Florida's "Garden Music" group.  They played an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, and pop music as well as some original compositions by group members.  The group itself was as eclectic as its music, comprising 2 violins, a clarinet, a percussionist, a string bass player and two pianists.  The concert was very casual with seating on old church pews and hay bales and everyone had a ball.

Murhut Falls - was it worth it?
We had visited Quilcene a week earlier to take the hike up to Murhut Falls.  This was another of my great mistakes, hiking a 1.6 mile round trip up a steep incline to see water fall over a rock.  Oh well,  here's a picture.  Hope you enjoy it.  Afterward, as I gradually recovered,  we had early dinner at a restaurant called the Olympic Timberhouse, a really nice log lodge kind of place in a little town most people will never hear of.  The food was excellent and well worth the drive out if you are ever in the area.

 Port Townsend Bonus Pics
 Victorian Architecture


 The boat yard

How to pull a big boat out of the water

Inside the barn

Deer wander the streets


  1. I love those old buildings. I can't imagine int he future, people driving around to look at the houses being built today and saying - how beautiful is that. The same could be said of office buildings. The spotted one is so cute.

    1. I think the fawns are cute too. But the deer eat the gardens and fruit off the trees so the locals don't appreciate them much. Apparently the city started enforcing leash laws a few years ago and keeping dogs off the streets has allowed the deer to move into town.

  2. Wonderful pics of the Victorian homes! I especially liked seeing how the boats are hoisted. Sounds like you found lots to do, and really enjoyed Quilcene. We will have to return! Love your blogs!