Port Townsend (population 9,000), nestled on the northeast corner of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, was officially settled in 1851. For several thousand years before that, the occupants were native Indians, a population decimated by disease transmitted by contact with white explorers during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
By the late 1800's Port Townsend was a well-known seaport, with ornate Victorian homes and buildings. With other Puget Sound ports growing in size, Port Townsend saw a rapid decline in population when the Northern Pacific Railroad failed to connect the city to the eastern Puget Sound city of Tacoma. By the late 1890s the boom was over.
There was no real economy in the town until the early 1920s when a paper mill was built. Despite the mill, most buildings remained uninhabited until the 1970s, when people began coming to find cheap homes and to drop out or retire. Because of the speed at which the economy fell initially and the non-existence of any industry or economy to replace it, none of the buildings were torn down. They basically were preserved as time capsules for the next 100 years, and today form a rich repository of historic treasures.
One of the town’s most significant preservation projects is the restoration of the historic Port Townsend City Hall building, the oldest continuing operating City Hall chambers in Washington State. In addition, a new city office building, the Annex, will be built next to the historic structure.
Fort Worden, completed in 1902, was the centerpiece of the Puget Sound harbor defense system. Today, the 434-acre state park is a major visitor destination, including lodging in officers’ restored Victorian houses, barracks and campgrounds, a theater, museums, conference facilities, and preserved artillery emplacements.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2006.
For more information
Port Townsend City History Guide