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Port Townsend
—  City  —
The heart of downtown Port Townsend, seen from the water
Location of Port Townsend, Washington
Coordinates: 48°6′59″N 122°46′31″W / 48.11639°N 122.77528°W / 48.11639; -122.77528Coordinates: 48°6′59″N 122°46′31″W / 48.11639°N 122.77528°W / 48.11639; -122.77528
Country United States
State Washington
County Jefferson
Incorporated 1851
 - Type Council-manager
 - City Manager David Timmons
 - Total 9.5 sq mi (24.5 km2)
 - Land 7 sq mi (18.1 km2)
 - Water 2.5 sq mi (6.4 km2)
Elevation 131 ft (40 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 8,334
 Density 881/sq mi (340.2/km2)
Time zone Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)
 - Summer (DST) Pacific Daylight Time (UTC-7)
ZIP code 98368
Area code(s) 360
FIPS code 53-55855[1]
GNIS feature ID 1524589[2]
Website Official website

Port Townsend is a town in Jefferson County, Washington, United States, approximately 40 miles (64 km) north-northwest of Seattle. The population was 8,334 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat and only incorporated city of Jefferson County[3]. In addition to its natural scenery at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the city is also known for the many Victorian buildings remaining from its late 19th-century heyday, numerous annual cultural events, and as a maritime center for independent boatbuilders and related industries and crafts. The Port Townsend Historic District is a U.S. National Historic Landmark District.



Port Townsend's downtown waterfront in the fog

The bay was originally named "Port Townshend" by Captain George Vancouver (for his friend the Marquis of Townshend) in 1792. It was immediately recognized as a good, safe harbor although strong south winds and poor holding ground often make small craft anchorage problematic off the town's waterfront. The bay is now home to Naval Magazine Indian Island, the US Navy's primary munitions handling dock on the Pacific coast.

The official settlement of the city of the same name took place on the 24th of April, 1851. American Indian tribes located in what is now Jefferson County in the mid-19th century included the Chemakum (or Chimacum), Hoh (a group of the Quileute), Klallam (or Clallam), Quinault and Twana (the Kilcid band — Anglicized: Quilcene).

Port Townsend is also called the "City of Dreams" because of the early speculation that the city would be the largest harbor on the west coast of the United States.

By the late 1800s, Port Townsend was a well-known seaport, very active and banking on the future. Many homes and buildings were built during that time, with most of the architecture ornate Victorian. During this period, in 1888, the Port Townsend Police Department was established.

Klallam people at Port Townsend, 1859, by James G. Swan

Railroads were built to reach more areas in the 1870-1890s and Port Townsend was to be the northwest extension of the rail lines. Its port was large and frequented by overseas vessels, so shipping of goods and timber from the area was a major part of the economy. Many of the buildings were built on the speculation that Port Townsend would become a booming shipping port and major city. When the depression hit, those plans lost the capital to continue and rail lines ended on the east side of Puget Sound, mainly in Tumwater, Tacoma and Seattle. With the 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. Without the railroad to spur economic growth, the town shrank and investors looked elsewhere to make a good return.

Over the decades that followed, Port Townsend maintained its economic stability in a variety of ways, including the development of artillery fortifications at Fort Worden. Many people left the area and many buildings were abandoned. Port Townsend's economy was very weak until the 1920s when a paper mill was built on the edge of the town.

The town experienced a renaissance beginning in the 1970s as new residents, including many retirees, moved to town. Currently, it is most famous economically for the jazz workshop that is held there every summer. As part of the workshop, famous jazz musicians play all week in the Port Townsend clubs and bars, drawing many tourists to the area.


Recognition of historic status

Because of the speed at which the economy fell in the 1890s and the non-existence of any industry or economy to replace it, none of the Victorian buildings were torn down or built over in the intervening period. They were, in essence, preserved as time capsules for the next 100 years when the value of keeping them intact was appreciated and fostered.

The Port Townsend Historic District, an area including many Victorian era buildings, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and further was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977.


Bartlett House, 1883

Port Townsend is noted for a vast collection of Victorian homes and significant historical buildings. The city has more than a dozen larger buildings that are well preserved, including the Carnegie Library, the Federal Building (now commonly known simply as the city's post office), the Rose Theatre and the Elks Lodge, which now houses Silverwater Cafe. There is also Fort Worden with its pre-World War I architecture including the publicly accessible Olympic Youth Hostel. Perhaps the most stunning historical structure in Port Townsend is the Jefferson County Courthouse, a spectacular representation of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style.

In 1976, the Downtown waterfront and parts of Uptown were designated a Registered Historic District. Later, Fort Worden (now part of Fort Worden State Park) and the City of Port Townsend were designated National Historic Landmarks. The city is further recognized as one of only three Victorian seaports on the National Register of Historic Places.[citation needed]

Bell Tower

The Bell Tower on the bluff above downtown is one of two known towers of this type in the United States. It was used from 1890 to the 1940s to call volunteer firefighters. It was restored in 2003 by the Jefferson County Historical Society.[4] The second bell tower is located in Helena, Montana, and was also used to summon volunteers and alert townspeople of any fires during late 1800s early gold rush days.


The sign entering town calls Port Townsend a "Victorian Seaport and Arts Community." Port Townsend is host to several annual events such as the Wooden Boat Festival,[5] Kinetic Skulpture Race, and the annual blues and jazz festival.

Boating and maritime life are central cultural elements in this port town, with regattas, weekly races and a multitude of recreational opportunities. The marine trades industry is an anchor economic driver for the community, with highly skilled, world-renowned trades people. The port is home to many classic wooden boats, and gets visits from many others seeking repairs.

By and large an artist haven, downtown there are many galleries and two artist collectives.[6] There is a strong monthly Arts Walk and a plethora of classes, workshop and trainings.

Port Townsend also holds a growing independent film festival in September.

The Rose Theatre is a cinema downtown which shows contemporary American and foreign films. There is also the Uptown Theater, showing more family-oriented films, and a nearby drive-in theater is open during the summer months. Centrum (arts organization) is a culture and art organization that hosts a multitude of workshops at Fort Worden State Park. Copper Canyon Press, the poetry press, is located here.


Port Townsend is located at 48°6′59″N 122°46′31″W / 48.11639°N 122.77528°W / 48.11639; -122.77528 (48.116514, -122.775254)[7]. It is situated at the extreme northeastern end of the Olympic Peninsula, on the north end of a large, semi-protected bay. Port Townsend is adjacent to the Admiralty Inlet and a trio of State Parks built on retired artillery installations (Fort Worden, Fort Casey, and Fort Flagler).

The Port Townsend area lies in a rain shadow and receives an average of only 18.75 inches' annual precipitation.[8] However, the environment is not as dry as the mean yearly total would suggest because cool breezes and fogs from the Juan de Fuca Strait provide high humidity. The city and its surroundings are well-treed with large Douglas-fir dominant over many other tree species in the remaining wooded areas.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.4 square miles (24.5 km²), of which, 7.0 square miles (18.1 km²) of it is land and 2.5 square miles (6.4 km²) of it (26.03%) is water.

In addition to road links to the south and west, Port Townsend is accessible via ferry from the Washington State Ferry system, which links Port Townsend with the Keystone ferry terminal on Whidbey Island, on the east side of Puget Sound.


According to the 2000 census[1], there were 8,334 people, 3,917 households and 2,201 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,191.8 people per square mile (460.3/km²). There were 4,250 housing units at an average density of 607.8/mi² (234.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 93.27% White, 0.58% African American, 1.25% Native American, 1.27% Asian, 0.23% Pacific Islander, 0.89% from other races, and 2.52% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.30% of the population.

There were 3,917 households of which 23.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.4% were married couples living together, 11.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.8% were non-families. 36.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.09 and the average family size was 2.67. 205 of these households were on the waiting list of the Housing Choice Voucher Program as of 2003.

Age distribution was 19.6% under the age of 18, 5.5% from 18 to 24, 21.8% from 25 to 44, 32.3% from 45 to 64, and 20.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 47 years. For every 100 females there were 85.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.6 males.

The median household income was $34,536, and the median family income was $47,027. Males had a median income of $38,013 versus $27,753 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,395. About 8.9% of families and 14.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.0% of those under age 18 and 10.2% of those age 65 or over.

Port Townsend operates with a council-manager form of government. Administrative offices are located in the recently renovated City Hall Building on Water Street in downtown Port Townsend.


Sister city

Port Townsend is twinned with Ichikawa, Japan. A group of local students participate in an exchange with this city during the summer.

The Port Townsend Sister Cities Friends is currently exploring the possibility of adding another sister city.

According to the Washington State Lieutenant Governor's website,[11] Port Townsend also has a sister city relationship with Jalapa, Nicaragua, though the city's website[12] does not reflect this.


Port Townsend is essentially a tourist attraction because it promotes a theme of preservation to draw people to the city. When people arrive, they expect to experience the history of the Pacific Northwest and a taste of the Victorian era. The town reinvents the environment as themed entertainment to satisfy the tourists. (Huxable, 15) Several of the buildings have been restored and “kept up” including, the Bell Tower, Manresa Castle, City Hall, the Courthouse, and the Post Office. Ada Louise Huxable states that ‘Restoring back’ means re-creating a place as someone thinks it was-or would like it to have been- a certain chosen moment, eliminating everything else that was not there at the time. This usually means moving or destroying a good deal of subsequent architectural history.”(Huxtable, 16) However, most of these building still hold the same functions for the community members rather than being there for tourists to look at and admire. During the middle 19th century the sudden increase in population of Port Townsend required a demand for more homes that catered to the middle class (Osband, 9). With the Native population becoming decimated by small pox, measles, and other diseases transmitted by contact with white explorers, there was more opportunity for build additional Victorian style homes, being that Victorian was the popular style at the time. “These homes changed the face of most towns and cities and gave them character…with the result that many of the present inhabitants are now occupied in trying to restore them in one way or another to their former glory. A few will search for to authenticity, but the majority will prefer to recreate a Victorian atmosphere by reintroducing original features without sacrificing twentieth century standards of living.” (Osband, 9) Several of these homes then become set up in advance for touristic visitation. “Touristic consciousness is motivated by its desire for authentic experiences, and the tourist may believe that he is moving in this direction, but often it is very difficult to know for sure if the experience is in fact authentic.” (MacCannell, 101) If a house maintained with original features, is it really authentic? It seems the time and place of the building would be more authentic then in present day with constantly changing styles in architecture. “In the end, it is the need to continually monitor and contemporize the ‘authentic’ (through refinement and redefinition) that ultimately generates and sustains tourism.” (Lasansky, 52)


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