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Joyce's knowledge of local history is amazing!
Webb's tour brings Port Townsend history to life
Joyce Webb offers historical tours
By Sandy Hershelman
 

"On this spot, there was a small pier set out into the water at which a revenue cutter — a U.S. government ship — was sitting with its canon pointed at Water Street, fully primed and loaded. We were informed they were going to fire on the town in 45 minutes," Joyce Webb said, as she stood across the street from Port Townsend's Bank of America. The year was 1862.
"Well, we caved. We were defiant for 44 minutes. We turned over the Customs House records, as demanded. The ship sailed off with all of the records and established the Customs House in Port Angeles," the tour guide smiled, realizing her audience was left in awe. "I'm always trying to find obscure stories."

For more than a decade, Webb has been delighting audiences young and old, on her Guided Historical Sidewalk Tours.
"The real stories are so much more interesting than what people make up," Webb said. "I think the most important thing is that I've established a reputation of taking history seriously. There was a real business reason for everything to exist in early Port Townsend — even the brothels. It wasn't a moral issue. We need to know how people came here, what they did, how they accumulated their wealth and how they used it."

Captain George Vancouver first sailed the HMS Discovery into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in 1792. Camped on the shore, near Point Hudson, the explorer no doubt noted the deep harbor, along which would one day rise the seaport of Port Townsend.
Boat building began in this area in about 1850, soon after the first settlers arrived. But, for the most part, wooden boats just passed through Port Townsend, using her as needed. Of the more than 550 vessels built on the Puget Sound in 1899, only two were created locally.
A hundred years later, Port Townsend now lays claim to being the wooden boat mecca of the northwest.

In the latter part of the 1800s, Port Townsend was one of the toughest towns on the west coast. It was well-known for the 17 saloons and dozen brothels which lined its waterfront. Many able-bodied seamen were shanghaied in broad daylight.
Local residents convinced themselves Port Townsend was the perfect stop for the railroad's end. Thriving businesses were built upon the imagined promise of the coming railroad.
Alas, Port Townsend's deep water port was not enough to lure the railroad, which, in 1873, chose Tacoma as the terminus for its rail line.
Undaunted, the city's founding fathers geared up to built their own track. After one mile, the funds ran out. Rallying once again, in 1890, 20 miles of track were laid. But the Union Pacific Railroad never took the bait.
Over the next 90 years, that little railroad line would change hands more than any other line in the country.
By the end of the 1890s, the "City of Dreams" had become a nightmare. Businesses went bust. Huge half-finished buildings littered the downtown.
Even today, a stroll through downtown Port Townsend reveals not a town of the 21st century, but a haven for that which is old and majestic, mixed with a healthy dose of tourism.

For Webb, historical accuracy is a must.
"I'm standing on the street talking at the top of my voice. People are more than willing to come up and say, ‘That's a bunch of hooey.' So, I have to be accurate. I always go back and fact check, no matter who's the source of the story," Webb said. "I have 13 hours of information just on Water Street, so I have a real hard time keeping the tours down to about an hour. But, varying the tours keeps me from getting bored. I watch their eyes. If I see people's eyes start to sparkle, I elaborate more.
"I go out, rain, snow, no matter what. I know where all the sheltered spots are," Webb admitted. "I do the tours by reservation. I can can go anytime. If people call {360-385-1967} and want me down there in five minutes, I can be there without mascara. If you want mascara, I can be there in 15.
"I do cruise ships. I do bus tours. I am very well known on the bus tour routes — North Carolina, Indiana, and more — but, I seem to be the best kept secret in Port Townsend," Webb chuckled, explaining how many local residents don't realize her tours exist. "I love to take locals on the tour, because they're always saying, ‘I didn't know that, or I've never seen that.'
"I have about 30 or 40 years of research. I was digging into Port Townsend's history long before starting the tours. I give them enough information on the tours to give them a toe hold to continue their own research," Webb promised. "I traveled a lot when I was young — and I took a lot of tours. There's nothing worse than a bad — or a boring — tour guide."
Webb's tours are neither bad, nor boring. Her naturally melodic voice takes on a life of its own, once she begins one of her many historic sagas.
Webb's book, Self-guided Tour of Historic Homes, takes folks on a stroll past 36 Port Townsend homes, beginning at the "The Customs House", er, post office. "Because it's printed, I was able to put photos of the homeowners and old photos of the homes in the book," Webb said. "Every single house I wrote about, I actually talked to the people who lived there."
The $4.50 booklet is available at the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum and Elevated Ice Cream.
"I'm in awe of the pioneers. They were real. They were human. They made mistakes. They shot themselves in the foot. Then they'd back up, go at it again and make it work," Webb observed. "People'll laugh when I tell them I've only been here 30 years. I'm a newcomer. My tombstone'll read: Nosy newcomer. "These tours are also great for kids. I don't include brothels when there are children in tours," she said.
The attractive brunette laughed when asked how many folks have done her tours. "I'm not a bean counter. Gosh, I have no idea," Webb said. "Like many other Port Townsend bright ideas, you'd better enjoy it because you're not going to get rich giving historic tours. I do encourage those on the tour to stay and explore the town more. Stay at a B&B, eat in the restaurants, walk aboard the ferry, take a sunset cruise. I try to promote the whole town. No one's going to come to Port Townsend just to play with me."

 

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Date Last Modified:9/23/03
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