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Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend, Washington, one of the three registered historic seaports in the U.S. The other two? Galveston, Texas and Cape May, New Jersey.
N.D. Hill Building, 1889

Port Townsend is but a couple of hours from Seattle, and yet it remains a century apart. It is a haven for that which is old and majestic.

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 that lined its waterfront. Thriving businesses were built on the promise of the coming railroad — and then lost when the railroad chose to go through the small town of Seattle instead.

By the end of the 1890s, the "City of Dreams" had become a nightmare. Businesses went bust. Construction stopped on the huge downtown buildings, the outside brickwork barely complete. Except perhaps for the first floors, they would remain vacant shells for a century.

Nearly 100 years before this town's dreams crumbled, 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.

Port Townsend now lays claim to being the wooden boat mecca of the northwest. This re-creation of the once-sleepy town began with the mid-1970s resurgence of interest in the traditional methods of wooden boat construction.

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. Quaint shops, fine dining, and an active arts community — all nestled in the heart of one of the most beautiful areas in the world.

The delightful town you wander today is the result of a 18-year concentrated effort by Port Townsend's Main Street Program, which was honored with one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's five "Great American Main Street 2000" awards. The award recognizes Main Street programs for outstanding community revitalization through historic preservation. Of the original five "experimental" Main Street programs in Washington, Port Townsend's is the only one to maintain continuity.

 

 

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Date Last Modified:11/11/03
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