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 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.