Early History of Port Townsend, WA
The City of Dreams, Port Townsend, WA is one of the finest examples of a Victorian Seaport in the United States. It is one of 3 Registered Victorian Seaports in the US. The other 2 are Cape May, NJ and Galveston, TX.
Port Townsend, WA was the City of Dreams. Originally named ‘Port Townshend’ by Captain George Vancouver (for his friend the Marquis of Townshend) in 1792, Port Townsend was immediately recognized as a good, safe harbor, which it remains to this day. The official settlement of the city took place on the 24th of April, 1851. Called the “City of Dreams” because of the early speculation that the city would be the largest harbor on the west coast, wealthy and prosperous, somehow though, those early dreams failed to materialize because the rail road never came.
For several thousand years the only occupants were native Indians. In the late 1700s and early 1800s the Indian population thrived. Many American Indian tribes were in the area at the time, they included:, Chimakum, Hoh, Klallam, Quinault and Twana. They were all in the area which is now Jefferson County.
In the 19th century, Port Townsend, WA was a very well known seaport. It is located at the entrance to Puget Sound. It has a large deep water bay that made it a natural stopping off point for ships and crews. Sailing ships had to stop here to pay tariffs and tolls before entering Puget Sound.
In those early days Port Townsend was as very “wild town”. Most of downtown was brothels and bars to accommodate all the sailors. There are actually tunnels that run under parts of town, so when a sailing ship needed a crew, some of the bars actually had trap doors in them. The sailors would get drunk or drugged and would wake up aboard ship.
Like many small towns in the Northwest. Port Townsend described itself as the “Key City” and the “New York of the West” It quickly became a bustling seaport and customs gateway of the Pacific Northwest. Located right on the water at the entrance of Puget Sound, it was very visible from the water. Many boaters even today find Port Townsend by boat. It had an impressive downtown, many of the commercial building were built of brick and stone and many elegant Victorian homes on the hillside above. It must have been very inviting town as you passed by, especially after months at sea.
In the early 1880, because of Port Townsend’s waterfront location, the business men of the day decided to bring the railroad to town. It only made sense to off load and load ships here and then ship the goods by rail. That dream lasted until 1892. At that time the railroad said it was too expensive to travel all the way to Port Townsend. Back then, the largest port was Seattle, so the railroad went there instead. Port Townsend then went into a huge depression because of the railroad.