September 18, 2013

Port Townsend Then, Then, and Now

Late 19th-century buildings on Water Street
I first saw Port Townsend, Washington, in the mid-1970s after my dad and stepmom built a house on nearby Whidbey Island. From my Colorado frame of reference, its air of "boom days past" made me think of (pre-casino) Cripple Creek with a waterfront.

Just as bustling Cripple Creek in its 1890s heyday was served by several railroads and a streetcar system, Port Townsend's boosters saw it destined to be Puget Sound's major port.

On Port Townsend's waterfront
A thriving lumber port, its Downtown area — the waterfront — was devoted to commercial shipping and to the business of separating sailors from their money as efficiently as possible. Respectable people lived on a higher level, literally, in the Uptown area.

But the railroad never arrived, and Port Townsend stagnated, although the arrival of the Coast Artillery Corps at Ford Worden made a difference. From 1902 through World War Two, batteries at Fort Worden, Marrowstone Island, and Whidbey Island ensured that any foreign battle fleet entering Puget Sound would be triangulated by multiple guns.

On successive family visits, we would always take the ferry to Port Townsend, gawk at the Victorian buildings awaiting the restorationist's paint brush, check out the maritime restoration projects ongoing among the wooden-boat cultists, and eat some seafood.

The folks moved back to Colorado in 1990 and, in essence, gave us a vacation by flying us out to bring back Dad's Jeep, which we drove home via the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and San Francisco. But first we loaded it on the Keystone ferry to Port Townsend, ate a bowl of cioppino (me), and paid Downtown one last visit.

Where poetry is cute.
Now it is twenty-three years later. All those Victorian buildings are restored and full of restaurants and "shoppes." There is even a writers' "workshoppe."

I saw fewer wooden hulls and more expensive motor yachts. The town is now billed as an "arts community," whatever that means, and it attracts prosperous retirees—I can't blame them.

Fort Warden is —has been for a long time — a state park with beaches and trails, a conference center, and you can even rent a house on Officers Row for your vacation stay.

In a  town where "shangai" was once a verb, now it is the name of a restaurant at the marina.

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