I rarely leave much to chance when I am traveling. It is why I believe I am destine to travel alone. I plan my trips out very detailed and from the people I have traveled with it seems to be that I am the only one who likes that. Most seasoned travelers say this method of planned travel is not the way, but for me it works. I think a lot of it has to do with traveling with a dog as we are restricted to where we can and can not go based on dog friendliness.
While on a road trip last summer, without Boomer, I was traveling along the Olympic Peninsula, a place I believe I have never been before. We will fact check with my dad right now. He will usually leave a note in the comment section if I say I have not been somewhere when in fact I have. Let’s just say he is keeping me honest with you. We traveled a lot when I was a kid and I am sure you can forgive me. I do after all drink a lot of beer and that has to account for some, if not all of my memory loss.
So back to Port Gamble. I had just departed the Edmonds/Kingston Ferry near the Seattle area where I traveled along a narrow two lane highway and came upon Port Gamble. The water tower caught my eye first. We do not have a lot of water towers on the west coast so it’s out of place nature peeked my interest. As I slowed down to round the corner of the highway, I decided instead of rounding the corner to pull into Port Gamble and take a look around. The town can only be described as adorable. Most of this adorableness comes from it’s architecture. I am a sucker for Victorian style homes and this town is full of them.
As I walked down the street I felt as though I was in a small New England town in the late 1800’s. Looking down Rainier Avenue I could even see the ocean, although it was the Pacific ocean, not the Atlantic. I allowed the suspension of disbelief to take over, ignoring the fact that it was the wrong ocean and soaked in the ambiance of this small New England like town. I reached the end of Rainier Avenue and found the Port Gamble Historic Museum, located behind the Port Gamble General Store. I am not huge on visiting museums but this town had me intrigued as to it’s history and figured that the museum would be my best bet at finding out what this “New England-esk” town was doing on the peninsula of Washington state.
Upon entry to the museum I paid a small fee of $4 USD and chatted with the museum docent briefly about the museum and town. The docent referred to Port Gamble as a “company town”. This was a term I had never heard of, so a brief explanation from the docent was required. I learned that the town was an unincorporated community owned by the mill company located in Port Gamble.
The town’s history unfolded in the mid-1800’s. Two east coast businessmen, Andrew Jackson Pope and Frederick Talbot, had established their lumber businesses in San Francisco during the growth boom of 1849, coinciding with the gold rush in California. The timber from Pope and Talbot’s companies was being shipped from the east coast, which could not keep up with the demand of the boom. The two men had heard about the abundance of forests to the north and relocated their business to the Olympic Peninsula on the Gamble Bay in 1853. The Puget Mill Company was established by Pope and Talbot, along with fellow partners Josiah Keller and Charles Foster. In addition to bringing their business up north, the men, who were all from the east coast also brought their fondness for New England architecture, hence why the town is filled with New England style buildings.
The Port Gamble Mill was in operation for 142 years before closing their doors on November 30th 1995. The 142 year run gave the mill the prestigious record of longest running mill in North America. During those 142 years the mill was not always owned by the Puget Mill Company, being briefly sold to another lumber company, Charles R. McCormick, in 1925. The Puget Mill Company always maintained a member on the board of directors however. After McCormick spent millions of dollars on upgrades to the mill the economic curve ball of the 1930’s depression resulted in the mill going into bankruptcy. The bankruptcy opened the door for the now known Pope and Talbot Company to buy back the Puget Sound Mill as well as taking back control of the town of Port Gamble.
In the 1960’s the Pope and Talbot Company decided to refurbish the town, ultimately getting the town registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Although the mill has closed, the town is still considered a company town. Houses and buildings are available for lease and according to Port Gamble’s website the blue steeple church, shown above, is a great place for your wedding!
After I finished up at the museum I purchased a walking tour guide of Port Gamble and set out on Rainier Avenue, where most of the historic business buildings were located. Further down the road, on Pope Street / State Route 104 there were the houses used by the married mill workers. It was interesting to learn that these houses were built to resemble New England homes to encourage the workers, who had settled from the east coast, to feel more at home. Workers had to be recruited from the east coast as there was not enough workforce on the west coast to keep up with lumber demands during the boom years.
My last stop on the waking tour, with the slight hill hike, was up to the Buena Vista Cemetery. With a view overlooking Hood Canal it looked like a nice final resting place. Located in the cemetery was another bit of history, the grave site of Gustav Englebrecht, the first US Navy person killed in action in the Pacific during the Battle of Port Gamble.
I wrapped up my visit to Port Gamble, which turned out to be an unexpected excursion, however completely welcomed. I guess there is something to be said about not planning out every second of your travel days, however I think it is much easier to be spontaneous when I do not have a dog dragging me around. And I mean that literally, Boomer is six-years-old and I am a failure at teaching him to walk with a loose leash.
Port Gamble is located off of State Route 104 on the Olympic Peninsula. The museum is open May 1st through October 31st from 9:30 am to 5 pm seven days a week. Off season appointments are available. Although a walking tour guide is not required, as there are historical signs located in front of the prominent buildings, I do recommend picking up the pamphlet as it gives additional historic information not found on the signs. I picked up my pamphlet at the museum.