DescriptionFounded in the early 1850s, Port Townsend was one of the leading cities on Puget Sound in the late 19th century. The first settlers arrived here in 1851, and by 1853 the customs house was relocated here from Olympia, making it the official point of entry. The port offered safe moorage for the large sailing vessels of the time, and the economy prospered, first from providing supplies to gold seekers bound for British Columbia, then later from speculating on the prospects of attracting a transcontinental railroad line.
The city boasted consulates, banks, large hotels, a streetcar line, shipyards and all manner of commercial establishments—an expansive layout reflecting hope that Port Townsend would become the region's major port and trading center. The population reached 7,000, but when plans for a railroad fizzled in 1895, a long period of decline set in.
Port Townsend owes much of its charm to an impressive collection of Victorian-era architecture. The historic downtown district is filled with homes—a number of them now bed-and-breakfast properties—displaying turrets, pergolas, towers, gingerbread trim and Carpenter Gothic details.
Many of Water Street's brick buildings, now occupied by hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee houses, stores and antique shops, date from the late 1800s. An excellent example of the prevailing architectural eclecticism is the Jefferson County Courthouse on Walker Street. Built in 1892, it combines Romanesque and Gothic styles as well as a nod to the whimsical elements of a fairytale castle.
St. Paul's Church, 1020 Jefferson St., was built in 1865, making it the oldest Episcopal church in the diocese of Olympia. The bell in the tower was donated by a cutter captain on the condition that it be rung on foggy days to help guide sailing vessels into the bay.
The lobby of the 1893 Customs House, Washington and Van Buren streets, displays historic photographs. Haller Fountain, at Washington and Taylor, was originally built for the Mexican exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World's Exhibition. The structure at the top of the bluff above Taylor Street is the old Fire Bell Tower, built in 1885.
The Port Townsend Farmers Market was named Washington's large market of the year in 2011. More than 70 vendors representing some 40 farms offer a variety of seasonal produce, artisan breads and cheeses, cider, cut flowers and specialty foods. Craft vendors sell everything from pottery and ceramics to soy candles. It sets up along Tyler Street (between Lawrence and Clay streets) on Saturday from 9-2, April through October, and 10-1, November through December. To reach the market if you're downtown and on foot, take the steps from the Haller Fountain to the top, then turn left.
The Port Townsend Chamber Music Festival is a major summertime event in a town that has long been home to artists and musicians. World-renowned ensembles play the music of classical masters at the Joseph F. Wheeler Theater at Fort Worden State Park & Conference Center. Public concerts are given in February, April and October; for schedule and ticket information phone (360) 385-3102 or (800) 746-1982
Nearby Fort Townsend Historical State Park includes the site of a U.S. Army post built in 1856 to protect settlers. The fort was abandoned in 1895 after it was destroyed by fire. The site is now a wildlife sanctuary.
Washington State Ferries offers daily service from Port Townsend to Coupeville (Keystone Harbor) on Whidbey Island; phone (206) 464-6400, or (888) 808-7977 in Wash. (Note: This run is subject to cancellation during extreme low tides.) Puget Sound Express provides daily passenger service to the San Juan Islands from May through September.
Visitor InfoPort Townsend Visitor Information Center: 2409 Jefferson St. Suite B PORT TOWNSEND, WA 98368. Phone:(360)385-2722
ShoppingLining the bay along Water Street, former saloons distinguished by handsome facades are now occupied by antique shops, restaurants, art galleries and specialty shops. Vendors at the Port Townsend Antique Mall, 802 Washington St., sell everything from pricey collectibles to nautical souvenirs.
Things to SeeFort Worden State Park & Conference Center
One of the state's oldest cities, the historic seaport of Port Townsend is known for its eclectic architecture.