Known as the "City of Dreams," Port Townsend was known for its safe harbor and great location. It was supposed to be the largest city on the West coast. But that was over two hundred years ago. The reality of modern day Port Townsend is far from the glory they expected.
When I traveled to Port Townsend a few weeks ago to film, I experienced the sadness and bittersweet reality that has been growing for years. Port Townsend never became what it should have been, leaving behind generations of angry people, most of whom dis-liked us. Why? Because we are from the city they should have been, Seattle.
On the 24th of April in the year 1851, settlers began to build a life in Port Townsend. By the end of the 1800's, the small city had grown larger and they expected a bright future ahead. Many Victorian buildings and homes were built during this time and in the 1870's and 1890's, the railroad was supposed to extend all the way to the West coast, ending its route in Port Townsend. This railroad was supposed to bring hundreds of settlers, a trading market and a bit more publicity to the already booming town. But the railroad never came.
Because of the hard hit of the Great Depression, investors lost the funds to continue laying the tracks, so the railroad ended on the east side of Puget Sound, stopping in Seattle.
Almost immediately, the other Ports with railroad access began to grow in size. Less and less people moved to Port Townsend and many people got up and moved completely. By the late 1890's, the boom was over and Port Townsend would never be the same; "Without the railroad to spur economic growth, the town shrank and investors looked elsewhere to make a good return." (Ptguide.com) When people left town, they left the buildings abandoned and the patriotic locals at home, hoping for a change in the economy.
In the 1920's Port Townsend experienced a bit of hope when a Paper Mill was built on the outskirts of town. Many jobs were created and the economy was sustained. However, it wouldn't be until 50 years later that more people flocked to the town. In the 1970's, elderly couples and retirees moved in, intrigued by the Victorian buildings that had been waiting and wishing for over a hundred years; The 70's saw an influx of people who "discovered" Port Townsend, finding inexpensive homes, a low economy, and a laid-back attitude. They often came to drop out, retire, or open a small business." (Ptguide.com)
When we traveled to the Olympic Peninsula a few weeks back to shoot a short series called the "Best Little Towns of the Northwest," all of us in the group agreed that Port Townsend had to be one of the best, so we featured them in our show. However, our entire stay was a bit strange and the friendly small town appeal we were looking for, was lost. I was flipped off twice while driving and the ferry worker stuck his hand in my face when I asked for directions. I must have caught this little town on a bad day, I thought. It wasn't until a few days later that it began to all make sense.
I shared my awful experience with a friend of mine who brought Port Townsend's history to my attention. No wonder they didn't like us, they knew we were from Seattle. The sadness and anger has trickled down the generations through story telling and family history and can we really blame them? What happened to Port Townsend is truly devastating and I'm convinced they will never be the same.
Because of an economic depression and a economy based on trade, Port Townsend failed miserably. What is left of Port Townsend are the Victorian buildings, the small town feel and thousands of locals who would give anything to turn back time.