by Youth Ocean Advocate Abby S.
Fish glide in silver shimmers past a barnacle-covered cement barrier. Fat anemones stand guard at the base of the dock posts, and dark green, red, and gray shore crabs peep from behind limpets clamped to the posts. Smoke-like fog stretches to the horizon and hides the dark sea and towering forest from sight.
This is Port Townsend, home to First Peoples for hundreds of years before white people (European immigrants and Americans moving west) arrived. Natural resources helped fuel their society. Fish were integral to their lives and were both eaten and the focus of tales. They worked practically and artistically with cedar and birch wood from the forests close to the sea. They built sleek canoes, wove watertight baskets with dried nettle stalks, and carved beautiful staffs.
However, when white people reached the area, most of the First People in the area died of smallpox. Their populations were weak enough for white people to force assimilation. Settlers took a different approach to the land, which involved building taverns and brothels to amuse sailors in between their watery business ventures, including shipping and fishing. As economic crisis in the late 1800s took its toll on Port Townsend, its bustling status as a thriving port town dropped.
World War I gave the land use when the military built a huge fort by the water for defense, and in the 1960s, white people gave Port Townsend a renaissance. This time, instead of sailors, entrepreneurs, or soldiers, artists and hippies swarmed the port. Drawn to the peaceful waters, grassy dunes, and vast forests, its natural charm attracted and kept hippies put.
Today, Port Townsend still has its artistic airs, and woodcraft including boat building thrives. Its people, while no longer directly reliant on the sea as they were a hundred years ago and before, choose to be by the sea to feel the breeze, fish, paint, hike, and relax. While there is no more widespread disease or seaside defense to worry about, the history of Port Townsend is just as important as the present to truly understand its development and its immutable ties to the sea.