We’ve just had our first tour of the Ft. Worden State Park complex here in Port Townsend, Washington, including many of the old buildings and all of the gun batteries. We were finally able to translate what we saw on a map to the real thing. There are a million and a half tons of concrete here on the “campus”. The pictures we’ve included can’t portray the magnitude and complexity of the defenses that were here. The whole place is (kind of) spooky because of the dark, rainy conditions, the serious original mission of the gun emplacements and the fact that almost all of these weapon sites are over 100 years old. We walked next to, on top of, inside of and all around the gun batteries. We imagined the shouts of dozens of men, the thunder of giant guns and the patter of raindrops that have been falling here for thousands of years. It continues to rain on and off in the Olympic peninsula. It’s raining as I write this at 10:00 am. Even though this is what normal weather is like, we’re still holding out for warm sunny days. It brings back memories of living in New Zealand where it rains ferociously at times. In fact, here’s a poem reportedly written by an anonymous tourist who visited the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, where the annual rainfall averages 35 feet. Sometimes it’s a good description of our location: It rained and rained and rained The average fall was well maintained And when the tracks were simply bogs It started raining cats and dogs After a drought of half an hour We had a most refreshing shower And then most curious thing of all A gentle rain began to fall Next day but one was fairly dry Save for one deluge from the sky Which wet the party to the skin And then at last the rain set in
We arrived on March 20 and were not supposed to start work until April 1. Unfortunately, the lady who is our boss had a family emergency (her husband had major surgery) and she needed to train us before leaving for Tacoma. No problem, the job is easy, I love interacting with the public, and Bob loves to work with the Curator, examining, looking and filing old photographs. For my job at the front “office” of the museum, I’ve written my own little blurb that I use to explain the “timeline” of Fort Worden and major historical events. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve learned and what I tell visitors: Fort Worden was commissioned in 1904, with the first guns arriving by barge in 1900. The guns were ready to fire in 1902. The buildings were operational in 1904, and construction of the Fort continued until 1915. The museum is housed in what used to be a “barracks” and it didn’t have electricity until 1908. Living conditions were quite primitive during these early times. The big guns were never fired in anger and were already approaching obsolescence by WWI (1914 to 1918). With improvements in warships and their armament, shore based guns were not considered powerful enough. Even at the beginning of WWII, fixed artillery was dead. Fort Worden was decommissioned in 1953. The history of the Fort did not end there though. Shortly thereafter, the grounds and buildings became a Treatment Center for troubled kids. The Center was operational until 1971. Many Port Townsend residents put pressure on the State government to buy the property and keep it as a state park. (The power of the PEOPLE won over “There is no money.”) The same thing happened with the Museum. Individuals that had served at Fort Worden believed that history had to be preserved and applied for a non-profit organization status. Even though the Museum is housed within the Ft. Worden State Park, it is a separate entity that supports itself with private and public donations. I sometimes tell visitors about a Japanese ship that made it inside Puget Sound. The gun crews wanted to fire the guns. The U.S. Commander said “No one fires the guns; they’re just looking for them.” The ship turned around and left. This story was confirmed by the Japanese Captain. I also love the story of Alexander’s Castle, the only non-military building inside the Fort. It was built by a Scottish minister for his sweetheart who stayed in Scotland. He sailed back to his home town to bring back his future wife only to find out that she had already married someone else. He lived in the castle on and off, but never for long. The Castle is maintained by the Historical Society of Port Townsend and has been restored to its original grandeur. It’s a very popular place to stay for wedding nights and weekends. Enjoy your visit and make sure your kids and grandkids know about the history of the Fort and country.
Here are a few more old photos from the archives: