A Model to LIONize

How One Pacific Northwest Town Engineered a Quiet Revival

Forty miles northwest of Seattle, perched at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, lies Port Townsend, Washington. Its advantageous location, at the junction of Puget Sound and a strait leading to the Pacific Ocean, was considered so strategic that three forts were built around it in the late 1800s. The town was a major shipping hub in those days, home to ship captains and customs officials, and its port bustled with vessels carrying timber from the area’s rich forests and other goods. Already prosperous, the town really took off when it was poised to become the northwest terminus for the Union Pacific Railroad. Grand homes were built and investments made in anticipation of the “Key City’s” glorious future. But when the money ran out and the railroads stopped east of Puget Sound, the economic rewards fell to Seattle and Tacoma. Port Townsend, isolated on the western side of the Sound, began a steady decline.

In a twist of fate, Port Townsend’s missed opportunity in the 19th century has led to a modern-day revival. Many of the town’s Victorian-era buildings, which might have been torn down in a more robust economy to make room for new ones, were spared. Restoration efforts began in the 1970s, and Port Townsend is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of just three Victorian seaports. Those stately houses, along with the town’s postcard-perfect setting between the Olympic Mountains ...

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