We drove by the sign dozens of times until the day seemed right to venture down the road to explore Old Fort Townsend.
Built in 1856 by the US Army, it was declared “unfit” and closed in 1859, then re-opened in 1874. When a fire burned down the barracks in 1895, and the fort wasn’t used again until World War II, when enemy munitions were defused there.
After such a rough history, not much is left. Declared by Washington state as an historic site, the fort is now a park lush with foliage, its history preserved by descriptive placards, which are suffering, too, from the stretch of time.
But thanks to these explanations and some imagination, we got a glimpse of life back in the late 1800s when life was rough along this stretch of back country.
We learned, for example, that because they had to grow their own vegetables, “The post gardners were held is such esteem that they were excluded from regular fatigue duties.” And though the mess hall was next to the barracks, the bakery was the furthest building from them. Hmm! No late night raiding the bread basket here!
And despite the beauty of the place today…
…this description of the guardhouse explained that “violations of 12 different regulations carried the death penalty” including sleeping on guard duty and striking an officer. “The discipline, poor living conditions and distance from Port Townsend must have had its effect on morale,” the placard reads, “for two men shot themselves at their posts.”
Now a state historical site, the park offers over six miles of hiking trails through a picture-book setting…
…with views across the inlet of Port Townsend…
…and occasional wildlife sightings, such as this surprising view:
It’s not often you see a Great Blue Heron perched atop an evergreen tree!