By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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“Port Angeles at the time was this booming economy. Everyone said that 1914 was going to be this spectacular year of growth,” said Kathy Monds, executive director of the Clallam County Historical Society.
“They finally passed a cow ordinance to keep cows from roaming the streets and an ordinance that said you cannot tie your horse to a fire hydrant,” Monds said.
Port Angeles, known at the time as “The Gateway City,” had the newly built Elwha Dam for electricity, and city leaders said they felt their remote small town was on the verge of becoming a first-class city, she said.
But the city had two big problems: raw sewage on the beaches and a downtown that flooded with every rainstorm and high tide.
The downtown area was much smaller a century ago, said Don Perry, local historian and owner of Heritage Tours.
In January 1914, the downtown area extended from the bluffs to Front Street to the north, Oak Street to the west, Perry said.
“Front Street was the waterfront. Railroad Avenue wasn't built until 1928,” he said.
Everything west of North Cherry Street was either mud flats or open water and included a pier that extended Front Street to the west.
Peabody Creek ran northwest along Front Street through a ditch that ran the length of downtown and often flooded the streets in the winter.
Buildings were built on a series of piers extending over the mud flats and over the harbor waters, and Railroad Avenue was a wooden trestle standing over salt water.
Businesses built on the piers and docks used the bay as their sewer, and an incoming tide from Port Angeles Harbor left raw sewage on beaches and mud flats, Perry said.
In 1913, the City Council decided something had to be done about the sewage, but a sewage system could not be installed under the water, he said.
Raise the streets
The council's answer to both problems was to lay a sewage system on top of the existing streets and raise the streets well above the tide line.
The date of completion that will be celebrated this weekend — June 22, 1914 — is based on a historical photo of a freshly completed street, with workers standing on piping to be installed as downtown's first sewer system, Perry said.
Construction began in late January 1914.
“The whole thing only took six months. Today, you couldn't get a permit in six months,” he said.
Engineers built wooden forms on each side of First, Front, Oak and Laurel streets; laid pipes for the sewer system; and poured concrete retaining walls to contain the soil for the new streets.
The walls were 15 feet high at the lowest point of downtown streets, 6 feet wide at the base and 3 feet wide at the top, he said.
Sluicing the Hogback
They ran pipes from the Hogback — the name of the hill behind the Red Lion Hotel, southeast of North Lincoln Street — and used high-pressure hoses to wash the soil from the Hogback through the pipes and down into the cement retaining walls.
While the project took only six months, it took six years for the mud to dry enough for it to be paved, which was done in 1920, Perry said.
City leaders created a plank road and sidewalks to cover the mud as it dried, and businesses found that their entrances were under the new city surface.
“You could walk all around downtown in the tunnels under the planks,” Perry said.
Most buildings that were left below the new street level were torn down and replaced with new buildings constructed on top of long wooden piers and supports, he said.
Of the buildings standing when the newly raised streets were completed in 1914, only seven remain. The buildings, as they are known now, are:
■ Family Shoe Store building, 130 W. Front St., built in 1890; initially housed the Clallam County sheriff's and auditor's offices.
■ Pershing Hotel Building, 101 E. Front St., built in 1896. The Cornerhouse Restaurant occupies the lowest floor, while the Downtown Hotel is above.
■ Athletes Choice, 215 W. First St., built in 1900 as a machine shop.
■ Pacific Rim Hobby, 138 W. Railroad Ave., built circa 1900 as a freight depot on First Street and moved to its current location in 1930.
■ Odd Fellows Hall, 314 W. First St., built in 1912.
■ Odyssey Bookshop, 114 W. Front St., built in 1914 as a cigar store.
■ Kuppler Building, 116 N. Laurel St., built in 1914 for office and retail.
The Odyssey Bookshop, Athletes Choice and the Family Shoe Store buildings were jacked up to the new street level and wooden frames built underneath for support.
The Kuppler Building, Pershing Hotel and Odd Fellows Hall remained on their original foundations, and their main entrances were moved to the second floor.
Perry said some building owners have created finished basements within those frames, while others still have open wooden frames and dirt.
The space left between the buildings, and the concrete sidewalks installed between the raised streets and the buildings, created the Port Angeles Underground, a network of tunnels that can be explored by visitors.
Later additional portions of the harbor were filled in to complete the current downtown area, Perry said.
Mud flats and open water from Front Street to Railroad Avenue and from North Cherry to South Valley streets was filled in during the 1920s, and in the 1950s, the property at the north corner of Oak and Front streets was created, he said.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.