WEEKEND: Historical Society events starting tonight paint past of Port Townsend in words and music

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND –– In the 19th century, early leaders saw potential in Port Townsend as the future metropolis of the Washington Territory, working hard to boost its reputation to attract investment from Eastern U.S. financial centers.

A detailed look at that history will be accompanied by an aural reflection of Port Townsend's 153 years with a series of events sponsored by the Jefferson County Historical Society this weekend.

“It's a time machine weekend,” said Bill Tennent, director of the historical society.

Historian Elaine Naylor will read from her recently released book, Frontier Boosters: Port Townsend and the Culture of Development in the American West, at a society-sponsored reception at 6 p.m. today at the Jefferson Museum of Art & History, 540 Water St.

On Sunday, the Port Townsend Summer Band will take listeners on a musical history tour, with songs tied to the city's history dating back to the 1860s, at 3 p.m. in Chetzemoka Park.

Both events are free, though donations gladly will be accepted.

Naylor's book focuses on the early years of Port Townsend, when local leaders tried to develop the city as the “New York of the West.”

An associate professor of history at Mount Allison University in Sackville, Canada, Naylor spent several years of research into Port Townsend's early history to show how an infectious spirit of “boosterism” perpetuated a belief among the city's early residents that it could become a West Coast hub and led to the ornate buildings that still make up a good portion of the city.

Both Port Townsend and Seattle started as mill towns in 1851, and the early Port Townsend residents believed it would be the main export hub for shipping lumber to San Francisco.

But the railroad never connected Port Townsend to Olympia and the land-locked east, and despite efforts of the city's boosters, economic development stalled and led to heightened racial tensions in the then-ethnically diverse city, including a failed attempt at a boycott of Chinese businesses.

“They tried to institute the boycott but realized the Chinese were too vital to our local economy,” Tennent said.

The book also delves into the city's rich history of gambling and prostitution and how early business leaders worked hard to counter the sinful reputation to appeal to outside investors while still trying to preserve the “services” for the crews of sailors who frequented the port town.

Frontier Boosters is published by McGill-Queen's University Press at a list price of $29.95.

Sunday's concert includes tunes that date back to 1860.

“The concert will feature several compositions which relate directly to Port Townsend and will include a rough musical timeline from when Port Townsend was established to the present,” Summer Band conductor Karl F. Bach said.

Among those Port Townsend-specific numbers are the Key City Parade March, penned by composer Larry Thomas in 1940; the Port Townsend Centennial March, written for the centennial and first played by the 360th Army Band at Fort Worden in 1951; and the 2002 Fort Worden Centennial March, written for the fort's centennial celebration.

A special souvenir program will include photographs and stories of historic Port Townsend and information about the Summer Band and E.J. Gaede, founding conductor.

Last modified: July 26. 2014 1:54AM
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