CAPT. GEORGE VANCOUVER wrote this about the work he and his crew did May 8, 1792: “The survey of this inlet, which had occupied our time since the preceding day at noon, having been finally accomplished by the joining of the boats, it proved to be a very safe and more capacious harbor than Port Discovery; and rendered more pleasant by the high land being at a greater distance from the water-side.
“Its soundings also give it a further advantage, being very regular from side to side, from 10 to 20 fathoms depth of water, good holding ground: but, with respect to fresh water, so far as we could determine by our transitory visit, it was very deficient, as has been already observed.
“To this port I gave the name of Port Townshend, in honor of the noble Marquis of that name.”
Without more ceremony than this, Port Townsend Bay became known by that name (the “h” in Townshend having been dropped by the founders of the city on that bay) throughout its further history.
The pomp and circumstance surrounding that date in Port Townsend’s history occurred much later with a centennial celebration in 1892 and a bicentennial fete in 1992.
The first inkling of centennial celebrations of the events of 1892 appears in a Port Townsend Leader article March 3, 1892, stating that the city had been asked to send a delegation to Astoria, Ore., for the May 10 celebration of the Columbia River Centennial honoring Capt. Robert Gray’s entry into the river on his ship Columbia.
Then, on March 17, an article on the front page of the Port Townsend Leader indicated that the chamber of commerce had appointed a committee to confer with the city council “with the view of devising plans for celebrating the city’s centennial anniversary.”
Members of the committee were Judge James G. Swan, Robert C. Hill, Capt. L.B. Hastings, M.A. Sawtelle and L. M. Andrews, with President Frank A. Bartlett and Secretary John A. Plum as ex-officio members.
The city council committee was comprised of Mayor H. L. Tibbals and Councilmen Horace Tucker, Warren Hastings, William Payne, Israel Katz and Charles A. Dyer.
Began on May 7
Saturday, May 7, 1892, was set as the centennial celebration date.
At first, the Leader reported, “It required lots of urging to impress upon the minds of the people of this city that a celebration with invitations to all on Puget Sound to assist, was the proper thing.
“The skeptics pounced upon [Judge Swan’s] idea and with the doleful cry of ‘hard times’ as a shibboleth came very near to carrying the day.”
But the newspaper and the mayor eventually enlisted the needed support.
The official events of the celebration included the arrival of Washington’s first governor, Elisha P. Ferry, on the steamer Kingston, and a public reception for Ferry and his wife, hosted at his home by Col. Henry Landes, on Friday, May 6.
By that evening men-of-war and revenue vessels had also arrived in the harbor, including the United States Steamers Yorktown, Adams, Albatross, Rush and Oliver Wolcott; the German ship Ingrid; and the English ship British Isles.
Saturday’s events began with an 8 a.m. 21-gun salute by men-of-war in the harbor.
Steamers ran special excursion trips for visitors to attend from other Puget Sound locations.
Bunting and flags decorated the businesses on Water Street and an arch of evergreens and flags spanned the intersection of Water and Taylor streets with the inscription “Puget Sound Centennial, 1792-1892. Welcome.”
The first event of the day was a fire department hose car race on Water Street by local teams.
At 11 a.m. a grand parade through downtown began, featuring bands, marching units of naval, military, fire department and other organizations, visiting dignitaries in carriages and floats.
Following the parade, there was another 21-gun salute and a clam bake at Morrison’s Park (now North Beach Park).
Guests were transported from downtown by steamers, street cars and a scow.
Music was provided by the First Regiment band, National Guard of Washington.
Clams and hard tack were free for all comers, and a larger lunch could be purchased.
A crowd of 2,500 to 3,000 was estimated.
At 1 p.m., the day’s main program began at the same location, with music by the Key City band, a welcome address by Tibbals and a brief presentation by Ferry.
Then there was a selection from the Philharmonic Society, followed by a speech by the “orator of the day,” J.B. Metcalf of Seattle, who gave a lengthy recap of Vancouver’s explorations in the area.
A chorus singing “God Save the Queen” and “America” rounded out the program.
At 3 p.m. there were boat races on the bay for ship’s boats (cutters, gigs and Whitehall boats), with a separate race of 3 miles for sailing boats of all types.
At 7 p.m., on Taylor Street, there was a tug of war between naval, militia and local teams, 10 men on each side. The local team prevailed and won first prize.
At 9 p.m., the entire flotilla in the harbor was illuminated.
There was a torchlight procession by small boats.
The USS Yorktown set off a fireworks display.
Another 21-gun salute was fired.
Music during the festivities was provided by a band.
The evening ended with a grand ball at the Opera House, hosted by Company I, 1st Regiment, of the National Guard of Washington.
More than 300 people attended.
The regimental band from Seattle again furnished the music for the dance.
At the celebration’s end, a Leader editorial remarked “The centennial of the discovery of Puget Sound was fittingly celebrated in Port Townsend yesterday.
“Considered from every standpoint the exercises of the day were a success.
“Although the sun did not shine so bright as we would have liked … there was no rain.
“The citizens of Port Townsend, one and all, who participated in the preparations, who so liberally donated their money and who by every means encouraged and favored the enterprise, deserve great credit.”
Planning for the Jefferson County Maritime Bicentennial began almost a year before the 200-year anniversary of Vancouver’s visit to the area.
An organizing committee for the events hosted a community meeting in June 1991, at the Port Townsend Public Library, “to generate bicentennial projects throughout the county, inform interested residents about assistance available from the committee, and identify ways in which the committee can facilitate projects and events.”
In March 1992, the library and the Jefferson County Historical Society announced a series of six co-sponsored lectures by recognized scholars to be held in various locations in Port Townsend, Port Ludlow and Chimacum, throughout April and the first week in May.
Lecture topics were related to Vancouver’s expedition, the botanical work of expedition member Archibald Menzies, the impact of European contact on the S’Klallam Tribe, Spanish explorations of the Northwest coast that pre-dated and coincided with Vancouver’s visit, 18th century navigation and the impact of contact on native artistic traditions.
The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, in July 1991, began construction on the longboat Townshend, a yawl of the type that Vancouver used for exploring the coastal areas of Jefferson County.
The project was sponsored by the Maritime Bicentennial Committee, for the “Wake of the Explorers,” a summer of 1992 trek retracing original charting expeditions by Spanish, British and American explorers.
Vancouver’s small ships were seaworthy and durable and, with “almost no keel” they could travel through shallow water and beach easily for both day and overnight mapping trips.
A stern seat with a back rest was also equipped with a wooden lap desk for the captain and charting team.
Greg Foster of Galiano Island, B.C., the designer of the Townshend, remarked, “Without these longboats, charts of the coastline from here to Alaska might never have been accurately produced.”
The 26-foot, three-mast, eight-oar Townshend was designed to be “as historically accurate as existing records allow.”
The three oar seats can be removed so the deck becomes sleeping space.
Storage areas are available below removable deck planks.
The Townshend was launched at Point Hudson on April 16, 1992, and has continued to provide maritime experiences for Jefferson County residents since that time.
The first of the bicentennial events happened May 2, when a re-enactment in the Townshend of the landing of Vancouver’s yawl on the beach at Discovery Bay was held at Cape George.
Although not at the exact spot where Vancouver landed, which was on the bay’s western shore, visitors were treated to the sight of an authentic observatory tent like the one Vancouver’s party set up on the shore with display of astronomical instruments and they were given an opportunity to taste “spruce beer” like Vancouver’s men brewed there, as it was considered a good preventative against scurvy.
A lunch of soup and corn bread prepared by Cape George residents was served.
There was a presentation by County Commissioner Larry Dennison, who pointed out that “Vancouver didn’t ‘discover this place’. He encountered native people who had been here for thousands of years.”
Dennison also pointed out some of the negative impacts that the contact with European explorers had on the first residents.
The May through September 1992 exhibit at the Jefferson County Historical Museum featured Peter Menzies, the botanist who traveled with Vancouver.
Historical Society Director Patricia Warren had traveled to England the previous winter and she was able to convince the Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanical Gardens to allow her to bring extremely rare original drawings and actual pressed plants from Menzies’ field work back to Jefferson County for the exhibit.
On Friday, May 8, the Wooden Boat Foundation hosted a potluck dinner at the Port Townsend Community Center.
The evening included visits by “Capt. Vancouver” and “Capt. Bligh” and sea chanteys were sung.
Greg Foster made a presentation on the “Wake of the Explorers” project.
The major events for the bicentennial celebration were held Saturday, May 9.
They were modeled on the events of the centennial in 1892.
There was a replica of the archway at the intersection of Water and Taylor streets, attached at the same eye bolts that were placed 100 years earlier.
Pacific Challenge seamanship skills and competitive events were held throughout the day at Point Hudson.
There was a parade through downtown.
At 1:30 p.m., a ceremony was held at Memorial Field commemorating Vancouver’s expedition and the British first encounter with local Native Americans.
Speakers included Mayor John Clise, British Consul Stephen Turner, British Naval Attaché Rear Adm. A.P. Hoddinott, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council Vice-Chair Sandra Ehrnorn and Cmdr. Rand Tanner of the U.S. Navy’s Indian Island Detachment.
The Leader reported that as a chorus sang the national anthems of the U.S. and United Kingdom, a “huge bald eagle drifted across the sky in front of the Memorial Stadium bandstand.”
Games for children were available for the remainder of the afternoon.
The annual Main Street Project clam bake was held at Pope Marine Park from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Music was provided by Keith Highland Pipers and sea chantey singers The Cutters.
There was also a session of Native American storytelling.
From 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., there was a zydeco-blues-rock ’n’ roll dance at the Eagles Hall with music by the Delta Rays.
Beginning at 9:30 p.m., there was an illuminated flotilla in Port Townsend Bay.
A flotilla of native canoes and longboats across Port Townsend bay to Tsetsibus (a traditional native gathering site bordering the Port Hadlock Marina) planned for Sunday morning was canceled due to gale-force winds.
But one cedar canoe, brought in to the marina by trailer, was paddled through the harbor to the beach for a traditional greeting and welcome bonfire and stories.
A potluck dinner and mini-potlatch went on there as scheduled.
The trophy for Saturday’s longboat race was awarded to the boat from Anacortes, and small gifts were distributed to all who were present, including new maps of the region, using S’Klallam place names as well as those given by Vancouver.
The bicentennial celebration closed with a salmon song and a reminder that the wind tells all our stories from storyteller Tom Heidelbaugh.
The Leader reported that as Heidelbaugh spoke those words, “a furious blast blew his words away from the microphone.”
Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.
Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.
Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear June 17.