BACK WHEN: The history of the historians of Jefferson County: Part II

Peter Simpson in 2005. (Port Townsend Film Festival)

Peter Simpson in 2005. (Port Townsend Film Festival)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This month’s Jefferson County history column is the second in a series of three about local history resources in the county. Last month’s column featured histories written by authors who grew up in Port Townsend. This month features books that were collaboratively written or were collections of newspaper articles. The March column will be a historical look at the Jefferson County Historical Society, which has existed since the 1870s.

LOCAL HISTORY COLUMNS in the Peninsula Daily News and the Port Townsend Leader have been written by several people over the past 50 or more years.

Two of those people have gathered their columns into books that cover people, places and events throughout Jefferson County.

James Hermanson

James Hermanson was born in Seattle in 1925.

He graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in social work and moved to Port Townsend in 1960 to work for the Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Fort Worden.

After the center closed in 1971, he worked at the local office of the Department of Social and Health Services until 1982, then held a position at the Olympic Area Agency on Aging until he retired in 1990.

Hermanson was interested in the history of this area and enjoyed talking with longtime residents and recording their recollections.

He had a special interest in collecting historic memorabilia, especially photographs and postcards.

Throughout the years he amassed a collection of 3,000 to 4,000 photographs.

The articles he wrote appeared in the Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader between 1990 and 1999.

He later published his first book, “Rural Jefferson County: Its Heritage and Maritime History,” consisting mostly of his Leader articles.

A second edition was published in 2002.

In the introduction to his second collection of columns, “Port Townsend Memories,” published in 2001, he noted: “As one who has long had an interest in history, Port Townsend provided fertile ground for exploring it some forty years ago. At the time it was a simpler area with a stable population and with most businesses located along Water and Lawrence streets. A town that was largely undiscovered by tourists.

“There were still quite a number of residents whose parents came during the boom period and earlier.

“They enjoyed recalling the early days, opened their family albums and permitted copies to be made of historic views. Having coffee at the old Delmonico was often the beginning of a visit into the past.”

Hermanson was an active member of the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society

Hermanson was additionally the co-author of “Port Townsend: Years That Are Gone — An Illustrated History,” with Peter Simpson, published in 1979.

He was also involved with the Historical Society’s Oral History Project initiated in the mid 1980s.

Hermanson died in February 2007 at the age of 82.

Pam Clise

Pam McCollum Clise succeeded Hermanson, writing for the Leader from 1999 to 2004, and on several special occasions after that.

She then became the author of the Jefferson County “Back When” column in the Peninsula Daily News, from 2004 to 2013.

Her articles were gathered into a volume titled “Tracing Footsteps: Jefferson County Washington,” published in 2014.

Clise arrived in Jefferson County in 1977 with her two young children.

Twenty years later, she began to volunteer for the Historical Society, often sorting through archival boxes that had not yet been organized and cataloged.

Clise is also the author of “On the Hill: A History of the Uptown Business District,” written in 1995.

She noted, “My favorite part of writing local history is hearing and discovering tidbits that may have otherwise been overlooked. I feel as if I have developed a special bond with all the families and individuals that shared their stories.”

She and Hermanson both acknowledge the volunteers and staff at the Jefferson County Historical Society and the descendants of pioneer families for aiding their research.

Clise added, “Their dedication to mystery and discovery has been exceptional.”

Peter Simpson

Peter Simpson was born in Alaska in 1934, lived with his grandmother in Seattle during part of World War II, then on the family farm in Cashmere, where he graduated from high school.

He graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in communications and editorial journalism.

He married Pat Sylling in 1957.

And they first lived in Omaha, Neb., while Peter served in the Air Force from 1957 to 1959.

In 1959, the couple came to Port Townsend, where Simpson worked at the Leader and the Fort Worden Treatment Center.

Simpson later wrote that he first became interested in Port Townsend history in 1959 when, as a reporter for the Port Townsend Leader, one of his tasks “was to search old issues for items of historical interest.”

This led to his publishing a booklet on Port Townsend’s Victorian architecture, issued in 1961.

From 1968 through 1978, he and Pat and their son, David, lived in Reston, Va.

During that time, Simpson worked in a variety of roles for the Head Start program, and as an organizational and training consultant to corporations and government agencies.

They returned to Port Townsend in 1979.

Shortly after returning, while Simpson was working with the Clallam-Jefferson Community Action Council, he and Hermanson collaborated on the densely illustrated “Port Townsend: Years That Are Gone.”

The book is an excellent visual overview of the history of the city.

In their introduction to the book they wrote: “It is our hope that visitors to Port Townsend today will use this book to enrich their appreciation of the nineteenth century and, more importantly, that Port Townsend residents will find among its pages a continuity to the life of their community.”

But that was only one of Simpson’s contributions to preserving Port Townsend’s history.

He also served as president of the Jefferson County Historical Society for several years in the 1980s.

In the mid 1980s, he edited and collaborated with Robin Biffle, Jim Heynen, Nora Porter and Mark Welch to write “City of Dreams: A Guide to Port Townsend.”


Published in 1986, it is an alphabetical compendium of all the things, up until then, that contributed to making Port Townsend the place that it had become.

It makes fascinating reading and is a useful gift for newcomers to Port Townsend, as well as a valuable resource for historical research.

In the introduction to the book, Simpson wrote: “Although the frontier is now metaphorical, it nevertheless helps to define the Port Townsend character. Never fully settled or entrenched, always with room for one or a dozen more, sensually one of the most enchanting places in one of the most enchanting regions of the world, Port Townsend offers the promise of the old frontier by inciting the dreams of its beholders. … This book seeks to examine the promise that the city has evoked and to identify some of the triggers of those dreams.”

There is currently a project underway to update and add essays in a second edition of “City of Dreams.”

Simpson later served as director of the Port Townsend Film Festival for 10 years until his sudden death from cardiac arrest in April 2009.

It was also while Simpson chaired the Historical Society that, in honor of the 1889 centennial of Washington statehood, the society undertook an intensive oral history project “to create a permanent record of the development of Jefferson County since 1899 as remembered by some of its elder citizens.”

In 1986, the board of trustees of the society voted to provide seed money for the project and appointed Helen Peach Monell to direct an all-volunteer team of interviewer-editors and typists.

Additional funding for the project was provided by a number of Jefferson County organizations.

Designated as an official Washington State Centennial Special Project, not only were funds made available but permission was granted to use the centennial logo and to be included in the state Centennial Committee’s publicity releases.

The project resulted in more than 50 interviews on tape.

These were transcribed and bound in volumes that are housed at both the JCHS Research Center and the Jefferson County Library.

In addition, the collecting of oral histories has continued on to the present, and there are now several hundred of them available in document or video formats for use at the research center.

These oral histories are extremely valuable.

The reminiscences of those who were involved in historical events give those events an immediacy beyond a mere accounting of facts.

Local history researchers are indebted to the people who have donated hundreds of hours to bring this project to fruition.

Another valuable earlier collaborative effort to preserve local history resulted in the Jefferson County Historical Society book published in 1966 titled “With Pride in Heritage: History of Jefferson County — A Symposium.”

An editorial committee including V.J. Gregory, Richard F. McCurdy and Zilpha B. Davis invited local “researchers, writers, artists, photographers, map makers, librarians, public officials, pioneers and their forbears” to contribute information and essays on county history.

Production of the volume was funded by subscription. The result was 65 essays on a vast variety of topics.

Two more recent collaborative efforts by the Jefferson County Historical Society staff and volunteers are the Arcadia Publishing Co.’s Image of America photographic local history volumes titled “Port Townsend” and “Jefferson County,” published in 2008 and 2006, respectively.

There are also a variety of family histories and reminiscences of smaller communities within the county such as “Marrowstone,” by Karen Russell; “The Story of Old Leland,” by Mary Beth Munn Yntema; “Jim and Ana: the lives of James Hector Munn and AnaMae Edwards Munn of Leland…” by Hector John Munn; and “Brinnon — A Scrapbook of History” by Vern and Ida Bailey.

These and other community histories contain many colorful stories told by early pioneers in the area.

Present-day researchers of local history owe an immense thank you to the authors and editors of these documents that preserve Jefferson County history.


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 March 18.

Pam McCollum Clise

Pam McCollum Clise

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