PORT TOWNSEND — When soldiers were stationed at Fort Townsend during the last half of the 19th century, there were two-story barracks, a dining hall, guardhouse and post office on the grounds.
But the best quarters were reserved for the fort residents crucial to carving a foothold in the Northwest wilderness: the Army mules.
“Sometimes the mules got more to eat than the soldiers,” said Nancy Steinberg, president of the Friends of Fort Townsend, a group that works to keep the fort’s history alive and the trails open.
All evidence of the former, with the exception of the parade ground and the foundation of the stables, is gone, the barracks having burned at the end of the 19th century and the rest of structures no longer existing by the 1930s, Steinberg said.
But the importance of the mules is underscored in the design of a new building, known as the pole barn, which is nearing completion after a long haul.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Robert Wiggins, park ranger.
The project started about five years ago, Wiggins said, during which one design was rejected and the barn design adopted.
The Friends of Fort Townsend, then known as the Friends of Old Fort Townsend, started selling fieldstone to pave the entrance at the Jefferson County Fair to raise money seven years ago, Steinberg said.
Now the building is complete except for interior wallboard and insulation, but the space has already been rented out for meetings and weddings.
“You have to like the outdoors,” Steinberg said. “It’s a great venue for nature events.”
Stones laid out
The first 48 stones were recently delivered by Lesa Appelt of Stone Image in Port Angeles, who did the engraving, and are ready to be placed in front of the entrance.
On Monday, the stones were laid out on the floor of the barn so Steinberg and FOFT secretary/treasurer Ann Weinmann could look at ways to make the pattern look natural.
“At first somebody suggested brick, but it looked Victorian,” Steinberg said.
Many of the stones were purchased by people who used the park regularly, like the Neville Campbell Family, who hold an annual reunion picnic there.
A descendant of Karl Bendixen commemorated his connection to the fort with a stone engraved with his name, CE (civil engineer) the name of his spouse Gunhilda, and the dates 1889 to 1895.
One stone says “In honor of all who served at Old Fort Townsend,” which was erected to protect the settlers.
“It was built in 1856, before the Civil War, and also used during World War II for munitions storage,” Steinberg said.
Others stones commemorate four-legged fans of the park: Wicker, Chelsea and Holly Holadecek, “best friend” Lucy Farmer; and Cote, French sheep dog.
Lena Dubuque remembered “Campfire Rain Fun.” Bill and Time Conklin commemorated the July 1985 miitary reenactment encampment, which will be held this year on July 10-11, Wiggins said.
Using half the proceeds from the stones, which sold for $100 each, the FOFT donated $7,600 to buy the gas insert for the fireplace.
Staff and volunteers from Fort Worden and Fort Townsend state parks, led by Ike Eisenhower, built the fireplace surround using purchased stone from regional sources — jade and granite from Montana and Washington state, rock from the Little Quilcene-Big Quil area, Dungeness river rock and Montana rainbow rock
“The rocks tell a story,” Wiggins said. “This is an interpretive piece.”
The hearth is made of fieldstone, with shiny chips added to the grout to look like sand from the beach.
The mantel was made from a Western red cedar that fell on the upper campground 14 years ago, Wiggins said.
It was milled by John Ricca and planed by Sebastian Eggert, who both volunteered their services, Steinberg said.
Small stones from the parade ground, which turned up during mowing, were incorporated into the fireplace surround, Wiggins said.
Also an artist, Wiggins has created a cut-metal sculpture of Mount Baker to go over the mantel, which will be alternately exhibited with a painting of the Paddle Journey, showing canoes on a beach, titled “We come in peace.”
“When you think about what the fort was designed for, it’s like coming full circle,” Steinberg said.
FOFT members are still selling field stones. They also are looking for paneling, such as barn wood, to finish the interior.
“Our motto is ‘We hold the vision,'” Steinberg said. “Some day our persistence will pay off.”
To reserve the Fort Townsend barn for a meeting, wedding, reunion or workshop, phone the Fort Worden State Park office, 360-344-4435.
The barn will seat up to 100 people.
For more information about Fort Townsend State Park, go to www.stateparks.com/old_fort_townsend.html.
_________Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.