WEEKEND: Port Townsend celebrates Victorian heritage

PORT TOWNSEND — Even those who celebrate the Victorian age might have some misconceptions about those times, according to one of the participants in this weekend’s Victorian Heritage Festival.

“There are those who say that the Victorian era was a backward time,” said Sarah Chrisman, an organizer of some of the myriad events at the festival.

But, she said, “there was a lot of technological advancement, and it was a really dynamic time for the arts and sciences.”

The annual festival, which begins today and continues through Sunday, is dedicated to celebrating the Victorian era’s art and culture firsthand.

The eaport of Port Townsend sports a vast collection of Victorian homes and larger buildings such as the Customs House and the Jefferson County Courthouse.

This year’s festival will include many new events.

Fencing, prize-fighting

A 19th-century fencing demonstration is set at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St.

It will be followed at 12:30 p.m. at the maritime center with a demonstration of prize-fighting in the style of the 1800s.

A Gatling gun will be fired during a demonstration from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Field in downtown Port Townsend.

Also planned is an antique-gun exhibition and an old-fashioned bicycle race, along with such old favorites as the Victorian Tea, a fashion show and the Victorian Ball.

General passes — which provide admission to a range of events — are $25 and are payable by cash or check only.

Tickets also can be purchased at the door of the various events.

Victorian Ball

The Victorian Ball, set from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday at the JFK Building at Fort Worden State Park, will include light refreshments and nonalcoholic drinks with live music by Airstream Traveler.

Advance tickets are $15; tickets at the door will be $20.

Doors will open at 7 p.m.

Free events will include a Poker Parlor from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Palace Hotel, a vintage steamboat exhibition at the dock beside the Northwest Maritime Center’s art deco museum, and a quilting and needlework demonstration at Vintage Hardware from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Saturday.

The Victorian Era corresponds with the reign of Queen Victoria of England from 1837 to 1901 — a time that, according to Chrisman, was not as stuffy as is generally thought.

“There is the idea that it was a negative time for women that wasn’t true,” she said.

“In many ways, the women held more power than men.

“And the time was named after a female queen who was a very strong ruler.”

Chrisman said the era also was technologically sophisticated.

‘New discoveries’

“It was just booming. There were a lot of new discoveries,” she said.

“The telegraph came into being, and it has been used as a metaphor for the modern Internet,” she said.

“Today, we have ‘Internet marriages,’ where people meet online.

“Back then, there were lots of ‘telegraph marriages.’”

Crisman and her husband, Gabriel, will serve as instructors for several of the events, including the Victorian Dressing Sequence at 3:30 p.m. today and a lecture on the Victorian corset at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Both events take place at their home, 1105 Taylor St., Port Townsend.

Admission is by donation.

Also costing a donation at the door will be a temperance meeting, a Victorian bicycle race, a fashion show and an antique-bicycle race at Fort Worden.

Many of these involve “role playing,” where ticket-holders observe and participate in the events as they would have more than 100 years ago.

The role playing ends for visitors after the festival, but Chrisman, 32, continues to live a Victorian life, at least when it comes to fashion, after everyone goes home.

Victorian dress

She can be seen around town all year in Victorian dress, which she said can be hard to maintain.

Since she never appears in public in modern dress, she draws a certain amount of curiosity and even criticism.

“I am always dealing with a lack of comprehension,” she said.

“I can go to the grocery store, and people will berate me because they think I am celebrating a time that suppressed women.”

Chrisman doesn’t expect anyone else to follow her dedication to Victorian fashion but feels anyone can learn from those times.

“We can latch onto their optimism,” she said.

“They very much felt that life was on the upswing and that people had the power and ability to improve their own class and lot in life.”


Bus tours are scheduled today and Saturday from City Hall, leaving at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. today and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday.

Downtown walking tours are at noon Saturday and Sunday from the Jefferson County Historical Museum, 540 Water St.

Uptown walking tours are at 2 p.m. today and Saturday, leaving from the Rothschild House, corner of Franklin and Taylor streets.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 3 to 12. Walking tours are free for members of the Jefferson County Historical Society.

Reservations are not required.

Other events scheduled are:


■ 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. — Bicycles of the Victorian Era, Northwest Maritime Center.

■ 11 a.m. to noon — Temperance meeting, Better Living Through Coffee, 100 Tyler St.

■ 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Small-craft display, Northwest Maritime Center Boathouse.

■ 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. — Visit with a Victorian naturalist, Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

■ 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. — Lecture: “Life of a 19th-Century Sailor,” Northwest Maritime Center.

■ 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. — Fashion Show, First Presbyterian Church at Franklin and Polk streets.


■ 11 a.m. to noon — “Tea Parties and Tactics: How Washington Women Won the Vote,” Apothecarium, 1300 Water St.

■ 1 p.m. — Bicycle race, Fort Worden parade ground in front of the Commanding Officer’s Quarters. In wet weather, it only will be a presentation at 1105 Taylor St.

Also open during the festival will be the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. all three days; the Art Deco Light Museum, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday; Coast Artillery Museum, noon to 4 p.m. today and Sunday and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday; Commanding Officer’s Quarters, noon to 4 p.m. today and Sunday and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday; Port Townsend Marine Science Center at Fort Worden, noon to 4 p.m. today and Sunday and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday; and the Rothschild House, noon to 4 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Open houses are planned at several venues.

The Northwest Maritime Center Boat Shop’s open house will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1020 Jefferson St., will host an open house from noon to 4 p.m. today and Saturday.

Trinity United Methodist Church’s open house, 609 Taylor St., will be from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday

The Victorian Heritage Festival is sponsored by the nonprofit Victorian Society in America-Northwest Chapter.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit


Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Managing Editor/News Leah Leach contributed to this report.

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