Port Townsend: “Glass Beach” sparkles even if remnants of former city dump are gone with the tides

PORT TOWNSEND — When my friend, Matia Indigo Jones, told me about “Glass Beach” off McCurdy Point, I was mesmerized.

From Matia’s brief description of a narrow beach strip — formerly a city dump turned secret, scenic destination — I imagined millions of glass shards glistening between beach rocks.

I imagined them sparkling in the morning sun, lovingly polished by emerald waves, blinding a rare visitor with playful celebration of light and color.

In fact, Matia had visited the “glass kingdom” several times herself, starting at North Beach Park, located at the north end of Kuhn Street, walking about a mile east along the sandy shoreline.

Knowing the approximate location, I decided to check it out myself and learn a bit about its history.

First I needed to know if it’s legal to walk on the beach.

Jeff Randall, Port Townsend director of long-range planning, told me that the Washington State Public Trust Doctrine is on my side. The doctrine allows public access on the beaches below the high-water mark, Randall said.

His only other suggestion was to watch the tide tables and make sure that the tide is low enough — advice I later disregarded.

Historical background

I’ve also called the Jefferson County Historical Society for some background.

Apparently in the early 20th century, Port Townsend residents used to dump their garbage at North Beach, said Marge Samuelson, Jefferson County Research Center archivist.

According to a document recovered by Samuelson, on June 23, 1938, the members of the City Council decided that the North Beach area eastward was too precious for a public dump site, so they ordered it dynamited.


Well, actually they blasted it to “kill rats,” then covered remains with dirt to make it the North Beach we know today.

At that point the city decided to take its garbage to a new site at Middle Point — the Glass Beach area. There it operated until 1962, when officials decided to move the dump again, this time to Mill Road.

So now on to Glass Beach.

Below a bluff

Located directly below a 70-foot cliff, the dump became somewhat of a local version of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” story.

City garbage trucks and local residents just drove up to the end of the bluff and dumped all their garbage onto the beach below.

Later, when the city relocated the dump, garbage was somewhat cleaned up, but pieces of discarded bottles and jars remained — hence the magic kingdom of glass.

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