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Port Blakeley: what was and what is

July 15th, 2004 · No Comments

Today the girls and I went to Port Blakeley along with a few friends. I think this was my third trip and each time I’ve been amazed by the experience. Port Blakeley near the end of the 19th century was the site of one of the largest sawmills in the world. A busy city was centered around the port, including a shipbuilding yard, a hotel, Masonic temple, school, church, lots of boardwalk and “honeymoon cottages” (as well as “bachelor quarters”).


Worn pilings from the wharf (see above), one concrete building from the mill, and remnants of what once was greet visitors today. Walking on the beach is an exercise in detective work: try to identify what time has left behind between logs and stones.

Today we saw boards, flattened and in order, as if a deck had collapsed, rusted hooks, pieces of old bottles and jars. One of my friends found a button. Someone found a bone. Lots of bits of lavender glass and some strange blackened substance that looks like volcanic rock, perhaps resulting from the sawmill fire. At low tide we walked around mysterious piles of rusting material, covered with barnacles and shellfish. It is a barren beach, a deserted place, a home to history and the past.

We wondered who else had shared that same sand with us, who had owned the broken bottle or walked on the fallen boards. To think that this place that once was busy and bustling is now gone bust and abandoned. Couples in love, school kids, business men on bikes enjoyed the boardwalk, and now, a century later, little trace of their lives remains.

From a biological perspective it is also an intriguing estuary where fresh water runs off the island and into the saltwater Sound. The girls enjoyed the little crabs hiding beneath rocks.


A group from IslandWood school highlighted the tide pools I had missed on previous visits. Turning over rocks, the class found gunnel fish and a flounder with her eggs. I had never seen such commotion in a tiny tide pool, as these fish created when they were discovered. Snails and sea stars in bright colors asked for my attention.


As we walked towards our car, we saw a dead deer, lying on the beach, between logs. At first I could see only the fur and it was difficult to determine whether it was dog or deer. After coming home I called the Parks Department who assured me they would take care of it. Entering the beach, I had noticed an odor but thought it was the stagnation of a salt water beach at low tide.

Leaving the park, I took home pictures in my mind of decaying wood and splashing fish, live sea stars and dead deer, bones and stones and buttons, historical concrete tagged with graffiti, blue herons and low tide, and little girls laughing while crabs crawled across their hands.

At our van, we brushed off the sand, removed our beach shoes and buckled into the seats. I noted that I’ll need to vacuum. Taking a shower later at home, I found the beach glass I had collected in my pocket. I laid it out on my dresser across a piece of white paper. Turqoise. Green. Purple. Triangles. Tomorrow we’ll incorporate them into concrete when we pour our annual garden stepping stone: mementos from the past, memories from the present summer, bits of brilliance that can bring beauty into the future.

Tags: island