Port Townsend, Wash.: Victorian Seaport and Arts Community

Politically and culturally active residents take pride in their town, with its quirky personality and easygoing, art-infused lifestyle.
By David Wann
October/November 2012
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Point Hudson Marina has earned Clean Marina Washington certification. 
Photo By Al McCleese

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“We’re all here because we’re not all there,” goes a tongue-in-cheek motto in Port Townsend. The people of Port Townsend are deliberately outside the norm — and intent on satisfying their needs locally whenever possible. The railroad that was expected to link Port Townsend with the world’s commerce 120 years ago went instead on the east side of Puget Sound, to Seattle. Boom-time Victorian homes and businesses in Port Townsend sat idle for years, but have now been occupied and embellished by the artists, teachers, craftspeople and entrepreneurs of this politically and culturally active place. These homes are now part of a National Historic Landmark District and are a major reason visitors trek to this arts-focused coastal town.

With a Mediterranean climate, the natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula, a marine sanctuary and the San Juan Islands nearby, residents have easy access to the outdoors. More than 20 coffeehouses and numerous art galleries provide many opportunities to gather. Port Townsend’s culture emphasizes following one’s bliss to make a living and a difference. Resident Rick Oltman, for example, pursued his boyhood passion of sailing and combined it with fishing as a profession. Thirty-four years later, he delivers wild-caught, flash-frozen Alaskan salmon by bicycle to Port Townsend restaurants. Cape Cleare — Oltman’s trolling boat, crafted from Douglas fir and white oak — is quintessential Port Townsend. The town hosts the annual Wooden Boat Festival, and 75 local businesses relate to maritime pursuits.

Andy Cochrane’s environmental convictions drove him to start a six-person solar energy business, Power Trip Energy. “I was raised in Port Townsend and I wanted my work to be useful and valuable for the community,” Cochrane says. “So far, we’ve installed 1 megawatt of grid-tied photovoltaic energy on more than 250 homes and small businesses.” The county has more solar installations than any other in Washington, an already strong state in renewable energy.

It’s not just what locals accomplish individually that makes the town a great place to live. They’ve learned to work together in their 5,000-member food co-op, on the economic development council and elsewhere. The sustainability organization Local 20-20 helped kick-start a successful county-wide proposition to have the Public Utility District take over the privately run power utility, setting a precedent for other communities to follow. Investment adviser James Frazier founded the Local Investment Opportunities Network (LION) to get Port Townsend’s investments out of Wall Street and onto Main Street. Since 2006, LION has directed $3 million into local businesses and projects.

Stats: Port Townsend, Washington

Population: 9,350

Climate: Mild; 19 inches avg. annual precip.; January avg. high: 45 degrees; July avg. high: 70 degrees

Median Household Income: $65,464

Median Home Price: $250,000

Check out the other towns featured in our 2012 installment of 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

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