Posted by: wadahp | April 14, 2011


Communities Shaped By Water

Mill Towns

View of: 1959-72 view of mill houses at Port Gamble. The mill started in 1853 and operated through the 1990s. The mill town overlooking the former mill provides a wonderful sense of a working mill town. Source: Washington State Library Photograph Collection

Timber based export communities ranged from small camps to full cities. Water based access provided supplies, communication, and shipping of raw materials. Many started as small camps focused solely upon extraction to water for transfer to other sites for processing. By 1876 there nearly fifty logging camps lined Hood Canal.[1] Tents and transitory structures, often on skids defined these with small rafts anchored in the water for mail and steamship connections. Most of these have disappeared with time due to the fragility of original facilities and as operations moved further inland after receding resources. Logs from these small camps were brought to the larger mills, such as Port Gamble, Port Ludlow and Seabeck along the canal. These processing facilities often started along spits and sheltered areas with deep water anchorage for sailing ships and a ready supply of timber. Wharves, piers for mooring sailing vessels while loading and vast stands of pilings supporting predominately wood frame structures containing the processing operations dominated.

View of: 1959-72 view of the meeting house at Seabeck that used to function as the cookhouse during the mill's operation. Source: Washington State Library Photograph Collection.

As towns grew, both the processing infrastructure as well as residential, social and related commercial structures developed to support the growing labor force. Changes in transportation by the late 1910s to 1920s often introduced rail spurs and loading facilities for barges. Some of these communities, such as Port Gamble, sustained this role into the 20th Century before ceasing. Most diversified with these subsequent functions replacing the processing related waterfront facilities.  Much of the region’s earliest logging operations were located along the waterways, and in particular Grays Harbor. These communities, especially along the Hood Canal comprised some of the only Euro-American activities during the mid to late 1800s. Timber has come to shape the identity of the region as a whole and these marked the beginning of its extraction, especially in Grays Harbor.

Stories tied to the processes and characters of this time provide an important regional heritage. Social movements coming out of the labor conditions and workers helped shape the region’s political identity. They provided employment for a range of immigrants and the foundation for subsequent communities. The processing facilities are closely linked with the built environment heritage of the Salish Sea. Most buildings constructed during the last nearly two centuries were built of timber that came from the region. In turn these same yards kept a furious pace during the world wars supplying aviation and naval building industry needs.

View of: 1918 view of a crane loading lumber onto a rail car at Port Gamble. Source: University of Washington Digital Collections, Industries and Occupations Collection.

[1] (Andersen 1960) p. 30


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