Arts & Entertainment Community

Day Tripper: A diversion in Port Gamble becomes the main attraction

Posted on October 25th, 2023 By: Mary Williams

This beautiful region in which we live is ripe with opportunities to explore new places, see new things, and learn a little something at the same time. I promise to keep the longest journeys to a one-way distance of under 200 miles. Whether you want to make it an overnight trip, a weekend, or just a very long day trip, we should be able to pull it off.   

We will also check out some places that tourists flock to see in our beautiful community but most of us either take for granted or have never heard of.  If a staycation is on your horizon, I’m here to help you make the most of it.

I hope you’ll grant me the honor of your virtual company as we travel these roads together.  Happy trails!

Where to go? Given that All Hallows Eve (aka Halloween) and the Day of the Dead are just a week or so away, it seemed like it might be a great time to investigate the existence of the paranormal here in Western Washington.

Everyone has heard tales of the spirit life that hangs out in Fort Worden and Port Townsend, which are widely recognized as among the most haunted locations in the U.S. I decided to head that way and check it out for myself.  While doing some preliminary research, I came across information about a famous haunted house in Kitsap County’s Port Gamble that warranted checking out and decided to make a quick stop there on my way north. I never made it any farther.

You’ll know you’ve reached Port Gamble when the definitive water towers pop into view. Photo by Mary Williams

A company town

Port Gamble isn’t your typical rural community.  The original inhabitants of the site, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, called it “Teekalet.”

In 1841, a U.S. Navy expedition led by Lt. Charles Wilkes dubbed it Port Gamble, after Navy Lt. Robert Gamble, who was wounded in the War of 1812.

A sign explains how Port Gamble came to be known by that name. Photo by Mary Williams

Port Gamble was established as a company town to support the sawmills that operated there. Built in 1853 by Josiah Keller, William Talbot, and Andrew Pope, who had come north from San Francisco to find the perfect location for the mill they hoped to build, the Puget Mill Company remained in operation until December 1995.

At its closure, it was the oldest continually operating mill in North America. The mills were built close to the water to make it easier to transport the sawed logs to their final destination in the San Francisco market.

With a need to provide housing for mill workers and their families, a company town was born. Port Gamble was built using a combination of Greek Revival and Late Victorian architecture. Port Gamble and Hershey, Pennsylvania, are the two company towns that remain of the hundreds that were constructed in the 1800s. The community was designed to closely resemble the New England villages the new residents would have lived in before traveling west, and in particular East Machias, Maine.

Pope and Talbot became a leader in lumbering and shipping, surviving economic downturns that bankrupted many of its competitors by shipping lumber to Australia, Peru, England and Hawaii.

National Historic Landmark

While the mill is gone now, the little town that surrounded it remains. Simultaneously with the closing of the mill, Pope and Talbot’s lease on the town expired. Pope Resources assumed responsibility for maintaining the property including buildings and infrastructure. The company decided not to sell off town buildings or evict residents, but to maintain it as an historic resource, refurbishing it to be a replica of its early days and providing visitors a chance to see how early lumbering communities looked and functioned.

The Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board and the Kitsap County commissioners approved the designation of Rural Historic Town. This allows for development of the townsite and its buildings while requiring its historic character be retained. Port Gamble has been declared a National Historic Landmark.

Because of its National Historical Landmark status, a number of things can’t be done there. Mailboxes are not allowed (residents pick up their mail at the town post office), and satellite dishes are not permitted.

In May 2020, Rayonier Inc. acquired all holdings of the former Pope & Talbot. It now manages the town of Port Gamble under the entity of OPG Port Gamble LLC. Homes and offices are available for lease. Other facilities, such as the New England Church and the Canal Vista Pavilion, are available to rent for special events.

The village of Port Gamble today

The grave of U.S. Navy coxswain Gustave Englebrecht. Photo by Mary Williams

One of the village’s earliest landmarks is the Buena Vista Cemetery, located on a bluff overlooking the town. One of the oldest graves in Kitsap County, dated 1856, holds the remains of Gustave Engelbrecht. Englebrecht was a sailor aboard the USS Massachusetts, who died in combat defending the bay from attacking native tribes from British Columbia.

The General Store

At its heyday in the 1880s and ’90s, Port Gamble had about 900 people and 400 buildings. As of 2017, it had about 85 residents and 40 buildings. The community outside the historic area is home to approximately 2,800 residents.

When the village was established, the first thing Pope & Talbot did was build a small general store. In 1903, they established a market where The Artful Ewe is located today.

In 1916, the current General Store was built at 32400 Rainier Ave. NE. Its original purpose was to sell goods to the millworkers and local community, visiting ships, and members of nearby tribes. Full of uniquely curated gifts and merchandise, rummaging through it provides a sense of stepping back in time. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

The Port Gamble General Store is a popular stop for people visiting the tiny community near the Hood Canal Bridge. Photo by Mary Williams

More than a store

The general store houses the Port Gamble Historic Museum, which preserves the artifacts and history of the town.  It opened as part of the national bicentennial celebration in 1976 inside the general store. But it will be a while before you can visit the museum: It is open May 4 to Oct. 1 each year. It’s open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, plus Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The general store also includes a café that offers fresh sandwiches, soups, salads, espresso, beer and wine.  Sixteen flavors of hand scooped ice cream are also available.

The second floor of the General Store is dedicated to the Of Sea & Shore Shell Museum. Reportedly, it is the second-largest privately held collection in the world. The shells were collected by Tom Rice, a native of Port Gamble, who opened the museum in 1973.

Rice now lives in Phuket, Thailand, where he put together the collection that beat out Port Gamble’s and is now the world’s largest. Hours are same as the General Store. There is no charge for admission.

You should be aware that access to the museum is up a long flight of stairs and no disabled access is available.

There’s a lot more than just a store inside the Port Gamble General Store. Photo by Mary Williams

Historic buildings

The main street of Port Gamble is lined with buildings that were at one time private homes.  Here are a few you need to check out.

Walker-Ames House

The stately, colorful and possibly haunted Walker-Ames House. Photo by Mary Williams

Cyrus Walker, mill superintendent from 1853 until 1888, built his home in the center of town.  The front rooms faced the bay, giving visitors arriving by water the best possible view of his Queen Anne style Victorian home. At one time, it was the most expensive house in town. While the home was built from local lumber, the stained glass and other furnishings were shipped from locations such as Boston and St. Louis. When Walker retired from the mill, the home and superintendent’s position transitioned to his son-in-law, Edwin Ames, creating the home’s hyphenated name.

Many people consider the Walker-Ames House the most haunted private home in Washington state. Visitors report a variety of phenomena. Residents and visitors alike report seeing the apparition of three small children in an upstairs window.

About once every six weeks, an adult woman, speculated to be one of the nannies who lived in the home, comes to check on them. The attic light goes on and off when no one is in the building and the doors are locked. People have reported suspicious sounds, physical touching, odd smells, full-on apparitions, and even have photographic evidence.


The Port Gamble Theater is located at 4839 NE View Dr. across from the General Store.  Originally established in 1906, it was used for community theater, vaudeville, and eventually as a movie house. It closed in 1956 but was maintained in a preserved state. The building was renovated in 2021 and became a performing arts facility with a seating capacity of 250. The backside of the building is home to the post office, which has been in continuous operation for more than a 117 years.

The Port Gamble Theater reopened in 2021 after a renovation. Photo by Mary Williams

Fire Hall

The fire hall building was installed between the Masonic Lodge and the Community Hall in 1929.  Mill workers acted as a volunteer fire department for the mill and town.  The building was converted to commercial use in 2001.

The old Port Gamble firehouse, now converted to commercial use. Photo by Mary Williams

Franklin Lodge No. 5

The Franklin Lodge is the oldest active Masonic Lodge in Washington.  It was chartered on Sept. 6, 1959.  Originally constructed on the opposite side of the street, it was moved to its current location in 1907, but not turned around. Therefore, the front is now in the back and the back is now the front.

The oldest active Masonic Lodge in Washington state. Photo by Mary Williams

Several other homes have been converted to retail operations while maintaining their architectural integrity. Yarn, quilting supplies, unique gifts, beautiful baskets, and antiques are among the goods they have available for sale

Coming events

We can’t forget the paranormal, which is what started this adventure in the first place.

Port Gamble hosts an annual Ghost Conference.  This year’s, the 14th Annual Conference, is Nov. 10 through 12.  It will include speakers on paranormal research, a wide range of classes, and multiple opportunities to have your own exceptional experience.

Port Gamble, like most other communities, sets aside a weekend to kick off the holidays. Port Gamble Country Christmas, Dec. 9 and 10, promises more than 100,000 lights, horse-drawn hayrides, craft-making for the kids at Santa’s workshop, and fireworks. A tree-lighting ceremony is planned for 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, followed by fireworks at 6 p.m. Other events Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. include Santa’s workshop, shopping, dining, hayrides and carolers. The same activities repeat from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Being the brave dude that he is, Santa will be waiting to meet up with you and the kids at his workshop in the Walker Ames House.  This will give you an opportunity to get a sneak peak at the house, and perhaps meet up with one or more of its resident spirits.

Getting There

Directions: Go north on Highway 16 until it merges with Highway 3 in Gorst. Follow Highway 3 to Highway 104, just past the Hood Canal Bridge. Turn onto N. Rainier Avenue and into Port Gamble.

How far: Approximately 44 miles from Gig Harbor.

The entire Port Gamble townsite and cemetery is just a few blocks and is entirely walkable. Photo by Mary Williams