Local Adventures · Travel

Local Adventures: The Coast Artillery Museum

Having been closed for nearly 3 years, The Coast Artillery Museum in Fort Worden State Park, outside of Port Townsend, Washington is open again. I had realized it had been a long time since I had been there. We took our oldest there back in December of 2005 , so it had been quite some time. It was spring break for the boys last week, so was it a day trip or an actual learning lesson? Who knows. That’s the joy of homeschooling. You do what you want, when you want to. lt was educational, and we got a hike in as well.

We parked by the Coupeville Ferry dock and walked onto the ferry and rode it over to Port Townsend. Walking at turbo speed we made it from the ferry dock to the bus stop outside of the Food Co-Op (you have about 20 minutes to make the walk, depending on if the ferry is late, and how long the 2 lights are). It’s a .7 tenths of a mile walk, with crossing Hwy 20 to get there. The bus is fare free, so hop on and take the quick ride up to Fort Worden State Park, and miss all hills you would have to go up and over if walking.

The transit bus drops you at the parade grounds, actually right across the street from the museum. It shows up at 11 minutes after the hour on weekdays, so keep that in mind for getting back. We went wandering for awhile, visiting some batteries we had not visited before.

If there is something all the rain can produce in the PNW, it is vibrant colors on drizzly days. The fort dates back to 1897 for the first build.

Upon entering the museum we watched a movie, then one of the volunteers gave us a personal tour. I can say I learned far more than I would have. I’d say it counted as a week – maybe a month’s – worth of local history for school. I also learned who Fort Worden was named after, a Naval Lt in the Civil War. Who ran the Monitor. He is known as the only Army fort named after a Naval person.

While the museum obvisouly focuses on the artillery, what it truly shines at is the history of the area. Fort Worden is a huge state park, with so much history. I’ve taught the boys so far the Indigenous side, the Chinese history, so the Army side was another chapter to learn about life on the Quimper Peninsula.

And who doesn’t love a sweet girl serving donuts?

But watch out for those ladies in France in WWI or you might come home with a lifetime “friend”……

A 6 man water cooled machine gun? I remembered seeing this before, but getting a detailed history of it was amazing. It was built in 1908 and brought back after WWI ended. It is functional, but must be kept non functioning due to being displayed.

This map of the rail roads of the US in 1942 was handed out to soldiers who were heading to bases across the US, since they used the rail roads to move them. Except for someone had a brilliant idea – they would also mark every military location on it. When it was found out, the Feds demanded every copy be found and destroyed, or face charges of treason if you kept it. Well, somewhere one ended up in a soldiers trunk and was forgotten about. It was found when the old trunk was donated.

But sometimes you find out things you had no idea about. Even though you went to high school just across the Salish Sea and lived in a military town. For I thought I knew most of Fort Worden’s history, but oh no I didn’t. After the Fort slowly closed after WWII and the Korean War (er…conflict?), it would be quietly used again. As a NIKE site. I’ve hiked at various NIKE sites in Washington State (Cougar Mountain is a very well known one, outside of Issaquah, Wa and just outside of Seattle, Wa), but what I didn’t know is they housed a radar site for “watching” for intercontinental missiles. It didn’t have the missiles there, like they did at Cougar Mountain – this was the far north, for anything that looked like one coming towards the US. It was housed, a computer room, deep in the earth.

Yet, at the time, in 1953, the fort was decommissioned and sold to the state of Washington and used as a Juvie Hall (prison) and mental hospital for youths. But it was still being used by the Feds. Just quietly.

And I thought growing up reading Reader Digest propaganda about the Cold War in the 80’s was bad? This gem hung in the Port Townsend post office for years.

I’ll have you know I donated $1 for this brand new, still stapled, 1968 copy of the DOD Civil Defense booklet. Who knows what I might glean from something older than me. At least something is older than me…..

The boys were less than amused I read it to them on the way home on the ferry.

So basically….once you survived Nuclear War, you were to survive for 2 weeks off of carbs. 4 choices! Yum. No wonder the Civil Defense rations had cocaine in them – to keep the men going. And morphine for the dying. What a lovely image the Cold War gives you. The batteries in the Geiger counters worked still as well.

Because….it was also a Civil Defense site. And a drop for storage. Which makes sense considering it was a NIKE site.

During the pandemic the museum opened up some of the items in deep storage. And have been building a display. The items were packed in 1963/1964. Sanitation, drinking water and food.

Our tour leader said the crackers were crispy and looked to be fine to eat, some 60 years later. Who wouldn’t want 42 pounds of crackers per box? That’s 62 crackers per pound….yum! Just hide in the corner, with the slugs, and don’t share. That’ll work!

The museum is $5 an adult, plus $2 per youth. If you have 4 or more people it’s a flat rate of $10. If you visit driving, you will need a state park Discover Pass or pay the daily fee to park.

We ended up putting in about 5 miles walking/hiking and got fresh air with all that education.

This rock welcomed us back to the island, as we left the ferry. A master piece for sure.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.