Local Adventures

Local Adventures: The FallOut Shelters Of Port Townsend (The Business District)

The boys and I are working on a new project this year for our homeschooling. It all started with a $1 donation for a blue booklet that I found last spring at a museum in Fort Worden State Park, in Port Townsend, Wa.

This stained, but never opened up, Civil Defense booklet still had the map in it, that showed where all the fallout shelters were in Jefferson County, Washington State. It was published in 1968 – so yes, it is older than me. Yay. Something is older than me!

Things have changed over the decades, but most of it still exists building wise. We decided to break it up into sections of which we can walk to or take the transit bus to. During the height of the Cold War where you would go to was based on your voting precinct. Or if you were at school.

This trip was us visiting the downtown business corridor on the water front of Port Townsend. It is deep with history, as it was a Victorian era seaport, bigger than Seattle, Washington in its time. People traveled from San Francisco, California, back and forth, with goods. We also visited a few streets above, where the wealthy lived in Victorian times, which is called Uptown.

It all starts with a ferry crossing, from Coupeville, on Whidbey Island (Washington State). We park and walk on. It was a very low tide, and a heron was in the water looking for breakfast.

In the water front corridor there were 2 buildings. The first was the 1889 built B.P.O. Elks Lodge building, which is 4 stories high, but had a deep basement. The Elks moved out a couple decades ago, to outside of town. The building has seen a lot of love in recent years.

Note the two sidewalk vault lights. One in front, one on the side, of this massive brick building. The building sits on the corner of Taylor and Washington Streets. Washington Street goes uphill, so the building is built into the hill, another marker of why it was picked. This building must have an interesting below grade level down there. There is on Taylor Street near the building an entrance to a lower level shopping area, on both sides of Taylor.

A vault light in the sidewalk.

Now then, in the book it is called the Mount Baker Block, and at first I couldn’t figure out why….till I looked on the side of the “Undertown Shops” and it says that right on the side – and right at the entrance as you can see. Now then, you can see Mount Baker (and Mount Rainier) a half block away on the water, so it makes sense. Looking towards the Elk building, at the end of the block. Across the street at the end is the topless lady water fountain where the stairs to the Uptown is.

The Undertown area is often not open, so if you want to see it, plan on a weekend, after 11 am, in high tourist months. There needs to be a shop open, for the gate to be open. Some of it is at street level on the other side of the buildings above – so could be considered a daylight basement of sorts. In the main area though, you are underground. It has had work done on it, modernizing it for earthquakes.

The old retaining wall, for the road above, is of rock.

And is hosting both moss and ferns, growing under ground.

A large vault light above. This one sits in the middle of the sidewalk and is far bigger than the rest.

The underground area only goes back under 6 buildings along Taylor. It ends at where above is the building next to the Rose Theater.

Moving along, we returned to Water Street and walked down the next block to 830 Water. In 1968 it was the Olympic Hardware Building. It is now pricey condos, with a view of the water and the mountains, for those who can afford to live right in town. Under it would have to be a deep basement, built into the ground.

We headed up the stairs to Uptown at the end of Taylor (by the fountain). You’ll get your cardio doing the stairs, and get prepared to go up and up, till you reach Lawerence. Aldrich’s grocery is there, should you need something cold to sip on, or a snack of sushi. It’s the boys favorite place to stop at when we climb the hills of the Quimper Peninsula.

Turn onto Lawrence and walk it uphill, passing the historic Carnegie library and finally leveling out. The hill tilts down, and keep walking till you reach Cass Street. Now then, you could go more straight forward, and once you walk up the stairs you take a left onto Jefferson and walk it to here. I chose Lawerence because of Aldrich’s but also it has sidewalks. Cass doesn’t have sidewalks but there is little traffic on it. The old side streets were often alleyways for horse drawn carriages back in the day.

This is the courthouse. It is 133 years old.

When you are in Port Townsend, on the hour the clock calls out, you can hear it across the entire town. It is a work of beauty. It is actively used as the Superior Court still.

But in 1960’s it was a fallout shelter, down in the basement.

Leaving the courthouse, we walked down one block to Washington. Turned left and back uphill 4 blocks to the US Post Office (it was built to be the US Customs House), which is visible from the ferry dock, as you look above

However, the Post Office is being renovated and has been covered the past 6 months or more, to cover the scaffolding under it. It is an amazing building to see though.

This was how it looked a year ago, in July of 2022.

It too was a fallout shelter, for the people of Uptown.

I have to wonder when did these quit carrying the fallout shelter logo? I still see it on some schools, but slowly in the past 20 years the paint has been removed off of buildings, erasing the history that was there.

Our ride home, from a viewpoint off the bluff, across from the US Post Office.

Across the water in Indian Island, where the US Navy has a naval magazine base. The irony is always there – these shelters would have done nothing for the citizens of 1960’s Port Townsend. For the naval magazine would have been a target if the US had been attacked, since it is where everything is stored.

So part of the teaching is….know your history, and know that often the public is told things to make them feel more secure.

It’s living history though, but it’s slipping away as the decades go by. For my younger boys, it is relevant as WWII was to me at their age. But unlike children in “regular” school, we are learning together, about what once was pushed – and built like crazy. And to do it, we walk the miles. If we see something they wonder about, we stop and Google it. It connects to the history of the triangle of fire that protected the entrance to the Puget Sound.

I’d have loved education like this in the 1980’s when I was in school. I got standardized testing instead in public school, and the realization that I was a square peg in a world of circles. So if I can correct that with my boys, we will keep chasing history through hiking. There is so much to learn by the year. Last year we did the čičməhán Trail in Jefferson Trail to learn the history of the indigenous people there. And this….this is history to chase before it fully disappears.


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