In the past half-dozen years, we’ve devoted space in the print and online pages of Pacific NW magazine to conduct our own unofficial tour of outer-fringe Washington communities, compiling what I call “profiles of place.”

Port Townsend wrestles with its increasingly complex identity and dizzying change

The idea is to help those of us stuck most of the time in the concerted cultural bubble that is the Greater Seattle area see what’s going on in longstanding communities farther afield. We’ve made it a point to use our own space over the recent past to try to at least occasionally pierce those walls, offering glimpses of life in regional haunts such as Bellingham, Port Angeles, Astoria, the Skagit Valley, Ilwaco and even Concrete, the Tri-Cities and the Palouse (a little too close to Mike Leach for my comfort, but such is my commitment to the craft).

This week, we take that profile train to Port Townsend, a place yours truly has been traipsing through for a lifetime. Back in the ’70s, those visits were often prompted by treks to a church camp, managed by my late grandfather, on nearby Discovery Bay. (I suppose I grew up thinking every place had its own odd Victorian seaport filled with colorful characters. It is lamentable that this turns out not to be so.)

Much has been written, of course, about PT — a longstanding escape for Seattle-area peeps, for all the right reasons. We don’t pretend that this piece — or any community profile in our limited time, space and regrettably short visits — will capture the essence of the town, nor the mindset, better than any other. The people who truly know a place are its residents; we’re here only to attempt to translate.

But we do think this place, and especially its people, is worth revisiting, because things are changing rapidly here, mostly beyond sight of drop-ins.


The issues vexing locals are not unlike those in other smaller Northwest towns: Most are influenced to a large, mostly unseen, degree by the breakneck changes radiating outward from Seattle. Most are in the midst of reinventing themselves as they struggle to retool from the resource-extraction economy of yesteryear into futures that are far less obvious.

Those same questions are on the front burner in PT. But here, the change — manifesting mostly in the form of soaring housing prices that threaten the very culture (sound familiar?) — has been more rapid, and the answers seem more urgent.

We invite you to our latest profile of place, with this opening thought:

The battle for the “soul” of Port Townsend is more complicated than in most towns because of the degree of passion for the place — and the varied ideas of what that soul should actually look like. But here, the rough sketches are both unusually agreed upon, and unusually deeply embraced.

One way or another, the revised portrait PT paints of itself will be, as it always has been, unique.