Local Adventures: Jefferson Museum of Art & History

Since moving back to Whidbey island, I am getting to explore places I didn’t get to with my oldest son. We left the island when he was 5 years old, and we tended to drive straight to the mountains, off the ferry dock, rather than putz around an old Victorian sea town when we were there. (We live on the rural south end of the island, which is tucked in between the Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.)

Jefferson Museum of Art & History was something I wanted to take the boys to. I also wanted to show them the waterfront of Port Townsend. Visit shops, check out the wooden boats, have lunch and more. The best (and cheapest) way is to leave the car at the ferry. There is parking on the diagonal across from the park, that is free, however the much easier way is the parking lot owned by Wa State Parks. If you have a Discovery Pass, it’s an easy way to park, especially if you drive a huge truck. From the massive lot, it’s a safe and easy flat walk over to the ferry waiting area. You can buy tickets at kiosks. It tells you that you have to walk to the car area to buy children tickets, however I was told to next time just buy a senior citizen pass instead. Same price. Easy!

Why not drive? A few reasons: It’s expensive. The ferries that ply the Coupeville to PT route are small, and don’t carry many cars. You must have reservations in advance on weekends if coming back to the island on Sundays, and when leaving on Friday and Saturday mornings. Walking on is so easy, and much of the town is accessible via foot power. Port Townsend is also a very old city, and has tiny roads, with not a ton of parking areas.

But mostly: You get immersed into a town by walking it. You see the little things – like an honesty stand of antique medicine bottles being sold on the street by a building being renovated.

Yes, it was June 3rd. It was 48° and dumping rain. Well….then I looked out, and the Salish Sea (crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca) was very choppy, as we left the protected slip for the ferry. The kids are used to riding the ‘easy’ ferry, at the other end of the island, that is very protected – and a short crossing. I parked the kids in the center of the ferry and had them look inwards, not out at the water. We hit a few good waves, one so big the ferry smacked it audibly, and dropped. Like a plane in turbulence. The kids were not exactly happy with me over this.

A lot of promises were made, one being a visit to the fabled Elevated Candy shop at the near end of Water Street. Ford remembered coming there when he was little as soon as he walked in.

Port Townsend has two distinct sections. Waterfront, and the uptown, high on the bluff. Historically Port Townsend was once a big city in the trade to those going to the Yukon. The waterfront is where the action was: bars, brothels, the jail, huge wooden ships coming and going. It had more men shanghaied at one point than any other Victorian seaport on the West Coast. The stuffy timber barons built mansions in the uptown, on the bluffs, so their wives and daughters could go out and not know about the debauchery below.

All it took was a depression in the 1890’s and the railroad going to Seattle instead to stop the dreams. Snaily is happy though. I’d say PT got the better deal in the end. A town that never changed, and amazing forests, lakes and beaches to visit (including Fort Worden, a state park that is great to camp at).

And so after visiting many places and lunch, we ended up at the museum and explored the history of prostitution and why it built much of the city. That and we explored how the many towns were built around the area, due to the timber industry. The story of author Jack London is on the wall, about his visit to Port Townsend on his way to the Yukon. It’s fascinating to read – in how certain women worked with the lawman in bars, to bring severely drunk men back to the jail so they wouldn’t get rolled. Jack London was young, drunk and nearly a victim had it not been for a woman of the night escorting him “to his hotel” which was the jail.

Watched wooden boats come and go at the wooden boat center in town, in the rain.


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And then an easier ride home on the ferry and back to island life. And getting in 8,000 steps wasn’t bad either.