The town that fell asleep for six years

This is the second article in a three-part series on the past, present and future of Port Gamble.

This is the second article in a three-part series on the past, present and future of Port Gamble.

PORT GAMBLE — When the Port Gamble Mill shut down on Nov. 30, 1995 after more than 140 years of service to the community and the world, the town that was once the home to an estimated 500 residents ended an era of energy and self-sufficiency.

Pope and Talbot employees were forced to look for other jobs outside of the community.

The general store shut down for several months for renovations and the site became “a sleeping town,” said Shana Smith, the Port Gamble property manager and Port Gamble Historic Museum curator.

While the general store reopened in May of 1996, the only large activity in the community was when the mill was auctioned, Smith said. The self-sufficiency of the town was diminishing at the same time, she added, noting that the people who made up its energy were leaving for jobs elsewhere.

The original intent of Port Gamble was changing.

Once a bustling community of families who worked at the mill, there was now just a general store with a seashell museum on the second floor, a post office and a historical museum.

Some mill activity picked up as the 20 acre waterfront mill site was leased to a log handler in 1997. Pope and Talbot, now headquartered out of Portland, Ore., held the company’s 150th anniversary in 1999 at Port Gamble. The church still held 8:30 a.m. services every Sunday morning but everyday life had quieted down considerably.

Under the Growth Management Act of 1991, the town was rezoned with a rural historic town code, “to redevelop to its once great densities.”

But not much else was going on there — until August 2001, when the presence of one person changed it all.

“Two words,” Smith said. “Jon Rose.”

After helping rebuild Port Ludlow, which was another Pope and Talbot mill site, Rose took on the task of redeveloping Port Gamble.

“There were all these little pieces, plus houses that didn’t have anything in them,” Smith said. “So we could do something with it.”

At first, Rose and his staff just sat back and watched the town, observing visitors and finding out what they really thought of “Mayberry-like” community.

“We gave ourselves a year to evaluate the town,” he said. “We wanted to

watch people’s reactions to the town.”

The staff helped increase the exposure of Port Gamble by hosting the Medieval Faire in June 2002. The North Kitsap Arts and Crafts Fair moved its festival to the grounds on Gamble Bay in July. Both events saw exploding numbers in attendance, Rose said.

Ideas were flying.

Historic Grounds Coffee Company, which opened in June 2002, was the first new business in the town since the old service station closed in 1991. The barristas at the drive-thru stand not only began serving up java, but also history lessons on the town.

Ironically, the stand is located next to the old service station. Rose said when the station was constructed in 1916, it symbolized the decline of Port Gamble and small town America everywhere. Cars meant mobilization, which meant commuting.

Then Janie Marquiss and her La La Land Chocolate Truffles moved into House

#8 in July 2002, whipping out velvet-like chocolates that North Kitsap just can’t get enough of. Marquiss estimated she’ll handmake about 20,000 truffles this month alone.

So, life has started to slowly come back. There are 37 houses in town with 88 residents. About 30 people come to Port Gamble to work out of the offices that are located in the historic buildings.

The old community hall continues to hold the Post Office and other businesses such as a video production company, a sign manufacturer, a software design company and several writers.

The former meat market building has taken a step back in time and now holds Jan Robin’s Ms. Bee Haven antique store.

Finally, the most recent addition to the town’s economic foundation is the Port Gamble Trading Company, which is located in the front half of the old service station. Similar to a co-op, nearly 20 artists have already committed to owners John Chugwater and Stacy Conner about renting space at the site.

Shamus Signworks’ Aaron O’Brien, who recreates and replaces all the signs in Port Gamble, is located in the back half of the station and is expected to move into the newly opened and renovated fire hall in February.

Despite the new changes that are going on right now, the town’s look and feel for small town America will never change, said Rose.

“New buildings will look old,” he explained.

Saturday: Port Gamble’s continues to grow with creative energy and celebration.

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