Like many young communities in the Puget Sound, Port Townsend aspired to greatness.
Calling itself the “Key City” and the “New York of the West,” Port Townsend quickly became a bustling seaport and customs gateway to the Pacific Northwest, with an impressive waterfront commercial district of stone and brick buildings and many elegant Victorian homes on the bluff above.
Although economic activity shifted from Port Townsend to Seattle, much of the 19th Century and early 20th Century remains intact. In 1976, the waterfront district and the residential area on the bluff were designated a National Historic District, and Port Townsend is today recognized as one of only three Victorian Seaports on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you want to explore the history of Port Townsend, your first stop should be the Jefferson County Historical Museum next to City Hall downtown. In addition to impressive exhibits and helpful staff and volunteers, the Museum leads walking tours through the downtown and uptown districts, helping visitors to glean the exciting history of the area.
Some of the more impressive and notable sites to explore include:
The Rothschild House
- Located at the corner of Jefferson and Taylor Streets in uptown Port Townsend, the Rothschild House is virtually unchanged from a hundred years ago. Managed by JCHS, the home features original furnishing and decor. Learn more.
The Jefferson County Courthouse
- The Jefferson County Courthouse majestically overlooks Port Townsend Bay and the entrance to Admiralty Inlet. Approved for construction in 1890, the Courthouse’s deep red, smooth bricks were shipped in from St. Louis, and nearly 800 tons of sandstone were brought in from Alaska. Learn more.
The Port Townsend Post Office and Customs House
- The Port Townsend Federal Building – originally home to the Port Office and Customs House, is the oldest federally constructed post office in Washington state, and the only example of Richardson Romanesque design in a federal building in Washington. Still in use today, the building was constructed in 1893. Learn more.
Uptown Victorian Homes
- Strolling the uptown district of Port Townsend and sampling Victorian architecture is a favorite pastime of visitors and locals alike (although many of these historic homes are private residences – please respect their privacy). Learn more.
Downtown – the whole thing!
- The entire downtown core is a National Historic District! Look around and imagine yourself walking the same streets and seeing the same buildings more than a hundred years ago.