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Port Townsend 23 August 2018

1875 : 0

A little drizzle has cleared out the smoke and sharpened up the distances. Our little nest in the upper town is very comfortable, embedded as it is in a neighborhood of graceful Edwardian houses. 

I really like this town.

Our apartment is one of three in one of the less distinguished houses on this upper terrace. I like the cheery colors and the sense of being 'above it all.' We have decided that today is a 'no wheels' day; we're exploring the town around us as if we lived here. That on the right is the staircase to our apartment. The apartment itself continues the yellow theme, with bright yellow chairs and a yellow tablecloth where I'm writing.

1876 : 0

Our original plan for the day, after a leisurely arising, some Farmers Market pastries and tea for breakfast, was to wander the town a bit, and then drive down to Chimicum to investigate FinnRiver Farms, the authors of some yummy cider we had been enjoying ... but the drizzle focused us, and so instead, we walked down the stairs and half a block, a grand total of four blocks, to the #1 rated restaurant in PortT, a 10 table spot called Fountain Cafe.

Tickled us that it's 'renouned' but everything else about it was first class. The reviews all noted how busy it was, how tough to get a table ...but not today! 'Monday and Tuesday were busy, but I don't know what happened yesterday?' our gracious server noted. Rochelle immediately zeroed in on the top special, a Turkey Reuben that turned out to be, in my view, the definitive Reuben, with enough Dijon mustard, wonderfully swirly rye bread, and an abundance of turkey pastrami. I read a little farther, and found Wild Sockeye Salmon Salad with blueberries, chevre, and spirals of carrots and sweet beets over fresh greens dressed with mango vinaigrette: delicious. Washed down with 500ml of a special local cider, Alpenfire's Calypso made with apples and blackberries. 

I said nice things about yesterday's Clam Chowder, and in our family's view, Port Townsend is the home of the best Clam Chowder – our own favorite recipe was inspired by a chowder we got here in 1993 when traveling with Sienna. (The secret: whole clams in their shells. And Yes, we have sampled Atlantic-side Clam Chowder, and it doesn't hold a candle to ours or to Port Townsend's.) Neither yesterday's nor today's chowders featured whole clams, but today's at Fountain easily beat out yesterday's at Sirens. 

We were both verging on stuffed, but our kindly server asked about dessert, and another dinner called across the room, 'Tira Misu!' In for a penny, in for a pound; I went for it. Memorable, on a par with some of the special lunches in the South of France in 2016, and giving Local Ocean a run for the prize of best meal on the trip.

That empty plate? That's where the Tira Misu was; we gobbled it before I remembered to take a picture. Better late than never?


1877 : 0

We climbed back up the steps to the upper town, pausing to read some of the town's history. Port Townsend started out as the Customs Port for Puget Sound's several ports – Seattle, Olympia, and numerous others – so everything had to stop here first. That made the town important, and a focus for early development. Geographically, there's a lower bench, and then a sharp bluff; the original town developed along the water on the lower level. 

The town's prominence peaked in the first decade of the 20th Century, but by then the area along the waterfront had become, according to the sign beside the steps, 'a rough and roading place of sailors and roustabouts, bars and bordellos, warehouses and wharfs.' The gentler ladies, saying that 'Sin thrives at sea level,' insisted on having their homes above the fray. (We'll visit one of the first of these homes below.)

Two generations of wooden steps connecting the upper and lower towns went the way of all wood in the Pacific Northwest, and the current steps were dedicated, along with the Haller Fountain, in 1905. The statue, Galatea, was purchased out of a catalog; it's a copy of a statue first seen in the Mexican Pavilion at the 1893 Chicago Exposition, and was donated by the owner of a nearby building, Theodore Haller.

During the 19-teens, when it became known that the railroad would not be extended to Port Townsend, the town spiralled into depression, and the statue was neglected. At one point, its pool was used for a trained trout show – the trout jumped through hoops held by their impressario and bar owner, Charlie Lange. 

In 1992 a local dentist led a local campaign to restore the statue, admittedly with some 'enhancement' to its former glory.

1878 : 0

One of the early town heavyweights was a hardgoods seller and, later, a shipping and freight agent, D. C. H. Rothschild (no relation.)



Considering that this was one of the town's most prominent citizens, there's considerable insight into the state of Port Townsend civilization in the 1880s contained in this house, where only the family lived until it was donated to the State of Washington, and became the State's smallest park in the 1960s. 'It's a time capsule,' explained the docent that welcomed us. 'Unlike many historical houses, almost everything in the house was the property of the Rothschilds, and never left the house.'

1880 : 0

D.C.H. came to Port Townsend by way of San Francisco in the early 1850s, having missed out on the Gold Rush, and seeking his fortune elsewhere. He opened a general store down on the waterfront, The Kentucky Store (hunh?) at a time when the town was just beginning to need the refinements of civilization.

A few years, the young Dorette Hartung headed north from San Francisco north, but was shipwrecked on Cape Mendocino. A hardy young woman, she nevertheless found her way to Port Townsend, and a couple of years later was married to D.C.H. and living in a loft above the store down on the waterfront. 

Suggesting (probably in strong terms) that the waterfront was no place to raise young, she prevailed on D.C.H. to build her a proper house at the head of the stairs in the upper town, and that's what we see today. We see her, at right, with her husband and three of eventually five children. 

D.C.H. departed this world in 1886, but Dorette and one spinster daughter continued to live in the house for 32 more years. Looking at it from the perspective of bloated late 20th Century houses, this is a modest eight room dwelling; hard to imagine it with two adults, five children, a Chinese cook and a man of all work, plus the occasional sea captain or Mason guest in the guest room: more modest times. 

1881 : 0

The foursquare original house's downstairs was entirely devoted to formal public spaces, and so the family lived in the four small rooms upstairs above the living room, entry way, and parlor (the kitchen being an add-on single story at the back (and clearly the most lived-in room in the house!)

Entry wallpaper

One notable feature throughout the family rooms in the home is the wallpaper, 'much of it not being original,' the docent apologized, 'but very much in the period.' The costumes and furniture on display, all originally the Rothschilds', is as plain as the wallpaper is ornate. It is also fairly obvious that these were smaller people than we are: the chairs seem almost child-like.

We are told there was a parrot, Polly, who was mostly confined to the kitchen where she had a favorite chair, well clawed and chewed. However the clever Polly occasionally made her way into the dining room by walking backwards – 'Oh, No, I was just coming back in!' – and perched on the chairs and gnawed their knobs.

1882 : 0

I started today with a railing, and here's another: the Rothschild's. Along with the modesty of size and amenities (except, maybe, for the Chinese Cook and handyman) the other notable quality in this house is the beauty of the materials and excellence of the workmanship. Among the first houses to be built in the west by what we would now call a contractor, this represents the beginning of the Western tradition of elegant home building ...and yet, look, how unadorned! None of the geegaws and froufrou we generally expect to see in a rich man's house. Had we lived in the late 19th Century, most likely we would have aspired to live in a house like this.

1883 : 0

We walked back downstairs to the lovely little Rose Theater, and joined an nearly full and completely enthusiastic house to watch Goodbye Christopher Robin. It's a very good movie with a surprisingly deep hidden message. I won't spoil it for you, but here's the key bit of dialog:

'What day is it?'


So, if I happen to ask you, you'll know the right answer.


On our way to the theater, there was a doe and four fauns quietly munching the greenery beside the stair, wholly unconcerned by the people walking past.

1884 : 0

Afterwards, we walked up the stairs and into the business district (two blocks long) of the upper town, to Aldrich's Market, a sort of mini-Harvest Market (with less drek) about three blocks from our apartment. Our purpose: get a few bottles of the local ciders to share. We noticed that here's where the Saturday Farmers Market is held: right in front of the Community Center.

The door to Aldrich's is like a big house front door, not an electronic door that slides apart to swallow you. Consequently, the folks who shop there open the door for each other, and make eye contact, and say civilized things like "After you" and "Lovely evening" and "Thank you." It's pretty amazing. If Caspar wasn't so perfect for us, I think we could live here.

1885 : 0

As we walked back from the store lugging our treasures, the sun was setting with that peculiar orange glow that it gets at sunset when there's smoke in the air. It gives everything a rosy glow. At left, Rochelle in her new Scottish Birthday Cape, and the house across the street from us, the Starrett House, built in 1889.

It's funny, how sometimes the days that are meant to be the quietest end up producing the most pictures and story.


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