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A bright future full of renewed energy

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

PORT GAMBLE — With the last six months of 2002 showing a promise of new life in the once-thriving, self-sufficient 149-year-old mill town of Port Gamble, the community’s owners are brimming with big ideas — using what remains and re-establishing what’s been lost.

The buildings that exist are a small fragment of what once graced the street during Port Gamble’s peak in the 1920s.

The Puget Hotel was located directly below the Buena Vista Cemetery, where two tall climbing poles — used in 1999 during the town’s 150th anniversary party for Pope and Talbot Inc. — still stand. From 1903 to 1963, the hotel was the main center of activity in town. But closed down after sustaining damage from a storm on Columbus Day weekend.

The large grassy area behind the homes on Rainier Avenue, the main road into town, once included a lake as well, said Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group. OPG owns the town.

Another field along Highway 104 was the former site of a school and the current maintenance shed used to be the location of old horse stables.

House #7 accommodated the town’s hospital before it was moved to another building. Looking at a map, one can easily identify where homes or buildings used to be located as there are now gaping spaces between properties.

But the most magical and fascinating of the town’s forgotten gems is the theater on the second floor of the community hall, above the Post Office.

Untouched since the 1970s, as Rose estimated, the space has a full size theater for productions and a large open floor for events. Fully decorated backdrops still hang from the ceiling and chalk-written notes mark the backstage walls as instructions for long-gone stage hands.

Above the entrance to the theater is a large projector box for films that were shown in the hall through the 1950s.

And that’s where Rose and his staff want to take Port Gamble — back to being a bustling center of activity.

“Anything from a high school band playing at the theater to a man playing a guitar,” Rose said. “We want to always have something going on.”

The Walker-Ames House, a mansion located next to the general store and historic museum, is in the process of being converted into a wedding-reception-conference meeting place, Rose said. People can get married St. Paul Episcopal Church and then stroll down the maple tree-lined streets to the Walker-Ames House for the reception, he added, noting that four bedrooms will be available as bridal rooms or can be rented to guests.

Those rooms would be adjacent to the Morrill Pope House Inn that will be opening up within the next few months. Owned by Janie Marquiss, who also owns La La Land Chocolates next door, House #9 on Rainier Avenue is being converted into a lodging destination for those interested in staying overnight in Port Gamble.

Starting next April, the town will have its own “farmer’s market” on Sundays, so not to compete with Kingston or Port Ludlow’s markets on Saturdays and Fridays, respectively.

But if anyone wants to hop on the bandwagon of working or living in Port Gamble, they should plan on taking a number. The town is full of residents and businesses with no available space to rent — for now, anyway.

As evident by the past six months of activity as well as a constant stream of ideas that Rose and his staff are working on and the town’s 150th birthday next year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Port Gamble leaning back to into heydays.

“It’s not going to be some tourist town,” Rose said. “(It will be a place where) real people who get up to raise the family and go to real jobs and go to a real church with a congregation. But visitors love to visit.”

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