History of Port Townsend, Washington & the Old Consulate Inn


Port Townsend Founded

The Hastings Family in Port Townsend

Port Townsend was established in the 1851, the same year as the Denny party founded Seattle on what is now Alki Beach, by Loren B. Hastings and a group of adventuresome settlers. They had come up overland from Portland to the Sound and then by canoe looking to homestead in Washington Territory. They discovered a beautiful natural harbor and a relatively congenial Native American community of the Makah people. The settlers returned the next year, 1852, with their families and Hastings' wife Lucinda was the first European woman to set foot in the territory. Port Townsend was founded. Frank Hastings, who would later build the house at 313 Walker St, was 4 years old when he arrived. The city grew and prospered due in part to its perfect location at Admiralty Inlet, entrance to Puget Sound, and in part to the unsurpassed beauty of this region of the Olympic Peninsula. Port Townsend was designated the port of call for the US, requiring all maritime traffic to stop and declare customs and pay tarrif. Envigorated by a steady flow of sailors with pay, the local economy boomed. The railroad was working its way north from Portland; the future of the city was secure; Port Townsend dreamed of becoming the New York City of the Pacific Northwest.


Built on Spec

The Hastings Family in Port Townsend

By the 1880's Port Townsend had grown to a respectable city - at least for the Pacific Northwest. And by "respectable" it should be noted that its primary industries were vice and "crimping," the acquisition of sailors for shipping interests (i.e. "Shanghaiing"). The waterfront of Port Townsend, known as Downtown, was a rough and tumble place as dangerous and rowdy as any Wild West coach town. The respectable people of the city, most of whom made owned and operated the disrespectable operations downtown, built their homes, churches and schools in Uptown. In 1889 Frank Hastings, now a successful business man, began construction on a new home. 1889 was also the year Washington became the 42nd state in the union to much fanfare. Port Townsend still aspired to be the Great City of that new state and the federal government invested heavily, building the courthouse and a new customs building - both within blocks of the Inn. Construction of the roof was completed just after a record snowfall in 1890, a year before Hastings would serve in the 2nd and 3rd sessions of the Washington State Senates. Popular legend holds that Frank was building the house for himself, but it's more likely that he built it on speculation against the prospect that Port Townsend would boom.


Then in the early 1890s, as the population of Port Townsend approached the 9000 mark, the railroad companies decided to terminate in Tacoma instead of Port Townsend. The rest of the country slid into a period of financial depression, and any metropolitan aspirations in Port Townsend withered and died. The town's prospects declined steadily as the population drifted away along with any hopes of a rebound. The city failed to build a drydock or industrialize as all attention turned to the south and east areas of Puget Sound.


In the midst of the depression, the Hastings house, still merely a shelled out frame with a wealth of timber in the basement, was purchased at auction by a Swede, Mr. Owen Olsen. Construction of the house was finally completed in 1907. The couple moved in with their two daughters. Olsen's was the first private home in Port Townsend to have electrical lights, an extravagance in the day. Tales of Mrs. Mary Olsen, a spirited woman for her day by all accounts, abound. To make ends meet, the couple took a number of boarders, including August Dudenhousen, the acting German vice-consul, from which the inn takes its name as the Old Consulate. While the German state recognizes the address as having been a consulate, the house was not an embassy and was certainly never considered German soil. More likely Herr Dudenhousen kept some files, provided assistance to travelers and sea captains, and referred any weighty matters on to the proper consulate then in Olympia.


In the following years, many neighboring mansions stood deserted or were turned into boarding houses or apartments, as Port Townsend became just another small town in Washington. The wealth of Victorian architecture and beauty were forgotten or dismissed as no longer relevant. While other towns in the region, most notably Port Angeles, struggled to modernize, Port Townsend was largely content to remain a quiet town for loggers and fishermen, as well as an artists community. In 1923 a paper mill was built on the edge of town, the one industry in Port Townsend and in many respects most vital industry.


The 1970s and 1980s saw a movement that recognized the beauty and grandeur of the "old Victorian homes." In San Francisco and around the country, run-down row houses were renovated and transformed into exquisite "Painted Ladies." A few tragic losses of architectural treasures in Port Townsend to greed and opportunism galvanized the city to preserve its history. The community pulled together to see as many properties preserved. Groups and organizations formed to help home owners preserve and restore the city's legacy. In 1979 a large portion of the city was recognized as an historical districts and Port Townsend was recognized as one of only three Victorian seaports in the United States. At this time the Frank W. Hastings house was designated a "Pivotal" property on the National Registry.


With the popularity of Victoriana on the rise, tourism became an increasingly vital to Port Townsend. The sleepy port town was discovered and enjoyed as a beautiful destination. A thriving arts community blossomed and grew. Many of the larger homes that had escaped destruction were converted to bed and breakfasts to provide visitors to Port Townsend and those travelling on to the Olympic National Park with elegant accommodations in a unique setting.