Dotted with Norman Rockwell-esque homes and New England-style churches, Port Gamble was settled by an east coast timber company back in 1853, and has stayed true to its character ever since.
"It's a piece of New England on the West Coast," said Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group.
Port Gamble was a mill town for nearly 150 years, owned and operated by Pope Resources. A subsidiary of that original company, Olympic Property Group (OPG), still owns the town. At it's peak, Port Gamble was home to 800 people, but the mill closed in 1995 and the population dropped to just 70.
"When the mill closed, this town and its economics went right into the gutter," said Rose.
OPG has operated as a sort of parent to Port Gamble, caring for and maintaining the town, but now it's getting out of the parenting business. Rose said it's like pushing a nearly 164-year-old baby out of the nest.
"Our kid will have moved out of the basement and will be living on its own," he jokes.
The move starts with a massive $20 million cleanup of Port Gamble Bay. The two-year project is nearly complete with some 8,000 creosote-contaminated piles pulled from the water. Tons of sawdust and wood waste from the old mill are being dredged, and a renaissance is on the horizon.
"It is hard to wrap your head around the size of this project," said Rose. "It's exciting, but it's extremely complicated."
The company is planning to build about 200 homes around Port Gamble, along with a waterfront hotel, winery, organic farm, and retail. Community groups have purchased 1,000 acres to preserve for parks and trails. The development is still early in the planning stages, and construction is at least three years away.
For now, the dirty work continues in the bay, as a piece of the Northwest digs it’s way back to its New England roots.