Port Gamble: A Historic sea-side town in the Pacific Northwest

Captain William C. Talbot <br />(1816-1881)<br />Courtesy Time, Tide and Timber

Ships loading lumber, Puget Mill Co.,<br />Port Gamble, February 9, 1895<br />Courtesy UW Special Collections<br />(Neg. UW4960)

William Talbot soon arrived in San Francisco to join his younger brother on his ship theOrient. Having a ship enabled the company to look to the great forests of the Pacific Northwest for a source of lumber closer than Maine, and Captain Talbot ventured north to establish the sawmill at Port Gamble.

By 1853 the sawmill was producing nearly 2,000 board feet of lumber per day. Four years later production had jumped to a total of eight million board feet for the year, and the Puget Mill Company as it was known, was the largest and most successful business on Puget Sound. By 1879 the company was producing more than 200,000 board feet per day and nearly 70 million feet per year, and shipping the lumber on three and four masted schooners to customers up and down the Pacific Coast and as far away as Japan.

Captain William Talbot died in August 1881, and his son William H. Talbot, who, had been groomed by his father in every aspect of the lumber business, took over the running of the company.

By 1888, the company owned one of the largest shipping fleets for the transportation of its lumber, with 14 ships carrying lumber to customers in Japan, Hawaii, Australia, South America, China, Korea, India, and South Africa. During this same period, the Puget Mill Company was also purchasing enormous tracts of timberland in order to maintain a reliable source of wood for its mills; by 1892, the firm reported ownership of 186,000 acres.

These were the best years for Port Gamble, with many of the town’s buildings being built during the prosperous period between 1890 and 1906. An English-born Seattle architect, Charles Bebb, designed some of the town’s buildings; others were built by company employees, who leased the land under the buildings for $1. per year.

The Pope and Talbot lumber company grew to be a major producer of wood, paper, pulp and other products. They diversified into Canada and surrounding states in the United States. By 2000, the changing economy, lack of timber for cutting and changing markets all had affected the business, and the company went into bankruptcy proceedings in 2008.

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