Nestled within what seems like forest primeval, but is actually Port Defiance Park in the City of Tacoma, is a fascinating fort that will take you back to the year 1855. Although only two of the buildings are original, the Granary and the Factor’s House, and it doesn’t look like much from outside the gates, once you enter you feel like you’re in another world.
The fort used to be located 15 miles south in what is now DuPont. It was moved to Tacoma in 1933, but the curators have done an amazing job to make this Hudson’s Bay Company fort historically accurate.
According to their website, Fort Nisqually was the first European settlement on Puget Sound. It thrived on the fur trade, and later on it produced crops and livestock for export. The Europeans and the Native Americans got on well. They worked together and intermarried. It wasn’t until the fort found itself on American soil and revenue agents and tax collectors started bugging them that things became hostile.
I absolutely love living history museums, and this is one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time. The interpreters in period clothing were very friendly and taught us a great deal about life in the fort, and there were some fascinating displays as well. There was even clothing that you could try on.
We had the opportunity to feel some actual beaver pelts, and from that I could finally see what all the fuss was about. It was amazing. And something I didn’t know was that top hats made from beaver at the time did not include the skin. It was the fur alone, made into a soft felt, that was used. It could last practically forever, so these hats were often passed down from father to son.
Despite the fact that it stopped being an actual working fort in 1869, there is a certain vibrance to the place. They still plant crops and raise chickens. They hold workshops to teach such things as butchering and curing, 19th century clothing construction, beekeeping, and basketry. They have summer camps. They have several events throughout the year, such as Queen Victoria’s Birthday, Brigade Encampment, Harvest Home, a Candlelight Tour and a Christmas Regale.
I am thrilled that I now know about this place, because I’m sure I’ll be back many times. I’ll leave you with some pictures from our visit.