Exploring Washington State: Fort Nisqually

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.

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Just about every day that I work on one of the drawbridges that crosses the Ship Canal here in Seattle, I open my bridge for a 2000 gross ton gravel barge. That’s a lot of gravel. If it were being transported by semi truck, that would be an average of 186 trucks per barge. Every day.

Island Chief Ballard

That had me wondering where this gravel was coming from, and where it was going. Well, the answer is, it comes from Dupont, Washington, which is south of Tacoma, and it is carried up to Kenmore, which is at the northernmost tip of Lake Washington.

There are several pits and quarries in the Dupont area. One is shown below. I’m amazed the entire region isn’t one massive hole, based on what I’ve seen float past my window.

When it arrives in Kenmore, it is taken to CalPortland, the largest producer of sand, gravel and quarry rock in the Pacific Northwest. They make products such as ready mix concrete, corrugated pipe, assorted building materials and asphalt.

There’s no question that this region is booming, and I suppose that most would consider this a good thing, but I look at those barges with a certain level of despair. What I see is “used-to-be-mountains.” And according to this article in Science Alert, the world is actually facing a sand crisis that most of us haven’t even noticed.

When the world’s population increases, the need for building materials increases. But there’s only so much sand and gravel to go around. It’s getting so bad that organized crime groups are actually selling sand and gravel on the black market, and violence has  broken out over sand. Sand!

We take it for granted, because we walk down beaches and feel it between our toes, but sand is actually a limited resource along the lines of water. Without it, we will see increasing erosion, and that’s compounded by the fact that sea levels are rising. Barrier islands and wetlands that protect communities from tsunamis and flooding are starting to disappear.

Many species that depend on sand as an important part of their habitat, such as crocodiles and turtles, are starting to be endangered as well. Further, the standing pools of water that are created when you remove sand are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria that cause a variety of diseases. This is a problem that we need to take seriously.

We are raised to believe that progress is good. We try not to think about what disappears as a result of this progress. We don’t think about limits. We don’t think about the end of things. We just take, take, take. One barge load at a time.

Kapowsin Quarry

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