On February 10, 1927, Dewatto voters submit a petition to the Board of County Commissioners of Mason County, and state their desire to create and establish a port district. Dewatto residents hope to gain convenient and cheap transportation through the construction of a pier and slip on Dewatto Bay. Although Dewatto citizens found the Port of Dewatto to improve public access to the waterfront, in the twenty-first century the Port's highest priority will be recreational development. The Port will manage a "primitive" campground and a building equipped for emergencies and used as an evacuation shelter and for crews during forest fires, as well as for ordinary business. The Port of Dewatto is one of Washington's smallest ports, as its port district is only 40 square miles and in 2010 had only 554 registered voters.
Dewatto, a community considered to be a part of the unincorporated community of Tahuya, is in Mason County, Washington. Dewatto is located on the Kitsap Peninsula on the eastern shore of Hood Canal. At the center of Dewatto is the Dewatto River, which slowly trickles into Dewatto Bay before emptying into Hood Canal. The community is about 15 miles west of Belfair, Washington, the commercial center of North Mason County.
Settlers first came to the Dewatto Valley in 1883. Since there were no roads, these early settlers moved their possessions by boat from Union, Washington, a small community across the Hood Canal and south of Dewatto. In 1893, John Green built a home at the head of Dewatto Bay. He planted fruit trees on his homestead. After meeting the Nance family in Seattle, Green convinced the family, originally from Kentucky, to homestead in the Dewatto Valley. Other early settlers included the Cunningham and Mickelson families, who brought the first cows to Dewatto.
A post office was established in 1889 and a store had opened by 1890. By 1915, the town of Dewatto had grown considerably thanks to the logging industry on the Kitsap Peninsula. That year the settlers held a dedication for the first of three schools in the Dewatto area. Residents constructed a second school soon after. Though the third and final school, a brick building overlooking the water from the south shore of Dewatto Bay, was the most permanent, it has not survived. To help its growing community, citizens led by Irving H. Betz, George Cunningham, and Carrie Nance petitioned the Board of County Commissioners of Mason County in February 1927 to create a public port district in the area.
Early Years of the Port
The petition for a port district proposed three Port Commissioner’s Districts of approximately equal population and boundaries on the shore of Hood Canal. The principal town in the proposed port district was Dewatto. Shortly after receiving the petition, the Board of County Commissioners scheduled a hearing for the petition on February 28, 1927, at the Mason County Court House in Shelton.
During the hearing the Board of County Commissioners reported that the proposed port district had a population of fewer than 1,500 in 1927. It also noted that the proposed boundaries of the port district needed to change slightly, as the proposed port district overlapped with the Port of Tahuya. After correcting the port district boundaries, the county commissioners set a date for a special election on April 7, 1927. It announced that voter registration would close on March 18. Three residents instrumental in the port district proposal ran for each of the three commissioners seats: Carrie Nance in Port Commissioners’ District No. 1, George Cunningham in District No. 2, and Irving H. Betz in District No. 3.
On April 7, 1927, voters approved the formation of the Port of Dewatto by a vote of 37 in favor and 13 against. In one of the first Port of Dewatto meetings, the commissioners voted to approve the construction of a pier and slip on Dewatto Bay. They allocated $7,500 to the project. A dock for loading logs had been built previously on Dewatto Bay, but the commissioners believed a new dock would serve the community as a place for loading and unloading supplies. Unfortunately, it appears the dock was never built.
The Port of Dewatto probably remained active into World War II, but probably went dormant as people moved away from the Dewatto area and the town lost its logging dock, school, store, and post office. Though some people continued to live in the Dewatto area, the completion of roads connecting Dewatto and Tahuya as well as Dewatto and Clifton (now Belair) meant that a public dock became a much lower priority.
Revival of the Port of Dewatto
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a few Dewatto residents decided to bring back an active commission to the Port of Dewatto. On May 30, 1978, the port commission approved a resolution to join the Washington Public Ports Asociation.
In 1991, power and phone lines were laid along Dewatto Road to Dewatto-Holly Road for the first time. Up until the early 1990s, the residents of Dewatto had lived without power or phone service and some resisted the new amenities. Today there are still some homes in Dewatto that have neither power nor phone service.
Since Dewatto in the 1980s was one of the most isolated and remote parts of Washington, the port commission decided to focus its attention on recreational development rather than industrial development. In roughly 1981, the reactivated Port of Dewatto bought one acre of land between the White and Dewatto rivers. It developed the property, located at 1001 Dewatto-Holly Road, into a campground and park. Ten years later, in 1992, the commissioners purchased 1.25 acres of land at 2501 NE Dewatto Road.
For the Community
In 1997, the Port of Dewatto constructed its port building on the 1.25-acre property. The 40 foot by 60 foot building is used for meetings and is rented out to the community. In addition to the 1.25 acres, the Port now owns three acres behind the port building property and an adjacent two acres it bought two years ago.
The Port has also continued to improve its campground. Today, the one-acre campground has 60 campsites, 37 of which have electricity; four maintained toilets; picnic tables; a covered community kitchen area; and a field for games. The port improved the covered kitchen in the summer of 2002. The Port's campground is “primitive,” as it has no running water, sewage dump, or garbage facilities.
In the late 1990s, the Port of Dewatto building was designated as the area’s disaster center. It stores five days worth of water for 132 occupants. In August 2003 and again in September 2006 it opened as an emergency center and crew shelter during forest fires in the Dewatto area. For other emergencies, the Port of Dewatto building is equipped with an emergency power generator and communications antennae as well as other communications equipment used in emergencies.
Small But Active
In April 2004, the Port of Dewatto commissioners Sally Lambert and Lynn McLean, as well as port manager Christine Phalen and several Dewatto volunteers, installed a brand new port building information sign.
The Port of Dewatto is one of Washington’s smallest ports. The Dewatto Port District is only 40 square miles and in 2010 had only 554 registered voters. Some port districts, such as Manchester and Tracyton in Kitsap County, are geographically smaller, but with Dewatto’s small population and size, Phalen likes to call it “Washington’s smallest port” (“History in the Making”).
Though the port district is small, Dewatto community members actively participate in port meetings and port events. In the next few years, the Port of Dewatto’s highest priority is to make the park better for everyone -- both campers and day users.