On March 19, 1951, the Board of Kitsap County Commissioners formally establishes the Port of Poulsbo. Coincidentally, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Pacific Coast Cod Fish Company, which became the landmark company of Poulsbo, a town fronting Liberty Bay. The activities of this company and other maritime and fishing enterprises have dominated the previous four decades; each year the bay has filled with sailing schooners that brought their catch to local processing plants. But those schooners have given way to gas powered boats of varying types. The year 1951 signifies change in the midst of which the Port of Poulsbo is established. Poulsbo's maritime setting will continue to predominate but its focus is shifting to new enterprises. Instead of emphasizing commercial fishing and seafood processing, the Port of Poulsbo will direct its growth toward recreational boating, sport fishing, and tourism. The growth of the Port will parallel the dramatic evolution of the town.
In 2011 Poulsbo presents itself as "Little Norway on the Fjord" ("Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce: Community History"). The town's earliest white settlers came overwhelmingly from Norway, and narrow Liberty Bay was reminiscent of the fjords of their home country. Like the Suquamish people who had lived on this land before losing it in the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, the newcomers fished the bay and gathered its shellfish. They also brought aspects of their culture.
The earliest Norwegians arrived in the 1860s. Some stayed only briefly, but they set fish traps, started small farms, and logged the hillside to supply the Port Blakely Mill Company and other small mills nearby. In 1883 several significant newcomers arrived, notably Jorgen Eliason (1847-1937), Peter Olson, and Iver B. Moe (1843-1927), and they began to give shape to a town. When Moe, who had led the first party of emigrants to cross Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountains, petitioned the government for a post office, he suggested it be named Paulsbo -- Paul's town -- for a small place near his former home in Norway. A clerical error changed the "a" to an "o" and the town became Poulsbo.
The little town soon had several stores, but no dock. Boaters had to row to and from log floats anchored off shore. In 1894 farmers donated their efforts to build the first pier with pilings. For many years sailboats and rowboats provided transportation between Poulsbo and other communities including Seattle. Members of the Moe family were involved in such efforts and also developed overland roads until selling their interests to the Kitsap County Transportation Company (KCTC) in 1905. Other short-lived companies were formed, and for several years great rivalries and even "wars" erupted among the various boat companies and their craft. But by 1924 the KCTC had absorbed most if not all.
The town of Poulsbo had incorporated in 1907; three years later the census showed a population of 364 that was creeping higher. As its infrastructure developed, locals could boast that "Poulsbo was a modern city" (Kitsap County History, Book II, p. 17.) Then, in 1914, about half the town burned down. The the rest was saved by local bucket brigades and by water pumped from the steamer Hyak.
Meanwhile, the local economy was turning from logging the hillsides to fishing and gathering in the bay. A significant resource was reflected in its early name of "Dog Fish Bay" which was changed in 1893 to the more refined "Liberty Bay." In 1911 the Pacific Coast Cod Fish Company, a stock company, was formed to cure and dry cod brought from Alaska; Iver Moe and other local citizens were involved. The company built a wharf, storage shed, and processing plant at Poulsbo. Sailing schooners brought cod from Alaska where fishermen from Poulsbo, Seattle, and other communities spent their summers. In addition to the codfish fleet, the harbor had oyster beds, fish processing plants, and many working vessels. The sailing era ended when the C. A. Thayer brought its last load to Poulsbo in 1950. The various schooners were sent different ways. Many had been commandeered by the government during World War II; several went to museums; and at least one became part of the Poulsbo breakwater.
Port of Poulsbo
Early in 1951, 31 residents petitioned the Kitsap County Commissioners for an election to create a port district. On March 13, voters came to Library Hall and voted 149 to 32 to create an entity called the Port of Poulsbo. The district included the corporate limits of the town which had a population slightly over 1,000, as well as abutting and adjacent tidelands. Leif Ness, Homer Whitford, and Fred Hart Sr. were elected commissioners representing three districts.
Over the following decades frequent elections sought to expand the district through annexations; some were successful and others were not. Voting was often conducted by mail because proposed additions sometimes encompassed very small land parcels with as few as one or two residents. In 2011 the district is a bit larger than half the size of the current city of Poulsbo. Elections to set levies for maintenance and repairs had mixed outcomes; several received a majority favorable vote but lacked the 60 percent required for approval.
One expansion took place in May 1978 when the board sought to add some 75 moorage slips within the present breakwater. Commissioners also discussed the need for a new breakwater and its financing because the existing marina was not sufficient for commercial boats moored there in the off season. Increased parking facilities were another necessity. In the late 1980s two transient sea plane floats were added at one end of the marina.
Becoming a Tourist Magnet
Meanwhile the town of Poulsbo was growing as a residential community and also becoming a tourist magnet. During World War II, a 300 unit housing development for workers at the Puget Sound Naval Station in Bremerton was built at Poulsbo; that was followed by the expansion of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division at Keyport. Post-war Poulsbo assumed a unique atmosphere with buildings, shops, and restaurants that reflected and promoted its Norwegian heritage, and visitors were attracted from throughout Western Washington and beyond. Many arrived by boat at the marina.
With its official purpose being "for economic development and to proved public access to the waters of Liberty Bay," the growing Port increasingly sought to accommodate recreational boaters and the tourist traffic (Carol Tripp, Port Accountant/Auditor, February 14, 2008, and February 25, 2010, in Port of Poulsbo File, Kitsap County Auditor). The Port occupies 17 acres of water and approximately 2,500 feet of waterfront in town. Its seven major docks hold 254 permanent slips, 130 guest slips, and the dock for float planes.
Other facilities include a fuel dock, facilities for sanitation pumpouts, a launch ramp, and such guest facilities as restroom, showers, and laundry. Kayak and canoe rentals are available. A boardwalk along the bay "leads to an undisturbed park conservation area abundant in native flora and fauna, bird sanctuary, walking paths and picnic areas." ("Six Year Comprehensive Plan: Years 2006-2012"). In 2011 there is a marine science center located in a modern building, and the Port supports a laser sailing program at the local North Kitsap High School. The old cod processing plant at the south end of the marina has become "Fish Park."
In 2011 a dozen commercial vessels moor along the working dock, from which fishermen sell salmon, halibut, and tuna from Alaska waters and the Pacific. But the Port of Poulsbo is primarily geared to pleasure craft, recreation, and tourism.