A $1 bill of sale dated August 30, 1919, transfers the dock that is the centerpiece and lifeline of the small north Kitsap County community of Eglon from the private Community Dock Company to the newly formed Port of Eglon. The new public port district provides a means to fund and organize maintenance of the dock, which is the calling point for the Mosquito Fleet steamships that are Eglon's primary link to the rest of the world until the county highway from Kingston, five miles south, arrives in 1924. The Port's dock will be a community focal point through the early 1930s but disappear by the 1940s as cars and car ferries supplant the passenger boats. The Port of Eglon will remain, but not so much to promote growth and development -- the primary goal of most public ports -- as to preserve the community's beach and its rural serenity. From the 1940s through the present, the Port maintains a 100-foot stretch of beach, a boat launch, a picnic area, and a parking lot.
On the Water
Until well into the 1920s, travel around much of Kitsap County, located on the west shore of Puget Sound across from the growing metropolis of Seattle, was largely by water. Steep bluffs, deep ravines, huge standing and fallen trees, and thick underbrush impeded inland travel. Instead, the Mosquito Fleet and residents' own boats linked the small settlements located along the county's maze of saltwater channels, bays, and inlets to each other and to Seattle and other cities around the sound.
When the state legislature passed the Port District Act of 1911, allowing voters to create public port districts -- independent local governments with authority to build and operate harbor improvements -- its primary impetus was the push by reformers in Seattle to regain control of the city's waterfront from private railroad corporations. However, the legislature did not limit port districts to Seattle, or to large cities. In Kitsap County, many small towns and settlements that depended on Mosquito Fleet service looked to port districts as a way build or maintain the local docks that connected them to the steamship fleet. Among them was Eglon, which became one of the first to make use of the new Port District Act.
Eglon is a small community on the east side of the northern Kitsap Peninsula, about five miles north of Kingston and three miles south of Point No Point. Attempts to settle the area were made as early as the 1860s, but no permanent community developed until the first years of the twentieth century, when a handful of families bought land and built homes along the waterfront and in the woods near a small watercourse named for early homesteaders Charles and Jessie Silver. The community was known as Silver Creek until it sought a post office of its own in 1906 and found that that name was already in use elsewhere in Washington. "Eglon" -- from the Old Testament -- was chosen instead, so the story goes, because it was the shortest of three alternative names suggested.
Need for a Dock
Until the county highway from Kingston was completed, only trails and rough wagon roads connected Eglon and Hansville, the neighboring community at the northern tip of the peninsula, to the rest of the county by land. But lacking a dock, Eglon was not easily accessible by water either. Mosquito Fleet steamers passed the Eglon beach several times a day on their way between Seattle and towns around the sound, and in good conditions rowboats could meet them to transfer passengers or light cargo. But in bad weather (or if no one rowed out to meet the steamer) passengers had to remain on board and try again on the next run. Loading large freight was impossible. Livestock were swum ashore or herded up the beach from Kingston.
To establish a more reliable connection to the outside world, Eglon residents organized the Eglon Dock Company in 1912 to build their first dock. It opened in 1913 and Eglon gained reliable daily boat service. However, there was no income to maintain the dock, and the burden of keeping it repaired fell on an increasingly small number of volunteers. By 1918, the dock was so unsafe that residents decided it was best to tear it down and start again, leaving them dependent once more on rowboats to reach the steamers.
It was at this point that the community turned to the idea of establishing a public port district to take on the tasks of funding and maintaining a dock. Recognizing that the formation could take time, community leaders also incorporated the new, private Community Dock Company, which acquired the remaining assets of the first dock company for $1 and set out to build a new structure. The new dock, built next to Eglon's post office and store, was finished that fall and regular boat service resumed. The Puget Sound Navigation Company announced that beginning November 10, 1918, "the Steamer PUGET will land at the new dock in Eglon in both directions" (Thorne, 98).
A Small Public Port
Meanwhile, the work of creating a public port proceeded. One issue was working out boundaries between Eglon's proposed port district and the one Kingston, just to the south, was forming at the same time. (Hansville, on the north, also formed a public port in 1919; that port district was later dissolved.) By March 1919, port formation was well enough advanced that the stockholders of the Community Dock Company agreed unanimously to turn the dock over to the new port, although the actual transfer would have to wait until the port was officially created.
That required approval by the registered voters within the proposed district boundaries, who were not numerous. Eleven Eglon residents turned out on July 12, 1919, to vote on establishing the Port of Eglon -- 10 voted in favor of doing so and one against. Gust Sevon, Nikolai Naykki, and Henry Johnson were elected port commissioners to run the port. After the Kitsap County Board of County Commissioners formally canvassed these election returns on July 21, the Port of Eglon was legally established. As planned, the new port quickly took ownership of the dock. The bill of sale, showing a token payment of $1, was dated August 30, 1919.
On September 20, as required by the Port District Act, the commissioners adopted a "comprehensive scheme of harbor improvements," namely "the acquiring and improving of the existing wharf or dock on the water front in said District for the purpose of receiving freight and providing a landing place for boats and vessels of all kinds" ("Notice of Election"). To cover the estimated $3,000 cost, the commissioners proposed issuing general revenue bonds, whose interest and principal would be repaid from the proceeds of a tax levied on property within the district. Voters approved the comprehensive scheme, bonds, and levy in the November 1919 election.
Until the Port District Act was changed years later, port commissioners performed their duties without compensation, but could hire and pay port employees. It was not, therefore, altogether uncommon in small districts for a port commissioner to be hired as a port employee. In Eglon, Commissioner Naykki got the job of "wharfinger" (dock manager), which he held for years. The salary did come with some strings attached -- out of it he was to "furnish the coal oil for the night light" on the dock (Thorne, 98).
From Dock to Highway
For much of the 1920s, the Port's dock was the center of life in Eglon. People and freight came and went across the dock and the adjoining buildings housed the post office and a store. These operated in a warehouse on the south side of the dock, then moved to a building on the north side that was expanded several times. The dock was also enlarged, which provoked a legal battle. Seeking "to widen its present narrow wharf of sixteen feet in order to safely accommodate the travel and traffic of the patrons of the port district" (Lofgren), the commission sought to acquire three quarters of an acre belonging to Svante and May Lofgren. When they were unable to agree on a lease, the port commission instituted condemnation proceedings. The Lofgrens appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court, but the condemnation was approved.
With the coming of highways and automobiles, the community's orientation gradually shifted away from the dock. The first automobile ferry run from Kingston to the east side of the sound began in 1923, one year before the county highway reached Eglon. Soon mail and freight was arriving by road, not boat, and residents came and went by car. Regular scheduled boat service to the Eglon dock was discontinued by 1933. For a short while longer the dock remained an occasional flag stop for the Mohawk, but even that limited passenger service was soon ended because so few people used it. After that, there were only occasional freight deliveries. By the early 1940s the no-longer-needed dock fell or was torn down.
Although it doomed the dock, the rise of automobile travel brought more visitors to Eglon. After World War II, newly mobile urban vacationers flocked to camping areas and resorts dotted along rural shorelines all around Puget Sound. Several fishing resorts flourished in Eglon from the 1930s through the 1950s, and Eglon remained a popular launch spot for salmon fishing into the 1990s.
The Port of Eglon did not disappear when the dock did. The Port still owned some 100 feet of beachfront property, which the commissioners and their neighbors viewed as a community asset. Even without the dock, the beach was a gathering place. Summer picnics and bonfires on the beach were a tradition from Eglon's beginnings (and they have continued into the twenty-first century). The Port built a bathhouse at the beach, where it also had picnic tables and the boat-launching area popular with salmon fishers.
Local and Independent
Without a dock to maintain, Port operations were very low key. The Port had no employees and by 1940 it was not levying taxes. The last expenditure for many years came in 1945, when the commissioners spent $50 on lumber for the bathhouse. For a long time there were no commissioner elections because no one in the community was interested in running. The incumbents stayed on, paying their own expenses at meetings.
Washington's large ports, and most of the smaller ones, have primarily devoted their resources to bringing development, growth, and jobs to their communities (port districts proved so effective doing so through building harbor facilities that their authority was expanded to all kinds of industrial and economic development, leading in the 1950s and 1960s to a profusion of new ports, many on the dry east side of the mountains). But Eglon's port commissioners knew what their community wanted, and it was most emphatically not industry or development. Because Eglon was not an incorporated town with its own government, planning and policy decisions affecting the area, except those involving the Port, were made by the Kitsap County Board of County Commissioners. As a result, in Eglon as in many small unincorporated communities around the state, port commissioners were (and still are) the only elected officials directly accountable just to local area residents.
This may explain why Eglon's port commissioners, seemingly speaking on behalf of the community, fiercely defended the small port's continued independence in 1960, in the midst of one of the legislature's periodic flirtations with the idea of consolidating the state's many independent port districts into some sort of "superport authority" (Wells). Noting that most ports in the nation are run at the regional or state level, state Senator Robert Greive (1919-2004) and state House Speaker John L. O’Brien (1911-2007), both of Seattle, touted advantages in efficiency and job creation to be gained by consolidating the state's 64 separate districts. Grieve singled out Kitsap County, which then had 21 port districts. (Voluntary consolidations and dissolutions eventually reduced Kitsap's total to 12 -- still more than any other county -- even as the total number of ports in the state increased; there are 75 in 2011.)
"Keep the Port As It Is"
At a legislative hearing in April 1960, representatives of small and medium sized ports in Kitsap County and elsewhere fervently opposed a consolidated port authority, which they warned would take control away from the local electorate. Port of Eglon Commissioner George Coles was one of the most outspoken, arguing for local port control precisely to prevent outsiders from imposing "efficiency" and "progress" on communities that did not want it:
"We don't want [the dock] to be rehabilitated, and we don't want any industry. ... Leave us alone. We don't want to be infringed upon. We want to keep our little bit of beach and use it for the children to swim" (Wells).
In an interview with Seattle Times reporter Don Duncan some weeks later, Coles added:
"If we got a state-wide port district, there would be a [large tax] levy right off the bat ... . Those men in Olympia might even want to bring in a payroll from a refinery or something ... . Progress is not for us. We happen to want to remain small and independent" (Duncan).
Coles and the other opponents of port consolidation prevailed. The 1960 proposal died and later attempts also went nowhere. But the issue of consolidating ports continues to be raised, both statewide and within Kitsap County, and the Port of Eglon remains firmly committed to its independence. In a 2011 interview with Kitsap Sun reporter Rachel Pritchett, Commissioner Gene DuVall explained Eglon's opposition to the idea of combining Kitsap's ports into one county-wide district in words that could have come straight from his predecessor's interview with Don Duncan a half-century earlier:
"The wishes of the community is to keep the port basically as it is. I think anybody who mentioned any form of development would find themselves floating out in the bay" (Pritchett).
Given this consistent viewpoint, it is not surprising that the Port of Eglon has changed very little since 1960. Procedures are a little more formal: There are regular commissioner elections -- indeed there was a contested race in 2009, which the incumbent won handily. The Port again collects a small annual tax levy ($19,400 in 2009), which covers the cost of maintenance and repairs. But the facilities are much the same. In 2011, the Port of Eglon consists of a boat ramp, which might be used by a couple dozen boats on a good fishing day, a picnic area, a parking lot, and the beach. It may not seem like much compared to most of the state's ports, but that appears to be exactly how Eglon residents, past and present, like it.