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Hundreds of volunteers help to create Chetzemoka Park, the first city park in Port Townsend, in June 1904.
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In June 1904, nearly 200 Port Townsend residents participate in a community Park Day to prepare the city’s first public park. The several-acre park, situated on a hillside overlooking Admiralty Inlet just northeast of downtown Port Townsend, is named for Chetzemoka (ca. 1808-1888), a Klallam Indian leader who played an important role in the early history of the city.
The city council donated the land that became Chetzemoka Park. The park’s improvement was undertaken by the city’s newly formed Civic Club, which organized a community Park Day in June 1904. Nearly 200 people showed up to help. Starting from the old brewery on the south side of the park, they cut through the impenetrable underbrush on the site. Despite the progress, the volunteers consumed so much food, provided by the Civic Club, that it was deemed less expensive in the future to hire workers rather than feed volunteers. When the site was cleared, by August, it was discovered that park lacked entrances, and the city council purchased adjoining property to make room for an entrance.
A number of names were considered for the new park, including Kulshan, an Indian name for Mount Baker. In the end, the park was named for Chetzemoka, one of the best-known Indian leaders in the early history of Washington. When the first non-Indians settled at Port Townsend in 1851, the Klallam Indians whose lands encompassed the future city were led by Chetzemoka’s older brother S’Hai-ak, who granted permission for the settlement. S’Hai-ak drowned soon after, and Chetzemoka succeeded to leadership of the 1,000 or so Klallams.
Like his brother, Chetzemoka was friendly with the new settlers, whom he assisted in many ways, including in their relations with other Indian groups. Chetzemoka lived with about 200 of his people, including his two wives See-hem-itza and Chill’lil and their children, in a village of large cedar plank lodges not far from the new settlement. In a not-so-subtle form of ridicule, likely inspired by their difficulty in pronouncing the Klallam names, the white settlers, as they did with other Indians, bestowed names of British aristocrats on Chetzemoka and his family, calling him the Duke of York, his wives Queen Victoria and Jenny Lind, and his son the Prince of Wales.
The supposed difficulty of pronouncing Chetzemoka was raised when the name was proposed for the park, but a local newspaper assured citizens that "after the word has fallen from your lips the music of its syllables will appeal to you ..." (City of Dreams, 46). Ironically, even "Chetzemoka" was not Chetzemoka's real name, but just the best the newcomers could do when they tried to pronounce the actual Klallam name "T'chits-a-ma-hun."
Today, Chetzemoka Park, which has a commanding view of the Cascade Mountains from its hillside location, boasts flower gardens, a tropical water garden, picnic areas, play equipment, and a bandstand modeled after the Victorian original, as well as access to the beach and tidelands.
City of Dreams ed by Peter Simpson (Port Townsend: Bay Press, 1986), 44-46, 65, 76, 97; James G. Swan, Almost Out of the World (Tacoma: Washington State Historical Society, 1971), 13, 15; "Port Townsend City Parks -- Ptguide" (www.porttownsend.org/recreation/city.html); Susan Gilmore, "New Ferry May Get S'klallam Chief's Name," The Seattle Times, October 7, 2009 (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com).
This essay was updated on October 28, 2009.
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