On October 2, 1895, the United States Navy Pacific Fleet, commanded by Rear Admiral Lester A. Beardslee (1836-1903), drops anchor in the deep, protected harbor at Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. The Fleet's arrival caps a major countywide celebration that is the forerunner of the Clallam County Fair. City leaders entertain Admiral Beardslee and his officers with fishing trips to nearby Lake Crescent, and the Admiral, a noted angler, goes on to popularize the lake's unique variety of rainbow trout now known as Beardslee Trout. Beardslee also approves Port Angeles harbor as an ideal location for naval practice, and until the 1930s, the Pacific Fleet returns annually for summer exercises in the harbor.
Carrigan, Coolican, and Crooks
In the fall of 1895, Port Angeles, located in Clallam County on the north shore of the Olympic Peninsula, was still suffering the effects of the nationwide depression known as the Panic of 1893. In an effort to lift the city and surrounding area out of the economic doldrums, three civic boosters -- M. J. "Mike" Carrigan, James Coolican, and Sam Crooks -- organized an extravagant countywide celebration. The event included a product fair sponsored by the Clallam County Horticulture Society and held in the city's grandly ornamented, three-year-old Opera House. The fair eventually evolved into the Clallam County Fair, now held annually at the fairgrounds in southwest Port Angeles that opened in 1920.
In 1895, in addition to the fair, Carrigan, Coolican, and Crooks invited the Navy Fleet to come north from California as the city's guest. Port Angeles had a wonderful natural harbor protected by the long sand spit of Ediz Hook, and had often been touted as a potential navy base. Former territorial governor and congressional delegate Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) had dubbed it the "Cherbourg of the Pacific" (Martin, 14). (Cherbourg was a seaport in Normandy where French king Louis XIV had established a fortified naval base.) However, the Navy previously had very little presence at Port Angeles, and Beardslee surprised many when he accepted the invitation.
A Dramatic Entrance
When he did, the promoters expanded their plans further, inviting Washington's governor as well as British Royal Navy ships and civilian dignitaries from Victoria, British Columbia, and the adjoining Esquimault Military Base, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles. Local residents spent September 1895 preparing the city and decorating it with flags and cedar boughs.
Six Navy warships rounded Ediz Hook and anchored off the Port Angeles waterfront on October 2, 1895. They were, in addition to Admiral Beardslee's flagship, the Cruiser Philadelphia, the monitors Monterey and Monadnock and the gunboats Alert and Bennington. Festooned with banners and flags, the ships marked their entrance into the harbor with cannon shots and band music. Local dignitaries greeted them from a Mosquito Fleet steamer, the Garland.
The warships' crews spent the next few days in tents erected around the city, where they gave drill exhibitions during the day and band concerts in the Opera House by night. Navy ball teams competed with civilian teams from the area and city leaders hosted the naval officers on fishing excursions to Lakes Sutherland and Crescent.
Beardslee, a fishing enthusiast, spent several days at the lakes, including two on Mike Carrigan's boat on Lake Crescent. Among the hundreds of fish he caught were a number of a distinctive large species of "blue-backed trout" from Lake Crescent. After the visit, Beardslee wrote articles in Field & Stream and the San Francisco Chronicle praising the trout and the lake. The admiral returned to fish Lake Crescent when he accompanied the Fleet on subsequent summer visits, and the fish he enjoyed soon became universally known as Beardslee Trout.
In addition to approving the nearby fishing, Beardslee concluded that Port Angeles harbor, with its deep water and wide expanses, was ideal for long range shooting and other naval operations and he made it the Pacific Fleet's regular ground for summer maneuvers.
The relation between the city and the Navy was cemented following the Fleet's second visit when city leaders joined with navy men to found Naval Lodge No. 353 of the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks on September 28, 1896. The lodge received special approval from the national Grand Lodge of Elks to become the only Elks Lodge in the country whose name was not based on its location. The five-story Naval Lodge Building erected in 1927 became a center of civic life for the rest of the century and is now a national historic landmark.
Navy Fleet visits to Port Angeles continued under Beardslee and his successors until the 1930s. Although most visits were by the Pacific Fleet, in May 1908 Port Angeles was one of several cities to host a division of the Great White Fleet, 16 white-painted warships of the Atlantic Fleet making a 14-month around-the-world cruise as a show of United States power in the Pacific. Through the years, many Navy battleships, including the Mississippi, Texas, and Iowa, along with scores of smaller ships, visited Port Angeles on summer maneuvers.