When the Washington Territorial Legislature created Clallam County in 1854, most of the few non-Indian settlers lived near a sheltered harbor created by a long, narrow sand spit extending more than five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The small community was called New Dungeness after the harbor and spit (now just Dungeness Spit), which British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798) named in 1792 for a similar promontory in the English Channel.
In an 1860 election, the first recorded in Clallam County, voters placed the county seat at "Whiskey Flat," a small, level area below the bluff overlooking Dungeness Harbor just west of the mouth of the Dungeness River. Within a few years, the seat was moved up to the bluff where most of New Dungeness was developing. On July 24, 1865, early settlers Elliott and Margaret Cline platted a townsite there and deeded two lots to the county. There, the first courthouse and jail were constructed. Elliott Cline was Clallam County's first representative in the Territorial legislature and held various county offices.
Port Angeles, farther west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, was also located on a harbor created by a long sand spit (Ediz Hook). A small hamlet until the late 1880s, it began to grow when it was chosen as the site of the Puget Sound Co-operative Colony, a short-lived utopian experiment that brought hundreds of idealistic settlers, who stayed on in Port Angeles.
The late 1880s and early 1890s were boom years for the Northwest, driven in part by prospects for transcontinental railroad service. Nearly every settlement in Clallam County and the rest of Washington expected to be a railroad stop if not the terminus of a transcontinental line. Port Angeles boosters saw their city as the obvious terminal point, but they had a rival in Port Crescent, located still farther west along the strait on the shore of Crescent Bay. Port Crescent was a thriving logging community in 1888 when the Port Crescent Improvement Company laid out a townsite of 166 blocks in anticipation of the railroad's arrival.
Although Port Crescent and Port Angeles were booming, New Dungeness was not, in part because the inner harbor where it was located behind Cline Spit (which projects out from the shore toward the larger Dungeness Spit) was silting up, making it harder for ships, the primary means of transportation, to reach the town.
In 1890, Port Crescent and Port Angeles interests convinced the county commissioners to put the county seat location up for a vote. Both waged spirited campaigns. Port Angeles businesses and citizens pledged $5,700 to the county for a courthouse site and building. The Port Crescent Improvement Company responded by offering a $5,000 check and property worth $3,000, which the Port Angeles newspapers (somewhat inconsistently) denounced as a bribe. New Dungeness made little effort. When the votes cast on November 4, 1890, were counted, Port Angeles had 687, Port Crescent 293 (some sources say 297), and New Dungeness only seven.
"Brave Men, Tried and True"
On Saturday, November 8, the county commissioners decreed that Port Angeles would be the county seat as of November 10. The next day, Sheriff Samuel G. Morse (1859-1921) and deputies Frank P. Fisher and Willard Brumfield led an armed force from the victorious city to New Dungeness. The Port Angeles Times, quoted by G. M. Lauridsen and A. A. Smith in their 1937 history of the city, recounted:
"Five and twenty brave men, tried and true ... went up to see that the removal was done properly and with eclat ... The county officials had requested that wagons and help be sent them in the removal, so the army was accompanied by three ambulance wagons" (Lauridsen, 90).Lauridsen and Smith, longtime Port Angeles civic leaders who witnessed the 1890 excursion, debunked subsequent claims that the party traveled armed and at night because they expected resistance from New Dungeness residents. Rather, the overnight excursion was inspired by the primitive condition of the roads and the desire for a little fun:
"The facts were that there was no way to get to Dungeness and back in one day, so the boys decided to put in the night before in getting there, and take a chance on getting back over the corduroy trail with their ambulances next day. ... [In addition to Morse and his deputies] the rest of the gang comprising the 'committee' was anyone who could find a horse and was fond of a lark; matches and old-fashioned lanterns were the only means of illuminating a November night in the forests; liquids that illuminate but do not come out of creeks were an essential part of the equipment, and there you are! -- a perfect setup for a perfectly good night out" (Lauridsen, 91)."Happy Termination"
The posse was met cordially by Smith Troy, a New Dungeness resident and county political leader then serving as auditor, who had all the records and equipment organized and helped load the ambulance wagons. Starting out about 7:30 a.m. on November 10, 1890, the cavalcade reached Port Angeles around four that afternoon. According to the Times:
"They drove into town amidst the greatest of enthusiasm. The horsemen had decorated themselves with evergreens, and with flags waving and wild cheering they rode through the town. Mayor John Dyke headed the cavalcade and made a speech, recounting the exploits of the army, and congratulating the people on the happy termination of the campaign" (Lauridsen, 91).The celebration was justified. Ensconced as the county seat, Port Angeles weathered the Panic of 1893 and continued to grow as the county's commercial and industrial center. No transcontinental railroad came to the peninsula and Port Crescent was virtually abandoned after 1893. Some buildings, including the general store, were moved inland to Joyce; many simply rotted in place. At New Dungeness, residents and businesses left the silted inner harbor and moved east across the Dungeness River where a 4,300-foot dock was completed in 1891, creating a new community called somewhat confusingly Dungeness (the remnants of old New Dungeness became known as Old Town).