On October 2, 1895, the USS Philadelphia, flagship of Rear Admiral Lester A. Beardslee (1836-1903), commander of the United States Navy Pacific Fleet, drops anchor in the deep, protected harbor at Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. The flagship's arrival highlights 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 will return 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 along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 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's Pacific 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, France, where 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 Foggy 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.
Beardslee was interested in bringing his fleet to Port Angeles in part because its harbor was the only one on the West Coast besides Santa Barbara suitable "for practice with the big guns" of his ships ("Beardslee Is Here"). At first, however, the weather frustrated his plans. The Philadelphia's journey from San Francisco took a day longer than anticipated because dense fog forced it to reduce its usual traveling speed of 13 knots down to nine, and it did not enter Port Angeles harbor until the afternoon of October 2. Thick fog continued, and a few days later the admiral told a reporter in Seattle, "If you people want the Philadelphia to remain on [Puget] Sound you will have to make better arrangements with the clerk of the weather ("Beardslee Is Here").
While waiting for the weather to clear, Beardslee and his officers spent time training the 50 new men aboard the flagship, which carried a total of nearly 400 officers and men. The sailors also took part in county fair activities, parading through the Port Angeles streets and holding an exhibition drill in town. On the last night of the fair, the ship's officers joined local dignitaries in a grand ball at the Opera House, with the navy band providing the entertainment. During the ship's stay, city leaders also 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 Pacific Fleet on subsequent summer visits, and the fish he enjoyed soon became universally known as Beardslee Trout.
More Ships to Come
The Philadelphia remained at Port Angeles more than three weeks and the crew was able to practice with its guns and hold other exercises. Although various secondary sources state that the Philadelphia was accompanied on its 1895 visit by other ships of the Pacific Fleet, contemporary news accounts make clear that the visit that year was made only by the flagship. However, many other ships of the fleet would soon follow in its wake.
On that first visit, 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. Before the Philadelphia departed at the end of October 1895, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that the admiral was "greatly pleased with Angeles bay as a place for target practice" and said that the entire Pacific Fleet would visit every year for summer maneuvers ("Warship Alert ...").
The promised annual maneuvers kicked off in 1896, when five ships of the fleet spent much of the late summer and early fall in Port Angeles harbor. They were, in addition to the Philadelphia, the monitors Monterey and Monadnock and the gunboats Alert and Bennington. Their crews spent five days a week drilling on water and land. According to Carrigan, it was the first time on the Pacific coast that the vessels had all participated together in "fleet drill" ("The Warships Leave").
The relation between the city and the navy was cemented during this 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 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.