On June 1, 1929, voters in Tracyton approve the formation of the Port of Tracyton. Members of the Tracyton community, an unincorporated area of Kitsap County on Dyes Inlet, petitioned the Board of County Commissioners for the election in order to allow the purchase of a dock on the Tracyton waterfront. The dock will be used to facilitate access to Mosquito Fleet steamers that connect the area to downtown Bremerton, just across the Port Washington Narrows, and other towns on Puget Sound. But a year later the Manette Bridge will open and connect the Tracyton area with downtown Bremerton, decreasing use of the steamers. For several decades the port district is inactive except for providing access to the beach and to a boat launch. In the 1990s an effort is made to dissolve the Port, which culminates in a controversy among board members in 2002. The Port remains intact and in 2008 Tracyton voters approve a measure to expand the port district in order to increase the tax base and fund a series of projects that will enhance the community's waterfront facilities. In 2010 the Port is working to fund a new boat launch, a landing area for non-motorized boats, and picnic facilities.
Life on Dyes Inlet
Rich forest resources drew the first white American settlers to the Dyes Inlet area in the 1860s. No roads connected the area to nearby towns, save for a trail along the beach that was part of a longer beachfront trail that ran from Olympia to Seabeck. Residents traveled on the water in small boats, much as local Indians had for centuries, to take logs and lumber to market. A local history written in 1930 describes a typical trip to Seattle: "In the early days it was a common occurrence to row to Seattle for groceries and supplies, the trip being made in 4 ½ hours on a long run out of the tide" (North End Improvement Council).
In 1889 August Peterson, a millwright, built a sawmill on the waterfront where Tracyton now stands. The town grew to include a hotel, saloons, and a store.
In 1891 the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was established in Bremerton. At around that time landowners, most likely Charles H. Kittinger, George B. Kittinger, James Weed, and Charles B. Nichols, who had formed a land company in 1889, named the town Tracyton to honor the Secretary of the Navy.
Other residents established farms among the stumps on logged-over lands. In order to get their farm produce out, or goods, including cattle or horses, in, they relied on steamers plying the local waters. Known collectively as the Mosquito Fleet, the various steamship companies created a network of routes that connected the many small towns dotting the coast of Puget Sound and Hood Canal with each other and with the larger cities, such as Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia.
In the 1880s, the steamer Grace, offered weekly service to Tracyton. Later, a number of steamers, including the Hornet, Helen, Robinson, Mountaineer, Mary F. Perley, and F. G. Reave would offer service, some of them making daily runs. Many shipyard workers would take a steamer across to Bremerton to work each day.
The mill that owned the docks on the Tracyton waterfront did not allow the Mosquito Fleet steamers to use their docks. Residents had to row out to the steamers, often giving the captain a list and money to do their shopping in Seattle. Upon the boat's return the following week, the captain would blow his horn and the farmer would row out to pick up the purchases.
A similar dilemma faced deliveries of livestock. A history compiled by the Friends of the Tracyton Library relates a reminiscence by a longtime area resident: "A load of cattle came into Tracyton one time when the tide was low. They couldn't unload the cattle so they just kicked them overboard" (Friends of Tracyton Library). Unfortunately, some of the cattle did not swim directly to shore, heading across the channel to Rocky Point instead. It took two weeks to find them all and get them home.
Tracyton's New Dock
In 1908 the local residents formed the Tracyton Dock Association to build a new dock. They sold stock to raise funds for materials and used a horse-driven pile driver to build it. The pile driver worked by having a horse pull the pile driver up and then allowing it to fall on the pile, driving it in inch by inch. The association charged wharfage fees that were used to maintain the dock.
The effort required to manage the dock and maintain it proved burdensome for the Tracyton Dock Association members. In 1929 community members submitted a petition to the Board of County Commissioners to allow a vote on the formation of a public port district to take over operation of the dock. The Port District Act of 1911 authorized the formation of port districts that could develop port facilities and fund the projects with property taxes, bond issues, operating income, and other prescribed means.
Voters approved the Port's formation on June 1, 1929. On September 5, 1929, the Tracyton Dock Association sold their dock and the adjoining tidelands to the Port for one dollar.
The Port and Its Dock
The port district extended from the road that would soon be named Secondary State Highway 21B (now State Highway 303) on the east to the waterfront on the west. From north to south it had an irregular border extending in the eastern portion from NE McWilliams Road south to NE Riddell Road and from about Paxford Lane south to NW Heritage Lane in the western portion.
For a few years in the 1930s, the Port operated and maintained the dock. The opening of the Manette Bridge, which connected the eastern side of Dyes Inlet and the Port Washington Narrows with downtown Bremerton, made it possible for Tracyton residents to drive to Bremerton and catch a car ferry to Seattle. This offered travelers convenience and required less time than taking the passenger steamers to town for shopping or for work. The steamer routes dwindled away and no longer needed the dock at Tracyton.
The Port of Tracyton entered a period of inactivity that would continue for several decades. The beach and boat launch remained open to the public, but the commissioners rarely met.
The Issue of Local Control
In 1993 commissioners met to decide if the Port should dissolve. Community members at the meeting spoke in favor of retaining the port. In that fall's campaign for open commissioner positions, it emerged that residents were concerned that if the Port of Tracyton dissolved, the area would be annexed by the neighboring Port of Bremerton and local control of Tracyton's waterfront would be lost.
The commissioners sent a questionnaire to the district's voters in 1994 and the majority of respondents wanted the Port to remain active. The Port planned to restore the community hall (then owned by the water district), improve salmon habitat on Mosher Creek, and improve the boat launch. But the projects did not move forward due to limited funds. The Port was allowed to collect tax revenue but the amount received was limited by its small area.
Planning to Continue
In 2002 controversy enveloped the board. Walt Fitzpatrick ran for one of the port commissioner positions. Once on the port commission, Fitzpatrick made a motion to dissolve the port. He argued that despite the plans, the port was only collecting revenue, not carrying out any business. After considerable wrangling the commissioners decided not to dissolve and moved forward with improvement plans.
In 2008 they presented an extensive plan to the public as part of a proposal to expand the port district's boundaries. They hoped to build a larger boat ramp, a non-motorized boat landing area, picnic and restroom facilities, a boat handling float, a parking lot, and storage for non-motorized boats. In order to pursue these plans, they needed to increase the Port's revenue.
The Port put a measure before the voters in November 2008 to increase the port district's boundaries by 1,500 homes. This would greatly increase the Port's tax base, enabling it to apply for state funding that required matching funds. The measure passed with a 61 percent majority, extending the boundaries to the north and south of the existing district.
Since 2008 the Port has worked to secure additional funding to move forward with improvements. Once in place they will provide Tracyton area residents access to the saltwater for boating, kayaking, fishing, swimming, and other recreational activities.