Port of Keyport is formed by special election on July 19, 1923.

  • By Catherine Hinchliff
  • Posted 2/25/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9727
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On July 19, 1923, Keyport residents vote in a special election to establish the Port of Keyport. The Port will construct a public dock to use as a landing for the "Mosquito Fleet," the "swarm" of small, privately run ferries that serve as the dominant form of transportation for Kitsap County residents until the late 1920s. The new dock will replace a wharf completed in 1896 that became property of the U.S. Navy in 1914. In 1970, the Port will replace Keyport's public dock with a smaller dock at the same site. In 2011, the Port of Keyport maintains a small marina and boat launch on the Keyport waterfront.

Torpedo Town, U.S.A.

Keyport is a small, unincorporated community in Kitsap County. Located on the Kitsap Peninsula, it is about 11 miles north of Bremerton, Washington and about four miles southeast of Poulsbo.

In 1880, Olaf Stub and his son Henry started a homestead in the area now known as Keyport. By 1896, the area had grown into a community, and settlers Peter Hagen, Oscar Kuppler, and H. E. Kuppler decided to name the community Keyport.  They chose the name "Keyport," as the community was the "key" to Dogfish Bay, later renamed Liberty Bay. That same year, residents completed a wharf to use as a landing for steamboats from the Mosquito Fleet. In 1903, a man named Henry Husby opened the Keyport Mercantile next to the wharf.

In September 1910, Keyport attracted the attention of the United States government. The U.S. Navy had been searching for a site to build a Pacific Coast torpedo station, modeled after the torpedo station in Newport, Rhode Island. Navy officials concluded that Liberty Bay was sheltered, shallow, calm, and warm enough to become an ideal testing ground for torpedoes. Keyport also had the advantage of close proximity to the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton.

However, the five families living on the property the U.S. Navy wanted to develop refused to sell. After two years of debate over whether or not the Keyport site was worth fighting for, the U.S. Navy began condemnation proceedings on 88 acres in February 1913. On July 20, 1914, had acquired the land. The U.S. Navy formally commissioned the Pacific Coast Torpedo Station on a total of 155 acres of land on the small Keyport peninsula on November 14, 1914.

Former owners of the land were allowed to stay until November 1. They could harvest their crops, after which they had to vacate.The Husby family and the Keyport Mercantile were among those that had to move. When the time came to vacate their land, the Husbys physically moved the Keyport Mercantile building to a newly developed area just outside the Navy property boundary. These new lots and streets designed by A. B. Moe became the new Keyport’s new town center. In the same year, the town was platted and lots were sold to new settlers to the town.

Creation of the Port of Keyport

Though the Husbys were able to move the Keyport Mercantile building, the town’s public dock had become U.S. Navy property. Without the dock, the town no longer had a landing for Mosquito Fleet boats stopping in Keyport. It is unknown whether Keyport citizens managed to build a new dock in Keyport prior to establishing the Port of Keyport. When residents of Keyport decided to form a port district in 1923, they did so with the construction of a dock with a landing for Mosquito Fleet vessels in mind.

On May 16, 1923, a group of Keyport residents calling themselves the "Keyport Improvement Club" filed a petition with the Kitsap County commissioners for the formation of the Port of Keyport. The petition stated that the new port would be used to construct and maintain docks, floats, and wharfs in Keyport. On June 18, 1923, the county commissioners held a hearing on the matter and set a date for a special election on July 19, 1923. Thirty-two Keyport citizens voted unanimously for the establishment of the Port of Keyport and elected T. J. Stiles, W. E. Fix, and Julius Lang as its first commissioners.

From a Mosquito Fleet Dock to a Small Marina

The Port of Keyport probably constructed a dock sometime in the first two years of its existence. This dock served as a landing for ferries and other small steamboats, most notably the Hyak, which provided regular ferry service to Keyport. Over the years, the Keyport community grew and shrunk with the Pacific Coast Torpedo Station, later renamed the Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station. In fact, the town came to be known as "Torpedo Town, U.S.A." During World War II, the town's population grew significantly as employment at the torpedo station peaked at 2,035 civilian and 821 military workers. Immediately following the war, the workforce was cut by 85 percent. But during the Korean War and for the rest of the 1950s, the torpedo station employed anywhere from 500 to 1,000 civilians. The Port’s dock served residents and workers throughout this period.

The Port of Keyport commissioners replaced the old dock with a new, smaller dock with moorage slips in 1970. On May 12, 1982, the Port of Keyport joined the Washington Public Ports Association. In 1994, the Port added new floats with the help of the Kitsap County Recreation Association to accommodate a ferry from Bremerton and Poulsbo. The ferry route was created to bring more tourists to the Naval Undersea Museum, which opened in 1995. The museum is part of the Naval History and Heritage Command, the official history program of the Department of the Navy. The museum proved to be the chief tourist attraction in Keyport, or Torpedo Town U.S.A.

Goals for the Port

In 2009, the Port of Keyport decided to update its dock facility and boat launch. The existing dock had 18 moorage slips. However, the floats and pilings on the dock were deteriorating and, in some cases, starting to sink. After much public discussion, Port of Keyport commissioners decided to pay for a new structure costing $377,000. The Port paid $100,000 up front and used a loan to pay for the rest. The commissioners hoped that the new marina would bring more visitors to the Naval Undersea Museum as well as to Keyport’s shops and restaurants.

On September 16, 2009, a tugboat from Tacoma delivered a new, small marina to the Port of Keyport. The small-scale marina has 14 private slips, and 250 feet of guest moorage in five 50-foot slips. Each slip has water and power available.

In 2009, the Keyport Comprehensive Scheme also made replacing the 12-foot-wide concrete boat launch a priority. Although in 2009 and 2010 the Port did not have funds to replace the boat launch, improving the boat launch is the Port’s biggest goal for the future. 


"Port of Keyport 2009 Comprehensive Scheme," April 2009, prepared by Parametrix, Bremerton, Washington; “Liberty Bay Said to Get Torpedo Station,” The Seattle Times, September 25, 1910, p. 29; “Yard Prepares to Build Submarines,” Ibid., May 29, 1915, p. 12; “Pushing Work on Keyport Station,” Ibid., November 6, 1914, p. 22; “Torpedo Experts Come to Keyport,” Ibid., January 24, 1916, p. 13; “Coast Warships to Visit Keyport Each Year,” Ibid., April 11, 1916, p. 21; “Virginia V Excursion Boat Sold,” Ibid., January 17, 1954, p. 49; Ross Cunningham, “When Steamboats Raced For Trade in Puget Sound,” Ibid., May 25, 1976, p. A-13; Lisa Poole with Dianne Robinson, Torpedo Town U.S.A. (Keyport: Diamond Anniversary Publishing, 1989); “Port Info,” Keyport Website accessed February 8, 2011 (http://www.keyport98345.com/port%20info.htm); Rachel Pritchett, “Currents Pull Kitsap’s Many Ports in Opposing Directions,” Kitsap Sun, January 22, 2011 (http://www.kitsapsun.com);  Rachel Pritchett, “From Bremerton to Tiny Eglon, Each Port Lives in a World of its Own,” Kitsap Sun, January 22, 2011 (http://www.kitsapsun.com); Christopher Dunagan, “Living History Drives Keyport Party,” Kitsap Sun, September 18, 2010 (http://www.kitsapsun.com); BrynnGrimley, “It’s Out with the Old, In With the New in Keyport,” Kitsap Sun, September 16, 2009 (http://www.kitsapsun.com); BrynnGrimley, “Commissioners Weigh Expanding Keyport Port Facilities,” Kitsap Sun, March 17, 2009 (http://www.kitsapsun.com); “Naval History and Heritage Command” Naval Undersea Museum website accessed February 11, 2011 (http://www.history.navy.mil/about/index.html); “Petition for the Formation of a Port District at Keyport,” Kitsap County Auditor’s Office, Port Orchard, Washington; Certification of Special Election Port of Keyport, July 25, 1923, Kitsap County Auditor’s Office, Port Orchard, Washington; Resolution for Special Election for Port of Keyport, June 18, 1923, Kitsap County Auditor’s Office, Port Orchard, Washington; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Puget Sound’s Mosquito Fleet" (by Larry E. Johnson) http://www.historylink.org (accessed February 11, 2011).

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