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This Independence Day we take a look at Tacoma’s past, focusing on historical sites the whole family can enjoy. The extended weekend will give lots of opportunity for tours, hands-on history, and maybe a picnic or two.
The famous Hudson’s Bay Company founded Fort Nisqually, the first European settlement on Puget Sound, in 1833. It grew into a major center of international trade and produced crops and livestock for sale to Russian Alaska, Spanish California, Hawaii, Asia, and Europe. The workers there included Native Americans, Americans, French-Canadians, and people from the United Kingdom and the Hawaiian Islands. Hudson’s Bay Company was owned by the British, so when the 49th parallel became the border, it’s fate was sealed and if closed in 1869. In 1933, the Factor’s House and the Granary were restored and moved to Point Defiance Park. Several other buildings were re-created to show the Fort as it was in 1855.
Today, it’s a living history museum where interpreters wearing period clothing introduce visitors to life in the 1850s. There are nine buildings to explore. On Saturday, July 6, Crafts of the Past will showcase modern-day artisans doing 19th century crafts. The admission fee includes this special event.
The Foss Waterway Seaport is a space that celebrates the art, culture, crafts, and skills of the Puget Sound maritime community. At its heart is the Balfour Dock Building, built in 1900 as a wheat-transfer warehouse. The schooner Pleiades, owned and operated by Captain Hoyle E. Hodges, replicates an Eastport “Pinky” schooner from the 1830s. You can book a 1- or 2-hour sail on the Pleiades, leaving from the Foss Waterway Seaport, from the 3rd through the 7th of July. In the Balfour Dock Building, you can tour exhibits about the Puyallup people, who first used the waterways; see a scale model of the Tacoma Wharf when it was the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad; sit in a life-size model of a steam locomotive; learn about the longshoremen who worked on the docks and the tools they used; stand next to a fin whale skull—it’s 17 feet longer than yours; climb aboard the Columbia River gillnetter, the Faith and try your hand at the pulley station; discover the ships of the “Mosquito Fleet” and the men who sailed them; see the iconic Willets Brothers canoes. Take the opportunity to see the temporary exhibit about SCUBA diving. Did you know that Jacques Cousteau’s flagship, Calypso, was built in Ballard? The waters of Commencement Bay were once so polluted that fish mutated. Another temporary exhibit shows how a ten-year cleanup effort brought that ecosystem back to health.
The Brown’s Point Lighthouse was built in 1933, replacing a structure built in 1901, which, in turn, replaced a structure from 1887. The keeper’s cottage was also built in 1901 and remains in use today. The Points Northeast Historical Society rents out the keeper’s cottage and the keeper gives tours on Saturdays. Two museums are by the Lighthouse: the History Center with a variety of historical exhibits and the Boat House Museum, which displays a replica surfboat and maritime artifacts. The Browns Point Lighthouse Park has picnic grounds.
Share your tour or tell others about your favorite historical site in Tacoma on the Eagle Leather Facebook page!