Located at Point Wilson near the town of Port Townsend on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Fort Worden was originally built as part of the triangle of fire protecting the entrance to Puget Sound. Nearby Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and Fort Flagler on the north end of Marrowstone Island complete the triangle. Built from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, these forts were intended to protect the area from invasion by sea, though they were never needed for that purpose. Much of the original armament from Fort Worden was sent to Europe during the first world war. All three forts have long since been decommissioned and all are historic state parks now. Some of Fort Worden’s buildings are currently used as a school. Very small cruise ships from lines like Un-Cruise Adventures or American Cruise Lines sometimes make port stops in Port Townsend.
Fort Worden State Park has a lighthouse, 2 campgrounds, hiking and biking trails, over 2 miles of beach, a boat dock, and launching ramps. Some areas of the park require a Discover Pass, which is required in Washington for access to state parks, DNR lands, and fish and wildlife areas. Day passes are available at the park as well as the standard year-long pass. Besides the campgrounds people can stay in some of the park’s buildings. Most of the officer’s houses are available, as are cottages and dormitories.
The lighthouse on Point Wilson was built in 1879, before the neighboring fort. Point Wilson is at the western entrance to Puget Sound. The buildings surrounding the lighthouse currently have an abandoned deteriorating sort of look. The lighthouse itself is still in use for its original purpose of aiding marine traffic, but the light is fully automated and monitored from the coast guard station in Port Angeles. It’s sad that these buildings appear to have just been left to rot rather than being included in the rental pool. Being beachfront with awesome views if they were fixed up they’d likely be the most popular vacation homes in the park.
Alexander’s Castle was the first building in the fort area, built in 1883 by Reverend John B. Alexander. The unique little brick building still stands and is currently available as a vacation home rented to park visitors.
The fort was built from 1898 to 1920 and designated as a national historic landmark in 1976. It was an active army base from 1902 to 1953. In 1957 it was purchased by the state of Washington for use as a juvenile detention facility. Ownership was transferred to the parks department in 1971 and Fort Worden State Park opened in 1973.
During World War 1 the fort was used for training soldiers before sending them overseas to fight in Europe. As the role of aircraft and balloons became more important and the need for coastal artillery less, a balloon hanger was built at the fort in 1920.
During World War 2 the fort was headquarters for the harbor defense command and monitored all ship traffic entering or leaving Puget Sound using new sonar and sensing devices. Most of the gun batteries were modified to hold anti-aircraft guns as their original purpose for coastal artillery aimed at ships was long since outdated. After the war the guns were dismantled and the base remained as an administrative facility until its closure in 1953.
Fort Worden has several museums. One is in a former officer’s house. It is furnished with period pieces of the sort that would have been used there, but the actual furniture and things belonging to the people living there came and left when they did. There is also an artillery museum as well as the sealife science center and aquarium. Other entertainment at the park includes kayak and rowboat rentals. There are several places to buy food and even a gift shop. The former fort also has facilities for conferences and weddings.
Much of the 1982 movie An Officer and a Gentleman starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger was filmed at Fort Worden. Scenes were filmed in various places around the fort including some of the buildings, at battery Kinzie, and in the blimp hanger, which has since been turned into a performing arts center. Many of the off-base sites were filmed in Port Townsend. Both Paula and Lynette’s houses and the factory where they worked were actually in Port Townsend rather than across the sound as portrayed in the film. The Tides Inn from the movie is a real motel and is still in business.
I visited the park one day with my sister Linda. We spent a bit of time at the lighthouse, which now sits behind a fence and were sad to see how the buildings there appear to have been left to deteriorate in the effects of coastal weather. Even if they don’t want to fix them up for the rental pool, a lighthouse museum would be interesting and could include the keeper’s house as well, giving the park a good reason to preserve those historic buildings.
We also took a tour through the officer’s house museum, which is in the former quarters of the commanding officer at the end of officer’s row. The rest of the houses there are rentals for park visitors, suitable for large groups as they hold anywhere from 6-28 people depending on the house.
This fort turned park has enough of a variety of places to stay and things to see and do to make it a fun and interesting place for just about anyone.