Sunday, March 06, 2011


Once, the forested bluff rose directly from a narrow beach. High tides probably reached in among fallen trees and drift wood making walking on the beach difficult and canoes were probably the preferred mode of travel along the western edge of Port Townsend Bay.

In the 1880s a steel mill was built here, processing thousands of tons of iron a year. Wharves, foundries and fabrication buildings, charcoal kilns, and slag from the blast furnace spread across the site. The community of Irondale grew around the mill. But by 1900, the town's steel working origins were already history.

In the early 1900s, the whole shoreline from here north to the mouth of Chimacum Creek was buried under sand and clam shell dredged from the bay. The broad, flat, artificial landscape was a log storage yard well into the 1990s, when public groups stepped in to reclaim the site.

The legacy of the old mill remains. The forest grows from the moss-covered foundations of the buildings on the hill. Large concrete relics are scattered on the beach and the slag forms a small headland, resisting the southward transport of sand from the eroding shoreline to the north. Farther south, circular brick beehive kilns are eroding from the bank. The beach is littered with brick, slag, and all the other hard parts that were left behind as the sea transgressed back across the site.

It is now all part of Jefferson County's Irondale Beach Park. The northern segment was largely restored several years ago (I've written several times about Chimacum Beach) and now efforts are underway to clean up the less appealing leftovers of the old steel mill and restore the beach. The slag will probably go, along with lots of contaminated soil, and the shoreline will have to be reconfigured, but it will come back as a beach - probably not the narrow one at the toe of the bluff that existed 150 years ago, but a sandy one that encourages exploration. Historical aspects of the site will still be the central theme, a neat reminder that every beach has a story. Sometimes many.

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