Port Townsend Washington
Ft. Worden Commanding Officers Quarters Museum
A military couple still occupies because they enjoy the historical decor.
Fort Worden was named after U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Lorimer Worden, commander of the USS Monitor during the American Civil War. This 433 acre state park not only has the preserved buildings of this former Army Artillery Post, but offers lots of opportunities for recreation, offering hiking trails, picnicking, kayak and bike rentals, and a camping ground as well.
The Commanding Officers Quarters Museum was built during the years 1897-1902, and is a handsome Victorian/ Edwardian house. Many different families have lived here. The house is considered one of Fort Worden’s finest buildings, offering a lovely normalcy of civilization at a time when this part of the state was pretty rustic.
As a museum, it gives a great historic look back into time, showcasing a way of life for Commanding Officers and their families in the early 20th century. This two story structure (with basement) has a lovely wrap around front porch, and the usual common rooms found in a home built in this era.
The outside of the house was morale-boosting. The roof is made of cross-gabled slate, with fancy chimneys, and decorated boxed cornices. Inside, perks included 6,000 square feet of living space, fireplaces in the parlor, a dining room and study, and built-in cabinets in the dining room, with lovely glass doors. The pressed tin ceilings are 10 ft high. Pocket doors offered privacy, and Palladian windows and brass chandeliers offered an upper class aura.
All light fixtures that were electricity-ready, because it was known that electricity was due to be offered to the area. However, from 1904-1907, oil lamps were used until electricity was made available.
Tom and I enjoyed the self-tour of this lovely house. It seemed like the Commanding Officer and his family had just left for a stroll. The dining room, the parlor, the kitchen, the study, and the upstairs area are all very authentic, like a historical house museum should be presented. The details of life so long ago were on display in the furnishings, and the tools of life are found throughout the house.
Mementos of army life, like uniforms, photographs, and metals, are on display throughout the house as well.
During the Christmas season, the house is highly decorated with Victorian ornaments and is quite a tourist draw. People also rent the other houses on Officer’s Row for family holidays, and cook their festive meals, etc.
Fort Worden was established in 1889, to be part of the Coastal Defense System. The small outfit of soldiers who were first stationed here in this rustic outpost lived in tents, on top of Artillery Hill, and probably in areas down the hill as well.
With the exception of The Commanding Officer’s Quarters, the first of the existing buildings seen today were not built until 1902-1904, when the Federal Government declared Fort Worden to be a major Army installation, to be the headquarters for the Puget Sound Harbor Defenses, a U. S. Army (Coast Artillery Corps) Fort. Fort Worden was the “strategically important position in the triangle of defensive forts constructed to protect the entrance to Puget Sound and to safeguard the naval shipyard at Bremerton.” Forts Flagler and Casey were the other two defensive points, and the three of them were in place to protect the entrance to Puget Sound from possible attack by enemy ships or submarines.
Beginning in 1905, the 126th, 30th, 62nd, and the 108th Coast Artillery Companies were stationed at Fort Worden, after the first 23 buildings were constructed around the parade ground in 1904. Enlisted men lived in the buildings along what is now Eisenhower Ave, and officers lived in the houses across the parade field along Pershing Avenue. By the time construction was finished, Fort Worden was like a small city, with not only living quarters, but also 228 main buildings such as administration buildings, kitchens and mess halls, a bakery, a chapel, a guard house and jail, hospital, power house, signal station and wharf. While Port Townsend offered the delights and conveniences of civilization, this Army base offered its residents a self-contained place that offered everything that was needed.
Fort Worden was an active installation through both the world wars. Sonar was added, to detect German subs as well. During WW 2, it swelled to 700 people as it was a facility for basic training.
When Fort Worden was deactivated in 1953, it didn’t stand empty for long. On July 1, 1957, the State of Washington purchased most of the property for $127,533 for use as “a diagnostic and treatment center for troubled youths.” It ran until 1970. The kids stayed in the barracks, and the personnel stayed in the old houses along Officer’s Row.
By 1970, the juvenile treatment center found newer accommodations and vacated Fort Worden, but it wasn’t vacant long! On September 30th, 1971, The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission bought most of Fort Worden, with the idea of demolishing the buildings and artillery bunkers and guns. Oh NO!!!! This wasn’t a good development!
Luckily, the cost to do so was prohibitive, as there were huge amounts of cement up on Artillery Hill. An alternative plan was developed to upgrade the buildings and houses with modern facilities, rent them out to groups, and offer historical museums in some of the buildings. It was a much better plan, and more popular, and it inspired historical enthusiasts to seek protection for not only the fort but the town of Port Townsend, and its many Victorian buildings. Whew!
The 433 acre Fort Worden State Park opened on August 18th, 1973. On March 15, 1974, it was listed on The National Registrar of Historic Places, and was also named part of Port Townsend’s Historic District status, as a national historical landmark, under federal protection.
The Commanding Officer’s Quarters were restored by volunteers, during the ’70s. As each Commanding Officer stationed here would’ve brought his own furniture, Victorian furniture was borrowed from The Jefferson County Historical Society and the state of Washington.
The Washington state government made good use of the acreage, not only preserving this important slice of history, but providing many opportunities for people to enjoy the property as well as learn from its various museums and in a variety of programs as well.
There is a Coast Artillery Museum, a Commanding Officer’s Quarters Museum, and The historic Point Wilson Lighthouse. All of them offer opportunities to review the history of yesteryear. Other opportunities to learn are offered through events and classes provided by The Port Townsend Marine Science Center, the Madrona MindBody Institute, the Third Ear Project, the Corvidae press, a branch of Peninsula College, the west coast campus of Goddard College, Centrum, and the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.
Spirit seekers are welcome, and have caught paranormal evidence even in broad daylight. Ghost hunter and paranormal conferences are held here, and many of the buildings, the cemetery, and the old artillery bunkers have been investigated by a variety of ghost hunters.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
When old military installations are renovated, restored or reconstructed historically, even after they have been completely destroyed, it can act like an environmental trigger and draw spirits back who loved their service there, or had life-changing experiences, for good or ill.
Spirits began to make themselves known after the Fort Worden Park was opened in August of 1973.
Entities of career military men and their families sometimes like to relive their memories in places where they had their most memorable service, and/or where they once enjoyed camaraderie with their fellow servicemen and military families. The opportunity to relive the good times with their families, as well in-base housing, are other draws for spirits.
Many of the houses along Pershing Avenue have resident spirits from the base days, including the Fort Worden Commanding Officer’s Quarters.
Sometimes entities find ways to tell the people in this world how they died.
Smells in the Commanding Officer’s Quarters Museum may hint at the kind of injuries or death experienced by the the entity or entities.
Sometimes a spirit person will form an attachment to something that was of great value to them when they were alive. Sometimes they like to come back and visit this item, and perhaps even attach to it.
Male and/or Female Entities – former occupant(s)
The distinct smell of burning coal, burning rubber, and/or hot sulfur has been noticed in the front area of the house, inside the front door.
A photo was caught of a spirit in purple clothing, and the face can be seen in the mirror.
Most Probably so, by one or more entities; possibly a military officer and his wife. Who they may be is unknown, as the entities who reside here are disciplined and don’t interact too much with this world. Not much has been made public.
There may be a lack of published evidence, but the aroma by the door, and the picture caught on film by Tomasina Doran, strongly suggest that something is here, and keeping the staff and visitors company!
Tomasina Doran, who was a member of the paranormal investigation group, Seattle Ghost, told me in an email: “We were on an investigation and had spent a few nights there Halloween a number of years ago. It was a great investigation and we came up with lots of evidence that Fort Warden is extremely haunted.”
The picture caught by Tomasina shows an apparition in purple, that she reported was a male, but he seems to be talking to someone, perhaps over by a desk.
Their presences are discerned by sensitives, or incredibly lucky photographers and investigators who are at the right place at the right time, when the spirits allow the living to be aware of their presence.
Little in the way of personal responses have been reported by the volunteers or visitors, though some have been reported
Personal experiences: When I went up to the second floor of this lovely house on the self-tour, I became slightly dizzy and tingly. That told me there was an entity or two who were present.
Photo courtesy Tomasina Doran, Seattle Ghost Investigators.
Posted by permission.
200 Pershing Avenue
Fort Worden State Park & Conference Center, on the outskirts of Port Townsend.
Fort Worden Commanding Officer’s Quarters Museum is located at Fort Worden State Park & Conference Center, on Pershing Avenue, which also has 12 of the other houses used for Officer Quarters.
It is the first house seen from the corner of Pershing Avenue and Harbor Defense Way, in the very southeast corner of the Parade Grounds. Fort Worden Commanding Officer’s Quarters Museum offers a fantastic view of Admiralty Inlet, with Mt. Baker and the Cascades in the background.
- Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Seattle and Puget Sound
By Jeff Dwyer
Pelican Publishing Company
- Fort Worden entry on Wikipedia
- Jefferson County Historical Society – Virtual Tour of Commanding Officers Quarters
- Fort Worden entry on The Full Wiki
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr