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Originally published August 25, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 25, 2005 at 9:56 AM

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Port Gamble: A town that finds its future in its past

Port Gamble looks like a little town that time and geography forgot, a bit of unspoiled 19th-century New England dropped onto...

Seattle Times travel staff

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The outing: Port Gamble looks like a little town that time and geography forgot, a bit of unspoiled 19th-century New England dropped onto the shore of Puget Sound.

Founded in the mid-1800s by Maine lumbermen who came to harvest the rich Northwest forests, Port Gamble was a company town for mill workers and their families for almost 150 years. Since the mill closed a decade ago, it's morphed into a historic and easygoing tiny tourist town on the northern edge of the Kitsap Peninsula.

Port Gamble still is owned through the forest company Pope Resources and is designated a National Historic District, which has helped keep it in a time warp. Although it's just a few minutes' drive from the east end of the Hood Canal Bridge, there's no sprawl, no billboards, no new buildings, no tourist schlock. Instead it's a peaceful place to stroll, shop and snack — and get a rich feeling of the past.

Almost everything a visitor will want to see, from shops to a museum, is along a tree-shaded block of Rainier Avenue, the town's main (and almost only) street. A half-dozen lovingly preserved two-story houses, with cozy front porches, grassy lawns and creaking wood floors, have been turned into appealing shops. Once company employees' houses, they're now rented by shopkeepers, some of whom live above their stores.

A good place to begin is the Port Gamble Historic Museum (360-297-8074, www.portgamble.com), tucked into the basement of the Port Gamble General Store at the north end of Rainier Avenue. Eager staffers will point out the re-created 19th-century Victorian parlor and an original land-grant deed signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The smartly designed museum also has a replica of a 19th-century Indian plank house, old logging machinery, historic photos and more.

Emerge from the museum and wander through the general store, which opened in 1916. It's got something for everyone — motor oil, fishing gear, canned food, postcards, ice cream — and a collection of thousands of seashells. Relax at a table out front and watch the Port Gamble world pass very slowly by. Or cross the street to a picnic table for a waterfront view.

Wander into the shops along Rainier Avenue: Even if you're not a shopper, you'll appreciate the interiors of the vintage houses. Best Friends Antiques (360-297-4848) and Ms. Bee Haven Antiques (360-297-1804) sell knickknacks for a few dollars or antique rocking chairs for almost $500. LaLa Land Chocolates (360-297-4291) has handmade truffles in a dozen flavors. Rugosa Rose (360-297-2604) stocks fresh and dried flowers and gifts, from candles to leather bags. Or indulge at the Spa at Port Gamble, which offers massage, manicures and more (360-297-8889 or www.spaatportgamble.com).

For a reflective moment, walk a few minutes to the bluff-top Buena Vista cemetery on the edge of town, where weathered headstones mark the graves of early settlers.

Shopping op: Who knew such a tiny town would have a good bookstore? The Dauntless sells new and secondhand books in one of the historic mill houses. Adults and kids can curl up and browse Harry Potter books in a cozy cubbyhole under the stairs, modeled on the cupboard in which Harry sleeps; or on weekend afternoons play and read in the Children's Book House, a separate building in the yard. Owners Madelyn and Rick Playle live upstairs (360-297-4043).

Good eats: I happily gorged on afternoon tea at LaLa Land Chocolates and Tea Room (360-297-4291), which included cucumber and salmon sandwiches, scones, cakes and chocolate fondue — and a pot of tea — for $16.95. As I waddled out, I still couldn't resist buying some of the handmade truffles to take home.

Cost: Ferry fare ($13.30 one way for a vehicle and driver); museum admission: $2.50, seniors over 65 or students $1.50, children under 6 free.

Getting there: Take the Seattle-Bainbridge or Edmonds-Kingston ferry (206-464-6400, 888-808-7977 or www.wsdot.wa.gov). Go north onto Highway 104, which passes through Port Gamble, past its white-steepled St. Paul's church. The tree-shaded Rainier Avenue veers off the highway; there's parking on it or in a lot behind.

More information: Port Gamble: 360-297-8074 or www.portgamble.com. Most shops and the museum are open daily in summer and early fall.

Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau, 360-297-8200 or www.visitkitsap.com.

For an excellent online history of Port Gamble, see www.historylink.org and click on Cybertours (on the right side of the page).

Kristin Jackson: 206-464-2271 or kjackson@seattletimes.com

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