Relentlessly beaten by 140 years of saltwater winds. Pounded through 98 years of deadline-driven footsteps of newspaper reporters, printers and publishers. The Fowler Building in downtown Port Townsend looks its age.
But for 15 years after its 1874 construction, the two-story sandstone building at 226 Adams Street was the uncontested queen of the young city. It was the first substantial stone building amidst a clapboard town, the community's gathering place, and just one creation of the busiest of the new town's entrepreneurs.
His name was Enoch S. Fowler. He hailed from Lubec, Maine, coming to California during Gold Rush days as shrewd, sharp-eyed skipper. While not listed among Port Townsend's founders, he was first mate on the ship that brought founders Alfred Plummer and Charles Bachelder here from San Francisco in 1850. According to some reports, he talked the men into staking claims at Port Townsend instead of their original target, Olympia. They wintered over in Steilacoom and, in the spring of 1851, arrived on the Port Townsend beach.
Fowler followed a year later, filing local claims in 1852, while building up a fleet of ships which he bought and sold. These included the swift schooner R.B. Potter, hired by Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens to carry mail and supplies to Puget Sound's few towns and military posts.
In 1854, when the driven Stevens set out on his mission to get almost all Northwest tribes to cede almost all of their territory to the new government, Fowler's ship carried the governor and negotiators from place to place. That included Point No Point in 1855, where Stevens, Fowler, a young James Swan and a younger S'Klallam chief named Chetzemoka gathered together in one place. Fowler was present when the chiefs there at first resisted the treaty that would include most of the present Olympic Peninsula. He was there the next morning after Chetzemoka had convinced the skeptical and the hostile to trust the whites and affix their "X" marks.
A later treaty at Neah Bay for the Makah tribe was negotiated and signed aboard Fowler's ship, James Swan still present as translator.
Stevens and Fowler were fast friends. Stevens named him the region's Indian Agent, and Fowler loaned Stevens money for a mortgage. Stevens moved back East, serving in Congress but, in 1862, was killed at the front of his Union troops resisting Stonewall Jackson in the Civil War battle of Chantilly, Virginia.
By that time, Fowler had given up the seagoing life and settled into Port Townsend. He built a home at Jefferson and Polk, still there. He acquired hundreds of acres of land, including what is now Fort Worden. It appears he started the first bakery, employing a young Charles Eisenbeis who would become the town's lead capitalist a decade later. He donated land for the Laurel Grove Cemetery, and donated land for a school, now the Port Townsend Community Center. He built the town's first deepwater pier at the foot of Water St., although it was soon eaten by teredos. He helped start two newspapers, one almost 30 years before the Leader was born in 1889. He built and owned stores and constructed many wooden commercial and residential buildings. The Legislature chose him to be the territory's brigadier general, and he was the county's first treasurer.
In 1874 Fowler decided to build a "commodious fireproof store," and brought English master stonemason Morgan J. Carkeek in for the job. Carkeek had come north from San Francisco. Carkeek quarried sandstone from an Indian Island quarry in the southeastern quadrant of the island, and hauled it across Port Townsend Bay by barge. The sandstone blocks were two feet thick and laid together with lime-based mortar. Huge floor and ceiling joists were milled from clear-grain fir. As a finishing touch, Carkeek put Fowler's name and the year at the top of the building.
At first it was a dry goods store, Fowler using his fleet to import supplies from San Francisco. It became the town's first performance hall for dances (upstairs) and theater (downstairs). It was the Masonic Temple.
It was purchased by Jefferson County and used as the county courthouse from 1880 to 1892, workers adding steel shutters to the windows for security. James Swan, now a self-taught lawyer and probate judge, had his office across the street and used the courtroom.
It was still the courthouse when Chief Chetzemoka died on Indian Island in 1888. His sons brought his body to Port Townsend by dugout cedar canoe. The town elected to honor their old friend by laying his body in state for two days in the main downstairs room, the pioneers and their descendants invited to pay their respects. In 1892, the "new" brick courthouse was completed on the bluff, and county offices moved.
By then, a new brick Victorian commercial district had grown up on all sides of the Fowler Building. A building boom surged in the late 1880s and, in 1889, with ambitions to become a railroad terminal running rampant and Washington statehood a certainty, ornate brick buildings went up everywhere, trampling underfoot the pioneer wooden town and quickly overshadowing the unadorned Fowler Building. Street levels rose with fill dirt. The Fowler Building's entryway has a unique dip that marks the sidewalk level of an earlier era. In the basement, now well below street level, is a window with metal shutters.
In 1893, a national financial panic combined with the railroad's decision to stop at Tacoma and Seattle. Port Townsend slipped into recession and the boom population slipped out of town. Upper floors of some new buildings were never finished.
The Fowler Building was used for a seamen's boarding house, a cigar factory and a store. For several years it was abandoned.
Finally in 1916, a new tenant moved in. The Morning Leader newspaper had started publication from a Water St. location in 1889, 27 years earlier. It needed a new office, and moved in the bottom floor. Apartments were created in the upstairs. The Leader Company bought the building from the county in 1928, and remains there today.
Enoch Fowler had long since passed away. This energetic, busy man died at the age of 63 in 1876, just two years after his building was completed. He is buried not far from Chetzemoka and James Swan (who died in 1900) at the Laurel Grove Cemetery. His widowed wife and his stepson later built the Fowler-Caines Building, now the home of El Serape Restaurant.
A footnote to the Fowler Building involves the Bank of America.
Morgan Carkeek, after completing the Fowler Building, was hired by a young Seattle banker named Dexter Horton to build a sandstone bank in that young city, the downtown district now called Pioneer Square. In 1875, Carkeek's one-story building went up amidst the wooden structures of that town. Its design and construction were strikingly similar to the Port Townsend building, but smaller. He also built a massive stone vault in the back of the building.
In 1889, a great fire swept through Seattle, destroying the entire commercial district including all the banks in wooden buildings. The shell of Dexter Horton's bank survived, but more importantly its interior stone vault was the only one in the city that preserved the stocks, bonds, cash and other perishable valuables of Seattle citizens. After the fire, Horton and his uniquely reliable bank quickly rose to dominance in Seattle, and the Northwest. In time his bank became Seattle First National, shortened to Seafirst, acquired by the Bank of America in 1983 and now part of one of the world's largest banks.
Carkeek went on to become very prominent in Seattle, rebuilding much of the burned city, donating hundreds of acres of park land that today bears his name and helping launch the Seattle Historical Society, today called the Museum of History and Industry.
Fowler. Stevens. Swan. Chetzemoka. Carkeek. Men of enterprise whose actions shaped the formative years of a coastal frontier. Long gone, but one thing they left behind is a sturdy sandstone building on Adams St.
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