Jefferson County Historical Society celebrates 140 years


The Jefferson County Historical Society celebrated the 140 years since its founding by acknowledging not only the history that predated its origins, but also the history during which the group itself was taking an intermission.

“We walk in the path of people, 140 years ago, who determined it was important to preserve the history of Jefferson County,” said Shelly Leavens, executive director of the historical society. “History didn’t begin then, nor did it end, or will it ever.”

Leavens cited an April 11, 1979 article from The Leader, which identified May 3, 1879 as the exact date of the historical society’s founding, dovetailing neatly with the 140th anniversary celebration taking place May 3 at the Northwest Maritime Center this year.

The founding foursome were listed in that article as James Seavey, the Hon. Joseph A. Kuhn, Prof. A.R. Hoffman and David W. Smith, who met in Smith’s law office in the Fowler building, since occupied by The Leader.

Although the society drew up a constitution, bylaws and even committees for its 14 charter members, Leavens noted it “promptly died, due to lack of interest.”

This seemed to be the pattern when the Chamber of Commerce resurrected the society in 1932, only for it to discontinue after four meetings, but when it was restarted again in 1947, the society requested from the City Council that it donate its old police court as a museum and meeting place, which was granted.

When the courtroom-turned-museum opened in 1951, it also served as headquarters for the city of Port Townsend’s centennial celebration that same year.

“Good ideas don’t die,” Leavens said, before quoting local historian and longtime Leader staffer Tom Camfield, who wrote “History is more than the whitewashed biographies of a favored few, and I have attempted to broaden the scope a bit.”

The Jefferson County Historical Society nonetheless took the time that evening to spotlight a few of its volunteers who have made crucial contributions over the years, with Mary Coney attributing Gary Kennedy’s successes as a host, sponsor and fundraiser for the society to his modesty and self-effacement.

“When Gary speaks, we listen,” Coney said. “When he hosts a dinner party, we go. When there is a donation to be made, we make it. Many of us here tonight are the poorer in our bank accounts because of Gary’s fundraising abilities, but are honored to be included as one of Gary’s many donors, helpers, neighbors and friends.”

Bill Tennant followed by honoring Norm Stevens and Linda Scott for introducing both the society and the history of the community to newcomers so engagingly.

Tennant credited Stevens’ stint on the front desk of the society with providing informative welcomes to those who stopped by, greeting them with what Tennant said was concern and fascinating anecdotes.

“For many people, their first impressions of us came from Norm’s warm, friendly voice and stories,” Tennant said.

Tennant likewise credited Scott, who passed away last year, with tackling tours of Uptown Port Townsend, when many would have preferred to cover Downtown. Tennant said Scott showed up punctually every other Sunday for 12 years, regardless of the size of her tour groups, to deliver her lessons with enthusiasm.


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