Seattle Now & Then: Clallam County Courthouse, 1914

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The nearly completed Clallam County Courthouse looms above the Lincoln Street ravine, whose elevated plank roadway provided temporary passage during the extensive regrading. Snow-topped Olympics suggest that this exposure is from late fall of 1914. The four-faced clock’s maker, E. Howard and Co., also supplied Seattle’s King Street Station Tower clock (1906). (Paul Dorpat collection)
NOW: Today’s courthouse at 319 Lincoln St. continues to house county administrative departments, the county prosecutor and county permitting office as well as courtrooms in use today. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. On this late summer day, the Olympics are largely smothered in smoke. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in The Seattle Times online on Sept. 16, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Sept. 19, 2021)

Tower lets Port Angeles hear a regular ring of promise

By Jean Sherrard

On a warm evening in mid-August, smoke from hundreds of British Columbian fires had crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca, turning the sun an unsettling red over Port Angeles, where I’d paused for a photo and a bite to eat. Offering solace, the Clallam County courthouse bell tolled the hour as it had for over a century.

For Port Angeles, 1914 was a banner year, pregnant with promise. A gleaming hydroelectric dam had just been erected on the Elwha River, supplying the county seat’s electrical needs. The city’s first large sawmill was built on the waterfront and connected by rail to stands of virgin timber to the west. A vast regrade was well under way, raising the waterfront, filling gullies and lowering the steeper hills. And work on the new courthouse, featured in our “Then” photo, was largely complete.

Evidence of the area’s human habitation reaches back almost three millennia, with two Klallam villages sharing the harbor for at least 400 years. They called it I’e’nis (reportedly meaning “good beach”), which morphed into two names now in use: Ediz Hook (the city’s long and protective signature sand spit jutting east into the Strait) and snow-fed Ennis Creek, which empties into the bay.

Port Angeles’ natural, deep-water harbor was noted by Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza in 1791 and dubbed Puerto de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Port of Our Lady of the Angels). One year later, British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver, a staunch Anglican, shortened the name to its current two words.

In the mid-1850s, the first permanent white settlers arrived, staking Donation Land Act claims near Native villages. Over succeeding decades, land speculators, shady political operators, a utopian colony and pulp and paper mill operations flourished while ejecting the Klallam from their ancestral homes.

Designed by early 20th century Seattle architect Francis W. Grant, the two-story neo-classical brick and terra cotta-trimmed courthouse was nothing if not aspirational. Built to replace a wooden structure destabilized by the regrade, its graceful, sturdy lines reflected bright boomtown hopes. Locals also appreciated its rock-bottom price of $64,000.

The four-faced clock/bell tower — today proudly featured on the Clallam County seal — was installed after a serendipitous discovery. Francis Grant unearthed an unclaimed, Boston-based E. Howard and Co. clock, manufactured in 1880 and shipped around Cape Horn to Seattle. It languished in storage for decades until the architect encouraged Clallam County to pick it up for a $5,115 song.

It continues to sing to this day, faithfully striking every half hour.


No 360 video this week due to the theft of my monopod on a beach near La Push. However, a few oceanside photos may help salve the loss.

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Clallam County Courthouse, 1914”

  1. Thank you for this. I grew up in Seattle but now live in Clallam County, I’ve been to this courthouse many times, for both genealogical research and for jury duty.

  2. Is there any information about who originally ordered this clock and why such a beautiful piece of workmanship languished in a Seattle storage facility for almost 35 years.

    1. Nothing that I could track down, Mark. Fogs of history sometimes never clear. FYI The four-sided clock atop King Street Station tower is by the same maker.

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