Port Orchard is a city and the county seat of Kitsap County, Washington. It is located 13 miles due west of West Seattle and is connected to Seattle and Vashon Island via the Washington State Ferries run to Southworth.
The City of Port Orchard, originally the town of Sidney, was incorporated in 1890. Population, as of 2022, is 16,400.
The first European-Americans to settle in what is now Port Orchard, were William Renton and Daniel Howard, who set up a sawmill in 1854.
In 1885, inventor Sidney M. Stevens came west from Dekalb, Illinois, initially to visit family in the Long Lake area. He purchased a homestead of 88 1/2 acres for $900 in October, 1885, with the intention of starting a town. Mr. Stevens instead returned to Illinois.
The following year his son, Frederick Stevens, came west and platted the town, naming it after his father. The town of Sidney was incorporated on September 15, 1890, becoming the first town in Kitsap County to be both platted and incorporated.
Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Navy sought a suitable location for another installation on the west coast and found it with the assistance of Sidney’s residents in Orchard Bay (which would later become the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton).
The county seat was originally in Port Madison. Voters decided to make Sidney the county seat in the general election of 1892. In December of 1892 the residents of Sidney petitioned the state legislature and the Post Office Department to rename the city to “Port Orchard”. The legislature refused, as Charleston (now West Bremerton) had also requested the name.
The Post Office Department, however, went through with the name change and as a result, the Port Orchard post office ended up in Sidney and the Charleston post office ended up in Port Orchard. It wasn’t until 1903 that local politician Will Thompson convinced the state legislature to correct this confusing situation and relocated the Charleston post office to Charleston, at the same time renaming Sidney, “Port Orchard”, as it is known today.
Transportation around the area was dependent upon the water. Small communities started to spring up along the sound: Retsil, Annapolis, Manette, Southworth, Manchester, Olalla, etc. Row boats were the original form of transportation until 1888 when a steamer service was started on Puget Sound. So many small boats dotted the waters that they supposedly looked like a swarm of mosquitoes. Thus the name the Mosquito Fleet was coined. The foot ferry service is still used today to connect Port Orchard and Annapolis to Bremerton.
Sidney faced serious challenges from the beginning. In 1890, the town had no streets and was divided into three sections by Pottery Creek and Black Jack Creek. The main thoroughfare, Bay Street, was inundated by salt water every time the tide came in. With no money for imporivements, a license was placed on saloons, a poll tax was imposed, and small charges were made for other privileges in the town, to aid in accomplishing the much needed street work.
The first streets to reap attention were Sidney and Cline. The dirt from these two streets made a fill 16 feet wide along the waterfront to Harrison Street. A wagon road was graded from Harrison to Rockwell. A small trolley railroad was constructed from Rockwell Avenue over a salt marsh to the east side of Black Jack Creek. Then Rockwell (locally known as Sand Cut Hill) was graded and filled in the salt marsh. The “sand cut” deposited hundreds of tons of sand across Bay Street every time there was a heavy rainfall. This condition existed until Rockwell was finally black-topped and gutters installed.
The citizens of Port Orchard donated two pieces of property to help the community grow. The first was the land for the county seat. They also built a courthouse and deeded it to the county. That was an undertaking in a time when cash was scarce. The second was purchased land for the Retsil Veteran’s Home. The Washington State Legislature appropriated money for a veteran’s home in 1908. The city presented the land to the state and this gesture played an important part in the decision to locate the home here.
Population of Port Orchard
Port Orchard’s first water system was on Black Jack Creek in 1911. During the 1920’s, this was converted to artesian for more and better water. Electric lights arrived in 1912. The rate maximum was $1 per month for each 16-candle power light. By 1915, Port Orchard had 266 telephones.
Downtown Port Orchard
A new city hall was opened in May, 1999, replacing a seismically vulnerable building constructed in 1947. It was to be a catalyst for new development in the city’s downtown.
In the not-too-distant future, the South Kitsap Community Events Center will provide a central gathering place and multi-purpose facility in downtown Port Orchard that will support a multitude of functions for local and regional use. The facility will house the City’s Regional Library branch and support the community through public use of event and meeting space both large and small. The City of Port Orchard is excited to share these new exterior design concepts for the future Community Events Center on Bay St.
The Tornado of 2018
On December 18, 2018, a cul-de-sac in Port Orchard was struck by an EF2 tornado with winds between 120 and 130 miles per hour, the strongest tornado in Washington since 1986. The tornado uprooted trees and damaged up to 450 homes and businesses, some of which sustained total roof loss.