We love being a part of the thriving community of Bremerton, WA, a physically beautiful and historically significant city in the greater Puget Sound region. Before it became the United States Navy’s premier shipyard in the Pacific Northwest, the area already had a long and rich history as part of the territory of the local Suquamish tribe.
Today, we owe much of our knowledge about the area to the diligent historians of the Kitsap County Historical Society Museum (website here). The Museum is a tribute to the story of the region, and what’s more its ongoing events and presentations serve to give important topics a public forum.
It’s well worth a special visit (on top of another great reason to visit Bremerton). Let’s dive into its story and share just a taste of what makes Bremerton so special!
Kitsap County Historical Society Museum: Early Regional History
For many early Americans, the Pacific Northwest represented the final frontier on the route to a unified nation, but it’s important to remember that the area was already populated when Captain George Vancouver, an English naval officer, visited and charted the region between 1791 and 1795. The dominant tribe here were called the Suquamish, and you’ll recognize some of its prominent leaders by name: Vancouver met Kitsap, a Suquamish war chief, in 1791. At that time, a future chief named “Seattle” was roughly 5 years old.
The Kitsap County Historical Society Museum contains many artifacts from the days when the Suquamish were the only game in town, including early tools, baskets and other implements essential to the Suquamish peoples’ pre-industrial lifestyle. But it’s closer to the turn of the 20th century when Bremerton’s story really kicked into high gear.
Kitsap County Historical Society Museum: The Golden Age of Logging and Shipping
For the first few decades of white settlement, fur trapping and logging were the dominant industries, and the Museum does a splendid job in evoking the spirit and feel of the time with artifacts, interactive exhibits, and dense historical records. You’ll find the very same tools used by loggers and woodsmen, and wonder at the intensely difficult—and dangerous—work required to bring massive timber to the market.
This was also the time Bremerton took on immense significance as the Navy’s premier shipyard in the region, beginning with the Navy’s purchase of waterfront acreage in 1891. A decade later, the town of Bremerton was officially incorporated, but that’s perhaps where its troubles began.
You might find it hard to imagine today, but Bremerton boasted a very “Wild West” feel. According to official reports from naval commanders, the Bremerton waterfront was rife with prostitution, opium dens, and frequent robberies and assaults upon sailors, and the Navy responded by halting all work at the shipyard. Once the city’s first mayor, Alvyn Croxton, temporarily shuttered the town’s saloons, the Navy relented and the city’s future was once again secure. Soon Bremerton would become the powerhouse of naval industry it remains to this day.
There’s much more to the story, of course, and you can find it all at the Kitsap County Historical Society Museum. Housed in a historic 1950s Deco building, the Museum is a rare blend of deep history and genuine fun. For younger guests, the building also houses the Valentinetti Puppet Museum.
After filling your brain with local history, don't forget to stop by your favorite Bremerton dispensary!