Port Orchard is the county seat of Kitsap. But it was not always the county seat, nor was it always called Port Orchard.
Originally called Sidney, Port Orchard was platted in 1886 by Frederick Stevens, who named it after his father Sidney. The Illinois inventor, Sidney M. Stevens came west from DeKalb, IL for a family visit to the Long Lake area. He liked what he saw so much that he paid $900 for 88 1/2 acres with the intention of creating a town.
The boundaries were similar to those today-Sinclair Inlet on the north, Mitchell Road on the east, South Street on the south and one block west of Short Street on the west. Early industry was primarily lumber and the loggers that frequented the nine saloons in town. The town of Sidney was incorporated September 15, 1890, and was the first in Kitsap County to be both platted and incorporated.
Shortly after Sidney was platted, the Navy Department was looking for a site for a second naval installation on the Pacific Coast. Sidney residents took an active role in influencing the commission of the Port Orchard Navy Yard (now Puget Sound Naval Shipyard). A.H. Sroufe was a prime mover locally. He and Thomas Cline established the first newspaper in the county in 1886, calling it The Kitsap County Pioneer. Sroufe devoted weeks to touring with the Navy Commission and his persistance paid off when the Navy located the base in Orchard Bay over such communities as Seattle, Tacoma, Port Townsend, Bellingham (called Whatcom then), and others.
Local industrial plants that came during early development of Sidney included two steam sawmills (one at the foot of Grant and one on Bay Street), two shingle mills (one powered by steam and one by water on Black Jack Creek), and a pottery and terra cotta plant (located at the foot of Pottery Hill). As times changed, all of these businesses faded away and disappeared. Many had manufactured supplies for building the shipyard and then supplied the yard with its labor force.
Sidney's officials faced serious challenges from the beginning. In 1890, the town had no streets. It was divided into three sections by Pottery Creek and Black Jack Creek. Bay Street was flooded by the incoming tide twice a day. Since the town had no funds, a tax was put on saloons, polling and other privileges. Sidney Hill was graded; its dirt used for fill on part of Bay Street. A small trolley railroad was constructed from Rockwell Avenue over a salt marsh to the east side of Black Jack Creek. Later Rockwell Avenue was cut down and its sand used to fill the marsh.
The same year the Navy officially dedicated the Port Orchard Navy Yard, Sidney had its first big fire. The town lost the original Sidney Hotel and a couple of residences on Prospect Street. In 1894, all buildings on both sides of Bay between Sidney and Frederick were burned down.
When the county was first established, the county seat was placed in Port Madison. Sidney decided it wanted the county seat and at the general election in 1892, voters agreed since Sidney had such bright development prospects.
In the middle of all this growth and occasional disaster was a political fight of major proportions. Harry Masterman Orchard, ship's clerk attached to the flagship Discovery received credit for discovering the body of water that now bears his name. In December 1892, the people of Sidney requested the legislature and separately to the Post Office Department to change the name of their town to Port Orchard. The legislature refused. Charleston (now West Bremerton) had also requested the name of Port Orchard. Commander Morong requested the Navy yard mail be routed through the proposed Port Orchard post office.
Through a series of confusions and misunderstanding by various departments about the geography of this region, the Port Orchard post office ended up in Sidney and the Charleston post office was in Port Orchard. It stayed this way for ten years until Will Thompson, editor of the Sidney Independent, went into State legislature (1902-03) and succeeded in restoring the Charleston post office to Charleston and the Port Orchard post office to Port Orchard. In 1903 the legislature changed the name of Sidney to what we know it as today...Port Orchard.
The determination of the town was also noted in the location of the Veteran's Home. The legislature, in 1908 appropriated the monies for the home and the residents of Port Orchard dug into their personal cash reserves, bought the land and donated it to the State.
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 a month for each 16 candle power light. By 1915 Port Orchard had 266 telephones.
The first school in Sidney was built in 1889. Numerous schools dotted the South Kitsap landscape and school consolidation was bitterly fought, but was achieved and the South Kitsap Union High School opened in 1922.
Transportation depended on the water and in the early days was often by row boat until the introduction of steamer service in 1888. So many small boats dotted the waters they looked like a swarm of mosquitoes and thus got the name Mosquito Fleet.
Port Orchard Facts and Trivia
Population in July 2008: 7,953. Population change since 2000: +3.4%
|Males: 4,087 || (51.4%)|
|Females: 3,866 || (48.6%)|
|Median resident age: || 31.2 years|
|Washington median age: || 35.3 years|
Zip codes: 98366, 98367.
The latitude of Port Orchard is 47.540N. The longitude is -122.635W.
It is in the Pacific Standard time zone. Elevation is 72 feet.
Debbie Macomber, best-selling author, whose writing studio is located in the turret of a building (pictured at right, bottom) located in Port Orchard. Her series of books "Cedar Cove" are also loosely based on her hometown of Port Orchard.