Hidden away in what midshipman Joseph Sandford described as a “pretty little bay that is concealed from the Sound” is the town of Gig Harbor, Washington. Sandford served aboard the U.S.S. Porpoise, part of a surveying expedition sent by the U.S. Navy in 1841 to explore Puget Sound. The crew discovered a small village inhabited by the Twa-Wal-Kut people, who were living the traditional way, catching and cooking salmon on the beach. It was more than 20 years later when three fishermen slipped past the sand pit into the bay, either looking for a place to spend the night, or blown in by a storm (accounts vary). They liked the harbor so much that they decided to stay. The three—Samuel Jerisich, Peter Goldsmith, and John Farrague—claimed land around Donkey Creek and started fishing the plentiful waters of Gig Harbor.
The town grew with fishing, logging, and ship building as the main industries. Gig Harbor was hit hard during the Great Depression, but locals could always find plenty of fish to eat. By the 1950s, Gig Harbor was much like any small American town, the only exception being that boats were the transportation of choice. The local fishing industry declined through the 1970s, tourist attractions and B&Bs have since sprung up to fill the void.
Today, Gig Harbor’s population numbers around 7,000 and spreads out much farther north and south than the original settlement. The historic waterfront is filled with restaurants and marinas, but locals have preserved 17 net sheds as a monument to Gig Harbor’s past. Not many towns on the water have had the foresight to so successfully utilize their historic waterfronts. Tourists wander the streets dining at any number of charming restaurants, shopping in small boutiques, or just pausing and imagining the little fishing village of a century ago. If you find yourself cruising by, check out all that Gig Harbor has to offer.