Geologically the area sits along a long and narrow glacial morraine called the Ediz Hook that projects northeast for 3 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca making a large natural deep-water harbor shielded from storms and swells with depths perfect for large ocean-going vessels, tankers, and cruise ships. On a clear day one can see Victoria, British Columbia across the Strait.
The region that is today called “Port Angeles” was a natural harbor area populated by a variety of Indigenous peoples who hunted, fished, and camped in the area. It was the site for the Tse-Whit-Zen village of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe as a major ceremonial center dating back almost 8,000 B.C.E. It is believed that European contact with diseases and Smallpox suddenly decimated the Native populations upon contact in 1780 and 1835.
It was first encountered in 1791 by European explorers, first by Spain’s Francisco de Eliza. Francisco named the area “Puerto de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles” (The Port of Our Lady of the Angels). It was first claimed by Spain after this explorer’s claim. The name for the area was later shortened to “Port Angeles”. As Europeans traveled in the region, they attempted trade with the Indigenous inhabitants with some success. In the 19th century Euro-Americans began settling in the area with fishing, whaling, and shipping as its industry. In 1856 a village was established conducting shipping and trade between America and Victoria British Columbia. In 1859 the Cherbourg Land Company established a settlement. The Salmon Chase protege “Victor Smith” whose position was to collect customs in the Puget Sound decided to move the Port of Entry from Port Townsend to Port Angeles. He also convinced President Abraham Lincoln to designate over 3,500 acres as a Federal Reserve utilizing the space for military and naval purposes as well as building a lighthouse. Shortly thereafter, the Military established a Federal town site under guidance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who established the street grids that still exist today. Settlers followed the Government occupation and creation of the port of entry. When Smith passed by the sinking of the Brother Jonathen, interest in the area dissolved leading to economic downfalls. The Port of Entry was returned to Port Townsend.
The town got a renewed interest of settlement by 1884 with the establishment of a wharf, trading post, general store, and hotel. As ferries traveled to the area it became another port of Entry again. The population grew from 300 inhabitants in 1886 to 3,000 residents by 1890. By 1914 it became a central hub for the logging and tree foresting industry seeing the construction of a large mill and railway. When the Hood Canal Bridge was established in 1961 more tourism and visitors came to the area, especially for the outdoor recreation opportunities from the Olympic National Park and rain forests. Fishing and boating became very popular along the Strait of Juan de Fuca as well. By the late 80’s most of the mills shut down and tourism became the main industry.
2003 saw construction of the Graving Dock Project involving over 275 million for construction as part of the Hood Canal Bridge East half Replacement Project. In 2004 the project was abandoned as unfortunately an enormous amount of human remains and Native American artifacts were encountered during construction discovering the largest prehistoric Indian village and burial ground at the time for the United States. With over 300 graves and over 785 human bones, ritual and ceremonial artifacts the area received notable awareness as the Tse-Whit-Zen village of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
Today Port Angeles is a major city along the Olympic Peninsula offering shopping, commerce, events, tourism, and industry to the region. It is located along the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula bordering the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The city sits within the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains offering less rain than the remainder of western Washington with an approximate 25 inches a year of precipitation. It offers maritime Mediterranean-like climate with temperatures of 25-80 degrees but is vulnerable to windstorms, Arctic cold fronts, and approximately 4 inches of snow each year hosting cool summers and mild winters. It is the central headquarters for the Olympic National Park that was established during the Great Depression in 1938. Today it has an estimated population of around 20,000 (census 2010 – 19,038 residents).