When you arrive at Port Townsend your first instinct is to sell everything you own, throw caution to the wind, and move there. You imagine opening a charming little candle or book shop in one of the many historical buildings which line the streets. You imagine the cool ocean breeze rustling the curtains in your living room window on balmy summer days, and cuddling up with a warm blanket by the fire bingeing your favorite Netflix shows on cold winter nights.
You can see a life here, because the beauty, charm, and rich history of the town draw you in and you can’t imagine living anywhere else.
But looks can be deceiving.
Despite your initial impression of Port Townsend as a lovely seaside community,
isolated from the bustle of mainland life, things weren’t always so quaint.
Not unlike many other towns in the United States which popped up during the end of the 19th century, Port Townsend was born from a violent beginning. A beginning which involved murder, human trafficking, and in one instance, the sale of corpses to the local mortician.
Perhaps one of the most notorious locations in Port Townsend is The Palace Hotel. Built in 1889 by Captain Tibbals, this beautiful three story brick building was once a prominent brothel, until it was shut down in the 1930’s. From what we have discovered through general searches and inquires, the stories of the hotel which was once called “The Palace of Sweets” is told only as a biography of sorts, telling the story of the journey of the Victorian building more than the tale of its many occupants.
If one dares find out the details of those who once called The Palace home, you’ll be shocked to learn that beneath its beautiful façade are stories of terror, heartache, violence, and loss.
It was on a recent tour of The Palace Hotel that we discovered that the Hotel was once a brothel, but also that many of the young women who were prostitutes there were often the victims of human trafficking, were isolated and unable to contact their families, and in some cases were no more than 14 years old. Stories of miscarriages, beatings, and even corruption are not uncommon. When walking through the second floor hallway, one is reminded of the past when stepping on a creaking floorboard beneath the burgundy carpet, the spot where there was once a trapdoor so that unsuspecting sailors could be robbed and dumped into the tunnels below the town, their unconscious and sometimes lifeless bodies dragged back to the docks.
Each of the rooms at the hotel is brandished with the name of one of the many women who had no choice but to call the then “Palace of Sweets” their home. With nowhere else to go, and some of them disowned by their families because of what they had become, they did the only thing they could given their circumstances.