The Port of Bremerton is located in western Washington in the United States about 13 kilometers west-southwest of the Port of Seattle and some 75 kilometers southeast of the Port of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Lying on the shores of Port Orchard Bay, the Port of Bremerton is connected to Seattle by ferry across Puget Sound. In 2000, over 37 thousand people lived in the Port of Bremerton, and almost 232 thousand called the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton metropolitan area home.
A 20th Century city, Port of Bremerton is home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which provides much of the city's employment. The dairy and lumber industries are also important to the local Port of Bremerton economy. As the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula recreational areas, the Port of Bremerton also has considerable tourism.
Before Europeans entered the Port of Bremerton area, the Suquamish peoples lived along the Kitsap Peninsula. Today, some six thousand descendents of those people live in the Port Madison Indian Reservation towns of Suquamish and Indianola. The Suquamish people had lived in Central Puget Sound for some ten thousand years, living on salmon, cod, clams, berries, roots, ducks, and deer.
Their first recorded contact with outsiders was in 1792 when British explorer George Vancouver anchored off Bainbridge Island to trade with the people and survey their waters. Fur traders and missionaries, and then settlers, came into the area in the first half of the 19th Century. The Suquamish people began to cut and deliver logs to the settlers' mills to earn a living.
German-born William Bremer first platted the town site in 1891, three years after a US Navy commission announced that the area was the best site for a shipyard in the Pacific Northwest. Speculating on the expected growth that would result from a new shipyard, Bremer and his partner bought 190 acres of undeveloped land and sold it to the U.S. government, establishing the initial area of the Puget Sound Navy Yard.
The Port of Bremerton was officially incorporated in 1901. The next year, Navy Secretary Charles Darling decided to move repair work to California's Mare Island Navy Yard, bring a serious crisis to the new Port of Bremerton. Darling was concerned with the many opium houses, prostitutes, and robberies in the Port of Bremerton. A political battle ensued between the mayor, who wanted to close the saloons, and some of the city council who wanted the saloons left open. The mayor won the debate, and the city council revoked liquor licenses in 1904. The action convinced Secretary Darling to return to the navy yard. Within two years, the saloons were operating again.
By 1908, the Port of Bremerton had a library and a high school that served its almost 3,000 residents. Population growth reflected the level of activity at the Navy Yard. During World War I, submarine construction and the 1918 annexation of nearby Manette pushed population to almost 9,000. The 1920 census identified almost nine thousand people residing in the Port of Bremerton. When the city absorbed neighboring Charleston in 1927, the Port of Bremerton population exceeded 10,000.
In the 1940s, during World War II, about 80,000 residents called Port of Bremerton home, most of them working at the ship yard. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman visited the shipyard during the war, reflecting its importance to the war effort. Roosevelt made a campaign stop at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1944, delivering a national radio address before the civilian workers there.
The Port of Bremerton opened a two-year college in 1946 to serve World War II GIs as they returned home. President Truman attended the first commencement and received the college's first diploma. Rumor claims that the first "Give 'em hell, Harry" was uttered from the crowd at the Port of Bremerton. After the end of World War II, the Port of Bremerton's population shrank to less than 28,000 in 1950.
From 1950 to 1970, the Port of Bremerton experienced stable growth. They opened a second high school and expanded the Port Washington Narrows Bridge to accommodate more traffic. The battleship where Japan signed the treaty ending World War II was docked in the Port of Bremerton in 1955, and the USS Missouri was the city's main tourist attraction until 1985 when it was recomissioned.
By 1960, Port of Bremerton population was slightly less than it had been a decade earlier. City leaders annexed the shipyard to be able to include the sailors stationed there in their census figures. In the later 1960s, when many other places in the country experienced civil disobedience and violence in protest of the Vietnam War, the Port of Bremerton remained relatively free of civil disorder.
In the 1970s, the city suffered from movement of US military properties away from the Port of Bremerton to the Bangor Ammunition Depot some 19 kilometers to the northwest. Edward Bremer, who had inherited most of the city's commercial space from William Bremer, neglected the properties, and the whole downtown area of the Port of Bremerton was designated a blighted area by the City Council in 1978.
The city's decline continued into the 1980s when a new mall was built in the competing town of Silverdale to the north. As a result of the new Kitsap Mall in Siverdale, companies that had been located there (including Nordstrom, Sears, Montgomery Ward, JC Penney, Woolworth, and Rite Aid) closed their doors in the Port of Bremerton's downtown area. When Bremer passed away in 1987, his properties were given to the control of an Olympic College trust. Not in the development business, the college did little to stimulate recovery of downtown, and the area became a ghost town of empty storefronts, many remaining closed to the present.
In 1992, the Port of Bremerton began an effort to revitalize the downtown area, constructing a waterfront boardwalk. At the same time, the USS Turner Joy (one of the ships in the Gulf of Tonkin at the beginning of the Vietnam War) was opened to public tours. Then in the early 2000s, the city opened a bus-ferry terminal and hotel-conference center complex to bring more visitors to the Port of Bremerton.
During the first years of the 21st Century, the Port of Bremerton has been troubled by several unpleasant incidents involving street gangs and violence and other misfortunes. Despite these troubles, the Port of Bremerton opened a waterfront multi-modal bus/ferry terminal and a hotel and conference complex in 2004. A new high-rise government office building opened that year as well.
In 2007, the Waterfront Fountain Park and Naval History Museum opened near the Port of Bremerton's new bus/ferry terminal. The expanded marina opened in 2008. Condominiums have appeared at the downtown waterfront. A new underground tunnel has made travel on the ferry easier and has allowed for a more pedestrian-friendly downtown. Above the tunnel, the fountain park contains tributes to the workers of the Bremerton Naval Shipyard.
Since 1990, the Port of Bremerton's annual autumn Blackberry Festival has enlivened the waterfront boardwalk. Shopkeepers, residents, and growers bring their wares to the annual event, and everyone enjoys free music and street performances over the three-day festival. The event includes a run and a bike race, and the local airport provides shuttle service to the festival.