The Port of Grays Harbor is about 72 kilometers (42 miles) north of the Columbia River. Grays Harbor is an estuarine bay on Washington's Pacific Coast fed by the Chehalis, Hoquiam, and Humptulips Rivers. The Port of Grays Harbor is located within the City of Aberdeen about 1.3 nautical miles (2 kilometers or 1.2 miles southeast) from Hoaquim Harbor. The Port of Grays Harbor is about 130 kilometers (82 miles) southwest of the Port of Seattle. The Port of Grays Harbor is separated from the Pacific Ocean by two low peninsulas with a three-kilometer (two-mile) opening to the bay. The Port of Grays Harbor is about five kilometers (three miles) east of the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, a 600-hectare area of salt marsh, intertidal mudflats, and uplands.
Before Europeans settled in the Port of Grays Harbor area, two groups of Salish-speaking people lived on the Chehalis River: the Upper and Lower Chehalis. The Chehalis depended on the salmon and other resources of the river. They lived in long houses and thrived on the abundant natural resources of the area.
In 1860, the Chehalis were settled on today's 1.9-hectare Chehalis Indian Reservation about 54 kilometers (34 miles) southeast of the Port of Grays Harbor on the Chehalis River. The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation is a federally-recognized tribe that thrives on tribal businesses like their Lucky Eagle Casino and Eagles Landing Hotel.
In 1792, Captain Robert Gray entered Grays Harbor during one of his fur-trading voyages in the Pacific Northwest. White settlers came to the future Port of Grays Harbor area in the 1870s. The first settlers were loggers from the East and Midwest United States seeking resources for the lumber industry. Other early settlers included Scandinavians and Finns.
The economic center of Grays Harbor is the City of Aberdeen. Incorporated in 1890, Aberdeen is home to almost 17 thousand people. The first sawmill was built in 1894, and a spur of the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1895. By the 1900s, Aberdeen was well known for its saloons, gambling halls, and cat houses. Nicknamed "The Hellhole of the Pacific" and "The Port of Missing Men," it had a high murder rate. During the Great Depression, many of the city's sawmills closed, and those that remained hired immigrants to maintain low-wage costs. By the 1970s, most of the area's timber had been logged, and the last of the sawmills closed in the 1980s.