Shelton, Hammersley Inlet

Shelton, Hammersley Inlet

by | Nov 22, 2021

Shelton is a community located on the southwest shore of Oakland Bay, an estuary connected to South Puget Sound by Hammersley Inlet, about 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Seattle and 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Olympia, Washington. Hammersley Inlet is about 9 miles (15 km) long with an average width of only 1,200 feet (366 m) and rapidly flowing water during the tide cycle that can reach velocities of 5 knots (9 kph). The circulation creates good conditions for shellfish production and the inlet is known for having abundant clams and oysters, although Puget Sound south of the Tacoma Narrows has limited water exchange with the Pacific Ocean leading to issues with eutrophication. The archaeological record indicates that continuous human occupation of the area began approximately ten thousand years ago by ancestors of the Coast Salish people. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver sent Lieutenant Peter Puget into the southern basin in search of the Northwest Passage. Puget was likely the first European to explore and chart the southern reaches of the sound and likely made first contact with the indigenous inhabitants. In 1832, the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Nisqually, and in 1841, Hammersley Inlet was named by Charles Wilkes during the U.S. Exploring Expedition for George W. Hammersley, one of the expedition’s midshipmen. In 1846, the Oregon Country was divided between the United Kingdom and the United States with the boundary set at 49 degrees north latitude. Lands south of the border became the Oregon Territory. Agitation by settlers in favor of self-government developed in the Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River and in 1853, the Washington Territory was established and Isaac Stevens was appointed governor.  He was directly responsible for all Native American affairs including making treaties to acquire land for the U.S. In 1854, Stevens called a meeting of the tribes inhabiting South Puget Sound resulting in the Treaty of Medicine Creek that ceded tribal lands to the U.S. and relocated the tribes to reservations. One of the tribes inhabiting the southern reaches of Puget Sound called themselves ‘People of the Waters’, a Lushootseed-speaking band. They ceded 4,000 square miles (1,035,995 ha) of land including all of Oakland Bay and Hammersley Inlet and retained only one small island that became known as Squaxin Island.

David Shelton was born in North Carolina in 1812 and moved to Missouri before traveling the Oregon Trail in 1847 with his wife Francis and their children. They settled first near the fledgling town of Portland, and in 1852, they journeyed to Puget Sound on the Mary Taylor, a schooner of 60 feet, and arrived at the small settlement of Olympia on March 1, 1852. David Shelton was soon elected to serve on the Olympia district’s first board of commissioners, serving all the country south of the Nisqually River. In 1853, the Shelton family moved north to ‘Big Skookum Bay’, now called Oakland Bay, at the head of Hammersley Inlet. David and Francis claimed their land allotment under the Donation Land Claim Act that allowed 320 acres (129 ha) per person. Frances Shelton’s portion of the claim covered the ‘flat’ at the mouth of Goldsborough Creek on the southwestern shore of Oakland Bay. David Shelton’s portion covered the adjoining land north of the creek. Over time, the Sheltons continued to purchase land, augmenting their land claim with heavily timbered parcels of 20 or 40 acres (8-16 ha). David Shelton was a delegate of the First Territorial Legislature. In 1854, the legislature created a new county, which Shelton named ‘Sawamish’ County after a local tribe, that encompassed all the land west to the Pacific Ocean. In 1864, the county was renamed Mason County by the territorial legislature after the late Charles H. Mason, Territorial Secretary of State and Acting Governor during the Indian Wars. Before the current system of interconnected roads, the remote settlement of Shelton was served by a small fleet of steamboats, part of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Starting in the mid 19th century, a large number of private transportation companies were running passenger and freight boats on Puget Sound and nearby waterways and rivers. These boats served the many small coastal communities and were vital to the local economy until roads were built.

The remoteness of Oakland Bay allowed the timber surrounding Shelton to remain uncut for decades after the land was settled by Euro-Americans.  In 1883, William H. Kneeland built a sawmill in the woods and a flume to Oakland Bay and began milling lumber. Kneeland also built a logging railroad, the Mason County Central, to transport harvested trees to the mill, but he was not able to make the business profitable. Investors from Seattle, realizing the area’s wealth of timber, approached David Shelton with the idea of using his land to build a sawmill. Shelton agreed, platted his land, and began selling residential lots for the new town that quickly developed around the mill and the terminus of the logging railroad called the Goldsborough Creek Railroad Company. Shelton donated the land for a new county courthouse when the county seat was moved on April 28, 1888. He also donated land for several churches and a school. In 1891, the logging railroad went bankrupt, and Alfred H. Anderson reorganized the line as the Washington Central, which later became the Peninsula Railroad. In 1900, Sol Simpson, who was the logging railroad operator for Anderson, and Simpson’s son-in-law Mark Reed founded what would become the Simpson Lumber Company. The firm eventually became the second-largest timber holder in the state, after Weyerhaeuser. Mark Reed became a long-serving state legislator and was instrumental in securing appropriations for the Olympic Highway. Logging camps soon proliferated in the old-growth forest surrounding Shelton. When one stand of timber was clear cut, the logging shacks were loaded onto flatbed railcars and moved to the next dense stand of trees. Men from Quebec, New York, Wisconsin and Michigan, Ireland, England, and Finland, mostly young and unmarried, made Shelton a notorious town of saloons and brothels. In 1946, Simpson Lumber Company signed an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service that placed the company’s lands and adjacent national forest lands under unified management. The agreement gave Simpson Lumber all sales from the reserved area through 2046. Read more here and here. Explore more of Shelton here:

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