Eastern Jefferson County—a little bit of Haight Ashbury

by Tim Rensema, Guest Writer

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Many of our generation can remember the “flower power” age of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Probably some of the readers actually participated in the social turmoil of San Francisco and remember how Scott McKenzie’s song San Francisco captured the essence of the movement. Many rock bands and country rock bands evolved from this period. However, all good things come to an end, and many of the young (and some old) temporary visitors to Haight Ashbury relocated to other areas.

At that time Port Townsend was still recovering from the closing of military bases from the 1950s, but it had great weather (at least no snow in winter) and abandoned buildings encouraging many of these folks to relocate to this part of the Olympic Peninsula. Some moved to the deserted buildings of Port Townsend (which never really recovered from the depressions of 1890 and 1929) to the house boats of Mats Mats, and the deserted pioneer homes of Swansonville. Residents of the three areas have different memories of the movement, and indeed it may have not been one concerted movement from one site, but a general movement from San Francisco and other areas. Interestingly enough, Washington State was not the only area to benefit from the influx of the hippies. While doing a tour of a temporarily closed copper mine in Bisbee, AZ, the tour guide stated that the hippies that moved into Bisbee in the 1970s saved the town, as all the mines had closed and people were leaving. These folks established businesses and instilled a sense of community in Bisbee that continues today.

In Port Townsend, Hippie Hollow was “this residential hollow between the Port Townsend High School campus and Morgan Hill and was originally built by working men during the boom period of the late 1880s. The modest homes were neglected over the years, and by the 1970s their value was so low that many were purchased by members of the hippie movement. The neighborhood soon took the name Hippie Hollow, which has persisted, although most of the settlers of the 1970s have moved on.” City of Dreams, ed. Peter Simpson (1986) for Hippie Hollow and Town Tavern) 110. In downtown Port Townsend, the N.D. Hill building was purchased for $53,000 in 1973 by a psychology professor from the University of Oregon and two of his assistants as a democratically run bar, restaurant, and home for the wayward. In the 15,000 square feet of floor area, there was space for 38 rooms. Residents had to work twenty hours per week for room and board. While some drifters only stayed a few weeks, many decided to make a go of it and fully restored the building, even after a major fire in 1982.

Regarding Mats Mats, there is only a paragraph addressing the visit by hippies. In an article by Errol and Ginger Johnson of Mats Mats in An Abbreviated History of Mats Mats Bay (2010) they stated, “During the Vietnam War era, there were several commune boats of live-aboard hippies anchored in the bay and moored at the marina at the south end. Old-time residents fondly recall the young occupants of those vessels as friendly and helpful to the community, although the sheriff was called in and charged one of the boaters with indecent exposure for relieving himself in view of those onshore. Also, some bayside residents reported “pot gardens” growing on the decks of some of the boats.”

Even in Swansonville there was a migration in the late 60s to early 70s of folks of the hippie movement. It appeared that there were two types of migrants: those who, while not supporting the capitalist system, were willing to work for the common good and eventually became strong members of the community; and others, unfortunately, who were more into the drug culture and all the maladies that came with that. Some settled into the old farmsteads and others developed tent compounds. Locals state that some crimes increased in the area. These folks, however, were not long committed to the Swansonville area and eventually took off for greener pastures, or they may still exist to a very limited extent in the area. Others, who wanted to develop a community-based village, stayed and are now contributing to the rebirth of Swansonville.

Today, probably very few people under the age of 65 remember the events of Haight Ashbury, where music bands such as Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane influenced or were influenced by the culture there. Other songs by other artists referred to the “flowers in your hair,” but Scott McKenzie’s “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” was the first and most well-known lyric to represent the emotions and culture that existed in Haight Ashbury, even for that short time. However, the beliefs that were engendered by this experience made their way north to Jefferson County and still influence our lives today.

Photo by: Liftarn, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons