Quilcene’s name is derived from the name of a band of the Twana indians – the Quilceed who lived in the area around the Big Quilcene River and Little Quilcene River. Both of these rivers flow into the Quilcene Bay first explored by members of the Wilkes Expedition in 1841 and called Kwil-sid.
The first settlers arrived around 1860 – among them one Hampden Cottle who was a logger from Maine. Mr. Cottle, no doubt, provided valuable experience to the newly founded town. The families successfully established the town of Quilcene, and it grew slowly reaching a population of 53 by 1880. Logging and farming were principal occupations then.
The period from 1880 to the first decade or so of the 20th century must have been pretty exciting in Quilcene. The Port Townsend and Southern Railroad had announced plans for a rail line between Port Townsend and Portland that would run through the town. The town grew to 274 in 1890 and, even after the planned railroad went bust in the mid-1890’s, Quilcene continued to grow. In the early 1900’s a Seattle mining company had plans for mining manganese, copper and other metals expected to be found in the Olympics. The Tubal Cain mine was established and a 2500 foot shaft was dug before the company abandoned it. You can still hike to the old mine site in the mountains behind Quilcene.
Between mining, logging, shingle manufacture and farming, Quilcene had grown to 483 people by 1910. After the demise of the mine around 1915, growth halted and between 1920 and 1940, Quilcene varied a few people either side of 385.
In 1911 the Federal government established a fish hatchery on the Quilcene River. In the 100 years of the hatchery history, it has raised coho, chum, pink, Chinook, and sockeye salmon, as well as brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout. Fish from the hatchery have been stocked into many streams and rivers flowing into Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The hatchery website describes early methods of raising fish where hatchery staff would hang parts of horse or cow carcasses over the fish pond. Flies would lay eggs in the decaying flesh and the maggots would fall off into the water, feeding the fish.
The Quilcene of today is a small, primarily residential, community in south Jefferson County. The population has grown a bit since the 1940’s and in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Quilcene had a population of 591. By the 2010 census, the population had reached 596. In addition to the hatchery which continues in operation, the town boasts an excellent historical museum and, since 1984, has been home to the Olympic Music Festival.
The citizens of Quilcene are active and engaged in their community. The Quilcene Fair, held each September, is about to enter its third decade and turns out the whole town and surrounding communities. Quilcene residents turned out in force to help refurbish and refit their community center between 2008 and 2010 and more recently, a series of community building efforts have been started through the “Quilcene Conversations.” The community has established a town motto “Pearl of the Peninsula” and has joined with Habitat for Humanity to help improve housing in the south county.
As a Washington home insurance agency, Homer Smith Insurance proudly serves the Quilcene area and admires the community spirit that is so evident in the town.