One hundred and forty-two years ago, a timber company built a sawmill and the town to operate it, Port Gamble, across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Wash. This October, the nation's oldest continually operating sawmill is closing. The company, Pope & Talbot, that built the mill and now leases it from Pope Resources Co., says high prices for logs and stringent environmental regulations have forced it out. Both company officials and residents predict that the new economic base of the town, population approximately 100, will be tourism.
The mill's closure did not come as a
surprise. After the night staff was laid off last spring, only 96
mill workers remained, down from 250 during the mill's heyday. Yet
residents not only worked at the mill for five generations, they
also lived in company houses, shopped at company stores and watched
movies at the company theater. Some sacrificed fingers and hearing
to the sawmill's teeth and roar.
Johnson Jr., a sawmill operator for 41 years, worries about the
transformation of his working town into a cluster of knick-knack
shops, restaurants and bed-and-breakfast inns. "It's going to be a
yuppie joint," he told The Oregonian. - Heather