As settlers migrated across the country, they often chose locations near water. Washington State was no different – with many deep harbors and navigable rivers, towns sprung up throughout the state, dependent on access to water for movement of goods and people.
In 1889, the new state constitution declared that these beds of navigable waters belonged to the people, and gave the Legislature power to designate which of those beds would become harbors. In 1911, after citizens lobbied for the right to control access to the waterfront, the Legislature passed the Port District Act, allowing the people to form a port district and elect commissioners to govern it.
In September of 1911, the Port of Seattle was formed, becoming the first autonomous municipal corporation in the nation to engage in port terminal operation and commerce development. The Port of Grays Harbor was formed shortly thereafter. Since then, more than 80 port districts have formed in Washington, all contributing to the state’s healthy trade economy.
Port of Kalama also enjoys a rich history that weaves through time along waterways, railways and roadways to drive home why transportation continues to be the community’s mainstay today. The Columbia River attracted a steady stream of settlers like namesake Hawaiian John Kalama who arrived in Kalama in 1837 to act as a middleman between local Cowlitz Tribe and the Hudson Bay Company. In 1870, the Irish and Chinese arrived to work on the railroad. The Scandinavians with interests in fishing and logging settled in Kalama as well.
On Monday, December 22, 1919, a group of Kalama residents met at the Kalama Business Men’s Club to discuss the formation of a port district. By May, 1920, the Port of Kalama was born of a local election process. We’ll be honoring 100 years of service to the community during a Centennial Celebration next year!
Today highway, rail and water meet in Kalama at some of the most efficient transportation networks in the country. Kalama’s particular landscape gave birth to a booming transportation system impacting the area both culturally and economically—ultimately transforming the area into its position today as an internationally-connected community.
Currently, there are 75 public port districts in Washington. Large and small, east and west, Washington’s ports are active in many different areas of economic development, providing jobs and economic stimulation for their communities.
Thank you to the Washington Public Ports Association for some of this educational content.