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The name is for the Native American people who once lived there, the Quil-ceed-a-bish. In 1841, the Wilkes Expedition charted the place as Kwil-sid. Other spellings that have been used are Kol-sids, Col-cene, Col-see-ed, and Cul-ah-seen. The tribal name means saltwater people.

The town centers along the river flats and straggles down to the water’s edge. The lowlands where the town now stands were settled in the late 1860s, when Samuel H. Cottle took up land there. Others soon joined him, putting up log cabins and starting small logging operations and farming. In the 1890s, the Port Townsend and Southern line was laid to Quilcene, and the hope that the town would become an important link led to a short-lived boom, which collapsed with the abandonment of plans for the rail line. By the 1940s, farming and dairying are the major sources of income for the community. Today, Quilcene is the district headquarters for the Forest Service.


Ca. 1925 view of the Lingerlonger Lodge at Quilcene.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1950 aerial view of Quilcene and surrounding area, looking east.

Source: General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005, Washington State Archives

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Quilcene Ranger Station

The USFS Quilcene Ranger Station Lower Compound is one of the oldest in the Olympic National Forest. The Quilcene Ranger Station represents the importance of the Forest Service to the management of the natural resources and to the economy of small communities, like Quilcene. The station was the Quilcene Ranger District’s field operations headquarters and offices from its creation in 1910. The Quilcene Ranger Station represents the federal government’s conservation and forest management programs of the New Deal era. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, new buildings were constructed on the site as the rangers carried out an expanding role in the management of public forest lands. The Quilcene Ranger Station retains six of its original buildings, as well as two buildings added in 1969.

Oatman House

Earl Oatman appears to have been in the right situation at the right time. The house is significant for its association with Mr. Oatman. In 1908, Earl Oatman began working for Louis Seitzinger in his store at Lower Quilcene. The store was called the Quilcene Trading Company and was established in 1895 by Seitzinger. Between 1910 and 1912, Oatman bought Seitzinger’s store. The store operated at Lower Quilcene until 1920 and was one of several that outfitted the miners of Tubal Cain on Iron Mountain. In 1913, Oatman built his house down the street from the store. The Quilcene Trading Company moved uptown along the Olympic Highway in 1920. In 1926, Earl Oatman became president of the First American National Bank of Port Townsend, a position he held until his death in 1957.

Hamilton-Worthington House

The house is associated with two prominent early pioneer settlers; Millard Fillmore Hamilton and William Jenner Worthington. Both came to the Hood Canal area of the Olympic Peninsula looking for opportunity for themselves and their families. Both men became influential in the formative years of early Quilcene and were significant contributors to the cultural life of the community. They were both eager to become productive citizens of this new, untamed and unexplored territory along the Hood Canal. Hamilton completed the nominated house in 1892, but due to the failing economy and the Great Depression of 1893, he lost the house and most of his financial holdings. Worthington purchased the house in 1907; raising his family of 8 children in the house and prosper in the community. Originally designed as a grand Second Empire style mansion, the home underwent a period remodel in 1932 attesting to the latest architectural trends and fashions of the day. Today it remains the only house of its age and style in rural Jefferson County.

Quilcene Bay

Quilcene Bay, an arm of Dabop Bay, is known for its oyster culture. Frequently in the propagation of oysters considerable difficulty is encountered in controlling the cultch, or spat, as the young oysters are called. The cultch at first floats in the water for ten days or more; then it attaches itself to some piece of gravel or shell. In many places the force of tidal currents, or the lack of protection from winds, results in the loss of the cultch before it secures an anchor; but the waters of Quilcene Bay recede without greatly endangering the cultch during its floating, unanchored period. The bay was charted as Kwil-sid Harbor by the Wilkes Expedition in 1841.