Manchester: The Tenacious Village with a Historical Past.

The Inn, which was situated on the Southernmost part of the Manchester shoreline near Hemlock Street, was a drawing card for wealthy visitors beginning in 1906. Since the first phone lines were installed in 1909, this photo is probably from that time. The establishment fell on hard times during the Great Depression and was allegedly burned by the womenfolk of Manchester in 1935 when it was found that the building was being used as a bordello. From KCHS Archives.

By Russell Neyman.

WHILE OTHER EARLY SETTLEMENTS in Southern Kitsap County have slipped away and allowed progress to pass them by, the community of Manchester has tenaciously — stubbornly, some might say — held onto its historical roots on the Northernmost border of Yukon Harbor. There have been many, many starts and stops for this small village. It is unique in that it has never has one single enterprise or industry to serve as a centerpoint for prosperity.

Homesteaded by the Isaac Ellis family in the 1870’s, the town was initially named “Brooklyn” and commerce surrounded a small lumber mill run by James and Mary Hall. For the first dozen years of settlement, growth was fairly stagnant as transportation and civilized infrastructure was lacking. The nearest established town, Colby Village, was less than two miles to the South but could only be reached by boat or footpath. The deep creeks, streams and tenacious undergrowth, exacerbated by the mess left behind by loggers, made passage akin to traversing a jungle. By 1885 Colby provided the much-needed school, church, and shipping facilities to support families, and Manchester slowly began to grow. However, the timber ran out causing the sawmill to falter, so the locals briefly turned to boatbuilding and fishing as an economic base. Neither proved successful for very long.

This panoramic view of the Manchester area shows the Curley Creek estuary (far left), the Manchester Inn (just to the left of center), and a smaller Denniston’s Store (white building, far right, with pier next to it). From Manchester Memories. Click to Enlarge

In 1892 they re-named the town “Manchester” after the famous English shipbuilding city, hoping to entice the Navy to build a facility here. This choice was probably influenced by the large number of British settlers here, too. It marked a fresh start for the struggling community. Then, around 1900, the concept of vacation lots for wealthy Seattlites caught on, and speculators bought up parcels along the hillside above the current town and offered them for sale. For a mere $100, a family could escape the hustle and bustle of Seattle, and have a perfect view of Puget Sound’s largest city from just a few miles away. They pitched tents or built small cabins on the lots, visiting when the weather was agreeable.

With that as a starting point, commerce began to re-emerge. A large hotel, The Manchester Inn was built on the water’s edge in 1906 and about the same time Samuel Denniston built a General Store where the current boat launch dock now stands. Not long after that, the townspeople of Manchester built their own churches and their own schoolhouse. It was no longer dependent on Colby for an infrastructure. The fledgling town had progressed to a point where it was self-sufficient and here to stay.

One of the primary lumber operations was located on hillside above Clam Bay, which can be seen in the distance.

Progress, yes, but it was still a struggle for the young town, and the toehold of civilization here was a chancy proposition. The original Manchester Post Office, created in 1893, defaulted after just a few years, then was re-established by Denniston at his new store. Lumber milling operations came and went, and the boating building enterprises could not make a go of it. But Manchester had a commodity that nearby Colby did not have: taverns. The city fathers there were vocally opposed to the consumption of alcohol — visitors were greeted by a large Temperance Hall at the end of the Colby pier — so Manchester was quick to provide such entertainment for the sailors and lumberman of the region, with as many as four taverns operating by the end of the 1920’s. The town developed a reputation as “colorful” and had more than a few unsavory characters. This came to a sudden stop, of course, with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibited the sale of alcohol.

The United State Navy Fuel Depot, shown here under construction, gave Manchester a permanent business base in the years leading up to World War II. Click to enlarge.

Not that all of the wild life disappeared in the Prohibition Era. Bootleggers and rum-runners set up business at nearby Blake Island, so determined locals still enjoyed bending an elbow behind closed doors. but the taverns were forced to leave. This lasted until 1933.

Despite this setback, two simultaneous developments took place that stabilized the economy. In 1925, growth exploded with the advent of the automobile ferry, and Manchester became a jumping off point for travelers and businesspeople with the construction of one of the Olympic Peninsula’s first ferry piers. It was long and narrow and was located adjacent to Denniston’s Store at the end of Main Street. At the same time a new real estate concept came to life on the old timber property between Colby and Manchester in the form of the “Colchester Tract,” the name created as a hybrid of the two names. The development included a drive-able road through to Mile Hill Road and plenty of commerce. This brought new life to Manchester but was the death knell for other communities. Colby, once the “big brother” just down the road, withered away. Harper died, too. Commerce to this part of the county passed through Manchester.

In the mid-1930’s, the ferry fleet exploded, ending the need for the traditional steamers of the Mosquito Fleet. This influx of new car-carrying vessels was a result of a development hundreds of miles away, in San Francisco. The opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1935 eliminated the need for ferries there, so their owners brought them to Puget Sound. The atmosphere of Yukon Harbor changed again.

As the 1940’s arrived, the town fathers received the long-anticipated boost from the United States Navy when a large fueling station for the Pacific Fleet was built on the land to the North of town. A war with Japan and Germany loomed. Already well established and thriving, Manchester became a hub for Navy personnel and ship-related tradespeople. Throughout World War II dozens of warships were a regular sight off of the pier and fuel dock, along with the accompanying anti-aircraft balloons and gun emplacements. All of this meant prosperity — gas stations, machine shops, taverns, and stores of all types — and a growing population.

The automobile ferry era, 1925 to 1949, brought business but also long lines of cars that congested the town. This view is probably from the intersection of Main and Spring looking Eastward to the ferry dock. From Manchester Memories.

But Manchester was not destined to be an automobile metropolis. The streets were narrow and hilly, and there were no places to park hundreds of automobiles that flooded in several times a day.  As the decade wound down, townsfolk began to tire of the long lines of cars that clogged the streets waiting for the ferries but no one could decide on a means of dealing with the situation. The State of Washington, not wanting to wear out their welcome and able to provide their own solution to the traffic problem, consolidated service to nearby Harper, and Manchester suddenly lost a good portion of it’s economy. The last ferry pulled away from the dock in 1949.

In the ensuing years local commerce has slowly dwindled down to a restaurant, a pool hall, a barbershop, and a few real estate offices. An upscale condominium development has replaced the row of stores along Main Street, and nary a gas station is to be seen. The lumber mills disappeared decades ago, and Denniston’s waterfront store was reduced to nothing more than a bait shop and souvenir gift store. It was torn down in the late 60’s, used as a training site for the Kitsap Fire Department. Yes, there is still a tavern or two, and the road from Old Colby to Port Orchard through Manchester and Annapolis has become the “scenic route.” The Navy Fuel Depot still operates nearby, but hardly any Navy personnel can be seen in town. The ferry pier has been replaced with a small boat ramp and accompanying loading dock. The only long lines of cars to be seen are trucks pulling boat trailers during fishing season.

This was a daily sight off of Manchester, even in the days before a pier: A steamer chugging past the Denniston Store ( far left), whistle blowing, and Seattle in the distance. We estimate this photo as 1910-15. This large unidentified steamship is obviously headed for the Colby pier sometime after 1901.

What remained after the ferry left is what visitors see today: a bedroom community of independent-minded citizens who actively support their schools, churches, and library.  Typically, the people of Manchester vote in higher numbers than surrounding communities, and are passionate about slower commercial growth and ecology.  The townspeople enthusiastically turn out by the hundreds for the annual salmon bakes and Fourth of July celebrations.

This view from the hilltop above one of the more glamorous homes (center) and the Manchester Inn (right) shows both Blake and Vashon Islands in the distance. From Manchester Memories.

 Copyright 2011 by Russell Neyman.