The westernmost town on Puget Sound, the Port of Shelton is the seat of Mason County in Washington State. The Port of Shelton is about 38 nautical miles (52 kilometers or 32 miles) west of the Port of Tacoma. The Port of Shelton is the last city in the State of Washington with a commission form of government. The 2010 US Census reported a population of 9834 people living in the Port of Shelton.
The Skokomish Nation inhabited the area before Europeans arrived. Made up of the Salish-speaking Twana Indians, Skokomish was the biggest of nine Twana villages. The people had a nomadic life in warmer weather and lived in permanent settlements during the winter. Twana descendants now live on the Skokomish Reservation and have become known as the Skokomish Tribe. In 1792, the Skokomish first met Europeans, and a terrible smallpox epidemic immediately devastated the population.
The 20th Century brought many troubles to the Skokomish people. A Tacoma business tycoon bought land near the mouth of the Skokomish River, adding dikes and plowing the land, eliminating many native plant species upon which the Skokomish depended for their basketry. The State of Washington claimed jurisdiction over the tidelands, restricting Skokomish access to shellfish. In the late 1920s, the City of Tacoma built dams on the Skokomish River, destroying several important Skokomish cultural sites and limiting tribal access to salt waters. The State opened Potlatch State Park in 1960, further restricting tribal shoreline access.
As a result of these actions, the Skokomish brought land claims and was awarded about $374 thousand that they used to buy a fish processing plant and provide tribal housing. In 1974, the Skokomish regained tribal fishing rights through the US Federal Court's Boldt Decision. Today, many Skokomish work in the regional logging and fishing industries. The tribe has also developed businesses that include a hatchery. During the 1970s and 1980s, the tribe began to re-establish traditional culture in the Skokomish Reservation, including some rituals and practices like basketry, carving, and dance.
The Port of Shelton was incorporated in 1890, adopting its name for David Shelton, a member of the Washington Territory legislature. For decades, the Port of Shelton was served by the Mosquito Fleet, a fleet of small steamboats that traveled the Puget Sound.
The economy of the Port of Shelton thrived on oyster cultivation, logging, ranching, farming, and dairying. From 1855 through 1975, the Port of Shelton was one of the United States' leading log-exporting centers.
Downtown Port of Shelton is still dominated by the Simpson Timber Company mill. The Port of Shelton is proud to call itself the "Christmas Tree Capital," reflecting its long logging history.
The modern Port of Shelton is still based on forestry products and logging. However, the local economy has diversified in recent decades to include retail centers, real estate, and government functions as well as commercial shellfish harvesting.