Throwback Thursday: Kitsap County

Kitsap County highlighted on Washington map

As the WSBA celebrates its 125th year, it’s an opportunity to review the history of Bar members.

In 1965, there was an effort to create a written history of members of the Bar in each county; we reviewed some of those accounts, mostly on yellowed paper, often carbon-copied from manual typewritten notes. The dry dates and memorials also serve to remind us how each of these who came before served our profession and their communities, and how they led the way to the bar we have in 2015.

A Brief History of Kitsap County

Named to honor the Suquamish Tribe military chief, Kitsap County is the third smallest county in Washington by land area. Occupying the northern end of the Kitsap Peninsula between Hood Canal and Admiralty Strait, the county includes 250 miles of saltwater shoreline.

The first residents of the area were the Suquamish, Klallam, and Skokomish peoples. Each tribe was located in a different region, but they married their daughters into the other groups to promote peace and harmony. It is said that Chief Kitsap graciously welcomed the arrival of Captain George Vancouver and may have served as a guide on his vessel, HMS Discovery. As with most other tribes in the state, Governor Isaac Stevens persuaded the early inhabitants of present-day Kitsap County to cede their lands to the U.S. in exchange for reservations and fishing and hunting rights. Overall, the settlers and native inhabitants of Kitsap County got along well and fought together against attacks from Northern Indians.

Triggered by the California Gold Rush, white settlement boomed in the 1850s, which led to the start of the logging and milling industries in the area. The Kitsap Peninsula was the wealthiest community in the Puget Sound area during this time as the lumber output far exceeded four times as many mills in Oregon. The mills continued to be productive and profitable through the twentieth century, but the last of the saw mills closed in 1994, after 142 years in business.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington. Jelson25 (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Today the largest employer in Kitsap County is the U.S. Navy, accounting for 54% of the Kitsap economy. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was established in 1891 in Bremerton and it supports naval operations in the Pacific Ocean through maintenance, modernization, and technical and logistics support. Development of highways, tolls, and the Washington State Ferries has allowed for the continued growth of the population, as almost 20% of Kitsap County residents commute elsewhere to work.

Ferry Kalakala

Between 1935 and 1967, Ferry Kalakala carried commuting workers between Seattle and the naval shipyard in Bremerton. Bert W. Huntoon, Progress Commission Photographs, 1937-1945, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,

Kitsap County and the Law

The history of the Kitsap County Bar written in 1965 notes that Kitsap is one of the oldest counties in the state, yet has one of the younger county bars, established in the 1930s. The writer notes that “it might be the paucity of lawyers in the early days was the reason, but no one has ever pointed the guilty finger at the bar for the theft of the court house and moving it in the middle of the night from Port Madison on Bainbridge Island to Port Orchard.” Apparently there had been efforts to move it again to a more central location, but “as of now it remains there atop the hill like the Rock of Gibraltar.”

The history notes that the first two judicial positions in Kitsap County were filled by Judge Yakey and Judge French, followed by Judge Handy Gilpin Sutton, who served for over a quarter century starting in the 1930s. The county needed two judges after World War II and Judge Edward Stafford was appointed.

In 1927, just before the Kitsap County Bar Association was established, there were a total of eight attorneys, including Marion Garland, Sr. Mr. Garland lived in Manette but his law office was in Bremerton. Until the Manette Bridge was constructed across the Port Washington Narrows he commuted by rowboat, always wearing a suit and tie and carrying his fishing pole so he could fish during his commute. His office was always open by 7 a.m. to take care of the Navy Yard workers.

For the period prior to 1927, the historian notes that the lawyers “seemed to thrive on dissension,” and there are “many tales of carrying loaded pistols, meeting in dark alleys, clobbering one another with notarial seals (which in the old days were quite heavy), and generally being obnoxious toward one another.”

Washington state’s “affidavit of prejudice” was rooted in Kitsap County. Attorney J.W. Bryan Sr. was not fond of Judge Yakey, and apparently the feelings were mutual. Bryan’s problem was that Yakey was the only judge in the area. The history notes that “Bryan conceived of what we know today as the affidavit of prejudice, got himself elected to the legislature, introduced it as a law, saw to its enactment and thereafter did not have to appear before Judge Yakey.”

As of 1965, the Kitsap County Bar held a picnic each summer, which were “well attended and the spirit of friendliness between members is in marked contrast to bygone days of bitter hostility.”

See the other counties featured in our Throwback Thursday series:

Adams County
Asotin County