According to a plaque located in Port Angeles, President Abraham Lincoln set aside land in Port Angeles, Washington as an alternative site for the United States Capitol if the South had won the war. On March 3rd, 1862, the Federal Government set aside land in Port Angeles, with the sole purpose being that if the South won the war and took over Washington DC, a new capitol could be created.
Port Angeles, Washington is nestled at the bottom of the Olympic Mountains and just a short ferry trip to Victoria, British Columbia. With a minimal local economy, P.A., as locals call it, is little more than a tourist destination and a struggling community on the Olympic Peninsula. All that could have changed had history turned out differently.
In 1862, the Civil War was going anything but well for the Northern Armies. With casualty numbers rising exponentially and numerous battles being lost, many in President Lincoln’s camp felt that a path to victory by the Union army was vanishing quickly. Washington, DC was and still is located right across the Potomac River from the once Confederate State of Virginia. Had the Confederate Army took control of Washington, DC, the war would have all but ended, forcing the Union States to move the capitol elsewhere.
But Why Port Angeles?
Port Angeles is home to one of the largest protected Ports along the Pacific Rim. It was also very sparsely populated, making building a capitol city very easy. With no real city existing, the plans for military, government and residential zone could be completed however the government wished. Being home to the natural harbor that is now the port and being capable of housing the entire United States navy made this isolated section of America quite appealing. On an 1884 map of the region, areas reserved by the federal government are visible for military and civilian purposes.
How True is this Rumor?
The truth depends on who you ask. While many locals to Port Angeles are unaware of this fact, those who do know of it are passionate about the issue. When prompted, many local historians will get quite excited about this topic, as it is filled with more mystery than fact. Yes, land known as “Block 42” was set aside by President Lincoln, but little is known as to the reasons of why the region was selected and land was put aside. Our research found that “Port Angeles had been commissioned by members of President Lincoln’s cabinet in order to develop that town site for use as the Union’s capital, in the event the South won the war.” A map was made, but no the documentation exists.
Doubters of the rumor claim that is was a way for a local landowner to make a quick buck by selling his land to a friend in Lincoln’s cabinet, but again, no facts can be found. Local historians at the Clallam County Historical society will claim that this is the fact, but who knows.
While today Port Angeles is home to the gateway to Hurricane Ridge and the city most associated with tourism on the Olympic Peninsula, it is always good to remember just how things locally could have been different. While Washington State didn’t even exist during the Civil War, the region was recognized and land was reserved for future government use. Luckily, the North gained momentum and the union and the Civil War ended, without needing a new capitol city. Port Angeles quietly went back to growing around shipping, fishing and logging, becoming what it is today. While no real monuments exist for the “Second Capitol” plans, it is super rad to be able to drive through this small town and daydream about how it would be different if it was the US Capitol.
We feel that the land may have been set aside for different reasons, but believe the US Capitol would have been moved somewhere in Washington State had things gone the other way for the nation.
What do you think?
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