This town's original downtown was so stinky, they buried it 16 feet underground!

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Hidden Washington Downtown Hidden Underground

This small Washington State city is only the 56th largest with just over 20,000 residents in the 2023 census. A few famous people were born there including NFL legend John Elway. You can't tell today walking through this small historic city that its original downtown was actually buried up to 16 feet below your feet in the 1900s because of the smell.

credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
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Early City Sewage Problems

Around 1914, this small Washington State City was thriving after the building of the Elwha Dam that brought electricity to the area. The economy and population were exploding and a large section of downtown was built on piers in an area that flooded often. All those businesses used the bay for sewage, so when the tide came in it also brought raw sewage and a strong smell with it.

credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
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Raw Sewage Causes City to Raise City Street Level

The city planners at the time identified the problem and knew a sewage system needed to be installed, but there was one big problem. Sewage systems could not be installed in areas that will be underwater like the mud flats this downtown was built on. The solution was to install a sewer system on top of the current city streets and then raise all city streets above the tide height and fill in the rest with soil.

credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
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15 Foot High Walls Built

After the sewer system was built, they built wood forms on First, Front, Oak, and Laurel streets. The walls were 15 feet high at the lowest point and were 6 feet wide at the base and 3 feet wide at the top. The picture above shows just how high the street level was raised.

credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
credit YouTube Port Angeles Chamber
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Business Lifted to New Level

Most businesses below the new city street line were town down and built on top of a wooden stilt structure to match the new street level. They then poured concrete retaining walls to hold the ground for the new streets. The entire project only took 6 months to build but took 6 years for all the soil that they used to dry enough to pave the roads. Now if you looked, you could hardly tell the old downtown even existed.

Canva-Getty
Canva-Getty
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Port Angeles, Washington

Yes, If you haven't already guessed I am talking about Port Angeles, Washington. Don't worry, it smells great now that the sewage problem was solved back in 1914. However, there are still places where you can see the original walls they built to elevate the downtown streets and businesses back then.

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Port Angeles Underground Tours

There are tours in Port Angeles that show some of those lost areas including a tour through the Family Shoe Store. the Family Shoe Store is one of the most famous buildings in Port Angeles because it was one of the only original buildings that were raised to the new level that still exists today.

If you want to go on the tour yourself, check out their official website. You can also learn more about the history of how this happened with the video below.

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