A century of Viking rule

It is said that Viking incursions into the British Isles

began with the sacking of a monastery at Lindisfarne in the year 793. Within a few generations, half of England was under Norse control, domination that only eroded after the Norman Conquest of 1066.

By comparison, the Norsemen of Poulsbo have been a well-mannered lot, choosing commingling over conquest of their neighboring isle.

Since Norwegian immigrant Jorgen Eliason set foot on Kitsap soil in the 1880s – bringing, it seems, half his countrymen in tow – they’ve cultivated a community as rich and vibrant as our own around the fjord-like beauty of Liberty Bay. Who’d need Bainbridge?

In some ways they’ve actually been ahead of islanders, as evidenced by the celebration of 100 years of Poulsbo cityhood that begins this week.

For perspective, the 60th anniversary of incorporated Winslow passed generally unnoticed last summer, while our all-island city is barely old enough to drive. So we Bainbridge folk might pause to appreciate our neighbors to the northwest, and the degree to which our two communities complement one another.

Driven by the shared Scandinavian heritage of its founders, Poulsbo’s community identity took root long before the term “islander” had any currency over here. Bainbridge growth rotated amongst the industrial hubs of Port Madison, Port Blakely and Winslow, but the popular concentration on Liberty Bay led to a sense of shared purpose much earlier, and to a push for local government to meet local needs.

Bainbridge lived off the land, felling the great forests for lumber; Poulsboites took from the ocean, sending forth several generations of intrepid cod fishermen to remote seas. As industry changed, so did the communities’ attitudes toward growth. Development of the Trident base at Bangor in the 1970s rendered island-like isolationism unrealistic for Poulsbo; sitting at the intersection of two highways, the community has allowed itself to become a nexus of commercial activity of which islanders take increasing advantage. In fact, you could make a case that Bainbridge looks like Bainbridge because Poulsbo looks like Poulsbo; we can be a bedroom community resistant to change precisely because they’re comfortable as an outlet for the pressures of commercial development. There are few islanders who don’t go to Central Market or Home Depot now and again, so perhaps we shouldn’t resent them for using “our” highway to reach “our” ferry.

While Poulsboites may play up the kitsch a bit come Viking Fest time and with a themed downtown, their Nordic heritage is a source of enduring pride and has even drawn Norwegian royalty for visits. The common culture and heritage are evident the moment you set foot on Front Street, unpretentious and refreshingly unlike the island’s creeping economic exceptionalism.

Anyway, the year-long celebration launches this evening in the Poulsbo City Hall council chambers. High school historians will give a seriocomic reading of the town’s first ordinances – including laws against such then-topical concerns as baseball games on the main street, gambling and “rowdy houses,” the sale or consumption of exotic liquors, and barbed wire within the town limits. On Saturday, the Sons of Norway Hall downtown will host multimedia displays and other commemorative events, worth a visit for the many islanders with Poulsbo friends or Scandinavian roots of their own.

And as their town reflects on its past, we can perhaps better appreciate our own impulse to shape the future through the forge of local government at which our neighbors set the pace.

So kudos to our Nordic neighbors in Poulsbo for a century of cityhood, and hats – er, horned helmets – off to a festive centennial year.

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