By Christy Carley
Pull into the small parking lot at the end of Pleasant Beach Road next to the sign announcing Fort Ward Park and peek through the bushes. You might be able to spot a row of tall pilings rising out of the water covered with sunbathing cormorants.
The pilings were built to mark the shoreline boundary of the former U.S. Naval Radio Station at Fort Ward.
Fort Ward was established in 1899 to defend the Puget Sound Naval Ship-yard. In 1938, the fort’s control shifted from the Army to the Navy, transforming into a Naval Radio Station radio school supporting naval communications, and a top-secret school to teach Japanese telegraph code.
“By early 1940, the Navy had acquired a sizable amount of additional acreage and expanded the fort’s boundaries,” said Bainbridge Island historian Jerry Elfendahl. “Without much warning to area residents, they built a fence around their sensitive property.”
The pilings that can be spotted today are what remains of the extension of this fence into the water.
Due to the barriers, some South Beach residents at the time found themselves trapped. To address the problem, said Elfendahl, the County extended Toe Jam Hill Road down to South Beach, using funds that would have otherwise been used to spray down dusty roads in the summer.
“While everyone on the island ate dust all summer,” Elfendahl said, “South Beach residents made damn sure their vehicles’ brakes were in order.”