In 1852, Nova Scotia sea captain William Renton arrived in Puget Sound. Seeing the region's calm waters, he realized the area's potential for marketing timber from the surrounding forests.
He first built a small sawmill on Alki Point, but the wind and waves forced him to try a more sheltered location near Bremerton. This location also failed, as it was too difficult for ships to get through the tidal currents of Rich Passage.
In 1864, Captain Renton purchased land around Port Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island. Here ships could easily pass, and the sheltered waters allowed for storing log rafts to supply the mill.
During the next four decades, the Port Blakely Mill flourished, at one point becoming the world's largest sawmill under one roof. Its lumber was shipped to California, Australia, Europe, South America and the Eastern U.S.
Despite an economic downturn, the Port Blakely Mill Company had sales of $1.5 million in 1874. During the 1870s, Renton reorganized his company, brought in new partners, built the 75-room Bainbridge Hotel, established a daily stage between Port Blakely and Port Madison, and experimented with ways to improve heating and lighting at the mill (dogfish oil lamps had been the traditional source of light; electric lights were installed in 1882).
In 1882, the Port Blakely mill could turn out 200,000 board feet a day, the largest of any sawmill on the Pacific Coast. But keeping the sawmill supplied with logs was a challenge. To take advantage of the huge trees growing far to the southeast in Mason County, the company built a railroad in the county known as the Blakely Line to haul logs from the forest to salt water at Kamilche Point on southern Puget Sound. There, the logs were assembled into rafts and towed to Port Blakely by the mill company's steam tugs.
On February 4, 1888, a devastating fire burned the Port Blakely mill to the ground. Because the winds were blowing onshore, rescuers were able to save ships in the harbor by hauling the vessels out into the Sound.
Captain Renton built a new mill in the same spot using less-combustible materials such as heavy timbers and corrugated iron roofing. In addition, he installed a system of water pipes and 850 sprinkler heads.
In 1902, two young men from Bay City, Michigan, came west looking for sawmill opportunities. In 1903, Ned Skinner and John W. Eddy purchased all the assets of the Port Blakely Mill Company. They worked as a team on many ventures in the Northwest before and during World War I, including the Skinner & Eddy Shipbuilding Company.
In April 1907, a devastating fire destroyed the mill a second time. The Port Blakely mill was once again rebuilt.
Skinner and Eddy dissolved their partnership and divided their assets. Ned Skinner took the Skinner & Eddy Company, while brothers John, James, and Robert Eddy and family took the Port Blakely Mill Company and the surrounding forestlands. The Eddy family leased the mill for several years before closing it to concentrate on timber investments.
As part of his research into ways to improve reforestation, James G. Eddy founded what is now known as the Institute of Forest Genetics in Northern California.
By the end of World War II, the development of good roads, large bulldozers, and radio dispatching had greatly reduced the risk of forest fires. These improvements made it feasible to make long-term investments in growing timber from seedlings to maturity. The family began an ongoing program of acquiring prime forestlands and practicing intensive forest management on a sustainable-yield basis.
In 1962, the company created a real estate subsidiary, which managed Renton Village Company, a commercial real estate partnership in conjunction with a real estate subsidiary of Puget Sound Power & Light Company. This first Port Blakely real estate venture ended in 1987.
In 1986, the company completed its conversion from the Port Blakely Mill Company, a corporation, to Port Blakely Tree Farms, a Washington Limited Partnership.
In 1990, Port Blakely Companies launched a new real estate venture called Port Blakely Communities to create innovative urban villages that combine a classic sense of community with the concepts of smart growth.
Port Blakely Companies created its first international subsidiary in 1993 with the founding of Blakely Pacific, Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary that owns and manages working forests in New Zealand.
The Port Blakely Companies, consisting of Port Blakely Tree Farms in Washington and Oregon, Blakely Pacific, Ltd., in New Zealand, and Port Blakely Communities in Washington, united their strategies and combine their reputations under a common brand to continue the tradition of integrity, quality, innovation, and stewardship—all in concert with the Eddy family, which established a governance system to ensure that their goal of sustainability could be met for generations to come.
Port Blakely Companies acquired the 73-year-old export log-trading firm, Pacific Lumber & Shipping, LLC, creating a strategic alliance that enhanced Port Blakely Tree Farms’ international marketing efforts. It also provided an additional tool in meeting the needs of an expanding customer base.
Port Blakely Companies completed a multi-year and multi-divisional succession plan with the transition of leadership from third-generation Chairman and CEO Jim Warjone to fourth-generation CEO René Ancinas.
Port Blakely redefined its vision for the future and unified as one company. To outwardly express this commitment, the company created a new look and feel for its brand. Port Blakely’s three divisions were unified with new names: Port Blakely Tree Farms became US Forestry, Blakely Pacific became NZ Forestry, and Pacific Lumber & Shipping became PLS International.