Tom Rice’s great grandparents moved to Port Gamble in 1858, long before Washington became a state in 1889. They were one of the many families to move to the company town from East Machias, Maine to work for Puget Mill Company’s sawmill in Port Gamble. When the mill permanently closed in 1995, it was the oldest continuously operating sawmill in the United States.

Photo showing cone shells displayed at Port Gamble General Store

When Tom Rice was a child, he walked the local beaches with his grandmother; and as many of us do, he began collecting shells. His interest in shells grew as did his collection, and it became his lifelong passion as he traveled the world. Tom was a founding member of Conchologists of America and published 108 issues of the shell magazine Of Sea and Shore from 1970-2007. When Tom died this month (February 2022), he owned the largest private collection of shells in the world.

The second largest private shell collection is at the Sea and Shore Museum on the second floor of the Port Gamble General Store, which now oversees the collection. The museum was opened by Tom in 1973. It displays thousands of shells from his world travels, including a large section dedicated to local shells, such as the largest burrowing clam, the geoduck.

A collection of starfish shells at Port Gamble

The 2022 Waggoner Cruising Guide describes the anchorage and town of Port Gamble located near the entrance to Hood Canal. When you are out cruising, don’t miss this historic and charming town. While you are there, it is well worth your time to walk up to the second floor of the General Store and witness the amazing shell collection of the legendary conchologist Tom Rice. It is free to visit.

Dale and Cathleen Blackburn, Waggoner Field Correspondents