TRUE TO ITS FRONTIER SPIRIT, Puget Sound country was a hotbed of utopian communities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The most famous and, for a while, successful was also the most radical: Home, founded on a picturesque South Sound cove in 1895. Members variously espoused free love, anarchism, communism, vegetarianism, and gender equality; visitors praised Home’s tidiness and high-toned intellectual life.

“Free love” meant free choice in love, not the orgies prurient and censorious outsiders imagined; after two quiet weeks at Home, one guest hoping for the latter fled to a Tacoma brothel. But nude bathing was a Homey tradition (and much more comfortable than the baggy swimsuits of a century ago). It was also the snag that started Home unraveling. A few conservative residents brought charges of indecency against their skinny-dipping neighbors. The Tacoma courts stepped in. One woman got a stiff fine though she insisted she bathed for her rheumatism. Likewise a man who’d stitched together swim trunks more like today’s, on grounds they “did not amply supply the needs for which they should have been intended.” The editor of the Home-based newspaper The Agitator was sentenced to two months for an editorial entitled “The Nude and the Prudes” that “encouraged disrespect for the law.”

Some Prudes chopped down their Nude neighbors’ orchards, and the two factions boycotted each others’ businesses. The schism widened into bitter disputes over communal real estate and bylaws. Finally, in 1919, a judge dissolved Home’s charter, and it devolved into just another semi-suburban waterfront getaway.

But the countercultural spirit that inspired Home, Equality, and other Puget Sound utopias revived in the 1960s and ‘70s, sometimes in very different forms. Seattle’s Love Family espoused neo-biblical patriarchal authority, not Home-style liberty. But the bluenoses would have found more wild whoopee to deplore there than at Home. After the community dissolved (again in bitter battling over real estate), its wood-butchered palace atop Queen Anne went on the market, and strangers could marvel at founder Love Israel’s immense sunken bathtub, site of much more than just nude bathing.

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