May is History Month on San Juan Island and is celebrated with walking tours, history talks and great events at the many historic sites. And what a rich, juicy, phenomenal history the isle has from its Native heritage to its first European settlers and from being a smuggler’s and hoodlum’s paradise to the Pig War and finally becoming American territory. The best part: San Juan Island’s history is experienced on the prairie and beaches of our National Historical Parks and by eating, sleeping and shopping in historic buildings. Here are 10 spots with fascinating histories not to be missed on your next trip to San Juan Island:
1) Portals of Welcome
The Cedar House Posts at Fairweather Park on Friday Harbor’s waterfront graciously greet all island visitor’s. The Portals of Welcome honors the thousands of years of Native American presence in the Salish Sea and was created by Coast Salish artist Susan Point.
2) Explore Whales in History
Built as the Old Fellows Hall in 1892, the Friday Harbor Whale Museum across the street from our hotel, was used for trials in the 19th century. It is said to be haunted by a fellow who was executed here for murder in 1897. Today the Whale Museum is the only museum dedicated to a species living in the wild and is a fantastic natural history museum with the cutes gift shop.
3) Sleep in History
Built in 1891 as the Tourist Hotel, our Bird Rock Hotel is one of the oldest lodging places on San Juan Island. The Tourist Hotel was the first island hotel to feature indoor plumbing. It had a restaurant, bar, pool hall and a reception room for the ladies on the second floor, who were not allowed in the bar. Today Bird Rock Hotel is women-owned and managed, take that, history!
5) An Elm from Scotland
In the front yard of what is now Salty at Heart, a lovely apothecary and gift shop, find a Camperdown Elm Tree late planted here around 1875. It was created from a craft from the original tree discovered in the forest of Earl of Camperdown in Scotland. That tree knows things.
7) History on an Old Farm
A bit further up Spring Street, find James King’s homestead, a 455-acre farm established in 1894. Today it is the grounds of the fantastic San Juan Historical Museum and features, besides just the museum itself, historic buildings and artifacts such as the original County Jail.
9) American Camp National Historical Park
English Camp’s American counterpart can be found on the southern tip of the island, is much larger and simply breathtaking. There is an interpretive center and historic barracks on the prairie, abundant hiking and too many beaches to count. The wildlife here is amazing, ranging from nesting seabird, foxes, bunnies and otters to seals, sea lions and Orca whales.
10) Whale Watch Park
Lime Kiln State Park, also known as the Whale Watch Park, is the site of the former lime production on San Juan Island. Find, besides the iconic lighthouse, a rebuilt lime kiln, as well as ruins of other buildings and the cliffs, white from limestone, telling the story of harvesting lime in the olden days. Today the park is considered one of the best places to watch Orcas from land in the entire world.