San Juan Islands Washington State
Near Victoria Island, San Juan Island is located outside of Puget Sound near Seattle. American Territory, There are less than ten miles across the Haro Strait to Victoria. Roche Harbor is on the north end, built by a limestone baron, John S. McMillin in the 1880s it was once the largest lime quarries west of the Mississippi. The village of Roche Harbor features Hotel de Haro (built in 1886) and the Roche Resort. Access to Roche Harbor and San Juan Island can be made by ferry, boat, float plane, or even their private airstrip.
The Roche Harbor Lime and Cement Company, later the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company, prospered and created the historic infrastructure of Roche Harbor. The Afterglow Mausoleum, contains the ashes of McMillin. Roche was named after a British Navy Man, Richard Roche, who served with James Charles Prevost in the 1850’s.
The Westcott Bay Reserve Sculpture Park is also on the north end of San Juan Island, across the giant Westcott Bay. The local limestone was suitable for sculptors, and hundreds of sculptures from prominent Northwest artists are on display in the 19 acre park.
San Juan Island dates back to the 1790’s exploration of Francisco de Eliza. Gonzalo López de Haro, who traveled with Eliza, actually discovered San Juan Island. American explorer Charles Wilkes renamed the island Rodgers Island, but it didn’t stick.
The Hudson’s Bay Company settled San Juan Island with the intent of raising sheep for wool. Indigenous people were already using the island for fishing, but were nomadic. Americans also had disputes with the British over the island. A small force of American soldiers was sent to the island, still in the mid 19th century, over disputes with the Crown and Indian raids on American settlers. The dispute became more intense when and American shot a British pig, which led to the Pig War.
In 1860, the US Congress declared dominion over the island, but the dispute lingered for another decade. Ultimately, Washington State and San Juan Island end the US territories, while the Crown held onto Victoria Island and Canadian lands to the north and west.
San Juan Island is now a tourist economy, with a weekly newspaper and a permanent population in the thousands. Surrounding islands also add to the size of San Juan County, Washington, bumping the number to greater than 15,000 in the 2000 census.
Other attractions include British and American Camps at the south end of the island, now part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park. The University of Washington also has facilities near Friday harbor, on the eastern edge of the island, closest to the continent and furthest from Victoria Island. The campus dates back to 1909 and has dormitories and classrooms.
The University of Washington holds three or four courses of study in the summer semester for Marine Biology and Marine Ecology. A dozen professors and several dozen graduate students live in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island.
Two permanent roads extend from Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor, Beaverton Valley and Roche Harbor Road. It takes only ten minutes to drive from Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor. Moped rentals are and option, as there likely is no way to rent a car on the island.