The waterfront of Friday Harbor, now the county seat and only incorporated town in San Juan County, has served as a sheltered access to San Juan Island from the early days of human occupation of the archipelago. Starting with its use as a sheep station by the Hudson's Bay Company in the 1850s, newly arriving settlers soon developed the town of Friday Harbor as the county seat, and built wharves and warehouses to accommodate the rapidly growing trade among the San Juan Islands and with the mainland. Extensive structures serving primary, extraction-related industries, such as timber milling, boat building, and fish canning, as well as depots for agricultural goods, were built on the waterfront during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Coincidentally saloons, stores, and hotels began to line Front Street facing the waterfront and Spring Street leading inland. Beginning in the middle of the twentieth century, the growing importance of the San Juans as a tourist and vacation destination changed Friday Harbor's working waterfront to cater to the increasing number of visitors and seasonal residents.
"A Convenient Slope"
Native Americans first came to the San Juan Islands at least 14,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence within the present-day town limits of Friday Harbor indicates longtime use by the Coast Salish of the sheltered natural harbor on central San Juan Island's east shoreline. Because of the freshwater springs near the harbor, people probably camped there while they hunted game and gathered shellfish and other seafood from the tidal area along the shore. Island old-timers recollect that as late as the 1920s Coast Salish used to come by canoe to Friday Harbor and camp on Brown Island (a small, then-undeveloped island in the center of the harbor), which they used as a base for trade and resource gathering in the area.
Non-Indian settlement of the area around Friday Harbor began with the arrival of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), which developed Belle Vue Sheep Farm at the south end of San Juan Island in 1853. During the 1850s the HBC established a sheep station near the harbor, and put in charge a Kanaka (Hawaiian) shepherd named Friday, who dwelt in a log house probably located on the north shore of the harbor (where the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs were later located). The place was eventually named "Friday's Harbor" (presumably after the shepherd). As a consequence of the Pig War, a conflict over possession of the islands, in 1860 British and American troops settled on a joint occupation of San Juan Island. The British, in looking for a suitable place for their encampment, visited several sites, including "Friday Bay." Admiral R. L. Baynes described it in a March 2, 1860, letter to Governor James Douglas:
"A convenient slope of Prairie land with a running stream of freshwater within 400 yards of it, convenient of access by boats, also a safe harbour for ships of any size at all seasons of the year. I am of opinion this will be found the most eligible site for the Camp. In the Autumn it is used by the H.B. Company as a sheep station, at present it is unoccupied, about 7 miles from the town [San Juan Town on the south end of the island] and no settlers near it" (Baynes to Douglas).
The British eventually decided instead upon Garrison Bay on the island's west side as a site for their camp.
Laying Out the Town
After the territorial dispute was settled in favor of the United States, Friday Harbor was officially established as the seat of newly formed San Juan County. On October 31, 1873, the Washington Territorial Legislature passed an act "to create and organize the County San Juan" out of Whatcom County. Although the county was organized that November, it was not until August of the following year that the Commissioners selected a site for the county seat, officially naming it Friday Harbor and authorizing construction of a 16-by-24-foot building suitable for the purposes of the county government.
The townsite of Friday Harbor was laid out to take advantage of its location. The main street -- named for the spring that furnished an abundant quantity of fresh water for the town -- led from the harbor to the farmlands up the slope to the southwest; it was intersected by Front, nearest the water, and First, and paralleled by East and West; what was to become Second was merely marked "Road." Interestingly, although the narrow side of the standard 25-by-100-foot lots fronted Spring, all those along Front (including the corner lots) faced the water, the source of commerce. The streets were wide -- 80 feet -- possibly for the convenience of turning a wagon team around. A significant feature of the townsite was the gulch between Spring and East streets that ran from south of First Street to empty into the harbor east of where Joseph Sweeney (1841-1920) soon established a warehouse.
In January 1876, Friday Harbor was established as a post office. The same year, Joseph Sweeney moved from Orcas Island to establish a store at the corner of Spring and Second streets. However, very few people chose to buy lots and settle in town until the early1880s, when Israel Katz (1851-1917) established a second store -- the Produce Exchange -- at the corner of Front and Spring, which later served proprietor John "Jack" Douglas (1859-1946) as a bar -- the Saloon Best. This apparently led to a building boom. Lots that originally sold for $20 on Front Street and $10 inland soon went for hundreds of dollars. A new courthouse was built at the corner of Spring and First streets, up the street from the old one, in 1883.
Commerce and Industry
Development on the waterfront occurred as early as the founding of the town as county seat. Joseph Sweeney had established a small warehouse and dock near the base of Spring Street in the 1870s, and Jack Douglas used the creek that ran inland as far as First Street for freighting liquor and other supplies to his Saloon Best. The 1890s witnessed considerable growth in the economy and in the physical layout of the town. The San Juan County Bank was founded in 1893 (ironically the year of one of the worst nationwide depressions to hit the west coast -- the Panic of 1893). In 1888, Norman E. Churchill (1852-1919) moved to Friday Harbor and associated with Sweeney. Together with Milton R. Noftsger (1857-1927), Churchill bought Sweeney's share and formed the San Juan Trading Company in 1890. In 1892 Churchill and Noftsger built a store on the northeast corner of Spring and First Streets; a year later they constructed a wharf and warehouse at the foot of East Street. Churchill bought out Noftsger in 1901.
In 1892, Launor Benjamin Carter (1857-1937) established Carter's Blue Front Store. L. B. Carter extended his wharf at the foot of Spring Street 100 feet and constructed a 60-by-75-foot warehouse in 1898. A third merchant partnership, Steven D. Martin (1861-1943) and Peter A. Jensen (1869-1944), established their store, Martin & Jensen, at the northwest corner of First and Spring in 1898. With all the other merchants having wharves and warehouses on the waterfront, Jensen successfully petitioned the Board of County Commissioners to lease the waterfront and tidelands at the base of Spring Street in 1905. The right of the Commissioners to do so was contested in court by the Sweeney Mercantile Company and L. B. Carter, but it was upheld, even though subsequent appeals were made to the superior and state supreme courts.
Industries soon followed the merchants. A waterfront saw and planing mill, the first steam-powered mill in San Juan County, was constructed in Friday Harbor in August 1894 by Adam C. Brown (1844-1917), who operated it together with his son, Daniel. With two steam engines, the mill had a capacity of 5,000 board feet a day and the planer 10,000. Brown sold the mill in 1907 and moved it to Blaine the following year. In 1904, brothers Albert, Frank, Joseph, and Peter Jensen, together with Joseph "Joe" Groll (1868-1925), built a new mill on the waterfront near the extension of Court Street. In addition to milling and planing, they also built ships there, and provided electricity for the town. In 1907, the stock of their Friday Harbor Lumber & Mfg. Co. was sold to a number of local citizens; the Jensen brothers and Groll continued to hold some stock, and Groll continued to serve as president and manager of the company. A year later, others bought the company. Apparently there was some difficulty with finances, for the mill entered bankruptcy, and over the next three years it changed hands several times and shut down at least once due to insufficient capital. In July 1914, the mill burned, although the dry shed, kilns, wharf, and most of the lumber were saved. It is not clear how much longer the mill operated.
Canneries and Fishing Boats
One of the most significant impacts on the Friday Harbor waterfront was the establishment in 1894 of a fish cannery, the Island Packing Company (IPC), at the base of East Street; eventually this became one of the largest waterfront structures and employers of local workers. At first, Chinese workers were imported seasonally to can the salmon; a decade later, the workforce was largely composed of Japanese. After improvements in 1896 and 1898, the Pacific American Fisheries (PAF) bought the IPC in 1899 and built a new 50-by-100-foot, two-story high cannery building. In 1908, William Shultz (1861-1925), George J. Wiley, and W. E. Persell incorporated the Friday Harbor Packing Company (FHPC) and leased the facility from the PAF. Two years later they purchased the adjoining wharf and warehouse from local merchant N. E. Churchill. Then, in 1912, the FHPC rebuilt the cannery into a huge, 300-by-250-foot structure. William Shultz ran the cannery until his death in 1925; Wiley took over as principal owner and manager until his retirement in 1935.
In 1901 John Broder (1854-1917) established a creamery on the waterfront between Sweeney's warehouse and Brown's mill; two years later he sold a half interest to George Mead, and they built a cannery for clams and fruit, as well as a new creamery, on the waterfront at the base of West Street. In 1905, the Island Packing Company was re-organized as a joint stock company, with Broder as president, Mead as secretary, L. B. Carter as treasurer, and Elijah H. Nash (1869-1933) as general manager. They built a large addition to accommodate a salmon canning plant and extended the wharf 40 feet.
In late 1912 articles of incorporation were filed for the San Juan Canning Company, whose officers were Joe Groll, president and manager, John Haubner, vice president, and E. H. Nash, secretary and treasurer, to be located at "the old Brown sawmill site" (San Juan Islander, February 28, 1913). Groll went to Seattle to arrange for machinery and contract for "oriental labor" for a new "San Juan Packing Company" (San Juan Islander, December 27, 1912). The new cannery, which the papers described as a "two liner" with a projected capacity of 1600 cases per day, a main floor space of 80 feet by 172 feet, and a smaller 30-by-110-foot office and storeroom area, was up and running by July 1913 (San Juan Islander, May 16, 1913).
Salmon for the canneries at first came from fish traps, most of which were located on the Salmon Bank off the south coast of San Juan Island. Constructed of long wooden piles driven into the sea floor and hung with hundreds of feet of netting, the traps could yield a daily catch numbering in the tens of thousands. Tenders hauled scows full of salmon catch from the traps to the canneries, where they were unloaded, sorted, gutted and cleaned, and then put in cans. Croatians from nearby harbor towns such as Anacortes, Gig Harbor, and Tacoma introduced purse seining -- a method of drawing a large "purse" around schools of fish that required a boat with a crew of eight or nine -- to the islands. In the middle of the twentieth century, particularly after World War II, gill netting -- laying out long nets that caught the salmon by their gills -- became prevalent; gillnetters could be operated either solo or with one or two other crew members. With advent of gasoline and diesel engines, fishermen no longer had to spend the night near the fishing grounds, and could return to moor at Fish Creek in Griffin Bay at the southeast end of San Juan Island or in Friday Harbor itself. Early photographs reveal purse seiners rafted together (tied one alongside the other) near the cannery wharfs. Later in the twentieth century, gillnetters docked at Port of Friday Harbor wharfs.
Snapshots of Friday Harbor's waterfront development can be read from a series of maps that were created by the Sanborn Insurance Company in 1892, 1903, 1907, and 1930 in order to classify structures for fire insurance purposes. By the time of the earliest Sanborn map in 1892 the Sweeney structure was labeled the "Old Wharf," and there was another wharf with a warehouse between Spring and the (theoretical) extension of West Street. The 1903 Sanborn map indicates two new structures: the Friday Harbor Lumber Mill, and a creamery at the base of West. On either side of Spring Street, each with its old warehouse, was a new 110-foot wharf on the north and a new shed, warehouse, and 85-foot-long wharf to the south. To the south of these, at the base of East Street, the Pacific American Fisheries salmon cannery dominated the site next to Churchill's Wharf. By 1907, some newer structures appear along with the old: the Western Mills Lumber Company with a 100-foot-long wharf, Brown's Mill, the Island Packing Company, Friday Harbor Creamery, the "city float" with freight staging, and the PAF Cannery.
Incorporation and Modernization
The Town of Friday Harbor officially incorporated as a fourth class municipality in 1909. With incorporation came a push for modernization of the civic infrastructure, through both municipal civic projects and the granting of franchises for utilities. Friday Harbor's main source of water -- the wellhead of the spring in the middle of the street at the intersection of Spring and Second streets -- was replaced by a system (completed 1913) of water lines fed by Trout Lake, in the hills on the island's west side. The Town Council also established a sewage system and granted franchises for electricity, telephone, and lighting. The plant at the lumber mill provided intermittent electricity to the town until it burned in 1911; after that various companies supplied the town until the organization of the Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO) in the 1930s under the Rural Electrification Administration. OPALCO bought the locally-run Friday Harbor (Mulvaney) Power Company in 1941. Dr. Victor J. Capron (1867-1934) established the Island Telephone Company in 1900; within a year it had 33 subscribers and 25 miles of wire.
By 1904 Broder and Mead's Friday Harbor Creamery was producing more than half a ton of butter daily. In 1909 the San Juan Agricultural Company (Dr. Capron and R. R. Ramsden) purchased the former Sweeney Mercantile Company properties, as well as the Friday Harbor Creamery. Unfortunately, the creamery burned in 1911; two years later, the company rebuilt the creamery and constructed a warehouse for flour, feed, and grain at the site of the burned building. In the 1920s, Jack McKenzie took over the company and the wharf was subsequently known as "McKenzie's." During the mid-1920s the San Juan County Dairymen's Association built a new creamery on Spring Street. By the 1930s, there was only a milk depot at the bottom of Spring Street.
Efforts to improve the waterfront and Front Street appeared as early as 1907, when Samuel M. Bugge (1870-1939) urged citizens to provide a more welcoming place for visitors. However, it was only after incorporation that this actually came to pass, when calls for the beautification of the area began in earnest. The town council contracted in 1911 for the construction of a public float for traders and visitors. Prompted in part by a fire later that year (August 6) at the "city dumping ground at the foot of Spring street ... close to the Carter dock" ("City Dump Caught Fire"), in October 1912 the newly-formed Friday Harbor Improvement Club proposed a waterfront "Bee" involving volunteers to haul rocks and gravel to level Front Street in order to make it passable. Cement contractors Ed Mosena and William McCrary constructed a stone retaining wall at the base of Spring Street at cost. Over the years, the gulch that carried the water from the spring was filled in, so that both Front and First streets became passable.
The circular park at bottom of Spring Street where it intersects with Front Street was probably also constructed around this time. In 1914, the Women's Study Club of Friday Harbor (all women, in contrast to the Improvement Club, which was all men) was formed, and one of its signal projects was the improvement of the "little park at the foot of Spring Street" ("A Sacred Space"). After the end of World War I, the Women's Study Club worked to raise money for dedication of the park to those local men who lost their lives in service to the country. On November 11, 1921, Memorial Park was officially dedicated to the memory of the nine servicemen of San Juan County who died during World War I. The four-sided granite monument bearing a bronze plaque with the names of those men was the result of two years of concerted community-wide effort to raise funds for the purpose of erecting a permanent memorial to the "soldier and sailor dead" ("A Sacred Space") of the county.
Along the Waterfront
Edward Warbass (1825-1906), former San Juan County Auditor and one of the three founders of Friday Harbor, had bought property on the shore south of town, which he called Idlewild. In addition to his residence, he owned about a mile of waterfront, timbered land, and some 500 fruit trees. The University of Washington established the Friday Harbor Biology Station (now called the Friday Harbor Laboratories) in 1904 on Warbass's land. Warbass sold his property to Captain Andrew Newhall (1844-1915) in 1906; Newhall built a house named Kwan Lama. After the Biology Station moved to the temporarily closed cannery from 1906 to 1910, Newhall donated four acres of land and a 20-by-75-foot, two-and-a-half-story structure housing the labs and lecture halls was built on concrete piers over the water. A year later, another building housing lecture spaces, administrative offices, and a dining hall was built up the slope. Locals referred to the campus as the "Bug Station." In 1924 the operations were moved to new facilities on the former Point Caution military reserve north of town, which became the permanent home of Friday Harbor Laboratories. In 1910, Albert Jensen (1873-1958) left his brothers' sawmill to establish a shipyard (Albert Jensen & Sons) farther to the south; eventually Albert and his son Nourdine (1914-2009) built 150 boats there.
The availability of fuel became essential for ships and boats that used gasoline and later diesel engines. In 1912, the Standard Oil Company constructed tanks on Front Street at the base of West Street, with piping extending to the end of the San Juan Agricultural Company wharf, where there was a fueling station for boats and ships. The tanks remained there until the 1960s. In 1927, the Union Oil Company built a plant, consisting of a warehouse, garage, and six large fuel-storage tanks north of the Oddfellows Hall (later the Whale Museum, on First north of Spring). The tanks were 28 feet high and 10 feet in diameter, with a capacity of 19,450 gallons. This facility furnished fuel to the waterfront, town, and island until it was dismantled in the 1980s.
In 1920, Captain Herbert H. Davis (1867-1929) quit running ships for the Roche Harbor Lime Company and established H. H. Davis Lumber on the waterfront near the site of the old Brown Mill. Davis died in 1929. A series of owners kept the Davis name, until 1945, when it briefly became Brown Lumber. In January 1947, Jim and Inez Browne bought the business and changed the name to Browne's Building Supply. They moved the business to upper Spring Street in 1965.
Spokane grower John M. "Pea" Henry (1881-1953) introduced pea growing to the islands in 1922, and from then until 1940, when weevils wiped out the crop, the Island Packing Company canned peas. In 1939, the floor of the cannery gave way, dumping hundreds of cases of peas into the harbor. As old-timers tell it, local boys and girls were employed to dry off and then re-label the retrieved cans. The cannery was demolished soon thereafter.
The shape of the Friday Harbor waterfront before the Depression can be gleaned from the last (1930) Sanborn map. It shows just the old sawmill wharf, the San Juan Islands [pea] Cannery, a Union Oil Company wharf, a Standard Oil Company wharf (with warehouses, auto staging, freight storage, and milk depot between), the city wharf with staging and freight structures, and the Friday Harbor Packing Company.
Fires and Ferries
Fire has had a large influence on the development of Friday Harbor, as with many towns and cities that were predominantly constructed of wood. In 1910 a "little shack" occupied by Captain C. B. Salley near the Island Packing Company's cannery burned to the ground ("Fire Destroys Shack"). It was followed a year later by the extensive fire at the lumber mill. In 1943 the northeast corner of First and Spring streets -- a location seemingly destined for ill fate -- burned to the ground. It was replaced by the Roberts Building (1962) with Scribner's Market on the corner. This was also the location of a 2002 fire that took out that corner again; it was rebuilt as Friday Harbor Center.
The two-story San Juan Agricultural Company building was destroyed by fire in December 1961; the following year owner Bill Murphy built a single-story building that originally housed the ferry ticket office and a restaurant, and eventually the San Juan Marina; a second floor was added in the late 1960s for use as a restaurant, first named The Mariner and eventually Downriggers. The OPALCO standby power station was destroyed by fire in 1976, and Mojo's Restaurant (the former Sweeney Mercantile Warehouse) had a major conflagration in 1985. Four years later, the Gollywobbler Restaurant, in Jack Douglas's former house overlooking the harbor near the Legion Hall, was totally destroyed. Most recently, in August 2013, the two-story building at the northwest corner of Front and Spring, housing Downriggers Restaurant upstairs and several tourism-related businesses downstairs, burned.
While sailboats used the harbor throughout the nineteenth century, steamships were the main means of transport between the islands and the mainland. A group of steamers informally called the Mosquito Fleet carried passengers and freighted goods among the islands and to ports such as Anacortes, Bellingham (including Fairview and Whatcom), Olympia, Port Townsend, Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver. Prominent ships and companies included Andrew Newhall's Islander and Buckeye, the Island Transportation Company, the Inland Passenger & Express Company, John S. McMillin's San Juan Navigation, Captain Charles Maxwell's San Juan Transportation Company, and Captain William Kasch's eponymous Kasch Transportation Company. Most steamers docked at the McKenzie (San Juan Agricultural Company) wharf near the foot of Spring Street, although some also tied up at the Cannery wharf (originally Carter's).
These small companies, as well as individually operated steamships, were consolidated by Joshua Green into the Puget Sound Navigation Company (PSNC) in 1913. In 1927 Green sold the PSNC to the Peabody family, who transferred their Black Ball flag to the company, which became known as the Black Ball Line. In 1951, the State of Washington bought out the PSNC and established Washington State Ferries (WSF). Ferries continued to use the McKenzie wharf, and cars lined up on Front, Spring, and even First, Second, and Court streets in order to load. In 1968, Washington State Ferries constructed a main terminal and waiting area near the base of East Street. Several improvements were subsequently made to the area, which WSF continued to use in 2013.
Continuing to Evolve
The Port of Friday Harbor was established in 1950; eight years later a small pier and floats were installed to offer tie-ups for fishing boats. In 1968, the main pier, the Port's largest, was built. In 1972 the Port installed 172 permanent slips and began to lease land in the harbor area to businesses. A building and pier originally built in the early 1960s by George Williamson for his outboard motor shop were purchased by the Port in 1977, and the San Juan Yacht Club was constructed on top of the existing building in 1986. In 1982, the Port purchased all the land on the north side of Front Street from Spring Street to the Williamson Building. During the next two years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed, built, and installed a floating breakwater in the harbor; 300 more slips were added to the Port facilities at this time. Final extensions to the breakwater were completed around 1985. The Port reacquired the San Juan Marina lease in 1994 and rebuilt the pier and a passenger terminal at the base of Spring Street (Spring Street Landing, 1995-1997).
During the 1950s and early 1960s, George P. Jeffers (1902-1971) used the old Friday Harbor Packing Company for canning peas that were grown in San Juan Valley. Jeffers built the Friday Harbor Canning Company, a freezer plant, in 1960, and froze peas there. The cannery closed in 1964, and the buildings were demolished in 1976. The Buck family purchased the land two years later and built condominiums and then the Cannery Landing building with retail shops.
On February 12, 1974, U.S. District Court Judge George H. Boldt (1903-1984) issued his historic decision in United States v. State of Washington (more commonly known as the Boldt decision), affirming that treaties granted Indian tribes the right to half the fish harvest in the state. Many local non-tribal commercial fishermen reacted with protests such as blocking the departure of the Washington State Ferry Kaleetan from Friday Harbor. The Boldt decision and resulting restriction of the commercial fishing season, in combination with many other factors including historic overharvest, habitat loss, and climate disruption, led to decline in the local fishing industry. In 2103 there were only a few commercial fishing vessels in the harbor and most local boats fished in Alaskan waters.
The populations of Friday Harbor and San Juan County had plateaued during the 1950s and 1960s but by 1970 both began to rise steeply. The town's population tripled from 706 in the 1960 census to 2,162 in the 2010 count. Much of this growth can be attributed to a rise in vacation and second homes, and tourism has become a signal driver of the local economy. The Friday Harbor waterfront reflects this change: the Port's Marina is largely filled with recreational boats and Spring Street Landing caters to excursion vessels such as the Victoria Clipper; the Washington State Ferries terminal at the base of East Street handles thousands of both pedestrian ("walk-on") and vehicular visitors; and the buildings lining Front Street are mainly restaurants, shops, and services catering to tourists. As a vital link to the "outside" world, the Friday Harbor waterfront continues to evolve in response to changing economic, social, and political forces of the region, state, nation, and world.