Bainbridge Island (Winslow) -- Thumbnail History

  • By Jennifer Ott
  • Posted 8/30/2007
  • Essay 8274
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Eagle Harbor lies on the eastern side of Bainbridge Island, which is located in central Puget Sound directly west of Seattle. Until 1990 the community situated on the harbor was named Winslow. In 1990 Winslow voted to annex the entire island and the following year it voted to change its name to Bainbridge Island. The town on the harbor began in the 1870s as a handful of settlers in a community called Madrone.  Farming formed the foundation of the town's economy and fueled its growth, with the most notable crop eventually becoming strawberries  grown by Japanese American farmers.  In 1902 Hall Brothers Shipbuilding moved their operation to Eagle Harbor, and Madrone changed its name to Winslow (after Winslow Hall). The firm became the predominate industry. During the latter half of the twentieth century the easy ferry commute to Seattle spurred residential development, which continues today.

First Peoples

The area around Eagle Harbor where settlers took up homesteads has attracted human settlement for generations. The harbor, beaches, and forests all held resources utilized by people known as the sakh-TAHBSH band of the Suquamish tribe. They had encampments at Wing Point and Bill Point on either side of the entrance to the harbor as well as at Midden Point and the area behind where a Washington State Ferry facility is located today. 

The Suquamish ceded Bainbridge Island to the Americans as part of the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. They continued to use the beaches, however, for their own economic and subsistence activities while the Americans proceeded to clear the land of timber and claim homesteads.  

The sakh-TAHBSH called the harbor The Home of the Eagles, but today’s name for it comes from Charles Wilkes who arrived by sea in 1841 as part of the United States Exploring Expedition. Although Wilkes often named places after members of his crew or others in the navy, historian Edmond S. Meany argues that Eagle Harbor was named for the shape of the harbor. This contention is bolstered by the names he gave the two points, Bill and Wing. However, given the Suquamish name, it is possible it was named for the presence of eagles. 

From Forest to Farm

Loggers cleared Eagle Harbor of trees in the early 1870s. Pictures of the early homesteaders show a landscape denuded of trees. In 1874 some loggers found a seam of coal that generated some excitement but produced little coal. Thus, when the trees were gone, the loggers moved on. 

The abandoned logging camp proved useful to the first permanent settlers on the harbor. In 1877, the James Ryan family moved into a vacant cabin just to the east of where the Washington State Ferries dock is today. Upon landing, Ryan’s stepdaughter Betty J. Stephens Wylde remembers, the land around the harbor lay empty except for the two Indian encampments on the points.  

Riley and Martha Hoskinson, with their children, followed closely behind the Ryans, arriving in 1878. They are considered Winslow’s founders because their homestead lay just west of the creek, at the center of where the town now stands. A Civil War veteran, Riley had lived in Kansas and San Francisco and on Smith Cove in Seattle before settling at Eagle Harbor. He was a devout Congregationalist, helping found Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, the island’s first church, in 1882.  

Besides running his farm and supporting the church, Hoskinson also used instruments mounted on his roof to record the first weather observations for the area west of the Mississippi. In his role as a "voluntary observer" he sent reports to Washington, D.C., from 1878 until 1889. 

New Neighbors

In 1881 an article Hoskinson wrote for a New York newspaper extolling the virtues of settling in the Northwest found its way into the hands of Ambrose Grow, who lived just outside Manhattan, Kansas. Like Hoskinson, Grow had served in the Civil War and belonged to the Congregational Church. He gathered his family and moved to Bainbridge Island, claiming the homestead next to the Hoskinsons’. 

Riley and Ambrose proved to be well-suited neighbors. Both felt strongly about their religious beliefs and enjoyed debating theological issues. Each abhorred the vices of drinking, dancing, and cards. When the need arose, each contributed land and labor to building their new community. Grow donated land for the first school; Hoskinson started the Sunday School.  

They, like many who would follow them, mainly farmed for a living, providing for their families’ subsistence as well as growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, and livestock for sale to other settlers and in Seattle. Riley and his son Stuart used a small boat to row around the island and sell their produce.  

An Island Town

During the 1880s a town grew up around the Hoskinson and Grow homesteads. Kenyon Stillman opened a grocery store. The boat dock, which also housed a grocery store, served passengers going to and from Seattle and to other island and mainland towns via steamer boats that were part of the Mosquito Fleet that preceded the Washington State Ferry system. Steamer service to Seattle, run by Ryan’s nephew Charles Williams, began in 1887 with the Tolo.

The Eagle joined the Tolo in 1901 in connecting Madrone residents with the outside world. The island had no bridge linking it to the mainland and few roads. As island historian Katy Warner explains, "it was easier to go to Seattle on the steamer than to get to Port Blakely by horse and buggy" (Bainbridge Island, p. 42).  

With the Eagle, however, the Congregational residents’ temperance fervor caught up with them. The townspeople sold shares to build the steamer and it operated from just 1901 until 1903, when it burned while tied up at the dock. Its short life, according to some, was due its christening with a bouquet of flowers rather than with the traditional bottle of champagne. 

In early years, getting the mail meant rowing across the bay and then following a path to Port Blakely. A post office opened in 1890 and the town was named Madrone after a madrona tree growing near the dock. By 1900 the town had grown up into two districts, separated by a ravine running perpendicular to what is now Winslow Way. On the west side of the ravine stood the church, school, grocery, and a steamer dock at the foot of Madison Avenue. To the east lay the butcher, barber, and baker, and the Winslow Hotel, which burned in 1924. A brewer from Seattle built the Winslow Hotel, but sold it when he realized that the town would not tolerate the sale of alcohol. Around 1900, a bridge crossed the ravine, joining the two parts of town and facilitating growth.

Farming the Land

Around the island the loggers had cleared the trees where they could and moved on to new timberlands. Some of the Japanese immigrants who had worked in the sawmills stayed on the island and cleared trees for settlers. On some of these farms the Japanese were allowed to use part of the land for their own use. 

Many of the Japanese farmers planted strawberries because they required little capital to get started. The former sawmill workers seized this opportunity to become farmers. Around 1900 the Winslow Berry Growers Association formed. They used Sakakichi Sumiyoshi’s house to can their berries and then sold them in Seattle. 

After 1915 the volume of berries increased and farmers had to hire pickers. They usually relied on Canadian Indians to come in and harvest, though they had to compete with hop farmers elsewhere on Puget Sound for the Indians’ labor. As hop production decreased, more pickers became available and more berries grown. By 1940 canneries processed nearly two million pounds of berries. 

The growth of the berry farms outpaced the available Indian labor and farmers began to hire Filipino workers who had come to the island to work in the sawmills and in the shipyard. The farmers turned to the Filipinos because white residents were not willing to do the work and legislation prohibited Japanese and Chinese immigration, thus reducing their numbers locally.  

Other anti-Japanese legislation affected the Japanese farmers. The 1921 Alien Land Law passed by the state legislature prohibited land ownership by anyone not eligible to become a citizen. Since Japanese immigrants were barred from citizenship by earlier federal legislation, they could not hold title to the lands they worked.  

The farmers found ways to circumvent the laws. Sonokichi Sakai, whose farm was where Bainbridge Middle School now stands, put his land in his son’s name because his son had been born in the United States and was a citizen. Other farmers had neighbors or local business owners hold title to the land. 

Building Ships

At the turn of the century a Port Blakely business, the Hall Brothers Shipyard, found itself outgrowing the available land in Port Blakely. They looked to Eagle Harbor for more room and in 1902 secured 77 acres in Madrone, which was renamed Winslow in honor of one of the Hall brothers who had recently died. Edmond Meany’s book on Washington place names asserts that Henry Hall renamed the town, but it may be that the town changed the name as a consequence of or to encourage the shipyard’s relocation. 

Eagle Harbor offered more level ground and a gentler slope to the shore. Still, to make the site suitable for their yard, the company moved nearly 5,000 cubic yards of dirt and dredged the harbor. These adjustments to the landscape enabled them to build five-masted schooners at the site. The schooners had a unique design that allowed them to be loaded through the bow or stern and from the deck. The company also planned to use the enlarged yard to build steel-hulled ships, but that would not happen until 1939. 

As the town grew, so did the population of school-age children. In 1908 Lincoln School at Winslow Way and Madison Avenue replaced the one-room schoolhouse built on land donated by the Grow family. The new school offered classes through the eighth grade. It grew by adding one grade at a time until the first class reached twelfth grade in 1914, forming the island’s first high school. This saved Winslow’s high school students from having to make a daily commute or board to attend high school in Seattle.  

Winslow's Japanese Americans

Winslow’s next big leap in population and surge of development came with the start of World War II. The shipyard expanded and employed 2,300 workers for repairing damaged vessels and to build minesweepers for the war effort. A housing project on Winslow Way housed the some workers and many commuted daily from Seattle. 

At the same time, the area’s farming community decreased drastically as a result of the government’s response to the war. Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 gave the military the authority to intern anyone they consider "dangerous." The order set in motion the expulsion of 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast to 10 inland prison camps, based on their ethnicity and heritage. None was accused of any crime or charged or convicted of any act of espionage or sabotage. Bainbridge Island's Japanese American residents were the first in the country to be removed, most likely because of the nearness of the Bremerton Navy Yard and other military installations.  

After the first announcement of the executive order in February 1942, the only West Coast newspaper editors to write against internment were Walt and Milly Woodward of the Bainbridge Review. In their editorial they wrote that they, "hope that the order will not mean the removal of American-Japanese citizens, for it [the Review] still believes they have the right of every citizen: to be held innocent and loyal until proven guilty" ("Not Another Arcadia," 4). 

When a short time later, on March 22, 1942, Japanese Americans were ordered to evacuate in just eight days, the Woodwards spoke out again, arguing that this was not enough time for the evacuees to settle their affairs. Among the unresolved issues was the fate of the expected three-million-pound crop of strawberries. Filipino American employees signed agreements with the Japanese American landowners to harvest the crop and to manage their farms until they could return. White island residents also assisted in caring for assets. 

Sadness marked the day the military removed Bainbridge Island’s Japanese American residents. Military trucks drove from house to house gathering the 275 people and only the belongings they could carry. Families left pets behind, a Filipino American husband stayed behind as his Japanese American wife left, and the sheriff boarded up the community hall windows and posted guards to protect the stored belongings evacuees left behind. 

At the Eagledale dock, the Bainbridge Review reported, the evacuees remained composed as they boarded the boat. Onlookers, including some of the soldiers carrying out the order, "wept unashamed" ("Evacuees Sing on Trip," 1). 

Ichiro Nagatani, head of the Japanese-American Citizens’ League at the time of internment, told the Review that most of the Japanese Americans harbored no bitterness, but declared, "We are just as good Americans as the next guy ... only we haven’t had a chance to prove it" ("Johnny and Ichiro ...They're Two Fine Fellows," 8). 

After the war only about half of the island’s Japanese American residents returned. According to the Bainbridge Island School District’s Minority History Committee, some stayed away because they did not want to return to start over and others had found new places to settle, having seen other parts of the country during the war. Those who did return to the island settled in largely uneventfully. One local group tried to prevent their return but received little popular support. 

Island farming did not ever regain the pre-war levels. Population growth and disruption during the war discouraged agriculture and encouraged residential development. 

Winslow Boosters Boost Incorporation

Wartime population increases in town spurred development. On the south side of Winslow Way what had been picnic grounds and forest became part of the business district. In the late 1940s a group of business owners formed the Winslow Boosters to foster development. 

The Winslow Boosters spearheaded an effort to incorporate Winslow as a fourth-class town. Residents in the one square mile area included in the proposed incorporation debated the merits and disadvantages of incorporation during the summer of 1947. The Boosters argued that incorporation would give Winslow home rule; no islander had ever served as county commissioner.  

Opponents argued that the Boosters only wanted to be a town so they could build sewer and water systems for their businesses. The homeowners who opposed the plan argued that they did not need those services and did not want to foot the bill for the businesses. 

Kenneth Gideon of Winslow wrote a letter to the residents of the Winslow Housing Project appealing to them to vote against incorporation so that Winslow could retain its rural character. He feared a loss of the quality of life many on the island valued. 

In August the final vote came in at 110 for incorporation, 107 against. Herb Allen was elected the first mayor and Winslow became Bainbridge Island’s first incorporated town. 

Development by Auto

Gideon should not have feared incorporation as much as cars. The first auto landed on the island via a steamer in 1923, headed for the island doctor, Frank L. Shepard. By 1927 residents owned 1,300 cars and trucks. In 1937 the car ferry from Seattle moved from Port Blakely to Winslow, the same year the passenger steamers ceased service.  

As car numbers increased, roads increased and improved, eventually leading to more demand for access to the mainland. In October 1950 the Agate Pass Bridge opened. That same year, Washington State Ferries built a new dock for car ferries at Winslow, on the east end of town. Residents and visitors could now traverse the island on Secondary State Highway 21A (now State Route 305) and reach the Kitsap Peninsula or Seattle in their cars with ease.  

But, as island resident Elnora A. Parfitt writes in Kitsap County History, "Something of the privacy and closeness of island life is gone forever" (Parfitt, Winslow and Environs, 52). What had been a farming community with some small industry began the transition to the suburban community it is today.   

A Controversial Development

Looking to the future, Winslow leaders envisioned a city that encompassed the whole island.  In 1964 a name-change measure on the ballot sought to rename Winslow as Bainbridge Island. The Seattle Times reported that the supporters of the measure hoped it would make it easier, "to incorporate the entire island by gradual annexation" ("Name Change," 5). Voters rejected the idea by nearly two to one. 

In the 1970s and 1980s land values rose and residential development filled old farm fields. The shipyard had closed in 1959 and the property turned into a marina, a Washington State Ferries maintenance dock, and a private development. Tension rose between those seeking to develop the island and those hoping to preserve its rural character. 

This issue of managing growth went before the voters in 1990. They had to decide whether an expanded city of Winslow could effectively govern the entire island or if the area outside Winslow’s existing city limits would be better served by its own government or the county. 

Emotions ran high in the weeks preceding the vote. The Seattle Times reported, “The islanders are restless. Last week there was loose talk of car bombs. Eyewitnesses encountered a political activist packing a gun, and threats were recorded on telephone answering machines”  ("Islanders Are Restless ...")

Those supporting Winslow’s bid to annex the island organized as Home Rule for Bainbridge and argued that local government making land-use decisions would better curb development. Those opposed, led by the No City Committee questioned Winslow’s ability to govern the island and suggested the real motive for incorporation lay in their desire for the area’s tax revenue and to let developers have free reign. They feared that unfettered development would change the nature of the island and drive lower- and middle-income residents out. 

The vote came in November 1990 and the residents’ strong feelings were reflected in voter turnout: 71.5 percent of eligible voters. The election was close -- 3,193 in favor, 3,057 against. With that slim majority annexation carried the day and all of Bainbridge Island came under one government.

With that vote the island neighborhoods of Port Blakely, Port Madison, Island Center, Yeomalt, Eagledale, Creosote, Rolling Bay, Seabold, Manitou Beach, Venice, Battle Point, Westwood, South Beach, Rolling Bay, and Winslow came under the same name and local government.

A year later another vote changed the city's name to Bainbridge Island.  Since incorporation the island has struggled with managing growth. In 1994 the city developed a comprehensive plan. One of the stated goals, “Preserve the special character of the Island which includes forested areas, meadows, farms, marine views, and winding roads bordered by dense vegetation” reflects the residents’ desire to maintain that “privacy and closeness” that Elnora A. Parfitt so valued. In direct competition with that goal, however, stands rising land values and increasing population. An island has a finite amount of land and the challenge facing islanders in the twenty-first century will be deciding how best to use it.


Mike Bozanich, "Secondary State Highway 21A," Highways of Washington State website accessed August 27, 2007 (; Don Brazier, "The Town of Winslow: Incorporation of Island Community is Controversial," The Seattle Times, August 29, 1947, p. 21; Bill Burden and Paul Dorpat, "Winslow: The View from Eagle Harbor," The Seattle Times, February 28, 1989, p. F-8; Walt Crowley, Kit Oldham, and the HistoryLink Staff, Moving Washington Timeline: The First Century of the Washington State Department of Transportation, 1905-2005 (Seattle: History Ink, 2005), 58; Tom Dailey, "Village Descriptions Skokomish -- Bremerton," Coast Salish Villages of Puget Sound website accessed August 27, 2007 (; Kenneth Gideon, Letter to residents of Winslow Housing Project, n.d., addendum to "City of Winslow Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Commemoration: 1947-1972," prepared by Edward M. Ulloa, November 11, 1972, Winslow file, Bainbridge Island Historical Society, Bainbridge Island, Washington; Darrell Glover, "Winslow? Now It's Bainbridge Island," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 7, 1991, p. A-10; Henrietta Bucklin Lewis, "What I Remember About the Early History of Winslow," undated typescript, Winslow file, Bainbridge Island Historical Society, Bainbridge Island, Washington; Elsie Frankland Marriott, Bainbridge Through Bifocals (Seattle: Gateway Printing Company, 1941); John Iwasaki, "Winslow Council Approves Annexation Plan," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 15, 1990, p. B-2; Edmond S. Meany, Origin of Washington Geographic Names (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1923), 74-75; Elnora Parfitt, "More About Bainbridge Island," in Kitsap County Historical Society, Book IV Bainbridge Island of Kitsap County History (Seattle: Dinner & Klein, 1977), 8; Elnora A. Parfitt, "Winslow and Environs," Ibid., 42, 47-52; Natalie Rudolph, "It Was 77 Years Ago that Fred Grow Landed Here," Bainbridge Review, May 1, 1958, p. 1; Carlton Smith, "Bainbridge Apparently OKs Annexation Into Winslow," The Seattle Times, November 7, 1990, p. C-6; Carlton Smith, "Healing Time’s on Agenda for Weary Islanders," Ibid., November 15, 1990, p. C-6; Carktib Smith, "Islanders are Restless Over Vote on Annexation," Ibid., October 30, 1990, p. B-1; Jack Swanson, Picture Bainbridge: A Pictorial History of Bainbridge Island (Bainbridge Island: The Bainbridge Island Historical Society, 2002); Katy Warner, A History of Bainbridge Island (Bainbridge Island:  Bainbridge Island Public Schools, 1968);  "Century on the Harbor" Bainbridge Island Review, August 8, 1990, p. 19; "Comprehensive Plan," "Housing Element," "Land Use Element," The City of Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan website accessed August 27, 2007 (; "Evacuees Sing on Trip," Bainbridge Review, April 2, 1942, p. 1; "Figure 7, Bainbridge Island Agricultural Lands (Tax Status)," The City of Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan website accessed August 27, 2007 (; "Hall’s Modern Shipbuilding Plant at Eagle Harbor," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 24, 1903, Magazine Section; "Island Japanese Accept Army Mandate for Move to Owen Valley, California," Bainbridge Review, March 26, 1942, p. 1. "Johnny and Ichiro ... They’re Two Fine Fellows," Ibid., March 26, 1942, p. 8;   "Memorial," The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community website accessed August 27, 2007 (; "Name Change for Winslow Loses 2 to 1," The Seattle Times, March 11, 1964, p. 5; "Not Another Arcadia," Bainbridge Review, February 26, 1942, p. 4;  "Not Enough Time," Ibid., March 5, 1942, p. 1; They Cast a Long Shadow: A History of the Nonwhite Races on Bainbridge Island ed. by Brian Roberts (Bainbridge Island: Minority History Committee of Bainbridge Island School District No. 303, 1975);  "Winslow Moves to Become a City," The Seattle Times, July 8, 1969, p. 23; "Winslow Now a 4th-Class City," Ibid., September 3, 1947, p. 17.
This essay was corrected on March 20, 2010.

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