Friday Harbor History
The San Juan Islands were inhabited by the Northern Straits Salish people for at least 9,000 years prior to European arrival. Other first nation people inhabited the islands seasonally, preserving food in summer for winters spent elsewhere. All were drawn to the islands by the rich abundance of food and materials found here.
The Spanish arrived in the late 18th century with key mapping expeditions occurring in 1791 and 1792 by Captain Francisco de Eliza.
A British expedition led by Captain George Vancouver arrived in 1792. The 1846 Oregon Treaty established the northwest boundary between Canada and the US as the 49th parallel, except in the San Juans, where mapping inaccuracies would later result in conflict between the U.S. and British governments, commonly known as the Pig War. This bloodless war ended in 1872, with the San Juan Islands being declared part of the United States.
Friday Harbor Grows
By 1900 Friday Harbor had become a busy seaport with a thriving commercial center, and a population of three or four hundred. On February 9, 1909, Friday Harbor was officially incorporated as a Town. There were five general stores, foremost among them Churchill’s Store, a bank, U.S. Customs, a printing and stationery store, a weekly newspaper, drugstore, jewelry store, theatre, livery stable, milliner, blacksmith, barber, three hotels, three saloons, a grade school, the Odd Fellows Hall, a sawmill, creamery, a large salmon cannery, and encircling the Town, a ring of residential neighborhoods and small farms and orchards.
Sailing ships, and later, steamships came in and out of the harbor on a regular basis, hauling passengers, mail and freight. They took the island’s bounty: apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, peas, cream, eggs, chicken, sheep, grain, lime, timber and salmon “down Sound.” San Juan Island’s commercial products were shipped to domestic and foreign markets from Friday Harbor’s waterfront, where large warehouses accommodated the steamships of the “mosquito fleet.”
Supply and Demand
Friday Harbor’s economy was driven by San Juan County’s thriving agriculture, and community leaders saw many indicators of continuing prosperity. Beginning in the late 1800’s many of Seattle’s wealthy families began travelling to the San Juan Islands for the summer season, and as word got out, tourism began a steady climb for the next hundred years. Today, tourism is one of the strongest contributors to Friday Harbor’s economic stability.
Much of the charm of Friday Harbor lies in its community spirit, and the welcoming of visitors, whether they come to play or stay.