History buff? Here’s a slice of Friday Harbor history that is a short walk from your accommodations at Harrison House Suites. This building, located on First Avenue overlooking the harbor, has served as a gathering place for the people of Friday Harbor since 1890.
The building was originally a Methodist Episcopal Church, erected by circuit rider minister Reverend Andrew Jackson McNamee and some of the locals. It took them four months to build. Until very recently, not much was known about McNamee, but research conducted at the San Juan Historical Museum has revealed this quiet man who chose to walk his circuits rather than ride them, built fifteen churches and parsonages in Washington state during his 25 year career with the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1924, McNamee published a book about his adventures, “Brother Mack The Frontier Preacher.”
McNamee turned the church over to several other ministers who conducted weddings, women’s guild meetings, Sunday School, and many sermons until about 1917, when the Methodist Episcopal Church folded in Friday Harbor. The church was used as storage for a few years; in 1925 the Women’s Study Club bought the building, and for the next fifty years was the home to meetings that included lectures from scientists and adventure minded explorers, fund raising for community issues, and a place where Friday Harbor women could have intellectual conversations, share experiences, and contribute to the community.
In 1975, the Study Club sold the building to the San Juan Island Grange. The church-clubhouse-meeting place has been through many revisions and restructuring. Even today, there is construction underway to add a back deck to the structure to enable the Grange to offer more event space. 1890 – 2015: 125 years of community. Thank you Reverend McNamee!
If you love birding, you will love searching the trees and skies over San Juan Island for the Western Bluebird, returning now to us after 50 years. Be sure to pack your binoculars and camera long range lens when you are readying for your stay at the Harrison House Suites in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Your birding report could add to the collection of knowledge on this project!
Western Bluebirds were common on San Juan Island until the 1960’s, when their habitat was diminished, and the areas that were left became occupied by European Starlings (round up the usual suspects!). An intensive relocation program began a few years ago, and happily, 24 pairs have relocated successfully.
The project was a joint venture between San Juan Island Audobon Society, San Juan Preservation Trust, American Bird Conservancy, and the Ecostudies Institute of Mt. Vernon & Ft. Lewis. A few years ago, 150 San Juan Island volunteers built 130 nesting boxes to encourage the Western Bluebirds to return to our island after a 50 year absence. Looks like it is working! The goal is to eventually have at least 45 pairs of nesting birds who return annually to our shores.
A detailed article regarding the Western Bluebirds’ return to San Juan Island can be found here: http://sjpt.org/places-projects/stewardship-projects/western-bluebird-project/
Birders, you can find these lovely birds in open woodlands, usually at the edge of a meadow or prairie. Enjoy your encounter, take photos, but please do not get too close. If you are at English Camp or American Camp, please report your sighting to a park ranger or volunteer.
Guests at Harrison House Suites may be surprised to see an occasional alpaca or llama mixed in with the cattle in the pastures of farms on San Juan Island. While driving on West Valley Road, the surprise will be compounded when a turn of the road reveals 60 + alpacas meandering around the fenced pastures of Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm! Visitors are welcome to stop in, and there is a lovely store on the property.
Alpacas (Lama pacos, or Vicugna pacos), are natives of South America, domesticated in the Andes over 6000 years ago. Alpacas are raised for the fleece, which is lustrous and silky, and not to be beasts of burden. There are over 52 natural colors of the fiber, and it contains no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic.
The Alpaca is smaller than a llama, and has a gentle and curious nature. The adults weigh 106-185 pounds, and the “baby alpacas” are called cria. The female carries the cria for 11.5 months before delivering. Alpacas live 20-25 years.
Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, on San Juan Island, is owned and operated by Kris and Albert Olson. The farm is a beautiful, peaceful place, and each pasture holds a few of the 60+ alpacas the Farm currently owns. The Krystal Acres Store offers a wide selection of scarves, coats, socks, teddy bears and many other products, all made from the light and soft fiber of their own stock.
Take the family out for a unique sightseeing & shopping opportunity. A recent visit by this writer and two young friends resulted in a new-found respect for beauty and a chance to see Alpacas close up. Kris the owner walked by as we were sketching, and called each of the alpacas in our group by name – it was lovely!
Wander about the grounds of Harrison House Inn and Suites on C Street in Friday Harbor, and you will discover a tree whose origins trace back to the days of the dinosaurs.
The Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria Araucana), located on the corner of the Inn’s property, is native to the Southern Andes foothills, and was declared an endangered species in 2013 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In 1976 it was declared the National Tree of Chile.
There is no official record of how this tree was brought to Friday Harbor, but it was probably brought here by someone who admired the unusual shape and hardiness of the Monkey Puzzle in an ornamental garden in the British Isles. How did these seeds make their way from Chile, to England and Ireland, and finally to Friday Harbor? The answer lies in the famous expedition of George Vancouver, 1790 – 1795. After exploring the Pacific Northwest, the ships made their way home, stopping in Chile. Monkey Puzzle Tree seeds were added to the expedition’s collection, and in the 1840’s, a British nursery was able to produce enough seeds to begin marketing Monkey Puzzle trees to the public.
The British and Irish wealthy were entranced with the unusual tree, and with good reason. The Monkey Puzzle can reach 70-130 feet in height, is fire-resistant, and can live for over a thousand years.
It soon became a status symbol to have a Monkey Puzzle in one’s ornamental garden. One of the first purchasers was a man named Sir William Molesworth, whose friend coined the name “monkey puzzle tree” by saying “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that!” In French, the tree is called a “monkey’s despair”. By the early 1900’s these intriguing plants began showing up in gardens in Seattle, and in the San Juan Islands.
However, we can find only three so far on San Juan Island. One is here at Harrison House Suites, one in a residential area of downtown Friday Harbor, and one at the San Juan Historical Society Museum.
Maybe you will find another Monkey Puzzle in your travels of San Juan Island – and if you do, we would love to hear about it!
The town of Friday Harbor turned 105 this February and without much fanfare, Friday Harbor is getting gussied up – an infrastructure face lift of sorts. Much of the work has focused behind the scenes in sewage or water treatment plants or beneath the road beds – replacing aging water and sewer lines, fixing storm water catch basins and repairing pump stations.
These types of repairs remind me of the Inns – all the behind the scenes repairs and proactive maintenance that you can’t do without. Somehow the 6 new water heaters or rewired electrical box do not have the same gee whiz factor as a newly painted room or landscape installation.
The town recently completed a few projects that you can’t help but notice. Blair Avenue from Spring to Guard Street will open this week. Those of you reading from a big city probably think we’re crazy highlighting this as news. This new 2 lane road, a veritable highway for the Island, has new sidewalks, street lights, and tree planters with beautiful Native American designs. The entire road bed of Blair Avenue was completely rebuilt.
Busy summer traffic was detoured from this major cross town arterial plus traffic to the middle and high schools, the post office and many other businesses that line the boulevard had to be rerouted. Islanders are musing with delight to say they can now drive the entire length of Blair Avenue without a detour. They describe the smoothness of the asphalt lift with the adjectives used to describe the facial complexion of models. Ah Island life. We are all proud of this new road project!
Speaking of road projects, the town completed a chip seal project that did an overlay on many of the down town roads and side streets. While it was a bit dusty for a few weeks and difficult for cyclists to maneuver upon, those inconveniences are distant memories for the improved road surface we now enjoy.
Friday Harbor’s new trash and recycle containers are showing up in prominent places in the down town core. No more having to carry your recyclables back to the Inn to find an appropriate receptacle for disposal.
The town will make a big splash for the holidays. Gone are the years when the tree lighting didn’t light as planned. The Town hired a professional company to light Memorial Circle Park, the entrance to town, for the holidays. From the installation previews, it is going to be nothing short of spectacular. No more Charlie Brown trees for Friday Harbor! Do plan a visit for an old town holiday celebration.
Friday Harbor is San Juan Island’s gateway. Our small little town of 2,200 residents maintains infrastructure that supports the growing summer population of visitors.