Bainbridge Island ferry, city center, Winslow, in background, Statuesque Olympic Mountains Photo by Sharon Soames
Embark upon a creative journey! Board a Washington State ferry from the Coleman Dock in downtown Seattle cruising westward on the waters of Puget Sound. Backdropped by the Olympic Mountains, Bainbridge Island is a thirty-two square mile sylvan tapestry of pastoral fields and wooded hills lapped by the waters of Puget Sound. Just a 35 minute ferry ride lands you in the downtown core of Winslow with its mix of quaint shops and new modern buildings.
Bainbridge has a rich history that includes two sawmills and berry farming. Most of the farms were owned by Japanese residents who faced a devastating evacuation from Bainbridge to internment camps in California during the WWII era. See history below.
Today Bainbridge has a thriving arts culture, notable gardens, farms, parks, wineries, and Islandwood environmental education center. Garden writer Ann Combs resides here. A preponderance of private gardens deplay incredible design and horticultural beauty often finding themselves on public display during the Bainbridge in Bloom Garden Tour. Bloedel Reserve is a standout estate with expansive landscape. Artists, inspired by the islands nourishing beauty, are abundant and tucked away designing and creating in homes and cottage industries all over the island. Bainbridge values these many small and medium-sized business entrepreneurs in our community as an intregral part of its overall economic base and its present culture.
A small historic business district in downtown Winslow still holds its original character while new enterprise in more modern structures is spreading outwards. Outlying neighborhood service centers and industrial parks are dotted throughout the island.
There are always challenges for the community and the City of Bainbridge Island to wrestle with: water resources, financial resources, growth issues, shoreline and wetlands management, infrastructure maintainance, etc. And wrestle we do as in our very well-educated yet diverse opinions, it is sometimes hard to find the middle ground. Indeed Bainbridge raises up a new crop of these well-educated residents each year for future wrestling matches. Our schools are top notch.
Our lives are also governed by the ferry schedules and we yield to its time table over and over again. Yet it transports us to jobs and fun in Seattle and beyond and promises to return us to our homes on our precious, beautiful, idyllic Bainbridge Island.
Morning fog in Blakely Harbor - Sharon Soames photo
Scenes of Life on Bainbridge Island
Watercolor painting of the Walla Walla approaching the Winslow ferry dock. See more of Sarah Clementson Yaeger's work at www.seattlewatercolors.com
Bainbridge Island History
In 1792 Captain George Vancouver sailed his ship the HMS Discovery into Puget Sound and anchored on the tip of Bainbridge Island at Restoration Point, which is now the Country Club. He named the point for King Charles II, who had been "restored" to the throne of England. His two week sojourn at the mouth of Blakely Harbor rendered much needed ship repair. While anchored in the harbor, Captain Vancouver and his men explored the area, met Chief Kitsap and traded with the Native Americans.
In 1841, Captain Charles Wilkes was commissioned to explore the Puget Sound Region for the United States Government to draw up maps and charts. Every rock, island, and inlet that Vancouver had not named for England, Wilkes named for American heroes. The Island was named for Captain William Bainbridge, an American naval hero in the War of 1812. (In the 1920's, a descendant of Captain William Bainbridge lived in Winslow - Helen Bainbridge Yerkes.) In 1842, Bainbridge Island was visited by another Englishman, John Work, as he was exploring for a trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company.
The Donation Land Claim Law in 1850 which granted 640 acres to a married man, and 320 acres to a single man, brought settlers to the area in search of a place to make their homes. (This, before any settlement was made with the Native Americans of the area.) After Captain Wilkes published his Narrative, many Easterners came west for timber to build ships and establish mills, especially New Englanders.
In the Spring of 1854, one such New Englander, Mr. George A. Meigs, relocated his mill to Port Madison on the northern end of the Island to the bay called Noosohkum named by the Suquamish tribe. Thus began the commercial development of Bainbridge Island and its first town. Port Madison was a "dry" town, attributed to George Meigs' moral and spiritual background, however, whiskey peddlers loaded booze and women on their floating hurdy-gurdy houses, arriving at logging camps or off-shore from the milltowns, always on paydays. Several whiskey farms thrived in the woods outside Meig's domain. Port Madison became the County seat and the mill and town were prosperous. People would travel by boat from the small village of Seattle to purchase goods from the fine shops in the city of Port Madison.
The entire town was owned by Meigs. By 1861 there were 50 dwellings and shops, a schoolhouse, two steam saw mills capable of manufacturing 80,000 board feet of lumber every 24 hours, and one iron foundry. In 1864 Meigs suffered severe financial hardship with loss of a ship and a major fire. The mill shut down in 1878, but some of the houses still remain to this day. The second oldest house in the State of Washington still remains at Port Madison nestled in among other newer, larger homes with private docks.
George and Mary Meigs
William and Sarah Renton
Another man, Captain William Renton, chose Port Blakely as the site for his mill. In 1864, just as Meigs' mill was waning, Renton established a sawmill at Port Blakely on the southeast side of Bainbridge where Captain Vancouver first anchored in 1792. This mill grew into acclaim to eventually be called the largest softwood sawmill in the world. Wood was milled and shipped all over the world. Some of San Francisco's homes feature Bainbridge Island lumber. The logs were floated and contained in a millpond until run through steam run giant saws. Schooner type ships anchored at the pier ready to take on the lumber as cargo for extentive journeys to nether parts of the world. The city surpassed the size of Port Madison and was not dry! A monlithic large hotel served up all sorts of libations to the mostly male workers and was located midway in a hedgerow of small millhouses lining Bay St. A boardwalk pier ran in front along the waters edge with a railroad track embedded for the transport of lumber from the mill to the Halls Brothers Shipyard that set up on the northeast portion of the harbor.
Men and women of all nationalities came for the work in the thriving milltown, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and all nature of Europeans. The Swedes settled the hill above the town where dairy cows grazed and milk was supplied to the milltown. The Japanese settled on a hillside ravine just to the south of the harbor. The town of Port Blakely became an international conglomerate of ethnic groups that sometimes led to interesting situations. There is a road on the south side of Blakely Harbor named "Toe Jam Hill Rd." originally named Torjam Hill. Local lore provides three theories of the origin of the abberant name. One is that the Chinese people did much of the laundry in that area, washing socks, therefore toe jam. Another is that the residents living on Torjam Hill were a motley mix of different nationalities who spent a lot of time in the tavern and deserved a motley mixed drink. The bartender served them this special concoction he named, "toe jam" a mix of any old rotgut he could find on the shelves. The drink then renamed Torjam Hill to Toe Jam Hill. The last one is that it was just a mispronunciation of Torjam. Farming was a necessity to help supply the needs of all the workers and residents all over the island, but especially the mill. Port Blakely had a general merchantile that was run by a German couple, Jack and Dora Seaborn. Dora was the butcher as well and was touted with enough strength to sling a side of beef by herself. A Presbyterian Church and Catholic Church were built on the north hillside.
The mill had several fires, one on February 4,1888 and the other on April 22, 1902. The last fire saw a much smaller mill rebuilt and the decline of the mill operations. It finally closed in 1922 and was mostly dismantled by 1926. The Halls Brothers Shipyard had moved to Eagle Harbor. Many of the homes not razed by the fire were torn down. The hotel burned down on August 12, 1928. Others of the millhouses were sold off in about the 1930s just about the time that other nearby neighborhoods were being built. One very prominent development was the Tudor-styled manor of Emmanuel and Edna Olson who then built and developed Lynwood Center and the Island's first theater.
Mill pond and saw house
Schooner "Blakely" docked for loading of lumber cargo
Port Blakely Hotel
Boats under construction at Halls Brothers Shipyard
Bay Street Pier at Port Blakely ran from the sawmill to Halls Brothers Shipyard
From the early 1900s until WWII, the Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island brought agricultural acclaim to the Island for growing ultasweet strawberries. Filipinos and Canadian Indians came to help pick, intermarried, and some stayed to live. The Nakatas, Harui, and Suyematsu families had farms that for awhile lingered from neglect due to a sudden evacuation of Japanese American citizens during WWII from Bainbridge Island. On March 29, 1942 a notice was posted giving Japanese American families eight days to leave their homes for internment camps in California. When the families returned, many of them resumed farming. The Harui's restablished their family nursery, Bainbridge Gardens. Suyematu farms now also grow pumpkins, Christmas trees and grapes. The Nakatas own and run T&C Market in Winslow.
Also during WWII, tall radio towers at Battle Point and Fort Ward helped defeat Japan by capturing coded messages from Japanese ships and land stations. These messages were sent to Washington DC for deciphering. Anti-aircraft artillary were established at Fort Ward.
Evacuation of Japanese American citizens from Bainbridge Island
The years following the war saw the island settle into its agricultural endeavors and slowly tradition to a bedroom community and a summer retreat for Seattlites. The Agate Pass bridge on the north end to Kitsap County made self-sufficiency less necessary. The mosquito fleet of steamboats transporting people from harbor to harbor around Bainbridge stopped operating. The Washington State ferry system was fully operating in the 1960s transporting people and cars to and from the island. Growth was slow on Bainbridge until about the 1980s when the Port Blakely Mill Company desired to transition its tree-growing land and operations to the development of a planned unit community with 1000s of homes in the south end. It was then that Bainbridge recognized that change is inevitable but needed to be carefully managed. The Mill Company's plans were diverted by community resistance. Land was sold piecemeal but to the good as parks were created, the Islandwood Environmental Education Center was established, and less intense development happened. The City of Winslow annexed the rest of the Island into the City of Bainbridge Island in the early 1990s and land purchases were made for open space for posterity. Mixed style architecture is now evident in the downtown core and neighborhoods. Growth remains an issue for Islanders trying to retain the idyllic country style of life while accomodating the pressure to grow.