San Juan Island is known for its abundant wildlife and natural beauty, but it is also a site rich with human history. By booking a kayak tour with Discovery Sea Kayaks, you will learn about the interesting past of the west side of the island where we paddle. Even a brief look into the past of San Juan Island reveals a fascinating story of growth, change, and human interaction. A visit to the island for scenery alone can be an even more rewarding experience by knowing more about its history.
You don’t need to visit a library or even delve into any research to get a sense of our island’s past. In fact, you can gain a wealth of knowledge by simply observing your surroundings during your short walk from the ferry landing to our shop on Spring Street! The presence of the past is visible in the landscape of downtown Friday Harbor and is easily accessible to even a first-time visitor with this brief guide:
- Before you even set foot on San Juan Island, you will get a view of town from the ferry. Take a look at the building to the left of the ferry landing. Now a mall-style collection of gift shops, a book store, and a coffee shop, the structure occupies a space that was once the largest waterfront structure and biggest employer of local workers in town . Established in 1894, the Island Packing Company hired primarily Chinese, and later Japanese workers to can salmon. Over the years the cannery building was expanded and improved. By July 1913, the now San Juan Packing Company structure had a main floor space of 80’x172’. It would eventually be used to can not only fish but also various fruits and peas that were grown seasonally on the island.
- Directly across from the ferry landing is the Cannery House, built c. 1905. Now painted a solid white, this was once the home of William Schultz, the superintendent of the cannery across the street on the waterfront.
- As you walk off the ferry, turn right on Front Street and you will come to a small circular park graced with two large Dutch Elm trees. This is Memorial Park. On November 11, 1921 the Women’s Study Club of Friday Harbor erected a granite memorial in commemoration of the nine island servicemen who perished in WWI. The trees were planted in 1922, one each for the Army and Navy.
- At the corner of Front and Spring Street is the Blue Water Grill. The original building was erected in the 1880s by Israel Katz as the Produce Exchange. It would eventually become a bar, the Saloon Best.
- Continue up Spring Street. At the intersection of Spring and First Street you will see the substantial brick building now home to a real estate office. This was San Juan County’s first bank, which was founded in 1893. Originally it was a wooden building across the street, but the seven-month construction period of the brick structure was a testament to the growing town. The bank operated out of this building from 1907 to 1978. Gene Gould was the bank’s first cashier. At the time he was just 19 years old. By 29 he was the youngest bank president in the United States.
- The movie theatre is apparent across from the corner of King’s Market. Fribor theatre opened in 1915 and screened silent movies that were often accompanied by the owner’s wife, Mrs. Middleton, who played the piano. The building seated 250 people in floor seats and had two balcony boxes as well. Now known as the Palace Theatre, it is especially popular in the summer months.
- Next to the Palace Theatre is the Medical Building, built in the 1890s. Now the Sandpebble, the building used to be divided with a doctor on one side and dentist on the other. The two shared a common waiting room.
- Two buildings farther up Spring Street you will come across the shrub-fronted Bowman House, built between 1876 and 1878. This is the oldest continual residence in Friday Harbor. Its first resident, Judge John Bowman, was one of the town’s first promoters. In 1873 when Friday Harbor was chosen as the county seat, Bowman was one of the town’s population of three. This was also the home of the Nichols family for 40 years, for whom Nichol’s Street is named.
Directly across from the Bowman House is Discovery Sea Kayaks! We hope you have enjoyed this abbreviated historic walk of Friday Harbor on your way to our shop. From here you can book your kayak tour or rent a bike to further explore the island. For a more thorough walking tour of the rest of our historic downtown, check out Historicfridayharbor.org where you can find the guide, “Historic Friday Harbor On Foot: A self-guided walk through the historic downtown neighborhood and landscape of Friday Harbor, Washington.”