Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 26
THE SAN JUAN ARCHIPELAGO AND CITY OF THE SEA.
Being in the Fuca Sea, let us have a talk about it and its archipelago. Fidalgo, Guemes, Cypress, and Lummi Islands lie east of Rosario Strait, and belong to counties on the mainland, as Skagit (pronounced Skadgit) and Whatcom, while San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, Shaw, Blakely, Decatur, and numerous smaller islands constitute the county of San Juan and the San Juan Archipelago.
The island of that name contains about fifty square miles, and is famous for its limestone quarries and lime-kilns. It is also famous as the seat of the San Juan war during the contention between England and the United States concerning the ownership of these islands, England holding that Rosario Strait was the main channel, while the United States held that the Canal de Haro was such.
AMONG THE ISLANDS.
A goose has been credited with saving Rome. A pig it was that saved the San Juan group, for when collector Ebey, in 1854, appeared on the island and proceeded to confiscate a British pig or two on the refusal of the owner to pay import duties on a band of sheep from Vancouver Island, the British unicorn exalted its horn and asserted its claim to the archipelago. So serious did the dispute become that General Harney, commanding the Department of the Columbia, placed a force on the island of San Juan to hold it at all hazards, and a post was maintained there until the settlement of the controversy by arbitration, in 1872, when Emperor William of Germany decided in favor of the claim of the United States.
One should enter the Fuea Sea by the Strait of Fuca, fifteen miles wide and sixty in length. At this gateway of the Pacific stand, what it requires the help of our imagination to make out, the Pillars of Hercules, of Vancouver. As we advance, Vancouver Island is on our left, its general surface rather rounded and smooth, crowned with forest in the interior, its shores indented with lovely bays and coves of a most inviting appearance. On the right is the mainland, with the Olympic Range lifting its silvered summits and noble peaks. In front, rising from the Cascade Range, is Mount Baker, with half a dozen lesser peaks grouped about it.
Advancing still farther, we pass by the southern end of the San Juan group, which scarcely shows an opening between the islands, and find ourselves almost abreast Deception Pass. Let us turn to the north, where we have not yet been, and make for Anacortes, where we desire to go, because we have heard wonderful things of Anacortes. A half-dozen miles takes us to Ship Harbor, or Guemes Canal, and half 1 a dozen more to the City of the Sea.
Fidalgo Island has all those eccentricities of shape which characterize this group. Stretching north from Deception Pass seven miles to Guemes Canal, with a width varying from three to six miles, it is flanked on the west by two small islands, and cut into on the east by an inlet about three miles long from north to south, forming, with Padilla Bay, a narrow peninsula pointing north, while about nine square miles of its area are contained in another peninsula pointing south, and separated from the main island by Similk Bay, which meets Deception Pass on the southeast. This portion of the island is an Indian reservation, and is divided from the mainland only by Swinomish Slouch, a narrow and shallow but navigable channel between Padilla Bay and that unnamed portion of the Sound before referred to, north of Port Susan, and into which empties the Skagit River by several mouths.
Near the centre of Fidalgo Island is Mount Erie, twelve hundred and fifty feet in height, while several small lakes add to its scenic attractions. To say that the view from the summit of
Mount Erie is entrancing would be strictly correct, however trite the expression. Behold how, far away south, the "Jupiter Hills" seem to bathe their feet in the waters of the Strait, surpassingly beautiful in outline, delicately colored, tipped and rimmed with shining lines and crests of snow—a marvel of aerial effect—a poet's dream—a vision of the air! Turn from this exquisite sublimity to the half a hundred islands of the archipelago, on the west and north, each with its peculiar shape to distinguish it, its miniature bays, capes, and promontories, its bits of prairie or forest-crowned ridges, but always picturesque. Turn towards the east and see again Mount Baker and the great masses of forest that extend from the summits of the Cascades to the shores of the Sound, marking where the Skagit winds its devious way to its outlet, and fail to dream of the future which awaits this region! Do we need to hear that the Skagit valley is fertile, or that its foot-hills are full of coal, iron, and other valuable minerals? From what we have seen of other parts of West Washington, we know this without being told. But of course we are told so by everybody, as if the discovery were a new one.
Let us talk a little about the Skagit River region while it is in mind. Although this river is the largest which empties into Puget Sound, the remoteness of the country from the beaten track of commerce caused it to be overlooked for settlement in the earlier history of the Sound. Its channel was obstructed by frequent "jams" of drift, which prevented navigation for more than a few miles. But in 1869 J. S. Conner located on a rocky blutf at the southern end of Swinomish Slough, and commenced diking and cultivating the tide-marsh-land on the delta at the mouth of the Skagit. So successful was he that others soon gathered about him, and he laid out a town which he called La Conner, after his wife, Louisa Agnes Conner, which was until quite recently the only one in this region. It has now five hundred inhabitants and a good trade, a body of land ten miles long by three and a half in width being reclaimed by diking and converted into farms where from one hundred to one hundred and fifty bushels of oats to the acre is the annual product. This tract is known as the Swinomish Flats. South of it is another tract of five thousand acres, also redeemed, but
from fresh-water overflow, at no great expense. This is the Beaver Marsh, and is just as productive as the first named. Both of these tracts have navigable sloughs through them, which enable the farmers to ship their crops from the banks. Wheat and barley are grown on these lands, but the quality as well as quantity of the oat crop renders this more profitable. Hay, fruits, and vegetables make large returns. Olympia Marsh is another reclaimed tract north of a ridge separating it from Swinomish Flats, and has a small settlement on the ridge, called Bay View, which possesses a growing lumber-trade. At the north end of Swinomish Slough is an island seven hundred and fifty acres in extent, also wholly reclaimed.
On the low ground towards the mouths of the Skagit sprucetrees grow and the earth is wet, but these lands also when reclaimed yield well, while ten miles up the river the valley when cleared is perfectlj' well adapted to general farming. The timber of the valley is red cedar and Douglas fir, the most valuable in the State for milling purposes. The jams of drift have been removed, and in their places are sometimes jams of saw-logs.
Logging-camps were the first settlements on the river, but there are now several incipient towns. The first, Skagit City, is at the point where the river divides into the several channels forming the delta, and is of little importance. Mount Vernon is the county-seat, and was the principal town in the county before the rise of Anacortes, with which it was recently brought into connection by railroad. Sedro, at the crossing of the Fairhaven and Southern Bail way, is simply a railroad station whose future is undetermined, although if it makes good use of its natural resources, as well as transportation advantages, it ought to become a business centre. Lyman is prettily situated on the river, with a deep-water frontage, a saw-mill, a general merchandise establishment, a good school-house, and other signs of prosperity. It is also on the line of the Seattle and Northern Bailroad from Sedro to Anacortes.
Above Lyman a short distance is Hamilton, named after its proprietor, William Hamilton, and famous for having a large orchard bearing excellent fruit, and for being opposite the iron mountain mentioned in another chapter and called Mount
Columbia. This mountain is said to be filled with coal on one side and with iron on the other. It is covered with heavy timber, which is being removed to facilitate the opening of the mines, and a town site is being cleared, which will be required when the mines are opened.
The river flows with a twelve-miles-an-hour current at this distance from the Sound; thirty-five miles inland the passage grows narrower and the scenery more striking. Birdview is a pretty spot, where a water-fall twenty-five feet in width comes plunging down from a height, and runs the machinery of a saw-mill. Above this point the fall in the river increases, and it takes the steamer half an hour to pass through a rocky defile three hundred feet in width, but of no great length.
Not far beyond this pass, Baker Biver, a large stream, enters the Skagit from the south, seeming scarcely to augment its volume. Its valley is heavily timbered, and, if rumor is correct, the hills which border it are stored with coal, iron, and marble.
On the north bank of the Skagit, eight miles beyond the junction of Baker Biver, is Sauk City, at the mouth of Sauk Biver, a stream which comes down from Mount Baker through a very rugged country. Sauk Mountain, close to the river, is six thousand feet in height. Beyond this point navigation becomes difficult, even in high water, and at Cascade we turn about to descend.
The Seattle and Northern Bailroad, which is chartered to build from Anacortes to Spokane, with a branch to Seattle, and which has already completed a connection with the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern, is surveying its line east of the head of navigation, making for the Skagit Pass. Until transportation is afforded by railway, little development will take place in the mining region beyond.
It is curious to note, that, whereas we set out with the impression that our route lay through il twilight woods" almost perpetually, we found quite a number of good farms and comfortable farm-houses in the Skagit Valley as far as we proceeded, so rapidly does achievement follow upon attempt in this rich and favored region. I will be quite honest, and say, what I think to be the truth, that the very newness of the country helps the beginner here, by the absence of close competition. By and by, when everybody has found his place and settled down to stay, the home market of the producer will not be as good as it now is nor the prices so high. But by then he will have placed himself in comfort, and need not worry over market prices.
I am reminded by being at the mouth of the Sauk of a very interesting talk I had with a gentleman at Olympia—Mr. F. W. Brown—before coming here. From him I learned that the scenery on the Sauk, towards its head, is of the wildest description. Jets of lava, poured out in former ages from Mount Baker, thrust themselves up through the main ridge of the Cascades where it is nine thousand feet above the sea. The Sauk River is precipitated over frequent falls and rapids. A park—Suiatl, pronounced Soo-i-at—is surrounded by basaltic needles of great height, and in it is found the red snow seen only in a few localities on the globe. Huge blocks of granite occur in this region, and in one place a pillar of it five thousand feet in height. But the most curious discovery made was of a canon coming down Mount Baker to within half a mile of the Skagit River, formed by hot lava cutting its way through sand and limestone, and turning the sides of the canon thus formed to obsidian. This volcanic glass is blue and green in color, and very brittle. There is a field here for the scientist and the tourist, which is waiting only until railroads make it reasonably easy to approach.
To return to the archipelago. In cruising about among these islands one is irresistibly reminded of Homer. Here might have been enacted the scenes of the Odyssey. There is the same idyllic simplicity, and even the same occupations of the people, who in the San Juan group are often of Canadian or North-of-Europe stock. These islands are indeed preferable to the
"Isles of Greece
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,"
on account of the forestry upon them.
The San Juan group numbers thirty or more islands, large and small, containing together two hundred and fifty square miles. The greatest elevation is two hundred and fifty feet, excluding Mount Dallas, on San Juan, which is ten hundred
and eighty feet, and Mount Constitution, on Orcas, which is two thousand five hundred feet in height. San Juan, since the days when the American collector had the unpleasant episode with the swineherd, has enjoyed a profitable trade in lime, of which thirty-eight thousand barrels are annually exported. There are forty-two thousand eight hundred and ninety-six acres of improved land in the group; but stock-raising rather than farming is the business of the inhabitants.
Orcas Island is the most modernized of the group, having, as well as San Juan, several lime companies, all doing a good business; a lumber company, two brick-yards, and other manufactories. A few years ago hotels and summer boarding-houses were erected on this island, with the purpose of attracting visitors and building up towns. But since the railroad era dawned upon the Sound, the Orcas Island people have taken to fruit-growing, which promises to be a great business on these isles. They have organized a Fruit-Growers' Association; and, since I know by actual test that the fruit of all the northwest part of Washington is superior in flavor, I hereby desire to advertise the fact for the benefit of all whom it may concern. The head-quarters of the Orcas Fruit-Growers' Association is at East Sound. Under the auspices of this society fruits will be packed and shipped in the most careful manner, and guaranteed to purchasers. The secretary also will undertake to find tracts of from ten to twenty acres, suitable for fruit-raising, for those who desire to enter into this aesthetic branch of agricultural life.
Summer apples raised here bring, at the wharf, eighty-five cents to one dollar per box holding about half a bushel. Winter apples bring from one dollar and twenty-five cents to one dollar and seventy-five cents, and keeping apples for spring market still higher. Pears bring from one dollar and fifty cents to two dollars per box. Apricots bring eight and a half cents per pound, prunes for the drying-house three and a half cents per pound. Strawberries and blackberries sell for ten cents a pound. The most luscious peaches are grown among the mountains of the islands. Cherries produce wonderful crops, and so with melons and vegetables. Why should not one love to publish this Arcadian region to the world? Poets not yet born will sing of
it, and when a thousand years from now orators shall seek to embellish their speech, it will not be by reference to Greece, but to these far western isles, the new Atlantis discovered by a Greek navigator.
Like the Greeks, these islanders have fish in plenty, and fish will always be counted among their resources. Twenty tons of halibut have been taken in one day by a single boat. Game is still plentiful in the bills, while the bays and sloughs swarm with ducks, geese, and brant. The farm productions sent to market, besides fruit, are chiefly mutton, hay, oats, cheese, and butter.
Talking about fish and fowl reminds me of the comical habits of that absurd bird the crow, whose numbers on the beach anywhere from the Columbia to the British boundary are immense. They swarm on these island beaches when the tide is out, and fish for clams. Seizing their game, they mount high in the air and drop the bivalve upon the rocks to break the shell, when they proceed to make a meal otf the contents. When pigs running wild root for clams, the crows roost on their backs until a clam is turned up, and, just as the shell is cracked by the pig, will dart down, seize the mollusk, and retire to devour it.
The importance of this archipelago to the State of Washington is suggested by the above observations. Lying at the head of the Strait of Fuca, the only maritime entrance to the great inland sea improperly called a sound, it is upon a naval depot in this vicinity that the defence of the interior depends. The United States, having weakly yielded the island of Vancouver to the British government, must maintain offensive and defensive establishments at least equal to those of Great Britain, and sufficient to guard the Sound coasts against intrusion by any foreign power.
It is interesting to know that the man who first gave signs of comprehending the significance of the archipelago at the head of the Fuca Strait was by birth a British subject, by education an American, and by name Amos Bowman. He had been a reporter for the New York Tribune during the civil war, had studied medicine and engineering, had assisted in surveying the boundary between California and Nevada, and been reporter for
the California Legislature, before he finally went to Munich to complete his engineering studies. While in Europe he reported the news of the Franco-Prussian war for the New York Tribune, travelling extensively in Eussia, Sweden, and Norway before returning to California, where he married Miss Annie Cortes, a lady perfectly suited to afford companionship to a mind so broadly cultured.
In 1876 Mr. Bowman explored on the line of the Canadian Pacific, becoming thereby well acquainted with the country on both sides of the international boundary, and asked Mrs. Bowman to select some spot in the Fucan Archipelago where she would consent to establish a home. This she did, and Mr. Bowman purchased a quarter section of land on the northeast corner of Fidalgo Island, built a house to reside in and a tradinghouse,—for the exchequer bad to be looked after,—asked the Post-office Department to establish an office for the Island at his place, and to call it Anacortes, which prayer was granted, and then set about unfolding his views.
The manner of doing this was exceedingly painstaking, and required the courage of conviction. There were but few inhabitants on the island, and seldom any visitors to it, yet Mr. Bowman published a newspaper. He made and published elaborate maps, showing the position of Fidalgo Island to the whole world, demonstrating the relation of Anacortes to transcontinental and oceanic travel and traffic, showing that it was the shortest, quickest, and least expensive route between Great Britain and Asia, via New York, the Great Lakes, Chicago, Duluth, Spokane Falls to Anacortes and the Strait of Fuca. He represented clearly the local advantages of Anacortes over any port on the Sound by careful measurement and lucid illustration. These maps—large, colored, and with full explanations —were sent free or as "prizes" to subscribers and newspaper exchanges. By and by they began to awaken attention, and about ten years from the time Mr. Bowman settled upon Fidalgo Island he was receiving propositions from railroad companies which sought to make Anacortes a terminal point. In January, 1890, there were not twenty inhabitants in this place; in February, when the Oregon Improvement Company advertised that it would sell lots, there were three thousand people on the
ground. The Seattle and Northern Kailroad was immediately built to the coal-mines of the Skagit Yalley at Hamilton. The Union Pacific graded a few miles, and transferred its rights to the Northern Pacific, which for the present uses the track of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern from Sedro to Seattle, giving Anacortes connection with Queen City before the end of the first year of its history as a town. The Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Eoad will be extended to a connection with the Canadian Pacific in a few months, giving Anacortes as well as Seattle a terminus, which, with the Seattle and Northern, connecting with the Great Northern at Spokane, will give the City of the Sea three transcontinental roads almost from the first. These, with first-class steamers running to all points on the Sound, to Victoria, and to San Francisco, leave the traveller free to go where he lists, the world being literally "all before him where to choose."
Of the local advantages of Anacortes, one is that all the rivers of that part of Washington east of the Fuca Sea and Strait have their valleys opening towards Fidalgo Island, hence their products should naturally centre here. These are the Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Skagit, Samish, and Nooksahk. The Saraish— the smallest of them all, running into the south end of Bellingham Bay—furnished from six logging-camps last year ten million six hundred and thirty thousand feet of lumber to the mills of Puget Sound, which was but a small percentage of the lumber production from the camps in this region. One camp on the Skagit marketed in one year nine million feet, the price ranging from six dollars and fifty cents to seven dollars per thousand. There is wealth for you. Then follow all other kinds of wealth, — mineral, agricultural, manufacturing,—and the market for these is all the world, because the shipping of all the world comes here.
Again, Anacortes places great stress upon the superiority of Ship Harbor. The tidal currents in the channel in front of the city are about three knots an hour,—never four,—whereas the tidal currents of New York and San Francisco are six knots. In the inner harbors of Fidalgo and Padilla Bays the currents are very gentle, and these bays have deep-water branches ultimately to be converted into slip harbors, the best of all, with unlimited room. Swinomish Slough, which is navigable for large vessels only at high tide, is to be deepened, when it will afford a passage from the south into Padilla Bay.
Sailing-masters find the prevailing winds of the country to be from the southeast and northwest. Both are fair winds into Ship Harbor and out of it. Ships require no towing, but sail up to their docks unaided, and such is the depth of water that the largest vessel afloat need not fear to do so.
The present permanent population of Anacortes is two thousand two hundred and fifty. At the end of the first year it had cleared two thousand acres of forest, graded and planked ten miles of streets, completed a system of water-works, built three saw-mills, a sash- and door-factory, an iron-foundry and machine-shop, blacksmith- and wagon-shops, a steam-laundry, a ship yard, eleven miles of electric-railway (almost completed), four railroad depots, four hotels, five handsome brick blocks, and expended altogether in building improvements over half a million dollars, besides another quarter of a million in wharves and warehouses. It has two newspaper establishments and good public schools. Banks and other moneyed institutions are on the ground doing a good business.
Such is Anacortes, the Venice of the Pacific. I shall often throw down my pen to dream of that matchless sea, over which she elects to preside and over which I floated in June days, taking mental photographs which cannot fade, in company with the kindest of entertainers.