5 History Facts about San Juan Island We Bet You Didn’t Know!

Updated June 2017

Are you a history lover? Whether you are a Paleozoic buff or want to know why San Juan Island is American and not Russian, Canadian or Spanish, we have the story for you. May is “History Lives Here”  month. We are celebrating our rich, and often juicy history with self-guided tours and guided walks, hikes & talks. Here is a little teaser of some things you probably didn’t know:

The San Juan Islands are ancient mountain tops

photo taken by Laura Saccio

1.  We are mountaintops!

It’s so obvious once you know it. The San Juans are actually the remaining mountaintops of a receding continent much older than the American mainland. Worn down by glaciers, the sedimentary rock exposed on the San Juan Islands is from the Paleozoic era, about 540 to 250 million years old, the era of the evolution of fish, reptiles, insects, vascular plants, and at least two ice ages.

2.  Native Americans have lived here for 11,000 years

Lummi & Mitchel Bay tribes lived on San Juan Island year-round, while other native inhabitants used the island, abundant with food & materials, for hunting grounds. Stroll in the sandy dunes above South Beach in American Camp and look for spearheads and things left in old fires.

Friday Harbor, photo courtesy of the San Juan Historical Society

3.  Welcome to Poalima Harbor!

Peter Poalima from the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) was a sheepherder for the Hudson Bay Company around 1830. Poalima translates into “Friday”. The beautiful bay he lived in was referred to as “Friday’s Harbor”. The “s” was dropped in time.

4.  The Spring on Spring Street

In 1873, the dirt road going through town got its name because there was a spring bubbling up in the middle of it. The island folk built a well to water the horses. Kids pumped water for cows and chickens. The well was removed in 1920 and paved over but water continued to seep through. Today a culvert diverts the spring’s water into the bay.

5.  The President of the United States was here!

Teddy Roosevelt was once a guest at Hotel de Haro in Roche Harbor, the first hotel on island. Go find his signature in hotel guest book.

We're sure that you can find many more special historical facts about the islands.  If you find yourself wanting more, just ask us.  The first one we might tell you about is our sister property, the Bird Rock Hotel, which was built in 1891!