Bainbridge Island is one of those Pacific Northwest islands I enjoy visiting because every time I discover something new about its history. And, I learn questions I never thought to ask.
- What is a “Port Blakely Toothpick”?
- Where were the first Japanese Americans deported?
- Did Ansel Adams ever take portraits?
- Did Bainbridge Island really have a nudist camp?
- Who is the town of Winslow named for?
- Are there any Mosquito Fleet boats left?
- In 1939, what Bainbridge Island fruit did the Queen of England eat on her visit to Vancouver?
To get the answers to these questions, you have to visit two history stops on Bainbridge Island; the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.
Two Must-See History Stops on Bainbridge Island
1 – Bainbridge Island Historical Museum
The museum covers the island’s Native American inhabitants, European discovery, sawmill and shipbuilding companies, the Mosquito Fleet, farming culture, its immigrant residents, and more, including a collection library and research room. There is a lot to take in, and I suggest dedicating a couple of hours to learning about its rich history.
On my visit, I was particularly drawn to the exhibit on the Port Blakely Mill established in 1864 by Captain William Renton. If you’ve cruised into Port Blakely, it is very sleepy and peaceful, but for 58-years this deep water cove used to be a hub of activity producing at its peak capacity around 500,000 boards a day. The saw blades were 1” thick, and it’s said you could hear the blades cutting lumber on the west side of the island. The lumber was shipped worldwide and drew the attention of the Hall Brothers, who set up shipyards in Port Ludlow, Port Blakely, and then Winslow.
The Japanese exhibit also caught my attention. Bainbridge Island has a long history with the Japanese, many of whom immigrated to work in the lumber mills and shipyard, and stayed after those businesses closed. Many set up strawberry farms and in 1940 the island produced two million pounds. It’s in this section that the only portraits Ansel Adams ever took are displayed, along with details about the owners of Bainbridge Review who took a stand against the internment and a video about the internees and those that returned to the island.
No matter what subject catches your attention, the staff and docents are extremely knowledgeable and happy to answer questions. And, if there is a particular part of history you are interested in they will point you in their right direction.
The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum is in a bright red Bainbridge Island Schoolhouse from 1908. There are doors on either side of the building. One side faces the Bainbridge Performing Arts. The other faces the Erickson Street and has a huge piece of retort sitting out front. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Winslow Wharf Marina and the City of Bainbridge Island public dock.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission: Adults $4, Seniors/Students $3, Family $10, First Thursdays are Free! Address: 215 Ericksen Avenue NE, Bainbridge, Island, WA. 98110
2 – Japanese American Exclusion Memorial
On March 30, 1942, all 227 residents of Japanese ancestry (men, women, and children) on Bainbridge Island were forcibly removed. Their final destination‒the internment camp in Manzanar, California. They were the first group in the U.S. to be sent to the camps, and the memorial retraces their path down to the former Eagledale ferry landing dock.
The Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is in a picturesque setting surrounded by woods and natural vegetation. It is a 276-foot long curved story wall with each person’s name carved into 51-terra-cotta tiles. There are also five terra-cotta friezes that depict their story from immigration arrival, life on the island to their deportation. You will often find origami dangling from the memorial, and visitors are welcome to bring their own. It is unstaffed and to make the most of this experience I suggest visiting the historical museum first, and then visiting the memorial.
The location can be a little tricky for boaters to get to if they are on the Winslow side of Eagle Harbor. It is at the old Eagledale ferry landing, which is east of Bainbridge Island Marina & Yacht Club and west of Pritchard Park. If you are at Bainbridge Island Marina, it is a short walk up the road (to the marina) and can be accessed by trails on your left. If you are on the opposite side of the harbor, you can cruise or dinghy over to the marina, or during the weekday ride Kitsap Transit 99 and let the driver know where to drop you off and later be picked up. One way is $2, for seniors it’s $1, and there is a 2-hour free transfer (upon request).
Admission: Free! Address: 4192 Eagle Harbor Drive, Bainbridge, Island 98110
- The workmen at Port Blakely mill jokingly referred to the beams they produced as toothpicks. In reality, they milled the longest beams in the world, which were 24” X 24” and 60 to 80 ft. long!
- At the former Eagledale ferry dock 227 men, women, and children were the first to be forcibly removed and sent to the camp in Manzanar, California.
- In 1943 Ansel Adams produced 244 images of the camp at Manzanar and its internees.
- Yes! Camp Island Paradise opened on August 1, 1945, on 40 acres near the beach at Murden Cove. It closed in 1955.
- The town of Winslow, formerly called Madrone, is named after shipbuilder Winslow Hall.
- The last of the Mosquito Fleet boats is the Virginia V.
- The Marshall strawberry praised as “the finest strawberry in America,” was sent to Vancouver from Bainbridge Island for the Queen of England.