Friday Harbor Centennial – 1909 – 2009

Friday Harbor – The First 100 Years

The Town of Friday Harbor was officially incorporated on February 9, 1909 and it has continued to be a vital hub for the San Juan Islands over the past 100 years. Friday Harbor has been the commercial, social, and cultural center of San Juan Island since the 1890s. It is located midway along the eastern shore of San Juan Island, second largest in a chain of 172 islands in the northernmost stretch of Puget Sound, and situated between Canada’s Vancouver Island and the Washington State mainland. Geographical features – a sheltered bay with deep water and good anchorage, and an ample supply of fresh water – set the stage for Friday Harbor’s emergence as a center for commerce.

However attractive the harbor, the island’s first settlers disregarded the bay that bears the name of a Hudson Bay Company sheepherder, Joe Friday. When the islands became a separate county in 1873, following the peaceful settlement of the Pig War, Friday Harbor was named the county seat, but had little more to offer.

Friday Harbor Grows

By 1900, though, Friday Harbor had become a busy seaport with a thriving commercial center, and a population of three or four hundred. On February 9, 1909, Friday Harbor was officially incorporated as a Town (or fourth class city). There were five general stores, foremost among them Churchill’s Store, a bank, U.S. Customs, a printing and stationery store, a weekly newspaper, drugstore, jewelry store, theatre, livery stable, milliner, blacksmith, barber, three hotels, three saloons, a grade school, the Odd Fellows Hall, a sawmill, creamery, a large salmon cannery, and encircling the Town, a ring of residential neighborhoods and small farms and orchards.

San Juan Island’s commercial products – apples, pears, cherries, peas, cream, eggs, poultry, grain, salmon, timber, and lime – were shipped to domestic and foreign markets from Friday Harbor’s waterfront, where large wharves and warehouses accommodated the steamships of the “mosquito fleet.”

Supply and Demand

Friday Harbor’s economy was driven by San Juan County’s thriving agriculture, and community leaders saw many indicators of continuing prosperity. By 1912, they believed that economic development and growth would outpace available water supplies. “The future of Friday Harbor depends on good water and sewage systems,” town officials declared. Following the recommendations of an engineer, with approval from the voters, construction began on a dam at Trout Lake and a wood pipeline to transport water by a gravity flow system into town through Beaverton Valley.

Friday Harbor did not fulfill its early promise and its economic well being began to decline as the islands’ traditional industries collapsed over a 30-year period. Even so, the Town elected to improve the water supply system. In the early 1950s a new main transmission line, along San Juan Valley Road, replaced the wood pipeline. In 1958, the system was again upgraded and the dam raised, at a cost of $80,000. Since then, the town’s water system has been steadily updated to meet the demands of a growing population.

Friday Harbor Today

Friday Harbor today is busy and prosperous, its economy fueled by tourism, retirement, real estate, and construction. The town encompasses one square mile, or 640 acres, with over 50% of the town’s area developed. Town officials are yet again considering the future economic and social well being of Friday Harbor as they grapple with issues related not only to the water supply system, but also to the Town’s entire infrastructure.

So come visit us. Learn our history and discover why Friday Harbor’s next 100 years will be even more exciting than our first.

Friday Harbor Fun Facts

  1. One popular Town naming story has a ship’s captain shouting to shore “what bay is this?” and hearing the reply of “Friday” in response to the misheard “what day is this?” (Source: Unknown)
  2. The Doctor’s Office Ice Cream and Espresso Shop building on the corner of East and Front Street was originally built for William Burke, superintendent of the Cannery. A succession of superintendents occupied the home with the Jeffers family living there in the 1950s when there was a last attempt to use the cannery to can peas. (Source: Town of Friday Harbor)
  3. The building that now houses the Dos Diablos Restaurant was originally owned by Joseph Sweeney, who, with Judge John Bowman was one of the first speculators in Friday Harbor. This building has been remodeled to such an extent that it bears little resemblance to the barber shop it once was, where A. Stoliker, Art McKay, and Jack McCutcheon practiced and held court. This building has seen other uses including serving as the Star Theatre (1900-1910), where islanders enjoyed vaudeville and silent movies. (Source: Town of Friday Harbor)
  4. The Coldwell Banker building was originally built and operated as the San Juan County Bank. Built in 1907, this stone building, which replaced the bank’s stick-frame building, signaled a growing prosperity in Friday Harbor. J.A. Gould and Leander Clark were the founders and key stockholders for several years.  The bank’s first president was J.A. Gould of Seattle, whose son Gene was the bank’s first cashier. At that time Gene Gould was known to be the youngest bank cashier in the United States. When J.A. Gould retired in 1907, his presidency was passed on to his son, Gene. This was another first for Gene, making him the youngest bank president in the United States at age 29. (Source: Town of Friday Harbor)