San Juan Island

old map of the San Juan Islands

San Juan Island’s the 2nd largest but most populated island in the San Juan Archipelago Islands (Orcas Island being the largest) weighing in at just over 55 square miles.

The bulk of the population live here year round, but the population swells from 7,200 during the winter to over 15,000 at the peak of the tourist season (April – September).

“San Juan” comes from a 1791 expedition, on which the group of islands was dubber Isla y Archipelago de San Juan (a mouthful), but that was mercifully pared down to plain old San Juan when the British were through with it.

Speaking of the British, the island was almost the scene on an international conflict of world super powers – the Brits and us (or U.S.). And it was all because of a pig.

The Pig War was a confrontation in 1859 between the States and the Brits over San Juan Islands. The Pig War, so called because it was triggered by the shooting of a pig, inflated to a boundary dispute between the two countries (the British said the islands were theirs, the U.S. said the islands belonged to them) ended with no human casualties.This dispute was a bloodless conflict (unless you were the pig).

kaiser wilhelm settle the dispute

“It Never Rains But It Pours” – Kaiser Willhelm. “Uncle Sam’s Claim is most in Accordance with the True Interpretation of the Treaty of June, 1840”

Leaving the bad old days behind them, San Juan Islanders quickly homesteaded the island moving from hunting and farming the land alone to fishing, clamming and oyster harvesting or “oystering”.

Canneries quickly popped up industrializing the export of salmon from the island the same time lime was being exported from the island at an unheard of rate (Victoria, the capitol of British Columbia and Seattle were the biggest customers). As those industries dried up in the mid 20th century, the main business of the island shifted to sharing the island with those who wanted to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty and spectacular wildlife all around them.

sailing the san juans in the early daysProfessors from the University of Washington spent their summer here. Artists established retreats further enhancing the connection between creativity and nature. Weekend sportsmen visiting the island jumpstarted the business of supplying newcomers with places to sleep, food to eat and supplies critical to their mission – bait & beer.

picnic at the beach

These days, you could spend your time kayaking, whale watching, biking, fishing or just doing nothing – whatever you want.