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San Juan Island
Lummi Indians were the first settlers on San Juan, with encampments along the north end of the island. North-end beaches were especially busy during the annual salmon migration, when hundreds of tribal members would gather along the shoreline to fish, cook, and exchange news. Many of the Lummi tribe were killed by smallpox and other imported diseases in the 18th and 19th centuries; in fact, Smallpox Bay was where tribal members plunged into the icy water to cool the fevers that came with the disease. The 18th century brought explorers from England and Spain, but the island remained sparsely populated until the mid-1800s. From the 1880s Friday Harbor and its newspaper were controlled by lime-company owner and Republican bigwig John S. McMillin, who virtually ran San Juan Island as a personal fiefdom from 1886 until his death in 1936.
The town's main street, rising from the harbor and ferry landing up the slopes of a modest hill, is packed with snazzy cafés, boutique shops, tour kiosks, and real estate offices. Spread in front of it all are views of the marina, where an open pavilion houses a huge tank of saltwater creatures and is tiled with a bright undersea mural. This is the departure point for kayaking journeys and summertime wildlife-watching excursions as well as the landing point for regional seaplanes and ferries from Seattle, Port Townsend, and Port Angeles (via Sidney, BC). Warm weather draws visitors in the thousands, as the island is a piece of near-pristine Northwest wilderness that's completely accessible by public transport and bicycle.
San Juan Island at a Glance
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