San Juan Island National Historic Park
San Juan County
San Juan Island
650 Mullis St., Suite 100
Mon-Fri 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM
This park commemorates and interprets a small but fascinating chapter in American history and British relations. There is a variety of information and recreation opportunities available to visitors year round at the park’s locations. These include the administrative offices in Friday Harbor (referenced at the above location), and the two park locations (both referenced in separate articles); the English Camp on the west side, and the American Camp at the southern most point of San Juan Island.
The parks provide an interesting look at remote military installations of the mid 1800s as well as some reference to Native American subsistence before European contact. Small interpretive displays, remnant buildings and seasonal presentations are available. The walks and trails in the two parks provide a dramatic contrast in their natural settings. English Camp, located on a secluded protected bay, has dark quiet forests at sea level and upland trails leading to drier ground and views from grassy balds. The American Camp is split between the expansive windswept ocean-side prairie on the south and the marsh land and lagoons on the north. Plants, animals and exposure are quite different at these two locations and provide enjoyable choices depending on the weather and what kind of experience you desire.
Administratively, the Park has long provided a wider range of options than many other National Parks. Berries which are abundant in the mid to late summer may be gathered for personal use within limits. Dog owners can bring their pets on the walks and hikes providing they are non-aggressive (owners and dogs) and meet the leash requirements at all times. There are a number of interesting special uses that are also allowed at the park provided they are properly permitted through the administrative office in Friday Harbor. These include equestrians riding trails in American Camp, large family gatherings, commercial filming, and special events. Frequently weddings take advantage of the beautiful settings and obtain permits to use the park grounds. These exceptional benefits are privileges and subject to change so it’s best to check with the office ahead of time if any of these are of interest to you.
To understand the park’s historical importance, it is useful to know a little bit about what happened here. In the mid 1800s San Juan Island, then known as Bellevue Island, was the "cash cow" of the British Hudson Bay Company. Meanwhile the growing population of mainland Americans had been leapfrogging across the islands and setting up squatter farms. In an almost unimaginably minor incident, the great nations of America and Britain almost came to war over the rummaging of a pig in a potato patch. Thus the Great Pig War that never was, came into history.
The response to the incident was almost immediate, though the communication system of the day separated the field from headquarters by days if not weeks. The British landed marines at a small bay on the west side of San Juan Island in a location now known as English Camp. They immediately cleared forest and constructed wooden blockhouses to defend against American land attacks. On the south side of the island, the Americans landed a contingent and began building fortifications to withstand a British naval assault. Pickett (later famous in the American Civil War) oversaw the construction of the "Last Redoubt;" a crude earth and rock square located on a bluff which was where the survivors would rally for a final stand. Today this entire site is known as American Camp.
Fortunately the saber rattling was mostly political and the soldiers of both camps found they had far more in common with each other than with their respective governments and enjoyed a generally cordial and frequently sociable relationship. With time the dispute was settled by arbitration and all fortifications were abandoned.
In Friday Harbor, from the ferry dock; drive up Spring Street, after a few blocks turn left on Mullis. In about one block, the office will be on the left, located in the large wooden building.
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San Juan Islands