Orcas Island History

Orcas Landing, Orcas Island
Orcas Landing, Orcas Island
Orcas, like the rest of the Gulf and San Juan Islands, was once part of Vancouver Island, separated by the grinding action of continental glaciers during the last ice age. The ice pressed the land into the earth¹s crust and the islands have been rising slowly ever since. As soon as the ice was gone, the first peoples arrived.

Massacre Bay on the east shore of West Sound, was the scene of a battle in 1858 when northern Indians from southeast Alaska raided a Lummi summer village.

At the end of the 19th Century, fruit orchards and hop fields flourished in the fertile soil of Crow Valley on Orcas’ west side. Like its Gulf Island neighbors, however, the island watched the booming trade in fruits and vegetables slip away with the development of agriculture on the mainland.

At the top of a narrow road snaking up Mt. Constitution, stands a watch tower built of hand cut stone by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934-35.

The lookout at Mount Constitution, Orcas Island
The lookout at Mount Constitution, Orcas Island
Emmanuel Church (1886), Orcas Island
Emmanuel Church (1886), Orcas Island
Ship building tycoon, Robert Moran, built a 19 bedroom mansion with two bowling alleys and an indoor pool in 1906 (now the resort of Rosario), 15 years later donating most of his land to the state.

In the 1950’s, several log cabins were moved from all over the island to form the Orcas Island Historical Museum in Eastsound. History buffs will also enjoy the photographs from the early 1900’s.

Deer Harbor Village has buildings dating from the 1890’s.