At the Orcas Island Historical Museum you can see a fascinating collection of six homestead cabins transformed into this island icon, housing photographs and artifacts of Orcas’ Native American and settler history, including the skull of a 14,000-year-old bison preserved in one of the island’s numerous marshlands. The Crow Valley School Museum, built in 1888, held up to 47 students whose families worked in the orchards at the turn of the century. More forested and mountainous than the other islands, Orcas Island developed communities primarily along the coastline. Early Salish tribes, primarily the Lummi people, lived here, fishing and foraging in both summer and winter.
When European settlers arrived, they, too, built settlements along the fertile shoreline. In 1843, the Hudson’s Bay Company sent trappers to Orcas, and established farming, sheep ranching and trade with the locals. Lime kilns and lumber were big business in the 1870s and 1880s. By the 1910s, the fruit trade was booming, but hit a bust in the 1930s, when competition from the mainland rose. Over the decades, most of the communities were accessible only by boat – Deer Harbor, West Sound, Dolphin Bay, Orcas, Ocean, Eastsound, Olga and Doe Bay all had their own post offices in 1900. After the fruit production boom and bust, sport fishing and tourism became big business, and visitors have been coming to enjoy the beauty of Orcas ever since. The 5,252-acre Moran State Park – Washington’s fourth largest – was donated by former Seattle mayor and shipbuilder, Robert Moran, and includes Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the islands at 2,409 feet and a historic stone tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Historic Orcas Hotels and Restaurants
At the Outlook Inn on Orcas, built in 1876 by ‘49er Charles Shattuck, trappers and lime kiln workers could order a bear steak, get a tooth pulled or get their horses shod; now, you can enjoy delicious Happy Hour appetizers at the New Leaf Café. The Orcas Hotel, built in 1904 with barely enough rooms to house the original owner’s family, closed in 1977 when the fire escape consisted of a knotted rope tied to a third floor ceiling. Thanks in part to letters written by islanders, the hotel was saved from becoming a ferry parking lot in 1978, and finally restored by private owners in 1985. Now, you can enjoy a drink at the bar while listening to Sunday night musical performances. At Rosario Resort on Orcas Island, enjoy a presentation of music and photography that takes guests back through the history of the Moran family and the Rosario estate each Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Highlights include the historic Moran photograph collection and original Phantom of the Opera music performed on the Mansion’s 1,972 pipe Aeolian organ along with the silent film. Doe Bay Resort & Retreat was one of the first post offices (and taverns) on Orcas Island, and had a dock that welcomed the “Mosquito Fleet” boats in the 1920s; in the 1970s, it housed the Polarity Institute, an intentional community of people studying “astral energies.” Now, the energy comes from the one-acre organic garden that supplies delicious produce for Doe Bay Café.