Harry Patton


The Orcas Island Historical Museum’s Monthly Historical Matinee series will resume

Sunday, November 16th

Featuring the return of Harry Patton

And his stories of nefarious activities from the Prohibition days.

When Harry was our series’ second speaker almost two years ago, we didn’t have enough time for him to share all the stories he was prepared to tell.  So we invited him back!  Come hear these true (mostly) stories of Orcas Island life in the 30’s. Sunday November 16th 3 pm at the Senior Center.

July 4th “Historical Days” – Vendor Applications Now Available

The Museum is now taking applications for our annual Historical Days Celebration. This year the events fall on Friday, July 4th and will take place on the Green from 11am – 4pm.

We are interested in taking applications from local vendors selling or promoting goods and services of all kinds, excluding food and beverages.

If you are interested please fill out Vendor Application 2014 and look at this map to find the spot that’s right for you! Email your completed form to info@orcasmuseum.org.

Questions? Call 376 4849 or email Natalie or Maggie at info@orcasmuseum.org.


Cedar & Maple Violin


By Clark McAbee

The objects and artifacts that make up a museum collection can be inspirational in their design, use, material, or simply the fact that they have survived fire or flood to be exhibited engenders awe. Artifacts like structures or buildings are a physical example of their time, the materials, place, techniques and the embodied craftsmanship that went in to their construction. Each object has a unique story and for some, their sheer existence is a remarkable fact: our woven reef net and bison antiquus skull come to mind. Others have been carefully handed down through the generations and have their own stories, their own specific provenance tied to the artist or owner. All are special but some almost audibly shout when unveiled what I like to call “Curator Cool!”

This cedar and maple violin with its hand-made cedar case is a shining example of frontier ingenuity and, if it could speak, it would reveal the rich tapestry of life on Orcas then as now. On the frontier, one made do with the materials at hand. From birthdays, to weddings or funerals, to square dances and perhaps church services this musical instrument of Jefferson Davis Moore was but one of the ways “Jeff” contributed to his community. J. D. Moore was born in Olga on 28 March, 1867 and was the son of early Orcas pioneer William Moore. According to his obituary from October 10, 1940 in the Friday Harbor Journal Jeff, as he was known, was a store owner, post master, school director, secretary or treasurer of the community club and dock committee. Somewhere during all these busy endeavors he found the time to craft a cedar and maple violin. Certain parts such as the finger board look like local craftsmanship and others Jeff may have ordered through a catalog. The top of the body is made of cedar. It features a nice patina of wear showing the location the violinist would tuck the instrument under his chin.

Flotsam and Jetsam

Flotsam and Jetsam- or how in the World did this end up on Orcas Island?

by Clark McAbee

Working in the museum archives cataloging the photos and artifacts gathered during the organization’s sixty plus years of existence (more if you count Ethan Allen’s collecting a century ago) I am often struck both by the variety and oddity of some of these objects. Previously I discussed the wooden trim piece from the historic Steamship Beaver that came to us in the collection of John Walsh. This column I will discuss another intriguing nautical object that begs the question in the title. First a little bit of background on John Walsh. To date I have not discovered too much information on Sgt. Walsh. We have a beautifully framed “Cruise” photo of Sgt. John Walsh in his Army uniform commemorating his cruise to the Far East. It features flags of many nations including Japan, Australia, China, and other Asian nations that Sgt. Walsh saw aboard the United States Army Transport Crook.

What is this unique object? The accession list from 1958 says: 1 police club from the ‘Maine’.

Maine would be the U.S. S. Maine battleship of “Remember the Maine” fame, the battle cry that helped precipitate the Spanish American War. “While the cause of this great tragedy is still unsettled, contemporary American popular opinion blamed Spain, and war followed within a few months. Maine‘s wreck was raised in 1912 to clear the harbor and to facilitate an investigation into the cause of her sinking. Her remains were subsequently scuttled in deep waters north of Havana.”

The object itself is clearly a “Billy club” or Shore Patrol baton used to enforce discipline ashore and afloat among unruly sailors of many navies. One has to wonder how the good Sergeant obtained this item. If truly authentic it is a remarkable memorial to an infamous event in American history Sgt. John Walsh’s collection has a myriad of other unique objects as well including a hand carved violin. Perhaps we shall do an exhibit on this theme in 2014.

For more information and images visit Naval History and Heritage Command.

Washington Rural Heritage Supports Geoghegan Digitization Project


1970-57 679 School sports track meet May 1914026

A memorable photograph from the Geoghegan Collection 

We are pleased to announce that the Orcas Island Library has received a grant from the Washington State Library to digitize one hundred photographs from our extensive collection of negatives taken by local photographer James T. Geoghegan. This project is part of Washington Rural Heritage, a collaborative digitization project that brings together resources from heritage organizations and private collections across the state.

This is the second time that the Library and Museum have collaborated in such an effort.  As this project prepares to get underway, the Museum is seeking $4000 in additional funds to pay for equipment and supplies so that our volunteer project manager Edrie Vinson can print archival copies of the fragile nitrate negatives as they are scanned.  This is essential work, as some of the negatives have already been lost, and none will last much longer.  In order to preserve the collection each one should be printed on archival quality photographic paper with a quality ink and stored in our permanent archives. This will also increase accessibility to the collection.

Contributions toward this important preservation project will be most thankfully accepted. Please designate your donations to the ‘Geoghegan Preservation Fund.’

To view the negatives that have been scanned thus far just click below on the Washington Rural Heritage link.

Link to Washington Rural Heritage Website


OIHM Applies for and Receives Historic Preservation Grant

In May our Curator, Clark McAbee, drafted and submitted an Historic Preservation Grant to San Juan County in order to make repairs and improvements to our collection of historic cabins, which house many of our treasured historical artifacts. The total estimated budget for this project is $3300 and the grant request was for $2200. We are delighted to announce that the County awarded us $1950.00 on July 16th with a contract to be tendered at a later date. These funds will be used for moisture mitigation and epoxy timber repair, including repair of some log crowns and saddle notches which will halt and mitigate moisture damage. Additionally a leaking gutter will be replaced and rerouted to reduce rainfall run off on cabin roofs.

The money from the County is derived from: RCW 36.22.170 (1)(a)…a surcharge of five dollars per instrument shall be charged by the county auditor for each document recorded, which will be in addition to any other charge authorized by law. One dollar of the surcharge shall be deposited in the county general fund to be used at the discretion of the county commissioners to promote historic preservation or historical programs, which may include preservation of historic documents.” The museum will provide an additional one third match to meet the estimated budget. The Orcas Island Historical Museum is very thankful for the continued support of the San Juan Island County Commissioners.

If you would like to contribute to our ongoing cabin repair and restoration project please designate your donation to ‘Cabin Repair and Restoration.’ You can donate on our website or stop by the museum!

Smuggling in the San Juans

BY Iris Parker-Pavitt

Before jurisdiction over San Juan waters was decided with the outcome of the “Pig War” boundary dispute in 1872, trade with Canada without the use of customs or duties was the norm. However, after the San Juans were ruled to be United States territory, this practice became not trade but smuggling.

In 1891, Senator Watson C. Squire stated that “More opium is smuggled into this country by way of Puget Sound and the border of British Columbia than through all other ports.”

After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 went into effect, Chinese workers seeking employment in the U.S. were forced to resort to illegal means of entering the country. This resulted in high profits for smugglers in Puget Sound who were willing to risk the trip from Vancouver, but often dehumanizing treatment for the Chinese people who undertook this long voyage. The price of a crossing over the Canadian border is difficult to gauge, with reported prices ranging from $10 to $500 per head after the Exclusion Act.

Larry Kelly, who has been described as “the most hunted man in smuggling circles in the Puget Sound country for more than two decades”, does indeed have the reputation and resume to be considered the king of the smugglers.

Lawrence Kelly, born in 1845 in an unknown location, allegedly began his smuggling career Maine carrying cargoes of whiskey. He then lived for a short time in Alaska, became a sailor, and fought for the Confederacy before arriving in Guemes Island sometime between 1872 and 1878. In 1877 he married 16 year-old Lizzie Kotz, with whom he had nine children.

Island resident Bob Pearmain recalls the Deer Harbor general store serving as a meeting place for islanders to socialize, buy staple groceries, catch up on the news, and also purchase bootleg whiskey. During Prohibition, “rum runners” smuggled whiskey to the store where it was hid on shelves behind the regular trade goods. The whiskey was “worth $16 a quart when eggs were 15 cents a dozen.”

Canada continued to be the main route for bringing illegal goods to the islands. One islander would row to Sidney, B.C. during the night to pick up a sack of whiskey. In the morning, he would appear to be fishing off of Speiden Island; he would later sell his cargo to summer resorts.

The Steamship Beaver


by Clark McAbee, Curator

We have many unique and interesting artifacts in the Orcas Island Historical Museum. From Bison Antiquus’ nearly 15,000-year-old skull to rare photographs and recent acquisitions, like an unpublished cowboy murder mystery. Our collection is varied, diverse and challenging to conserve. One of my favorite artifacts is a small, fairly non descript, some might say unimpressive piece of wood. Probably fashioned from teak by the looks of it. What makes it very interesting and important is its provenance. Provenance means an object’s story, where it came from, its place or source of origin.

This cylindrical piece of wood measures about four inches long and ¾ of inch in diameter and is stored in a plastic bag. It shows some wear as well as having been mechanically fashioned into its unique shape. It looks a bit like a piece of furniture. The artifact’s provenance is what brings wonder to this non-descript chunk of wood. It is a tiny piece of the 101 foot long Steam Ship Beaver. What makes the Beaver so important? The Beaver was the first steam-powered vessel in the Pacific Northwest. Built in Blackwall Shipyard, London, in 1835 she soon sailed around Cape Horn with her paddles stored. In March of 1836 she anchored off Fort Vancouver on the Columbia and her engines, boilers and paddles made operational. When not under sail she was powered by two 35 horsepower engines she also was fitted with four small brass cannons.

The paddle wheel steamer had a lengthy and illustrious career spanning more than five decades. She was regularly re-boilered every seven years since saltwater was used to feed her boilers. The Beaver served the Hudson Bay Company’s trading posts from Russian Alaska to the Columbia River. She helped establish Fort Victoria and the British Columbian coal industry and was converted later to coal firing. Even the Royal Navy commissioned her to survey the British Columbian coast.

She was in towboat service for the British Columbia Towing and Transportation Company from 1874 until 25 July 1888 when she ran aground. The historic Beaver came to grief at Prospect’s Point in Vancouver’s Stanley Park due to a drunken crew.  For four years she languished on the rocks with souvenir seekers picking over her waterlogged remains until the wake of passing vessel sunk her. In museums from Tacoma to Victoria pieces of this maritime wonder are displayed or stored. Some how a tiny fragment this 109-ton vessel found its way into our Orcas Island Historical Museum. To me the piece appears to have been part of a cupboard railing to prevent china or glassware from crashing to the cabin deck during a fierce storm. I marvel at this tiny but important piece of history. To pause and contemplate what sights, stories and songs it witnessed and how it made its way to Eastsound nearly two centuries after sailing from London for the Northern Pacific Ocean. For much more on the illustrious career of the Beaver and where more of its remains can be found use Steamship Beaver in your internet search engine.