Hub of San Juan Island
Friday Harbor has been the commercial, social, and cultural hub of San Juan Island since the 1890s. Geographical features - a sheltered bay with deep water and good anchorage, and an ample supply of fresh water - set the stage for Friday Harbor's emergence as a center for commerce. However attractive the harbor, the island's first settlers disregarded the bay that bears the name of a Hudson Bay Company sheepherder, Joe Friday. When the islands became a separate county in 1873, following the peaceful settlement of the Pig War, Friday Harbor was named the county seat, but had little to offer.
By 1900, though, Friday Harbor was a busy seaport with a thriving commercial center, and a population of three or four hundred. There were five general stores, foremost among them Churchill's Store, a bank, U.S. Customs, a printing and stationery store, a weekly newspaper, drugstore, jewelry store, theatre, livery stable, milliner, blacksmith, barber, three hotels, three saloons, a grade school, the Odd Fellows Hall, a sawmill, creamery, a large salmon cannery, and encircling the town, a ring of residential neighborhoods and small farms and orchards.
San Juan Island's commercial products were shipped to domestic and foreign markets from Friday Harbor's waterfront, where large wharves and warehouses accommodated the steamships of the "mosquito fleet."
Trout Lake Dam Construction
Friday Harbor's economy was driven by San Juan County's thriving agriculture, and community leaders saw many indicators of continuing prosperity. By 1912, they believed that economic development and growth would outpace available water supplies. "The future of Friday Harbor depends on good water and sewage systems," town officials declared. Following the recommendations of an engineer, the town, with approval from the voters, began construction of a dam at Trout Lake and a wood pipeline to transport water by a gravity flow system into town through Beaverton Valley.
Town Water System
Friday Harbor did not fulfill its early promise. Its economic well being began to decline as the islands' traditional industries collapsed over a 30-year period. Even so, the town elected to improve the water supply system. In the early 1950s a new main transmission line, along San Juan Valley Road, replaced the wood pipeline. In 1958, the system was again upgraded and the dam raised, at a cost of $80,000. Since then, the town's water system has been steadily updated to meet the demands of a growing population.
Friday Harbor is busy and prosperous again, its economy fueled by tourism, retirement, real estate, and construction. Town officials are yet again considering the future economic and social well being of Friday Harbor as they grapple with issues related not only to the water supply system, but also to the town's entire infrastructure.