In this Centennial year of the National Park Service, many of us have traveled to dramatic U.S. landscapes, helping rack up record attendance at our National Parks. But did you know that many National Park properties aren’t parks at all? Rather, the Park Service oversees a wide range of properties of historical interest—dams, boats, homes, and cultural sites—some right here in Anacortes.
Cooler fall and winter months are the perfect time to stroll around town in search of these varied characters, pieces of Anacortes’ authentic roots deemed important enough to earn listing on the National Register of Historic Places. In the Central Business District, you might ID them by the first of a series of historic plaques being installed by the Anacortes Historic Preservation Board.
In addition to the nationally recognized historic properties described below, Anacortes neighborhoods are filled with numerous historic residences, documented through the House History Program of the Anacortes Historic Preservation Board.
History sleuths also will rejoice that historic and history-related murals are front and center around Anacortes this season. While you’re exploring historic properties, keep your eyes open for the cartoon-like plywood cutouts adorning many local buildings. They’re the result of the Anacortes Mural Project, the decades-long work of local artist Bill Mitchell to recapture the city’s past in entertaining murals that adorn many city buildings. Pick up a guide to them at the Visitor Information Center or online.
And for insight into artistic history—New Deal-era murals—pop into the Anacortes Museum at 1305 8th Street. Housed in the former Carnegie Library, current exhibits explore Kenneth Callahan’s 1940 mural, “Fishing,” still hanging on the Anacortes post office wall; another exhibit explores the questions behind Skagit County’s mural mysteries.
Anacortes National Register of Historic Places
Anacortes Museum (formerly the Anacortes Public Library)
Listed as a historical place on October 21, 1977 (#77001357)
1305 8th St., Anacortes
This Carnegie Library building, which opened in 1910, was one of over 2,500 libraries around the world funded by Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie between 1883 and 1929. His foundation provided a $10,000 grant in return for the city pledging $1,000 plus $1,000 per year for maintenance and a librarian. The elevated staircase of most Carnegie libraries symbolized one’s “elevation by learning” (handicapped accessibility notwithstanding). A local quote from the time notes, “Unless a young man goes to the reading room to pass away his spare time, he is almost necessitated to go to a bar for want of acquaintanceship.” After you visit this historic site, we invite you to visit one of our many contemporary watering holes to reflect on your day.
Fidalgo Dance Works (formerly California Fruit Store)
Listed as a historical place on November 5, 1987 (#87001949)
909 3rd St., Anacortes
This commercial structure, built around 1900, is the last surviving and best-preserved example of the wood-framed Victorian buildings that once lined Commercial Ave. Sometime after 1925 it was moved one block east from Commercial Ave., the heart of the city’s historic commercial core centered around the waterfront, to accommodate a car dealership. It has served as a grocery store, tavern, wine house, apartments, and boat-building shop, and is now home to Fidalgo Dance Works.
Listed as a historical place on May 7, 1981 (#81000589)
8th St. and M Ave., Anacortes
Under the direction of architect Jean LePage, community members built this unique and beautiful downtown park between 1920 and 1926. It’s constructed of thousands of colorful native rocks from Fidalgo and neighboring islands. Now the scene of community events, the park was built to honor distinguished service cross recipient Harry Leon Causland and 13 other local men who perished in World War I.
Listed as a historical place on July 16, 1982 (#82004285)
Rte. 20, Anacortes (also extends into Island County)
Work began on this 511-foot steel structure connecting Fidalgo, Pass, and Whidbey islands in 1934 with the assistance of the Civil Conservation Corps, although an original highway report noted “its utility is open to question.” According to a U.S. Dept. of Interior inventory, the bridge “demonstrates the evolution and progressive refinement of the cantilever truss in the 20th century. Its distilled, structural simplicity epitomizes the merging of a functional and an aesthetic form in the cantilever truss.”
The Great Northern Depot (now the Depot Arts & Community Center)
Listed as a historical place on November 5, 1987 (#87001935)
611 R Ave., Anacortes
The railroad was key to opening the Pacific Northwest to settlement and commerce. Tracks traversed Fidalgo Island, serving canneries and lumber mills. Passenger travel gave rise to the depot, constructed in 1911. Locals eagerly anticipated the arrival of the six regularly scheduled passenger trains. The restored building showcases the original marble floors, office, and spacious baggage room. Today the building is home to the Anacortes Farmers Market, numerous art exhibits, and public and private events.
La Merced (1917 schooner)
Listed as a historical place on April 17, 1990 (#90000588)
Anacortes Waterfront off Oakes Ave., Anacortes
Once a four-masted schooner serving the Northwest maritime trade, the 232-foot long La Merced was built in 1917 during WWI. Now beached, filled with sand, and sprouting a small forest, since 1966 it has served as a breakwater for Lovric’s Marina along Guemes Channel. During its working life, La Merced transported petroleum products and was a floating cannery.
Marine Supply and Hardware Complex
Listed as a historical place on November 5, 1987 (#87001943)
202-218 Commercial Ave. & 1009 2nd St., Anacortes
This iconic c. 1900 wood-frame building began life as a saloon and café. By 1907, it housed a shooting gallery, meat market, and cigar and fruit shop (certainly an interesting combo). The current Marine Supply & Hardware was established there in 1920 by Mike Demopoulos and continues to be operated by the Demopoulos family. The property recently was purchased by the Port of Anacortes.
W.T. Preston (snagboat)
Listed as a historical place on March 16, 1972 (#72001270)
Anacortes waterfront, R Ave., at foot of 7th St., Anacortes
Closed for maintenance through March; open weekends, beginning in April
Now ashore as part of the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center, this historic steamboat, the W.T. Preston, was the last sternwheeler to work in Puget Sound (1929-81) and one of only two snagboats remaining in the contiguous United States. Her crews removed navigational hazards from the bays and harbors of Puget Sound and surrounding rivers that were essential to Northwest travel and commerce.
Listed as a historical place on December 15, 2004 (#04001369)
804 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
This 1890 Romanesque Revival building was constructed of local bricks as a “fine hotel for a promising boom town.” Following the hotel’s closure, the upper floors remained vacant for decades. In 2007, an extensive renovation and earthquake retrofitting was completed, providing refurbished retail space below three floors of apartments. A commissioned artwork on the south exterior brick wall portrays Annie Curtis, the city’s namesake and wife of its founder Amos Bowman.
There’s no end to exploring history in Washington. The National Park Service provides itineraries for American Latino, Asian, and Pacific Islander heritages, aviation, dams and irrigation projects, archaeology, and Lewis and Clark sites, to name only a few. And did you know that Olympic National Park on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a World Heritage site . . . right here in our Pacific Northwest corner of the U.S.? So is San Juan Island National Park, where the famous Pig War was fought.
by Jan Hersey