Marking History

People from Europe or Asia can laugh at the idea of ‘history’ being something to investigate in a country much younger than their millennia-old societies. Egypt’s pyramids and those ruins around Mesopotamia laugh at them. But Whidbey’s history is sufficient to inspire enough museums to keep history hounds busy.

Coupeville was established in the 1850’s, years before the Civil War. Captain Vancouver came through in the late 1700s, and his crew named many of the geographical features. Of course, those places already had names from people who already had a history thousands of years old. Feel free to wonder about the names the mammoths called the place prior to the ice ages.

For the truly geeky, check out the Washington State Archives:

For the rest who are hunting for places to visit: here’s the more public and physical places.

Island County Historical Society

The museum by Coupeville’s waterfront may have the largest and most varied collection of exhibits. It’s appropriate for the county seat as well as being in a tourist destination. It’s also a very nice building and easy to find.

South Whidbey Historical Society

Down the another tourist town that is Langley is a smaller but well-tended museum for what was a tougher then more artristic part of the island – as well as a part that felt somewhat separate from the rest of the island for decades. It took a long time to get a road down the spine of the island. Before that, boats and beaches were the main avenues.

Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum

Skip ahead to the era of seaplanes, float planes, and the Navy’s presence by visiting the PBY museum at the south end of Oak Harbor. Look for the venerable search and rescue plane from World War II parked beside Pioneer Way, then look across the street to the rest of the museum.

If you’re more interested in a bit of history and a bit of places to run around, too, there are several Washington State Parks with at least some historical content –

Fort Casey Historical State Park

Note the ‘fort’ part of the name. For a brief period the nation worried about an invasion into Puget Sound. Three main forts were there to meet any fleet with big guns, innovative designs and tactics, and now a look into that era. Also check out the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, Camp Casey, and lots of beaches, trails, wildlife, and people playing with kites (weather permitting, of course.)

Fort Ebey State Park

For comparison, check out the other ‘fort’ park, Fort Ebey which was designed decades later, was higher tech, more stealthy, and an example of how things change.

Deception Pass State Park

One of the Washington State’s busiest parks, most people are drawn to the iconic bridge (which seems to be under constant maintenance, which is important considering its age and importance); but there’s a lot of nature and places to play. Check out both sides of the bridge, which is a reason to recognize that the northern end of the bridge and park is on Fidalgo Island, not Whidbey. The bridge is a historical feature, itself; but look around for mentions of the pre-colonial stories.

South Whidbey State Park

Farther south is a quieter park with views to the Olympics (trail conditions permitting) with many more trails up into old-growth forest. A bit more peaceful than the rest. Somewhere along that coast there’s a history of smuggling, but that may take some more investigating those archives mentioned above.

And then there’s Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, an authentic part of the National Park System, though with its own innovative approach to managing historic, active, and natural lands.

For the real story, however, wander around longer and get to know the locals. Whether they are docents or long-term residents or both, they’ll have stories to tell about the more scandalous and maybe somewhat fictitious bits. Hints can be found in names like Mutiny Bay and Smuggler’s Cove. If it sounds odd, there’s probably a reason behind it. Go. Explore. Enjoy.

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