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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

01 September 2013

❖ Mysterious Cypress Island ❖ with June Burn in 1946.

CYPRESS ISLAND, San Juan Archipelago
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
Day 44 of One Hundred Days in the San Juan Islands, one in a series of newspaper columns June Burn wrote under contract with The Seattle Post Intelligencer in 1946.

"Cypress Island has always been a place of mystery to me. I had heard that legend of the young princess who was thrown off Eagle Cliff at the north end because she consorted with the enemy. I had read Vancouver's account of entering Strawberry Bay and finding anchorage in a 'fine, sandy bottom' on the west side of the island, which, ' producing an abundance of upright cypress obtained the name Cypress Island.'
It was off Cypress that one of Vancouver's vessels, the CHATHAM, lost her anchor (would any shred of its iron be there yet?) off the rocky east side of the island.
Cypress, too, is the only one of the islands where the rhododendrons grow,  or used to grow, in rich abundance, it's dark fir-ed peaks all a-flower in May.
Native Rhododendron macrophyllum,
The state flower of Washington.
Do they still grow on Cypress Island??

But, 5,500 acres big, covering eight and one-half miles, Cypress has, ever since I've known it, been uninhabited. Yet it is near the mainland. It has two fairly good harbors, one very good one, several shallow bays and nice beaches, some lowland, and a great abundance of timber.
Perhaps it's story is another one of the sad stories of Puget Sound. Perhaps they logged it to hideous ugliness a generation ago so that it has been all this time getting back its fine coast of timber. Or, perhaps it lacks water or easy access.
Whatever the reason, people haven't lived on Cypress much or long.  I imagine it has a grand smuggling history––if smuggling can be as grand an adventure as old romantic tales have cracked it up to be. Since fish traps were outlawed in WA [1934], there has been a great deal of reefnetting off Cypress.
We hadn't meant to go ashore on Cypress, but to pass the high massive beast well to the south, on our way to Guemes. But, of course, the wind and the tide took us in tow, as always, and the first thing we knew we were practically on the boulder strewn south beach of the huge, silent island. It was getting on towards night, too. Take a look at the chart and see where the best harbor is––it'll have to be on the eastern shore, we can't get around to Strawberry Bay in this tide.
AND THAT is how we discovered for the first time that fine harbor called Deep Water Bay with the inner bay called Secret Harbor. Ha! There would be nobody at all there, not even the reefnet fishermen. We'd have this night world all to ourselves and get a little writing done before going on next morning.
We rounded the domed peak which is the southwest portion of Cypress, blew right on around into the mouth of Deep Water Bay and––why, there's a cluster of little white cabins on a low level valley between two immense wooded hills. Is this Switzerland? This is unlike anything we've seen in the islands.
Our white jib and red mainsail take us scooting on in to the dock. There is a man there. He waves. As we draw alongside we see that it is Mr. Shaw whom we used to know in Bellingham. He is running this tiny village of cabins, hasn't much trouble talking us into one of them for the night, hospitable and that he is, and Mrs. Shaw also.
This spot on Cypress seems to have been homesteaded 50 odd years ago by Joe and Mike Cadboy, relatives of the Shaws. They built a log barn back up in the valley and left a pair of harnesses in it 40 years ago which are still there, intact, except one bridle which Mr. Shaw took. I don't know whether that is a comment on the disappearance of horses, on the honesty of people around here, or on the isolation of Cypress Island!
See you tomorrow. June."

Two years after June's essay is posted the below newspaper article comes to the surface: 

A party of twenty two attended a picnic at Cypress Island, Rhododendron Day, 14 May. The launch DAWN, on which the party went, brought home a large load of beautiful flowers, and all brought plants for transplanting." 
San Juan Islander, 20 May 1910.


  1. my name is Josh Schneider, and I was a student at the residential boys school there in 1998-99 and this island, and the Puget sound in general, has left such a profoundly positive impact on me its hard to put into words. thank you for this history knowledge on a place that has such importance to me.

  2. Josh,
    Thanks so much for reading and writing. How wonderful to hear you loved these islands and they loved you in return. Comment anytime.
    Best regards,
    web admin.


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