SAMISH ISLAND, 1954
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.
"Samish Island is one of those places you drive past, or sail past, dozens of times and never do visit.
Only a few of the oldest residents, like George Hopely, 80, and his wife were around when Samish was a heavily timbered hump of land entirely surrounded by water. At low tide, they say, a man in rubber boots could tramp across the oozy mud flats to higher ground on the mainland. It is stuck out in plain sight from Chuckanut Drive, Padilla, and Samish Bays, but to get there one has to leave Hwy 99 north of Burlington and drive west six or seven miles.
Samish Island recently acquired a public water system that did away with the necessity of hauling the vital liquid by the tankful to livestock and crops on some of the farms.
It is the most important event in that morsel of Skagit County since Samish ceased to be an island. It is a peninsula now, with very little to show that it ever was insular except its general appearance from a distance.
Until a few months ago water was obtainable on the island only from wells. Samish has no streams of its own and issues of the Coast Pilot in the 1880s warned skippers that it was no place for watering vessels. Now all of that is remedied. Day Creek on the mainland was dammed and its waters are being carried nearly 20-miles to Samish.
The Hopelys, oldest residents of the community, settled there when Samish was one of the main ports of Skagit County with three docks, the same number of saloons, a hotel, and a cannery employing 25 Chinese. For a time it had a rival townsite platted by a Georgian named George Allen and named for the leading city of Atlanta, in his home state.
Travelers bound inland to the logging camps made an overnight stop at Samish as a rule. Hopely recalls the sternwheel and side wheel steamers anchoring a distance off the mud flats and putting passengers ashore in rowboats. When a long dock was built at the island they unloaded freight there and it was ferried on flatboats with sails, up the slough to Edison.
The first job George Hopely had was night-watching for the Samish Island salmon cannery, that had a Chinese crew directed by Mr. Lord, the superintendent, and his son-in-law, Mr. White, the bookkeeper.
Hopely's duties included filling and cleaning lanterns and receiving and counting fish when boats arrived from the Nooksack after dark. That was in 1888, when the cannery was new, and was the only one in the area, none having been built as yet at Anacortes.
Hopely had come to Seattle eight years earlier. His widowed mother, with six children to support, aimed to get a homestead. She kept a lodging house at first, then found 160 acres on the Samish River. One of her sons took a pre-emption claim of 40 acres next to it.
'When we came here to go to the claims 33 whites, including children, lived on Samish Island. Dan Dingwall (we called him Dan Dingle) and William Dean were the first two to settle here. Watson Hodge, George Echenberger, and George Dean were other early homsteaders. Several were married to Indian women', Hopely said.
'My mother bought a five-acre place here on Samish so we could run back and forth and wouldn't always have to stay on lonely Vendovi. One of my nephews was born out there. His father had to act as 'midwife' and bring him into the world.
We sold meat and wool from the flock, taking the mutton to Anacortes and Bellingham. The wool was worth 10 to 15 cents a pound. We packed it in big sacks and carried it to Seattle on our 32-ft schooner. We had 175 sheep on the island; that was about all it would carry.
I was 15 when I went to Vendovi. I worked here in Samish the year before and the cannery paid me $50 a month, which we thought was wonderful. The cannery ran several years, then shut down for lack of fish after bigger canneries were built.'
Seafoods were what attracted Indians to the area. 'The Indians liked the big horse clams best. We'd see them on the beach smoking both clams and fish strung up on sticks supported on forked pieces of wood. They camped in mat tepees or under pieces of canvas.
The Indians once had a long house here on North Beach. It was maybe 100-ft long and smokey. Cowidgeon and Old Harry were the leading Indians in it. The longhouse seemed to have a number of families, who lived here the year around. There was an Indian cemetery at the inner end of the island.
Samish Island has been logged three times', Hopely says. The first person to have a logging camp there was Dan Dingwall in 1867. A history book relates that two years later he and Thomas Hayes opened a store near the Indian camp.
Hayes went away and William Dean became Dingwall's partner. Dingwall was postmaster of Samish in 1870 and Dean started a store of his own in 1873.
All of this was before Hopely's time. He doesn't remember hearing Dean or Dingwall ever mention logging. Dean built a schooner, the MAGGIE, for freighting among the islands and to Anacortes and Bellingham. One other boat also was built at Samish in the early days, the MARY F. PERLEY, a sternwheel steamer.
Mrs. Hopely, though a later arrival that her husband, recalls the bull-team logging days and the smell of dogfish oil being tried out in big kettles on the beach to make grease for the skid roads.
'Why, when I came here there was so much timber on Samish Island you could get lost in your own forest. It was a true island when the tide was in. We went everywhere by boat', Mrs. Hopely says."
Above text by author, historian Lucile McDonald for The Seattle Times, January 1954.