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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.

18 May 2014

❖ Greeting Boats at Lopez Island ❖ 1955

Lee Wilson
stood on a rock near his cabin door and played a greeting
on his whistle to visiting boats in Hunter's Bay, Lopez Is.
In the background was one of the buildings of the 
"Come-Outer" commune, long ago abandoned.
Original 1955 photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.
Click to enlarge.
"Yachtsmen entering Hunter's Bay in the San Juan Archipelago are puzzled by reedy, flute like sounds wafted across the water from the shore of Lopez Island.
      The boaters soon learn that the peculiar music emanates from a whistle played by Lee (Grandpa) Wilson, whose weather-beaten cabin is perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the bay.
      Visitors are welcomed by 'Grandpa' Wilson, and those who row ashore find a ghost village of unusual nature.
      Wilson is the last remaining member of a religious colony which originated in Seattle's Ballard area. The colony had no formal name, but was known as the 'Come-Outers,' because members had "come out" of many other church denominations. They believed that their steward, Thomas Gourley, had been sent to lead them into a better life, just as Moses led the children of Israel.
      In 1911 Gourley led his flock to a new home in the San Juan Islands and in 1912 they settled at Hunter's Bay. There were approximately 130 adults and children. The group set up a communal existence based on its religious convictions.
      Members lived in tents at first, but gradually cabins were built from the ample supply of lumber that  the tide brought them. A bakehouse with a large concrete oven was constructed and the job of baking the community's bread supply passed around weekly among female members. Meals were prepared for the entire group and all tasks were apportioned evenly among members, including the dish washing.
      This system worked out well, William says, allowing individual members more freedom than if each family had cooked its own meals.
      The bakehouse also served as a temporary chapel. Several marriages were performed there, including that of young Lee Wilson and the adopted daughter of a colony family, in 1913.
      Later a tabernacle was built. Gourley's Sunday services were open to anyone who cared to attend. At that time the population of Lopez was perhaps 700 persons.
      Many islanders went to listen to sermons in the 'Come-Outer' Tabernacle. Guests were always invited to stay for dinner after the church services.
      In 1916 Gourley felt that his mission with the group should end and left Lopez. He later lost his life in a train wreck.
      The religious group had depended so heavily on its leader that it was unable to function without him and eventually broke up. By 1922 all members had left Hunter's Bay and the buildings they had worked so hard to erect stood deserted. Looters removed objects of value, such as chimney bricks.
      For a time someone raised turkeys in one of the larger log cabins. Later, a bootlegger found the deserted bakehouse a good location for a still, however––

   his tenancy was short-lived, due to the appearance of federal agents.
      After the disbanding of the 'Come-Outers,' Wilson and his wife lived in several different places in the San Juans. Mrs. Wilson died at the birth of their ninth child. In 1934 Lee decided to return to Hunter's Bay and rear his family there. 
      By keeping a garden, a herd of goats, a cow, and a horse, the large family managed to make a go of it, though not without several tragedies. One Wilson child died as an infant and a 16-year old son was drowned from a raft in the bay. The remaining seven children left Hunter's Bay on reaching adulthood, but their father stayed put.
      Wilson is now [1959] 74 years old and 14 times a grandfather. Known to his friends as 'Grandpa,' he hasn't taken a dose of medicine since 1909. "All I do is take real good care of my health and keep busy."
      'Grandpa' gets his light from gasoline lamps and his water from a pump several hundred yards away, but his home is comfortable as he, Wilson says. 'I never hide anything around here––everything's right in plain sight.'
      'The only time I get lonely, is when one of my youngsters takes me to Seattle for a visit. I can hardly wait to get back to my home here on Lopez."
Above text by Margaret Marshall for The Seattle Times, December 1955

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