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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.

20 March 2015

❖ ROCHE HARBOR BUILT ON LIMESTONE ❖

DAY 72 from 100 Days in the San Juans by author/historian June Burn, under contract with the Seattle P-I to write these columns in 1946. She sailed among the islands camping with her husband, Farrar, in their little San Juanderer.

      Many folks interested in regional history have written about the limestone at the hideaway of Roche Harbor, on San Juan Island, San Juan County, WA. Here are words from the revered June Burn.
      
Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, 1948.
Just two years after June Burn published this article.
Photographer unknown.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
"Roche Harbor is known for its great hill of lime rock and the purity of the lime that is burned from it. It is known for the wonderful flower garden in front of the old Hotel de Haro, and the McMillan family, who have managed the company ever since there was a lime works here. People have heard of and many have seen the unique copper roofed tomb where the McMillan ashes are buried.
      All over this northern part of the archipelago, people have sold barge loads of wood to the lime company, or sold eggs and milk and fish and fresh meat to them, or have broken rock for them. They gave Farrar the first job he had when we came out here to homestead Sentinel. People have been born and grown up and married and had grandchildren still in the service of the Roche Harbor Lime Co. In its heyday, the elder McMillan [John Stafford] used to give great annual harvest festivals that were three days of eating and jousting as in ancient times, really. He did love to do things dramatically!
      There is a novel to be written about this village and company. Its story cannot ever be told in all its color and drama except in a book. No mere column could hope to touch it.
      As you go in to the harbor, past Pearl Island, you get a fine sweeping view of the lime rock quarry, very high on its hill to the right; big piles of white waste––the cleanest waste any manufacturer has. The lime kilns, next against a hill where the clematis grows, then an old warehouse in which the cooperage used to be.
      The store and wharf come out in a long row into the harbor, but grass grows now in the eaves and the old three-masted schooner no longer stands there waiting for its load.
   
Looking down on the busy limestone manufacturing port
operated by John S. McMillan
Photo by Brady from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
      To the left and above the store, are the hotel and the manager's house; below them, the garden of roses and carnations, of gladioli and an arbor of wisteria with vines as thick as Scarlett's waist; at their left the windowy pink house where Paul McMillan now lives.
Gardens at Roche Harbor,
undated.
S.P.H.S.©
      The schoolhouse stands on its own knoll above the road.
      Swinging around to the left, as you enter, the company houses go in rows, most of them now empty. But they may all be full again, sometime, when production gets under way again,, although most of the people who work at Roche Harbor nowadays live at Friday harbor, with a bus to bring them to work in the mornings.
      Roche Harbor is famous as the largest lime works in Washington and also for the fact that this is the purest lime to be found anywhere. It is over 98 % calcium carbonate.
      McMillan, in the scientist's guarded way, calls this a "large accumulation of limestone," but one of the company managers once told me that there's lime here for a hundred years. This land was bought from the Verriers, who moved to Orcas.
Abandoned limestone quarries and kilns,
 Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, WA.

Photo by artist Parker McAllister dated Jan. 1959.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
      Here comes the milk truck. Mrs. Martin unloads her bottles for Roche Harbor. We buy seven quarts. Bottles and cases were shifted on the truck to make room for us and the girls and we set out for English Camp.
      It is a fresh morning, not too hot; the road is graveled. It dips now and then into green woods and yellow fields and then it lifts to overlook blue waters and islands. Finally it turns down to Garrison Bay, where...
We'll be seeing you, June."
   

   

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