"The island of San Juan, that so lately brought to the mind images of war, is rapidly becoming a peaceful Arcadia. There are about 60 settlers, all of whom, we believe, are Americans, opening farms and engaging in industrial pursuits. Lime manufacturing is carried on to a considerable extent, the most of it being exported. The British and American troops are still in camp on the island. The most friendly intercourse subsists between them."
Above text from the Pioneer and Democrat, Olympia, Washington Territory, 25 January 1861.
"Lime was a hazardous cargo carried from the San Juan Islands for nearly a century. If it became wet it produced heat, causing fires aboard a number of ships in early days. During the last years of the trade, the mineral was towed on barges to paper mills and other customers.
San Juan and Orcas Islands were the big producers. Roche Harbor furnishing the greatest amount of traffic, sufficient for the quarry to maintain a fleet of its own. Besides freighting the mineral, many owners of small boats were kept busy bringing firewood and farm produce to support the industry.
The earliest use of lime in the Pacific Northwest was for mortar and as a soil sweetener. Some of the first American settlers in the archipelago observed white deposits in the cliffs near Lime Kiln Light and opened quarries there, beginning in the spring of 1860. When a company of British marines was sent to Garrison Bay to wait out the border dispute, some of the men excavated the white material and burned it in a small pot kiln. The finished product was packed in empty meat and whiskey barrels to be shipped away on British vessels.
Among the pioneers in the trade was the GENERAL HARNEY and other vessels that appeared in the news of the past century. In June 1873 the lime company founded by N.C. Bailey and James McCurdy on the west side of San Juan Island were awarded a contract to furnish 1,000 barrels of lime to be used in the construction of the territorial prison on McNeil Island. William McCurdy delivered the first lot in the schooner ONTARIO. The firm expected to employ the vessel to carry its output all over the Puget Sound area, but in April 1875, she broke from her moorings near Lime Kiln Light and was driven ashore a total loss.
Another carrier that same year was the schooner SHOO FLY, reported having brought 200 barrels of lime from Orcas Is. to Pt. Townsend. The sloop MAGNOLIA also carried hay and lime to the same port. The 95-ft sternwheel steamer DISPATCH launched at Port Madison in 1876 by Capt. Hornbeck was sold to Capt. Brittain for the San Juan trade.
'The steamer DISPATCH sailed from San Juan with 500 barrels of lime consigned to a Portland firm. Going around Smith Island the weather got rough. Two barrels became wet and were thrown overboard. Finally, it was necessary to throw 50 barrels over to save the ship. At Seattle, the remaining lot was shifted to a barge and towed by stmr TEASER to Tacoma and put on a train to Kalama, where they would again be shifted to a steamer and take to their destination.'
1 August 1878, Intelligencer
The DISPATCH burned to the water line at a dock in Seattle in 1889 but was rebuilt to run again.
In 1887, John S. McMillin took over the Roche Harbor lime kilns, expanded the pioneer operation and maintained a fleet of steam and sailing vessels, launches, and barges, at his harbor on the NW end of San Juan Is. One was the brig WILLIAM G. IRWIN, carrying lime to San Francisco. In 1903, she survived a fire at sea. The largest vessel to enter Roche Harbor was the 387-ft stmr MARIPOSA, which in 1897, took on 4,000 barrels of lime for China. Other ships carried quantities to Hawaii.
A story dated 1903, tells of the burning of the steamer LACONNER in Deception Pass with 1,800 barrels of lime and 129 barrels of salt salmon on board. 'The lime was worth 75¢ a barrel at the kiln,' the reporter noted. The LACONNER, a twin-screw freighter of 297-tons, was rated one of the most capacious steamers in the Skagit Flats hay and grain trade, but at the time she was carrying lime to Seattle. She was salvaged and rebuilt, only to be destroyed by fire in Tacoma in 1907, while discharging hay.
In 1906, when there was a great demand for lime for rebuilding San Francisco after the earthquake, the Roche Harbor Lime Co purchased the iron barkentine, ARCHER, noted for her speed on the San Francisco run, which had a lively history both before and after this period. She was built at Sunderland, England in 1876 as a 185-foot bark with a capacity of carrying 800,000 feet of lumber or 1,000-tons of general cargo. She was dismasted in a high wind off Cape Flattery, repaired and re-rigged as a barkentine. In 1911, she was given auxiliary motor power in the form of a 400-HP engine driven by gas manufactured aboard ship by a coal-burning gas producing the machine invented by the Schmidt brothers of Olympia. She had a long list of minor accidents before July 1913, when on a voyage from San Francisco to Roche Harbor the gas-producer got out of order and filled the ship with carbon monoxide leaving her chief engineer in need of medical attention. During the near breakdown of the machinery, most of her sails were blown away. She reached port and was laid up for 18 days. Several years later the gas equipment was abandoned, an oil burner was installed, and she became a power schooner.
One of the worst disasters to strike the Puget Sound mosquito fleet was the loss of the 191-ton wooden freighter T. W. LAKE. She was constructed in 1895 from the hull of the burned sternwheel steamer ANNIE M. PENCE for Joshua Green's Skagit run. For a time she and the LYDIA THOMPSON were picking up barrels of lime destined for Tacoma and Seattle. Then in 1905, the Merchants Transportation Co bought the former and later converted her to motor power. On 5 December 1923, she was coming from Roche Harbor with 300 barrels of lime for Anacortes when a terrific gale overtook her off Lopez Island. She sank in Rosario Strait, carrying all aboard to their deaths, including Capt. E. E. Mason and Chief Engineer Joseph Larson. (A post of this story can be viewed here )
A later lime carrier was the bark STAR OF CHILE which had originally been the iron clipper ship LA ESCOSESA, blt in Dundee, Scotland. In the 1870s she twice challenged the clipper YOUNG AMERICA to a race from San Fran. to Liverpool. Once she lost 13 days and cost her owners $40,000 in wagers.
Among the vessels mentioned as having carried lime cargoes was the RAPID TRANSIT. Doubtless, there were many more, but this writer's research fell short of tracing them. The best history of all was that related in the 13 December 1882 issue of the Post-Intelligencer about the varied career of the schooner GENERAL HARNEY, which for years was looked upon by early settlers as almost the only means of getting their products to market.
She was described as a schooner-rigged scow, built of Puget Sound Douglas fir at Bellingham Bay in 1858 by Capt Henry Roeder, who commanded her for a number of years. Of 100-tons register, she measured 80 x 20.5 x 6.2-ft. Her first work was an assignment to carry lumber from Utsalady to Port Townsend for construction of a Catholic church. Oner her arrival the priest came on board, blessed the vessel and predicted for her a long, useful and successful career.
The next work of the GENERAL HARNEY was moving the armament and soldiers under Capt. George E. Pickett from Bellingham Bay to San Juan Is during the Pig War dispute. The schooner incidentally took its name from General William S. Harney, who was responsible for placing military forces ashore on San Juan.
In 1860, according to the article, Capt H. H. Lloyd took command of the HARNEY and, under a contract with Hillary Butler and F. H. Whitworth, delivered brick and lime from San Juan and stone for Port Orchard and Seattle for the foundation of the Territorial University. She next entered into carrying grain and freight.
In 1875, Lloyd became sole owner of the schooner when he bought out Capt. Roeder and placed the vessel in the lime-carrying trade between San Juan and Tacoma. She transported from 10,000 to 12,000 barrels a year, and also large quantities of limestone destined for the iron works at Oswego, OR.
In 1876, while proceeding up the Sound with a load of lime, a little stream trickled through the deck and set the lime on fire. As soon as it was discovered the little craft was run on the beach near Appletree Cove and covered with mud for five days, during which time the fire was smothered out and the lime was uninjured, but the barrels were all burned to coal, so that when they were touched they would all fall to pieces. The loss amounted to about 500 barrels of lime. So fortunate she has always been that insurance companies in Victoria were glad to take risks on cargoes that go in her for half of one percent.
The GENERAL HARNEY quit carrying lime after that. She was rammed one night the following November by the steamer YAKIMA and got her first thorough overhauling. Her frame and exterior planking and timbers were found sound except for a few inroads of teredos. She received a new keel, new keelson, planks, and other repairs at Mitchell's yard and was soon ready for more years of useful work. Her end came in 1889 when she was en route from Dungeness to Whatcom and stranding during a gale on Goose Island in San Juan Passage. She was a total loss.
The writer in the above quoted Post-Intelligencer observed that "few if any craft of her size had done more for the development and advancement of Puget Sound."
McDonald, Lucile. Published by The Sea Chest, the quarterly journal of Puget Sound Maritime, Seattle, WA. March 1983.
Lucile McDonald (1898-1992), historian/author of 32 books. She was a feature writer for The Seattle Times for 23 years who became familiar with the San Juan Islands from cruising with her family.
Lucile S. McDonald Book Search––
- Saltwater People Historical Society
- 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.
Archived Log Entries
- ▼ 2018 (26)
- ► 2017 (74)
- ► 2016 (79)
- ► 2015 (71)
- ► 2014 (81)
- ► 2013 (71)
- ► 2012 (42)
- ► 2011 (40)