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Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor took its name from “Friday,” an aged Hawaiian Islander brought here by the Hudson’s Bay Company to herd its sheep.

From the ferry landing the main thoroughfare ascends a gradual incline, fronted by a variety of mercantile establishments, to the flat above the harbor where the residence district, school buildings, and courthouse spread out from the main street. Small-launch transportation between the islands has centralized insular business at Friday Harbor, the principal ferry point, and seat of San Juan County.

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

San Juan County Courthouse

Although the San Juan County Courthouse has been enlarged in recent years, the original core stands well-preserved and for over a hundred years has watched over the harbor from above it. Built in 1908, this building has been the most important civic structure in the county during its entire history. Virtually all civil affairs in the county were conducted in the courthouse, for Friday Harbor is the only incorporated town in the entire county.

UW Oceanographic Laboratories

UW continues to operate its laboratories here, and while the pea cannery was demolished in the 1970s to clear room for commercial and residential space, the structure at 85 Front Street, constructed in 1905 for the cannery superintendent, exists as a touchstone to that industry, today serving a variety of commercial interests. Seven concrete and tile buildings, on a 484-acre tract which fronts on two miles of water, include laboratories, a stockroom, dining and social hall, and the residences of the curator and director. In the 1940s, during the summer months, tent houses sprung up over the grounds to house visiting students. Field trips were made aboard the Catalyst, a 75-foot Diesel-powered research boat. The 50-foot vessel Medea was used for dredging and water sampling. The laboratories remain in the center of a biological preserve which comprises all marine waters of San Juan County. The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey maintains a tidal station here, and the United States Weather Bureau has a meteorological station for observation of solar radiation. Officially labeled the UW Friday Harbor Laboratories in 1958, the complex continues to specialize in oceanographic research and studies. Several notable buildings exist on site, including the 1924 dining hall designed by architect Carl Gould (who also designed several buildings at the UW’s Seattle campus) and the Main Laboratory (now called the Fernald Lab) by Seattle architect Richard Anderson. There are even some CCC-built structures, as a crew located at the Moran State Park CCC camp on Orcas Island ventured to Friday Harbor in 1935 to construct several stone bulkheads, which remain in use. The wide variety and abundance of the algae (seaweed) growing in the waters of San Juan archipelago is important both scientifically and economically. Brown, green, blue-green, and red specimens range in size from microscopic types to the giant kelp, or sea onion, with a 30 to 90-foot stem, usually attached to submerged rocks, and with wide ribbon-like streamers reaching to the surface. Many varieties were cooked and eaten by Native Americans and early settlers. The Native Americans favored a green variety, called slukkish, with masses of narrow leaves. Research has recently found slukkish and other varieties exceedingly rich in vitamins A, B, C, and G, and because of their high content of organic iodine they have been recommended for the prevention of goiter. The island waters also contain some unusual species of marine life.