The largest by far of the island’s three towns, and named for the oak trees on the surrounding prairies, Oak Harbor is a brisk trading center. The semi circular harbor is almost bisected by a narrow sand spit and is southwest of the U.S. Naval air station.
The first white settler, Zakarias Taftezon, a Norwegian, came here in 1849. Others soon followed, and John M. Izett, who arrived in 1854 from Scotland, built a shipyard and gave the island its first industry. The schooner Growler, named for its complaining builders, was launched here in 1859 and became one of the best-known boats on Puget Sound in pioneer days. Irish sea captains settled Oak Harbor in the 1850s, helping to establish the downtown with successful businesses including a wharf, hotel, blacksmith shop, general merchandise stores, and saloon. In the 1890s, Dutch families immigrated to the outskirts of Oak Harbor to farm, sprinkling the landscape with windmills and Dutch names. Many of the names on stores, and on mail boxes along rural routes, such as Fakkema, Koetje, and Van Wieringer, reflect the history of Dutch culture on the island. Up until the 1940s, the Dutch language was commonly used by the older generation and often heard along the street. Today the outstanding annual event is the Holland Happening Festival; Dutch costumes are worn, old-country games are played; there are prize contests and a livestock show.
Since time immemorial, Southern Coast Salish villages were strategically located near water sources not only to provide a place to safely anchor canoes, but to also provide an abundant supply of fish and shellfish, including salmon, clams, mussels, and oysters.