Mike and Julia Vouri, San Juan Historical Museum team up to author book on San Juan Island

Two images from the upcoming book,
Two images from the upcoming book, 'San Juan Island.' Top photo: Lizzie Lawson atop her hay wagon, 1910. The daughter of one of San Juan Island's first European settlers, Peter Lawson, she never married and ran her own farm for many years before finally moving to town. By most accounts, she was a strong, frontier woman who took care of herself and was a generous neighbor. That's Laurena Rosler Landahl standing at right. Bottom photo: The purse seiner fishery at Kanaka Bay, c. 1910. During the summer month, the fields of both the Clement and Lawson farms filled with the tents of fishers who worked the rich salmon bank and sold their catch to buyers from the canneries.
— image credit: San Juan Historical Society and Museum

A new book about San Juan Island is being authored by Mike and Julia Vouri and the San Juan Historical Society and Museum.

The book, titled "San Juan Island," will be published this summer by Arcadia Publishing Co. as part of its Images of America series. Other Arcadia books of local interest: "Orcas Island," "The Pig War," "Friday Harbor," and "Roche Harbor." (A book on Lopez Island is forthcoming.)

Arcadia's books rely heavily on historical photographs to help tell a community's story. Each 128-page book contains more than 200 images.

In the quest to find the rare and previously unpublished, the Vouris have been delving into boxes of uncataloged photographs in the historical society's storage room. Among the discoveries: Boxes of photos that had belonged to the late Etta Lightheart Egeland (1896-2002). In those boxes are photos of her grandfather, Peter Lawson (1827-1927), the Danish farmer who emigrated here in the 1850s; and of her aunt, Lizzie Lawson (1879-1968), who inherited and worked 40 acres of her father's Straitsview Farm. There are family portraits, and pictures of family activities and family outings.

"Some of these photos are amazing," Mike Vouri said.

The Vouris hope to include photographs from islanders' dusty personal archives and tucked-away albums. "This book is starting to flesh itself out and tell its own story," Vouri said. "We don't want to leave anybody out. If anyone has any stories or photos, get a hold of Kevin Loftus at the museum 378-3949, or call me and Julia at home, 378-9653."

This is the third Arcadia book for Mike Vouri and the second for Julia Vouri and the historical museum. His first, "The Pig War," was published in 2008. The Vouris and the museum teamed up on "Friday Harbor," which was published in time for the town's centennial; royalties from book sales benefit the museum. Royalties from the sale of "San Juan Island" will also benefit the museum, which is raising money for restoration and preservation of its heritage buildings.

The San Juan Island book is careful to not duplicate the "Friday Harbor" and "Roche Harbor" books. As of this writing, the book is comprised of six chapters: "Farming," "Fishing and Maritime," "Early Industry," "Transportation," "First Arrivals," and "Pastimes."

In the "Transportation" chapter, one photo shows islanders in a horse-drawn island taxi; a little pig is visible in the back seat.

The "Pastimes" chapter shows that early residents enjoyed the islands for the same reasons we do. "These early people worked hard to carve out a life here, but they enjoyed the island just as we enjoy it today," Vouri said. "They hiked, they picnicked, they went boating, they appreciated the vistas. They lived here for a very good reason. That's what we're seeing through the photographs."

The intercultural population of the island will be evident in the book. One picture shows Lucy Beigin (1842-1923) seated at center, holding a child, in a large social gathering of women. Mrs. Beigin was Haida and was married to Patrick Beigin, the Irish-born former Army soldier who stayed on the island after serving here with Capt. George Pickett's troops.

"It's a very poignant photo, because there wasn't an acceptance of Native peoples in the early go here," Vouri said.

Sarah Higginbotham, acquisitions editor for Arcadia Publishing in San Francisco, said it's unusual for a community the size of San Juan Island, population 7,500, to generate four books (there are 24 Arcadia books on Seattle culture and people).

"If we were talking about a town that size on that mainland, a typical town that doesn't have a great number of visitors, we would do one book and that's it," she said. With San Juan Island, "There is a unique combination of factors. It's a special place. It's a destination, it's one of those places people keep coming back to, their families keep coming back to. There is a wealth of history there, some meaty history. There's more than one touchstone. And the Pig War is not something every place has."

Another asset, according to Higginbotham: "The San Juan Historical Museum has taken great measures to keep its archives there and has embraced the sharing," she said. "The authors have had the support to do the book, and the community support has been tremendous."

Higginbotham said the local Arcadia books have exceeded sales expectations and have been above-average.

Vouri, who authored "The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay" and "Outpost of Empire: The Royal Marines and the Joint Occupation of San Juan Island" before becoming an Arcadia author, believes the island series of Arcadia books are valuable historical resources.

"These books cannot be complete histories, but they offer a glimpse of the past," Vouri said. "With all three books — 'Friday Harbor,' 'Roche Harbor' and 'San Juan Island' — readers will have a penetrating look at the history of the island. There's always more you can do on specific subjects, but these books provide a complete picture of life here at the turn of the century."


Orcas Island
The Pig War
Friday Harbor
Roche Harbor

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