Arts and Entertainment

Crook family program returns to San Juan Island Library

Rhoda Crook Anderson and husband, Fred, on their boat in Garrison Bay   - San Juan Historical Museum
Rhoda Crook Anderson and husband, Fred, on their boat in Garrison Bay
— image credit: San Juan Historical Museum

When master carpenter William Crook arrived on San Juan Island with his wife and two children in tow, he had come to the end of the line.

It was 1875, and Crook, who left his native Yorkshire for America almost 20 years earlier, made a beeline for the site of the former Royal Marine Camp. He had learned it was ripe for the plucking among the unclaimed acreage on the island. The Crook family would remain on San Juan until the last member died in 1972.

Learn more about how this legendary family came to embody pioneer self-sufficiency and the island way of life as part of a Power Point presentation by San Juan Island National Historical Park historian Mike Vouri and Laura Tretter, director of the San Juan Island Library. The event begins at 7 p.m., Saturday, at the library on Guard Street.

The event is free. (For accessibility information call 378-2902 or 378-2240).

The Power Point presentation features more than 100 images, selected from the Historical Park's archives, which documented the family, its history and homestead. Tretter will discuss the online Crook collection, which she assembled a year ago in collaboration with the Washington State Library "Rural Heritage Initiative" and the San Juan Historical Museum.

Upon arrival at the old campsite nestled along the shore of Garrison Bay, Crook found a cleared, though weedy, parade ground with 27 structures still intact, including two barracks, a storehouse, docks and two "fine" houses. This ready-made homestead was the “English Camp” that Crook had heard about while on the Oregon Trail with his wife, Mary Forrest, and their two children, Jim and Mary. The family would call it home for the next 100 years and leave a lasting legacy for the American people.

After the Royal Marines left in 1872, the site was surveyed and inventoried by the U.S. Army for a public auction held on Nov. 24, 1875. A stipulation called for all purchases to be removed from the site within 60 days or become the property of the land claimant.

Over the years, the Crook family occupied several structures left behind by the Royal Marines, including the “Lieutenant’s House”, (where Rhoda was born in 1878), a library and barracks -- the latter serving as the National Park Service’s on-site Visitor Center. A carpenter by trade, William Crook built boats in the old storehouse and several island houses. On the old parade ground, he planted apple, pear and cherry trees and by 1900 was selling

eggs, chicken, sheep, wool and fruit.

Mary Forrest Crook died in October 1899, followed by William in 1901. Rhoda and Mary quit-claimed their shares of the estate to Jim, who built the two-story house that still overlooks the parade ground. Jim’s sisters married in 1897 and 1900, respectively. Mary and her husband, Herbert Davis, moved into the house with Jim in 1903.

Though most of the farm’s 272 acres were under cultivation by 1911, Crook also made barrels, which sold for 95 cents apiece, and was a famed tinkerer. A local favorite is a 20-foot-long, 2-ton, wool-carding machine, which is on display at the historical museum.

With no heirs, Jim and Rhoda donated the parade ground to Washington State. At the same time, U.S. Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson authored legislation which created San Juan Island National Historical Park. It was signed into law in 1967, seven months before Jim died, at 93. The following year, the National Park Service purchased the remaining Crook acreage from Rhoda, who was given lifetime tenure in the house above the parade ground and three acres that surrounded it.

Rhoda Anderson often chatted with visitors from her kitchen window, and remained a cheery presence in the park until her death in 1972. She was 92.

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