History at your fingertips: A unique collection of images and stories about San Juan Island is now available online

About 37 contributors shared items for the digital archives project sponsored by the town, the library, the  historical museum and the national park.  - Images courtesy the San Juan Story Collection
About 37 contributors shared items for the digital archives project sponsored by the town, the library, the historical museum and the national park.
— image credit: Images courtesy the San Juan Story Collection

What was in the attic, under the porch, or hanging on a nail? Treasures that tell the history of San Juan Island.

You can see them in a digital archive tour at the San Juan Island Library on Friday, 6:30 p.m., in a free event open to the public. Library Director Laura Tretter and Museum Director Kevin Loftus will be your guides.

The digital collection includes documents, paintings and photos that help tell the story of San Juan Island and the lives of its inhabitants. Objects are also included, among them stone points left by the island’s First People, a Coast Salish paddle made for Dr. Conner Reed about 1910, a book of Roche Harbor scrip, the “Eat at Vic’s” sign, the hat Clyde Sundstrom wore to dances.

One of the startling finds: the wooden box that belonged to Harry and Selena Dwyer. In 1873, they were murdered by Nuanna, who had broken into the box and stole money and two watches from it. Sheriff Stephen Boyce apprehended Nuanna and held the box as evidence until his trial. Ever since, the box has remained in the care of the Boyce family.

Visitors to the database can also listen to audio files of oral histories and read the transcripts.

The collection comprises treasures that islanders cherish and chose to share with others through the San Juan Story Collection project.

In February, March and April, the San Juan Island Library, the San Juan Island Historical Museum, the Town of Friday Harbor, and San Juan Island National Historical Park conducted three “Antiques Road Show”-type open houses.

On those days, islanders brought their antiques, photographs and other objects and ephemera to the library or museum to be digitally photographed or scanned, cataloged into a database, and the information uploaded to Islanders took their items home, as well as a flash drive with the image of their shared item.

All told, 17 volunteers and workers documented items brought in by 37 contributors. The result is a digital museum of sorts.

“Islanders dug through boxes, attics, basements and family albums to find unique possessions and valuable heirlooms which tell the story of life on our island,” Historical Museum Director Kevin Loftus said.

“Though these items remain in the ownership of those who contributed, their generosity has provided access to a wealth of resources which were otherwise not available to the community.”

The project, called the San Juan Story Collection, was funded with a grant awarded by the Office of the Secretary of State, Washington State Library Division. The grant was funded by the Library Services and Technology Act through the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

It’s the second local collection on the database. The first, the Jim Crook Collection, contains artifacts and ephemera from the life of Jim Crook, whose family lived and farmed at English Camp after British Royal Marines left the island.

“It’s a great way for people to get a glimpse into our past — and our recent past too — and see what’s unique about us,” Tretter said.

She remembers her reaction during the first collection day: “Wow, this is so cool,” she said. “There were so many things I hadn’t seen before — things that are special and unique to our community.”

Tretter said more digital items will be added to the collection. To add to the collection, call Tretter, 378-2798; or Loftus, 378-3949.

— Online: To view the Jim Crook Collection and the San Juan Story Collection, visit

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