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Brown House begins journey from Friday Harbor to American Camp Dec. 2

The Brown House, believed to be the oldest building on San Juan Island and one of the oldest in Washington state, will be moved Dec. 2, 3-7 p.m., from West and First streets to American Camp. - Richard Walker
The Brown House, believed to be the oldest building on San Juan Island and one of the oldest in Washington state, will be moved Dec. 2, 3-7 p.m., from West and First streets to American Camp.
— image credit: Richard Walker

The Brown House, believed to be the oldest building on San Juan Island and one of the oldest in Washington state, will be moved Dec. 2, 3-7 p.m., from West and First streets to American Camp.

The route, according to Nickel Bros. House Moving and the National Park Service: First Street, Court Street, Spring Street, Argyle Avenue, Cattle Point Road, Pickett's Lane, and then Redoubt Road to the American Camp parade ground. Nickel Bros. asks that islanders not park their vehicles along any of these streets during the move; your vehicle may be towed. If you have any questions, call Nickel Bros. at 378-3328.

The Brown House has been donated to the National Park by the owners of Friday Harbor House. There are no plans for the corner right now, according to Amy Wenaweser of Columbia Hospitality, which manages Friday Harbor House.

The old building was originally an officers quarters at Fort Bellingham in 1856, was moved to American Camp as an officers quarters in 1867, and was moved to Friday Harbor sometime between 1875 and 1884. When it was moved to West Street, with its expansive view of the harbor and the island now known as Brown Island, the Whale Museum next door had not been built; that building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

In its three lives, the building became kind of a Forrest Gump of structures. It witnessed the settlement era, the birth of Bellingham, the changes brought by the treaty with the region's First Nations, the resolution of a territory dispute between two world superpowers, the development of an island town, and now the efforts to preserve those pieces of the historical record.

In Friday Harbor, the house became known as the Brown House, after Adam Brown, believed to be the one who moved the house to West and First streets. He ran the first sawmill in Friday Harbor; thanks to electricity generated by the mill, electric lights were first turned on in town in 1894.

Photographs through the years show the house in its various commercial iterations in Friday Harbor — from blacksmith shop to art gallery. It was last occupied by the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. When the building is returned to American Camp, set down on the spot it occupied from 1867-1874, it will become known as Historic Structure 10, or HS 10. It will be situated next to the existing officers quarters (aka HS 11), where it once overlooked the ground where soldiers drilled and assembled for inspection.

The interior of HS 11 is expected to be refurbished within a year or two, National Park Historian Mike Vouri said. Eventually, both buildings will be open for public tours.

Darlene Wahl of San Juan Island National Historical Park watched Dec. 1 as Nickel Bros. workers lifted the Brown House with hydraulic jacks and prepped it for moving. "American Camp has such a rich history. The addition of this building, next to the other officers quarters, will make it richer," she said. "I love the history of it. It's been a long process, and it's really cool."

In Friday Harbor, the Brown House's location for at least 126 years, the old building is on the town's inventory of historic sites. Its move to American Camp will be bittersweet for local preservationists.

"It will have an impact on the historic district, but it's wonderful that it's going to be relocated back to the camp," town Historic Preservation Officer Sandy Strehlou said in an earlier interview. "It's always sad to lose a building that's been in Friday Harbor that long. The alternative was that the building could be facing demolition when Friday Harbor House expands. So I'm pleased the building is going to go home to an even more appropriate site on the island, and restored to help people understand the history of this place."

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