Friday Harbor at 100: A new book captures 100 years in the life of a community

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a new book about Friday Harbor tells a unique and richly detailed story about this historic seaside village. And, according to all sources, it’s an entertaining read.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a new book about Friday Harbor tells a unique and richly detailed story about this historic seaside village. And, according to all sources, it’s an entertaining read.

The book, “Friday Harbor,” is authored by Mike and Julia Vouri and the San Juan Historical Society, and published by Arcadia Publishing Co. as part of its Images of America series. The book will be available at book stores and the museum Feb. 2. The museum is taking pre-orders now at 378-3949.

Museum director Kevin Loftus said he took the proofs to bed for some nighttime reading, about 10 p.m., one night, expecting to do a quick review before getting some shuteye. He was still reading at 12:30 a.m.

“It’s entertaining. It’s a page turner,” Loftus said.

The book consists of more than 200 photos — many of them never before seen or published — depicting Friday Harbor’s First Peoples, the building of the community, civic events, schools, town industries, and the people who shaped the community.

The book’s foreword was written by Dr. David Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian (“Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945”) and Stanford University history professor.

This is the fourth book for Mike Vouri and the first for his wife, Julia, and the San Juan Historical Society.

The historical society was founded in 1961 and operates the San Juan Historical Museum. Most of the images in this volume were selected from the society’s collection of nearly 2,000 historic photographs.

Royalties from the book will support restoration and maintenance of the San Juan Historical Museum buildings.

Mike Vouri is the author of “The Pig War” (Arcadia Publishing Co., 2008); “Outpost Of Empire: The Royal Marines And The Joint Occupation Of San Juan Island” (Northwest Interpretive Association, 2005); and “The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay” (Griffin Bay Bookstore, 1999).

Julia Vouri has been a writer and editor specializing in travel and health for 30 years.

“It was kind of neat to go back and look at the old pictures,” said Jim Cahail, a lifelong Friday Harbor resident and former mayor who assisted the Vouris. “It was kind of a trip down memory lane for me. There are a lot of things in the book that a lot of people don’t know.”

He added, “The way Mike and Julia put it together — they tried to take each decade, go through the history of the town, dig into why this building was this building and why these people were prominent in the community.”

Cahail’s wife, Mary Jean, is president of the historical society. “The Vouris really worked hard on the history and in bringing life to the book,” she said.

Loftus said the Vouris subjected their photo selection to a review by a group of about 20 older residents — among them Nourdine Jensen, Al Nash and Al Sundstrom — who provided additional information about what was depicted in each photo.

“A lot of photos had been unseen or unpublished. It was amazing, the stories that came out and what they remembered,” Loftus said.

Farming, salmon fishing and timber fueled Friday Harbor’s early economy. However, by mid-century, the lumber mill was gone, the introduction of irrigation in Central Washington swamped fresh produce markets, and the fish and pea canneries were shut down. Life slowed and some left, but in being passed by — until tourism caught on in the late 1970s — the town (and island) developed a unique sense of community that survives to this day.

What stands out to Loftus is the perseverance of town residents through the years. “When things were tough, people banded together. They had a different view of life, that one person can make a difference in the community. That sense of community resonates today.”

In an earlier interview, Mike Vouri talked about the value of the photo history, based on his experience with the “Pig War” book he authored for Arcadia.

“My other books were scholarly and endnoted,” Vouri said. “The Arcadia book is also researched, but it gave me a chance to tell the Pig War story in a more relaxed, lay format. I had to tell the story with pictures and, you know, a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, the Pig War book has 190 pictures. The Friday Harbor book will also tell an accurate and pleasing story, fleshed out by telling how the town has changed through the years.”

Cahail, the historical society president, added in that same interview, “ ‘Friday Harbor’ will be an important photo history of our great town and will be a useful resource for historians as well as prized by generations to come.

“It will always be an important record, not only for the people born and bred here but also the people to come, and especially to visitors. It will be a critical part of a person’s visit to our town.”

Leading local history publisher
Arcadia Publishing is the leading local history publisher in the United States, with a catalog of more than 4,000 titles in print and hundreds of new titles released every year.

Arcadia is best known for its Images of America series, which chronicles the history of communities from coast to coast. With more than 200 vintage black-and-white photographs, each title celebrates a town or region, bringing to life the people, places and events that define the community.

Local titles include “Ferries of Puget Sound,” and “Orcas Island.” In the works: “Lopez Island” and “Roche Harbor.”

The New York Times wrote of the Images of America series, “For readers with a more localized interest in history that can generally be satisfied in the classroom or the best-seller bin, the Images of America books are an invaluable resource.”

Part of centennial celebration
The book is part of the town’s Centennial Celebration, which began at the 2008 San Juan County Fair and concludes at the 2009 fair. The town Centennial Advisory Committee is coordinating a year-long series of events.

For an updated schedule of centennial events, visit In addition, The Journal will publish a special section devoted to the centennial on Feb. 4.

Get yours
— Pre-orders are being taken for “Friday Harbor,” by Mike & Julia Vouri and the San Juan Historical Society. Call 378-3949.

— A series of postcards are being published, featuring photos from the book. To order, call 378-3949.