Roche Harbor, Washington facts for kids

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Roche Harbor
Unincorporated community
Hotel de Haro
Hotel de Haro
Country United States
State Washington
County San Juan
Time zone Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
Location Northern San Juan Island, San Juan Island, Washington
Area 140 acres (57 ha)
Built 1886
Governing body Private

Roche Harbor is a sheltered harbor on the northwest side of San Juan Island in San Juan County, Washington, United States, and the site of a resort of the same name. Roche Harbor faces Haro Strait and the Canada–United States border. The harbor itself provides one of the better protected anchorages in the islands. The harbor is surrounded on the east side by San Juan Island, on the north side by Pearl Island, and on the west and south sides by Henry Island. Most of the harbor is 35 to 45 feet (11 to 14 meters) deep. Roche Harbor has a small airport used primarily by local residents.

Roche Harbor is a designated U.S. port of entry. A Customs dock occupies a section of the marina, with Customs and Border Protection agents on duty during summer months. When agents are not on duty, arriving boaters must call Customs and Border Protection from the Customs Dock.

Pre-contact to mid-1850s

What is now Roche Harbor was once part of a thriving Coast Salish community known as whelaalk, or WH’LEHL-kluh, which extended from what is now Roche Harbor to Lonesome Cove opposite Speiden Island and in the mid- to late-1800s had 10 large longhouses.

Other nearby communities included:

• KWUH-nuhs (“whale”), at Reid Harbor on Stuart Island.

• lhuh-LHEE-ng’kwulh, at the head of Open Bay on Henry Island. This was the home of sweh-TUHN, the earliest ancestor of the Lummi, Saanich, Samish and Songhees peoples.

• SMUH-yuh (Songhees) or Pe'pi'ow'elh (Lummi), at what is now called English Camp at San Juan Island National Historical Park. Evidence found at Pe'pi'ow'elh suggests this site had been continuously occupied at least from about 500 AD until 1860 when British Marines demolished a 600- to 800-foot longhouse on what became the parade ground of their garrison.

(This area is included in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855, which made land available for newcomers. But the area's First Peoples retain certain resource rights throughout their historical territory, including Roche Harbor. In 2004 and 2008, Coast Salish canoes returned to WH’LEHL-kluh — Roche Harbor — as part of the annual Canoe Journey, a gathering of Northwest Native peoples. And in 2016, representatives of the Lummi Nation, Saanich First Nation and National Park Service conducted a ceremony at which a Reef Net Captain Totem Pole and two Salmon Story Boards were dedicated at Pe'pi'ow'elh — English Camp.)

British Marines established a presence here in 1860 after Great Britain and the United States claimed the San Juan Islands and agreed to a joint military occupation until the territory dispute could be resolved. Roche Harbor was named for Lt. Richard Roche, who served under British Capt. Henry Kellett in 1846 and Capt. James Charles Prevost in 1857–60, and scouted the area for an ideal site for the British Royal Marines encampment.

Mid-1850s to mid-1950s

Limestone is sedimentary rock composed mainly of skeletal fragments of marine organisms. Its chemical makeup: calcium carbonate. Limestone can be processed for use in road surfaces and the manufacture of concrete, mortar, glass and iron; and to neutralize acidity in soil used for agriculture.

British Marines quarried and processed limestone at or near Roche Harbor. After the territory dispute was settled in 1872 in favor of the United States, the land encompassing Roche Harbor was homesteaded by Joseph Ruff, 1872-78, and afterward owned by Israel Katz, 1878-79; and brothers Richard and Robert Scurr and their business partners, Alexander, Colin and Donald Ross, 1879-1886. (Katz was a Port Townsend merchant and future mayor of that city who during the joint military occupation established stores in Friday Harbor, Argyle, and San Juan Town, near the U.S. military encampment.)

Tacoma lawyer John S. McMillin and his business partners in the Tacoma Lime Company — including future U.S. Ambassador to France Hugh Campbell Wallace (1864-1931) — saw the potential for an expanded and efficient limestone operation here, purchased the site from the Scurrs and Rosses, and established the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company in 1886.

Limestone was quarried at the higher-elevation source, delivered by rail to chutes and dropped into the kilns, and the processed lime removed and bagged or barreled within a short distance from the warehouse and wharf.

McMillin built the Hotel de Haro, where he and his family lived until 1910 when they built homes nearby, and a community with cottages for employees, a church, general store, post office, school, gardens and farm. The McMillin children — Fred, Paul and Dorothy — were raised here, and their mother, Louella, was postmaster and taught Sunday school for children in the community. John McMillin, an avid boater, founded the Roche Harbor Yacht Club. The company and/or the McMillins frequently hosted holiday events and gatherings.

Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company (later to become Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Co.) had kilns, a warehouse, wharf, and a fleet of ships that carried lime to growing markets along the west coast. The company was a major source of lime for use in agriculture and construction throughout the west, including San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Roche Harbor's workforce and residents were ethnically diverse, and included people of British, Coast Salish, Irish, Italian, and Japanese ancestry or birth.

John McMillin, a Republican, was politically active. He was a candidate for U.S. Senate, served on the state Railroad Commission (now the Utilities and Transportation Commission), and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1904, 1924, and 1932. (Contrary to local lore, President Theodore Roosevelt did not visit Roche Harbor in 1907 or 1908. During his visit to Washington state in 1903, Roche Harbor was included in a south-north travel itinerary — proposed by boosters in the region — that included Port Townsend, Anacortes and Bellingham, but the president's schedule did not allow him to make that visit. The same itinerary had been proposed for Roosevelt's predecessor, William McKinley, in 1901, but McKinley was assassinated.)

Mid-1950s to present

In 1956, Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company president Paul McMillin, son of the founder, sold Roche Harbor — including 4,000 acres and 12 miles of coastline — to the Reuben J. Tarte family, which developed the town into a boating resort with a marina, a restored Hotel de Haro, an airstrip (on the former site of the farm), and restaurant (built in the former McMillin home).

The Tarte family sold Roche Harbor to businessmen Verne Howard of King's Market and Rich Komen of Restaurants Unlimited in 1988; Roche Harbor is now owned by Komen and Saltchuk Resources.

Members of the McMillin family are interred in a large mausoleum nearby. The Hotel de Haro remains a focal point of the community. A store in the hotel features a portrait of Louella McMillin, with the words MoMo, a term of endearment used by her granddaughters.

Under Komen and Saltchuk's ownership, Roche Harbor has evolved into a year-round community with new neighborhoods of Craftsman-style homes, as well as businesses, activities and amenities that appeal to residents and visitors. The community features several preserved historic structures, including several kilns.


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