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History Buffs

Step into History

Table of Contents

Native American tribes, English explorers, American settlers, and Asian immigrants all contributed to creating the rich and unique culture on Bainbridge Island today. Make some time during your visit to step in our deeply rooted and storied history, spanning over 2,000 years.

History Lessons

For a small island, Bainbridge has some big stories to share. The Japanese American Exclusion in WWII, the most productive sawmill in the world, the mosquito fleet, the invention of Pickleball… no island visit is complete without dedicating some time to learn our history lessons.

  • The Suquamish people were the first inhabitants of Bainbridge Island. Expert fisherman, canoe builders, and basket weavers living in harmony with land and water in nine seasonal villages dotting the Island for generations. Visit the Suquamish Museum to learn about their life on the Island and in the surrounding areas of Washington State.
  •  In 1792, Captain George Vancouver, the first English explorer to arrive on the island marked the beginning of a new era for the land.   In 1841, while surveying Puget Sound, US Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes named the island after Commodore William Bainbridge, commander of the USS Constitution in the War of 1812.
  • The Suquamish Tribe ceded Bainbridge Island to the U.S. Government in 1855, and Bainbridge Island became coveted for its abundance of trees and waterways. It wasn’t long before the logging, shipbuilding, and boating industries moved onto the island.
  • Ready to dive deeper? The Bainbridge Island Historical  Museum is the place to go to explore the island’s rich and bountiful history. Free to all, the museum is located just off Winslow Way and is fun for the whole family! The small but mighty museum is housed in a 1908 schoolhouse (moved from another part of the island). Spend as much time as you’d like here checking out the many interactive and hands-on exhibits. And don’t be shy about engaging the helpful docents. Learn about the earliest families homesteading the island, a thriving shipbuilding industry, Croatian fisherman, the famous Port Blakely Lumber Mill, how the first Japanese immigrants came to the island, and the fate of families removed from Bainbridge at the beginning of World War II. New exhibits are always being added like the history of Pickleball,  the fastest growing sport in America, invented by three local dads, and the birth of a thriving and diverse teen music scene over the decades.

North Island Sites

Make it an island tour (maps available at the Historical Museum) and visit these two historical areas.

  • Blakely Harbor Park is a beautiful 40-acre park along the shorelines of the quiet harbor. that once was the site of booming lumber and shipbuilding industries. It was home to the Port Blakely Lumber Mill, known as the most productive sawmill in the world. Together with the Hall Brothers Shipyard, the mill was responsible for rapid population growth and immigration. The success of these industries ultimately led to the development of a mosquito fleet to serve the island and ferry system between Bainbridge and Seattle.
  • Also located at this site is Yama Village, the 7-acre portion of Blakely Harbor Park that was once the site of the Japanese community associated with Blakely’s lumber mill era. With artifacts still being recovered today, Yama Village has earned a national historic designation.
  • Fort Ward Park is a 13-acre marine park along the southern shore of Bainbridge Island. In 1903, Fort Ward was officially commissioned as a coastal military fort primarily built to protect the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. During WWII, Fort Ward was used as a radio station and training school for communication personnel. The Navy decommissioned the Fort in 1958, but remnants of gun batteries were left behind. The walking trails through Fort Ward Park are a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.

South Island Site

A visit to the south side of the island gives you the full picture of one of our most somber moments in our island history.

  • During WWII, Bainbridge Island’s Japanese American residents were the first in the nation to be forcibly removed from their homes and sent to internment camps.  With only six days’ notice, 227 Japanese residents were ordered to leave Bainbridge. This somber act was a significant and not forgotten moment in our history. The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial commemorates the event and serves as a poignant reminder of the families forced to leave their homes on March 30, 1942.

Off-Island History

There are plenty of historical attractions worth visiting in both the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas.

  • 30 minutes from Bainbridge Island, the town of Port Gamble is a 120-acre National Historic Landmark located on the shores of the Hood Canal. This scenic, quaint town with maple and elm lined streets includes turn of the century buildings, historic churches, and New England style homes. Be sure to visit the Port Gamble Historic Museum for all the history regarding this old mill town.
  • Fort Worden State Park is a 433-acre United States Army Coast Artillery Corps base constructed to protect Puget Sound from invasion by sea. It was named after US Navy Rear Admiral John Lorimer Worden, commander of USS Monitor during the Battle of Hampton Roads in the American Civil War. The fort was constructed between 1898 and 1920, the fort was an active base between 1902 and 1953. Today, it is an iconic and cherished state park with 12 miles of hiking trails, two miles of beach, and amazing views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. You’ll find 73 historic buildings, including Alexander’s Castle, the oldest structure on the property, and four museums to visit, as well as places to have a bite or a beverage.
  • Looking for an adventurous fun-filled day trip? Check out Fort Flagler,  a former United States Army fort at the northern end of Marrowstone Island. Built in the late 1890s, the fort was manned during World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Park officials offer guided tours of the gun emplacements and facilities during the summer. Spend some time in the military museum, and pick up a souvenir in the gift shop. Bring your fishing gear, or walk along the extensive waterline to take in the beautiful views.