Rosario Strait is on the most western edge of Skagit County. The Spaniard Juan Francisco de Eliza charted it in 1791, and named it Canal de Fidalgo. Thick forests lined its eastern coastline. A year later George Vancouver (1758-1798) discovered an inner waterway while exploring Rosario Strait. He named it Deception Pass, but the Wilkes Expedition of 1841 determined that the area north of the pass was actually an island. Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) called it Perry’s Island (present-day Fidalgo Island).
The first Euro-American to live in the county, was Englishman William (Blanket Bill) Jarman (1820?-1912) who came in 1852 with his Coast Salish wife, Alice, settling for a short time near present-day Edison. The earliest permanent Euro-American settlement began on the long, narrow peninsula on Fidalgo Island later known as March’s Point. Attracted by the prairies where the Swinomish cultivated camas and bracken fern, Enoch Compton planted potatoes there in 1853, then went back up to Bellingham Bay to work in the coal mines.
Settlement progressed in fits and starts for the next few years, due in part to the 1855 Indian War and raids by northern Indians. By 1860 Compton returned to Fidalgo. Joining him were Hiram H. March, William Munks, and James Kavanaugh among others. Several of the men came with their Coast Salish wives. In 1870, Munks opened a store at his wharf.
Settlement on the county’s mainland took hold when Michael Sullivan (1850?-1912) and Samuel Calhoun began diking the marshy flats near present day LaConner in 1863. At first ridiculed, they proved that with diking, agriculture was possible on what was thought to be useless wetland. Diking became an important part of settling the county.
Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, new settlements and trading posts appeared on Guemes Island, Samish Island where Daniel Dingwall set up the first logging operation in 1867, Edison, and the south fork of the Skagit River. LaConner developed from a trading post across from the Swinomish Reservation under the watchful eye of John Conner and his wife Louisa for whom the town was named. Amos Bowman (1839-1894) dreamed of a Northern Pacific terminus on Fidalgo and in 1879 built a small store and post office in a place he called Anacortes, named for his wife.
Meanwhile, enormous logjams blocked the Skagit River and prevented river traffic from passing through. In a three-year effort completed in 1879, workers finally removed the masses of logs around Mount Vernon. The removal of the logjams opened up access to the interior upriver. Mount Vernon began to grow with the arrival of sternwheelers and upriver towns took root. LaConner was for a time the leading town, but growth brought changes in 1883. (Janet Oakley ~ historylink.org)
Anacortes History Museum
Skagit County Historical Museum
Skagit County Thumbnail History
Skagit River Journal