Explore & Experience Skagit Valley’s rich cultural heritage via one of our many fascinating museums. Skagit Valley museum’s collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret our history to nurture an awareness and appreciation of the Valley’s heritage.
Anacortes History Museum
Children’s Museum of Skagit County
Concrete Heritage Museum
Heritage Flight Museum
La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum
Museum of Northwest Art
Skagit County Historical Museum
Explore Skagit Valley’s native heritage through nature, art, historical museums, and salmon exhibits.
North Cascades National Park is home to a historic site of a 1400-year-old Indian hunting camp on the Rock Shelter Trail in Newhalem. View spawning salmon in autumn at the Northern State Recreation area and explore the restored salmon habitat of Hanson Creek.
Explore Indian art outdoors. There is an interactive salmon wheel at Totem Pole Plaza in front of La Conner’s Maple Hall on First Street by master carver Kevin Paul. Totem poles can be viewed at the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community center, La Conner’s Maple Hall, and the Maiden of Deception Pass at Deception Pass State Park on the Fidalgo Island side of the park between Rosario Beach and Bowman Bay. View a dugout Indian canoe around the corner from La Conner’s Maple Hall. After viewing Maiden of Deception Pass by Bowman Bay, it’s an easy drive to the Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville where several Indian carved canoes are on display. If you are heading toward the Clinton/Mukilteo ferry, visit the “treaty grounds” where the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed. In Mukilteo – there’s a little known plaque on the hill above the ferry landing that commemorates the site.
The Swinomish Experience..Past, Present & Future
Samish Indian Nation/Culture
People of the North Cascades
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
LaConner’s Skagit Valley setting was a magnet for artists starting around the 1930’s. Skagit-born Richard Gilkey, who lived most of his creative life on nearby Fir Island, described it eloquently for a 1982 exhibition of Northwest artists at Osaka’s National Museum of Art.
“The landscape in which I work is a rural agricultural river delta, rich with sloughs, marshes, and farmland. Immediately to the East rise the Cascade Mountains, deeply forested and laced with waterfalls, which flow from snow-covered peaks to rivers running seaward. The nearby rocky, islanded coastline sustains ancient firs, wind-torn, gnarled, and dwarfed, bonsai in nature. Mosses and lichens soften the weathered stones while mists and rain shroud the grayed landscape a large part of the year. It is a landscape much like Japan” (Ament).
In 1937, Painter Morris Graves came to town, found a burned out house on the hill, moved in, and invited another young artist, Guy Anderson (1906-1998), to share it. They carted in beach sand to cover the floor and crafted furniture from driftwood.
Graves’ long life was lived all over the world—in LaConner only briefly—but he built a house and Japanese garden nearby on a nearly inaccessible, precipitous hilltop on Fidalgo Island that he called “The Rock.” Over time this is where he did some of his most important painting. After Graves had broken the ice, other artists such as painters Anderson, Mark Tobey (1890-1976), Ken Callahan (l906-1986); sculptor/painters Clayton James, wife Barbara, and others came to LaConner and environs. Anderson moved to town permanently in 1959 and painted there until his death. Graves inspired locals like Richard Gilkey (1925-1997) and Anacortes sculptor Phillip McCracken to return to the Skagit (Ament).
In 1953, Life magazine, a hugely popular magazine not known for chronicling art, much less the godforsaken Pacific Northwest, featured Graves, Tobey, Callahan, and Anderson in a four-color spread dubbing them the “Mystic Painters of the Northwest” and their work, the “Northwest School.” It was the first flicker of recognition of artists from the West by the East Coast art establishment and suddenly they were acclaimed internationally.
It was more than the physical beauty that pulled a new generation of artists and bohemians to LaConner. Novelist Tom Robbins, and painters like Charlie Krafft, Bill Slater, Paul Hansen, and others arrived in the 1960s and 1970s. Locals, by then, had a name for such folk: hippies. LaConnerites had grown accustomed to perplexing eccentrics in their tiny town and had, in the meantime, been producing a few homegrown ones. (By Michael Hood historylink.org)
Explore this rich heritage of art with a walk along scenic First Street in La Conner and view sculptures by nationally and internationally known artists. Experience the “Spirit Wheel” by Kevin Paul, a master carver of contemporary and traditional Native American carvings. Using red and yellow cedar, alder and pine, he carves in these styles: Coast Salish, Gitksan, Nis’gaa, Tlingit, Haida, and Kwakiutl. Stroll to the Museum of Northwest Art. Northwest Art began with our region’s master artists. The Museum of Northwest Art continues this rich legacy, while embracing newer influences in contemporary art.
Walk the upbeat Anacortes Gallery Walk every first friday in Anacortes and visit the Depot Arts Center. Experience Skagit Valley’s original art venues such as The Muse in Conway and Just Another Roadside Attaction Gallery in Mount Vernon.
Museum of Northwest Art