Turn Point, Boundary Pass

Turn Point, Boundary Pass

by | Dec 5, 2021

Turn Point is a headland with a historical light station on the northwest coast of Stuart Island, located on property that is part of the San Juan Islands National Monument, about 34 miles (55 km) west of Bellingham and 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Friday Harbor, Washington. The light station is an active aid to navigation overlooking Haro Strait to the west and Boundary Pass to the north. The point is named for a critical turn in the vessel traffic corridor between Haro Strait and Boundary Pass for ships transiting through the San Juan Islands to or from the city of Vancouver. This is the main shipping corridor through the San Juan Islands with about 95 commercial vessels per week. Turn Point is also about 1.5 miles southeast of the turn in the international boundary between Canada and the United States. Stuart Island is the most northwestern island in Washington. The island is sparsely populated with two small communities, a state park, a one-room schoolhouse, and two airstrips. The island was named by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes during the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838–42, for Frederick D. Stuart, the captain’s clerk of the expedition. The island communities are at Reid Harbor and Prevost Harbor. Prevost Harbor is named for Captain James Charles Prevost, a prominent figure during the boundary delineation between British and U.S. territories. For many years the light station was connected by road only to Prevost Harbor. Reid Harbor was named in 1859 by Captain George H. Richards and officers of the HMS Plumper, after Captain James Murray Reid, for 28 years in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company and commander of the company’s brigantine Vancouver. Prevost Harbor was the site of a seasonal fish camp used by Coast Salish people, and Reid Harbor was the site of a historical reef net site.

Coast Salish people for thousands of years have inhabited Stuart Island where they fished for salmon and harvested camas. Camas bulbs were collected and baked as sweet fructose-rich food. Camas meadows or ‘prairies’ were burned periodically and carefully tended to maintain productivity. In the Salish Sea, including the inland salt waterways of what became the state of Washington, there is historical and ethnographic evidence that camas was grown in marked, cultivated fields that were meticulously hoed, weeded, and periodically replenished with bulbs collected from wild camas populations. Gardens were privately owned and processed camas was an important item of trade. Camas cultivation paved the way for the Coast Salish people to adopt potato cultivation by the 1820s if not earlier, and potatoes largely supplanted camas as a dietary staple by the 1860s. Salmon were caught using reef-net fishing technology which is unique to the Salish Sea, where it was devised at least 1,800 years ago as a way to intercept vast midsummer runs of sockeye salmon as they passed through the San Juan Islands and the southern Gulf Islands on their way to the Fraser River. Reef-net gear is easily recognized as pairs of canoes or floats, between which were suspended nets and funnel-like leads facing into the current. Reef nets were specific to the San Juan Archipelago, from Lummi Island west to Pender Island, through which most of the salmon returning to the Fraser River in British Columbia must pass. But villages in the islands had to find a way to intercept salmon in open seas, which only worked at a small number of coastal stations. Proximity to a major sockeye migration path is not sufficient. To be productive, a reef net must be situated precisely where a natural bottleneck constrains the movement of large numbers of migrating salmon, such as just outside a small embayment where strong currents, steep drop-offs, and kelp forests force salmon to swim close to shore, such as the entrance to Reid Harbor.

In 1893, a light station was constructed at Turn Point with a steam-powered Daboll trumpet fog signal and a two-story keeper’s residence. The station’s first light was a lens lantern displayed from a post located close to the point. The fog signal was typically in operation around 200 hours each year, but in 1896, it was powered up for 929 hours and consumed about three tons of coal. In 1899, the steam engines used for the fog signal did not develop sufficient power to run the air compressors, and two fourteen-horsepower oil engines were installed at the station. A 960-gallon redwood tank was built to provide water needed to cool the new engines. After being converted to an oil engine, the signal consumed roughly thirty gallons of oil each year. An oil house with a concrete floor and galvanized-iron walls was added to the station in 1913. In 1936, a square concrete tower was added to the site and a diaphragm foghorn replaced the original signal. The station was automated in 1974, and is still owned by the U.S. Coast Guard but managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Turn Point Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed to educate the public about the lighthouse and to aid in its preservation. In 2013, San Juan Islands National Monument was created from existing federal land by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act. The national monument consists of 75 separate sites totaling roughly 1,000 acres (405 ha). They are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. The monument protects archaeological sites of the Coast Salish peoples, lighthouses, and artifacts of early Euro-American settlers in the Pacific Northwest. Read more here and here. Explore more of Turn Point here:

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