When Great Britain and the United States in 1859 agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island until the water boundary between the two nations could be settled, it was decided that camps would be located on opposite ends of the island.
The marines landed on March 23, 1860. They brought along the necessary materials to erect the first building, a commissary (or storehouse) about 40 by 20 feet (which still stands). The camp commander, Captain George Bazalgette, RM, then placed a requisition for "84 tin pannikins, 36 tin plates, 3 'dishes', 10 camp kettles, 18 lanterns, 1 measures set, and a small quantity of stationery."
The command consisted of two subalterns (junior officers), an assistant surgeon and 83 noncommissioned officers and men. After clearing the shore of its thick growth of trees, they erected the commissary and planted a small garden where the formal garden lies today.
Barracks, cooking houses and other vital structures quickly followed, especially after Rear Admiral R. Lambert Baynes visited in June and pronounced the need for extra pay for the men to prepare the camp for winter. By 1866 the camp was at its peak for the enlisted men. One visitor commented: "We may remark here that the neatness, cleanliness and good order observable throughout the entire camp were the subject of general observation."
With the arrival of a new commander, Captain William Delacombe, in 1867, the camp received a major facelift. New officers' quarters were built to house the captain and his family as well as the camp's second in command. Delacombe also directed that a formal garden be constructed at the base of the hill leading to the officers' quarters.
Did You Know?
The prairie at American Camp is one of the last remaining natural prairies in the Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound region. The park is currently involved in restoration, which includes controlling non-native species such as the European rabbit.