History & Culture

Heritage Tourism and Ebey's Reserve
There are many ways to explore "Hands on History" at Ebey's Reserve.
Take some time to visit our State Parks, the town of Coupeville and other locations in Central Whidbey Island. For more information on the Reserve and our partners, connect with our Partners. (These links will take you outside our website.)

Visit With Our Partners

  • people explore the battlements at fort casey
    Fort Casey State Park

    Fort Casey Historical State Park is home to the Admiralty head lighthouse, WWII history, and sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

  • Trailhead sign at Fort Ebey
    Fort Ebey State Park

    Fort Ebey was the built as part of a World War II defense network. Today it is also home to extensive hiking and biking trails.

  • historic photo of child looking at the ocean.
    Island County Museum

    The Island County Historical Society and Museum is located in downtown Coupeville and allows you to explore the rich history of the island.


Scroll down for an overview of Reserve History

First Settlement
Vancouver and Exploration
The Ebey Family
Military History
Old photo of Tribal canoes and a long house.
Photo courtesy of Island County Historical Society.

First Settlement

For time immemorial, the Lower Skagit People had permanent villages on the shores of Penn Cove. The island provided an abundance of natural resources —salmon, bottom fish, shellfish, berries, small game, deer, and water fowl. The Lower Skagit People cultivated the prairies with selective burning, transplanting, and mulching to encourage the growth of favored root crops like bracken fern and camas.

When the first explorers came to Central Whidbey Island, they found a land tempered by centuries of human settlement and habitation dating back more than 12,000 years, and in 1790, more than 1500 Indigenous People were recorded as living in Central Whidbey Island.

In 1855, the Lower Skagit People, along with other Coast Salish Tribes, were compelled to sign the Point Elliot Treat, which removed the Lower Skagits from their lands, relocating to what is now the reservation known as the Swinomish Tribal Community, in LaConner.

We acknowledge the Central Whidbey Island, and Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, is the homeland of the Lower Skagit People.

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Vancouver and Exploration

Whidbey Island was named by Captain George Vancouver in honor of Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey, who explored the island in 1792. Vancouver's well-publicized exploration of Puget Sound helped prepare the way for white settlement in the area. A more important inducement was the Donation Land Law of 1850, which offered free land in Oregon Territory to any white citizen who would homestead the land for four years. Newcomers flocked to the fertile prairies of Central Whidbey Island claiming land occupied by the Lower Skagit People, and carving out irregularly-shaped claims that followed the lay of the best land. Today, this early settlement pattern can still be seen by the fence lines, roads, and ridges throughout Ebey's Reserve.

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Isaac N
Early photograph of Isaac Neff Ebey

Island County Historical Society

The Ebey Family

Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey was among the first of the permanent settlers to the island. Upon the advice of his friend Samuel Crockett, Ebey came west from his home in Missouri in search of land. Both men had filed donation claims on central Whidbey by the spring of 1851. Ebey wrote home, enthusiastically urging his family to join him.

Ebey's family soon emigrated to the island. The simple home of Isaac's parents, Jacob and Sarah, and a blockhouse erected to defend his claim against unfounded Indian agression, still stand today overlooking the prairie that bears the family name. As for Isaac, he became a leading figure in public affairs, but his life was cut short with his death in 1857.

Today some farmers of Central Whidbey still plow the homeland of the Lower Skagits, and the donation land claims established by their families in the 1850s, preserving a historic pattern of land use centuries old.

Fertile free farmland was not the only incentive to white settlement. Sea captains and merchants from New England were drawn to the protected harbor of Penn Cove and the stands of tall timber valued for shipbuilding. Many brought their families and took up donation claims along the shoreline. One colorful seafaring man was Captain Thomas Coupe, who startled his peers by sailing a full-rigged ship through treacherous Deception Pass on the north end of the island. In 1852, Coupe claimed 320 acres which later became the town of Coupeville on the south shore of the cove.

The success of white settlement and Central Whidbey's farming and maritime trade transformed Coupeville into a dominant seaport. Visitors to Central Whidbey Island and the town of Couepville can still see many 19th-century false-fronted commercial buildings along Front Street, its historic wharf and blockhouse, and a collection of Victorian residential architecture.

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Military History

The United States military introduced another layer of history to the landscape of Central Whidbey Island, with the construction of Fort Casey Military Reservation in the late 1890s. Built on the bluff above Admiralty Head, Fort Casey was part of a three-fort defense system designed to protect the entrance to Puget Sound.

The first contingent of U.S. Army troops reported for duty in 1900, and eventually numbered 400. The fort became a social center for the surrounding community, hosting ball games, dances, and other social events. Today, the handsome wood-framed officers' quarters, the gun escarpments, Admiralty Head Lighthouse, and other remnants of military history still stand at old Fort Casey.

Near the north boundary of the Reserve is Fort Ebey, a remnant of the defensive build-up of World War Two.

Along the southern entrance to the Reserve, visitors travelling along Highway 20 will notice the Outlying Field, established during World War II as a way to train pilots flying first, propeller fighters, then jet fighters. The OLF is part of Navel Air Station Whidbey Island, where pilots continue to train for combat.

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Last updated: April 17, 2024

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PO Box 774
Coupeville, WA 98239


360 678-6084

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