An Unbroken Historical Record: Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve
Administrative History
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Chapter Three:

This section offers a brief overview of historical developments on Whidbey Island. It discusses the eras and events that are especially important within the reserve, but the story, of course, is much more complicated. Information about American Indians on the island is relatively limited, and much of it is derived from the accounts of Europeans and Euro-Americans.

For the first Europeans to explore the Puget Sound region, the Pacific Northwest represented economic and political opportunity. Nationalism, rivalry for hegemony in the New World, and visions of empire spurred European exploration and resulted in a zone of contention as early as the sixteenth century. Until the environmental movement of the twentieth century, few questioned the exploitation of the resources of Whidbey Island or the Pacific Northwest.

European Exploration

From the time of its discovery by Europeans, the American continent was an arena for the rivalry of European empires. Their claims on the Pacific Northwest dated from 1493, when a papal decree "gave" most of the Western Hemisphere to Spain. Few major powers seriously acknowledged Spain's sovereignty, and the Spanish confined themselves to the southern half of the Pacific Coast, venturing farther north only as they thought necessary to protect their northern territory. The Spanish were unable to defend their unsettled empire in the Northwest. Competitors in the eighteenth century included Russian fur traders, who established a foothold in Alaska. As rivals to Spain in the Northwest, however, the British would soon overshadow the Russians.

The Spanish and British had organized expeditions along the Pacific coast in the early sixteenth century, but systematic exploration began only in the 1770s. One week after America declared its independence from Britain, the British sea captain James Cook set out on his third voyage in search of a northwest passage to Asia. Within two years he sailed the northwest coast, accompanied by his young apprentice, George Vancouver. Their mission was to explore the lands between Spain's settlements to the south and Russia's fur colonies in Alaska, record the natural resources of the region, and take possession of lands not claimed by Spain or Russia. On this trip Cook wintered in Hawaii, where he lost his life in a confrontation with natives. During his expeditions, some of Cook's sailors had purchased a few sea otter furs from the natives. Their subsequent, highly profitable resale in China sparked a "fur rush" to the Pacific Northwest. Although Britain was losing the thirteen colonies, the Northwest promised new possibilities for empire. [1]

It was Captain Vancouver, master of Discovery, who returned in the 1790s to chart the inlets and waterways along the northern Pacific coast. Toward the end of April 1792 Vancouver entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca with two ships, Chatham and Discovery. Shortly afterward he claimed the sound for King George III, and, in the custom of the day, as one historian wrote, "names for newly charted places were passed out in honor of family and friends like gifts from the family tree on Christmas Eve." [2] Vancouver named the sound for his lieutenant, Peter Puget, and Whidbey Island for another assistant, Joseph Whidbey, who explored and mapped the island. [3]

First Inhabitants

At the time of Vancouver and Whidbey's exploration, three Coast Salish tribes, the Kikiallus [4], Snohomish, and Skagits lived on Whidbey and Camano Islands. Although Puget Sound had been inhabited for ant least 10,000 years, the Coast Salish predominated after the fourteenth century. Of the three tribes, the Skagits were the most numerous on Whidbey Island; Snohomish predominated to the south. Captain Whidbey found permanent Skagit dwellings scattered along Penn Cove. The Kikiallus lived primarily on northern Camano Island; a fourth tribe, the Clallams, claimed a portion of Ebey's Prairie in the 1840s. [5]

Map 4. Salish boundaries and village sites. From Land Use, Environment, and Social Change: The Shaping of Island County, Washington, by Richard White, copyright 1980, University of Washington Press. Reprinted with permission of the University of Washington Press.

When describing the Coast Salish, scholars generally characterize their political and social organization as tribal. Many anthropologists think that the concept is unsatisfactory, since it was extended family ties that unified village groupings. Furthermore, anthropologists distinguish groupings of Coast Salish communities from one another by kinship and language. Despite variations, however, their cultures were generally similar. [6]

In the rainshadow of the Olympics, the comparatively dry climate of Whidbey Island attracted what may have been the most dense native population in the Northwest. The Pacific Northwest was rich in forest and marine resources, and coastal peoples developed sophisticated technologies with which to exploit these natural resources. Abundance permitted time for varied and elaborate material cultures in which coastal natives became fine basket and wool weavers and some of the world's great woodcrafters. Over time, the natives developed an elaborate trade network throughout the Northwest, which even provided them with European goods long before the arrival of Euro-Americans. Although it was apparent that they had never met a white man, Captain Whidbey was intrigued by the fact that the island's inhabitants had acquired some metal European trade goods. Another influence on Whidbey Island's inhabitants were the Haida, a tribe whose warriors periodically swooped down from the Queen Charlotte islands of Canada in search of slaves and goods. Some villagers on Whidbey Island built protective strongholds against these marauders. [7]

The Indians of Whidbey Island had a varied diet. They generally gathered where fish and shellfish thrived, thus their permanent villages dot the northern coastal rim in the area opposite Camano Island. Seasonally, inhabitants decamped to follow spawning salmon. These people also tended and gathered a wide variety of wild plants on the islands. They encouraged two staples of their diet, camas and bracken fern, through burning and clearing. [8]

Whidbey Island's prairies were especially fertile ground. When Clallams displaced Skagits on Ebey's Prairie in the 1840s, they introduced potatoes to the prairie, a new staple acquired from the British. Their Euro-American successors would clear the land of its remaining native flora to cultivate market crops exclusively. [9]

Ultimately, the Indian population of Whidbey Island dwindled, to be replaced by Europeans. Bunt Euro-American settlement alone did not displace them. Like Indians everywhere, the Coast Salish had little resistance to European diseases. Despite relatively few direct contacts between Indians and Europeans, smallpox decimated native communities. Syphilis, tuberculosis, and influenza would also attack the Indians of the Puget Sound over the first fifty years of contact, leaving a vastly weakened people, less able to resist the encroachment of Euro-American settlers upon their lands. [10]

Era of the Fur Trade

Having discovered a market for sea otter furs, four empires--Spain, Russia, Britain, and America--vied for control of trade in the northwestern territory. With the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain withdrew her line of sovereignty to the California-Oregon border; Russia followed suit in 1825 by pulling north to Alaska's southern boundary. This situation left the British and the Americans to dispute ownership of the Pacific Northwest (or "Oregon country"), which they defined as the present-day states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, as well as British Columbia west of the continental divide and portions of Wyoming and Montana. Unable to reach a final settlement they agreed in 1818 to keep Oregon country "free and open" to their respective citizens. In other words, they accepted joint occupation and administration. This unique arrangement persisted for nearly thirty years, until America felt strong enough to demand the territory outright.[11]

Few U. S. citizens other than traders and trappers lived in the Northwest before the 1830s, but such men were the vanguard for a American empire in this territory. Enough New England merchants competed for maritime trade, however, that Indians reportedly took to calling the sea traders "Bostons." Nevertheless, the Hudson's Bay Company, granted a monopoly of "soft gold" by the crown, entered the Northwestern fur trade in 1821, and it would dominate Oregon country politically and economically for a quarter of a century. The Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Nisqually in the southern Puget Sound and began trade with Whidbey Island Indians, among others, in the early 1830s. The company brought new technologies to Whidbey Island, such as cooking pots, guns, and machined textiles, and it helped introduce the potatoes that the Clallams began planting on Ebey's Prairie in the 1840s. The Clallams even started a small trade in potatoes with the British, until Euro-American settlers claimed the prairie for themselves. [12]

In 1841 the United States Exploring Expedition (commonly called the Wilkes Expedition) reported to Congress on the suitability of the Puget Sound as a harbor. This report provided the American leadership with a reason to insist on the 49th Parallel as the international boundary. Yet, despite national pride and the huge wave of migration along the Oregon Trail in the 1840s, relatively few headed north into the Puget Sound area. On Whidbey Island, the Wilkes party noted the presence of a mission on the west shore in 1840, operated with considerable success (although apparently from a distance) by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Francis Blanchet. However, Indian use and occupancy predominated on Whidbey until the early 1850s.

The Oregon Provisional Government Land Act of 1844 imposed the now-familiar pattern of township and range on the Northwest, although the claims established later on Whidbey Island tended to follow unique shapes. Because many people assumed that Britain would retain her claim to land north of the Columbia River once the boundary dispute was resolved, Americans first settled in the Willamette Valley. By 1845 the best lands there were claimed, and settlers began turning north. A great incentive for migration to the Pacific Northwest arose when America finally acquired Oregon Territory outright. That acquisition spelled the end of the dominance of the Hudson's Bay Company in the region.

Oregon Territory

The American empire grew rapidly in the 1840s. Believing that the nation was destined by Providence to occupy and civilize the continent, some Americans expected aggressive expansion into disputed territories. Negotiations over Oregon country between Britain and the United States accelerated as American expansionists renewed their demands for all of the area.

In 1846 the international conflict was finally settled. Recognizing that the fur trade was dying in the Northwest and that their presence there was minimal, Britain agreed to settle the international boundary at the 49th parallel. Congress credited this agreement in part to American settlers, whose presence had bolstered the government's claim to the lands north of the Columbia. [13] Incentive for Americans to migrate to the Northwest increased when Congress formally recognized the Territory of Oregon in 1848.

In the nineteenth century Americans tended to migrate west gradually, moving more than once in their bid for a profitable farm or permanent home. Often men left their families to reconnoiter new territories or to join a land or gold rush. On Whidbey Island, the first attempt at Euro-American settlement was Thomas Glasgow's farm established in 1848 on Ebey's Prairie. But he did not stay long. At a council meeting of local Indian leaders in 1848, Chief Patkanim of the Snoqualmies argued that Euro- Americans should be driven from the area while their numbers were still small. Other leaders insisted that the "Bostons" were an important deterrent to Haida incursions, but Glasgow, who had attended the meeting, needed no further warning. He was gone within two days. [14]

Following Glasgow came Samuel B. Crockett, and he, too, stayed on Whidbey Island only a short time. The California gold rush of 1849 had enticed Crockett to follow the Oregon Trail west. When California did not pan out, he traveled north to take stock of the Puget Sound area. He soon sent enthusiastic reports about Whidbey Island to family and friends, including his close friend Isaac Neff Ebey in Missouri. Native hegemony on Whidbey Island was about to end. [15]

The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850

The United States government offered a variety of incentives to entice individuals to relocate to the territory. The Preemption Act of 1841 allowed people to purchase 160 acres of land in American territories for $1.25 a acre. But a greater inducement to Northwestern settlement came with the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, a forerunner of the Homestead Act, since it required no purchase. The Act granted large parcels of land; every unmarried white male citizen eighteen or older could claim a half section, 320 acres, if he arrived in the territory before December 1, 1850. If he married before December 1, 1851 his wife could claim another 320 acres in her own name, an unusual recognition of women's contributions to new settlements. Arrivals after the 1850 deadline could still acquire 160 acres until 1854, and they needed only to live on the land and cultivate it for four years to own it outright. The law also legalized the claims of people already residing in Oregon country when it became a territory, a reward for those who had helped establish American claims to the land. The Donation Land Claim Act expired on December 1, 1855, bunt the Preemption Act remained in effect. [16] The Donation Land Claim Act tacitly acknowledged the irregular features of the northwestern coastline. It did not universally require that claim boundaries conform to survey lines. Thus the checkerboard survey pattern, so typical in the West, never emerged on Whidbey Island. Settlers on the island sometimes carved out contorted parcels in order to capture the best acreage available. [17]

Map 5. Donation land claims. Adapted from Land Use, Environment, and Social Change: The Shaping of Island County, Washington, by Richard White, copyright 1980, University of Washington Press. With permission of the University of Washington Press.

In 1851 the village of Seattle was founded, and by the time the Donation Act expired in 1855, over 290,000 acres had been claimed in what would become Washington Territory. The Act indirectly displaced countless Indians, whose claim to the lands had often never been extinguished. On Whidbey Island, Isaac Neff Ebey, the first permanent Euro-American settler, claimed a square mile in the prairie that would bear his name. As others followed, Indians were increasingly shunted aside. [18]

Col. Isaac Neff Ebey

Isaac N. Ebey embodied traits admired by his contemporaries in nineteenth century America. An enterprising man who combined personal industriousness with community obligation, moral authority with political leadership, Ebey rapidly distinguished himself in Washington territorial affairs.

Following the familiar pattern of migration, Isaac's father Jacob had moved his family west in gradual stages. Although he hailed from Pennsylvania, his son Isaac was born in Ohio in 1818 and reached maturity in Missouri. Isaac acquired some legal training in Missouri, and married Rebecca Davis there in 1843, where she bore two sons, Eason and Ellison. Highly conscious of duty and responsibility, Isaac believed that "the noblest aspiration of freemen is to better, to improve their condition in life." Completing the westward trajectory begun by his father, Isaac left his family in 1848 and headed for the West Coast. Like his friend Samuel Crockett he tried his luck in the California gold rush before heading north to Puget Sound. He spent some time in Olympia, which he is credited with naming, before exploring Whidbey Island for himself. Quick to grasp the possibilities of the land, Isaac promptly snapped up the eponymous prairie in October 1850, claiming a square mile for himself and Rebecca. While waiting for Rebecca and the boys to settle their affairs in Missouri, he sent a barrage of letters to relatives, begging them to join him in his paradise while the best lands were still available. Rebecca and the boys arrived in 1852, accompanied by her three brothers and the Crocketts, who returned this time to stay. Isaac's father Jacob eventually joined them, and claimed the land upon the ridge overlooking Ebey's Prairie. Isaac built a blockhouse next to his father's house for protection against the Haida. (W. B. Sinclair added in 1860 what is now the oldest surviving building in the reserve, a ferry house which variously served as warehouse, inn and postal station.) Isaac's land would later prove to be some of the most productive in the entire country, and his good fortune drew other easterners into the region. Early settlers triggered a small rush to the island, which quickly claimed most of the prairies by early 1853. Within five years the best farmlands were claimed. [19]

Like most Euro-American farmers on Whidbey Island, Isaac Ebey grew potatoes ad wheat. He also took advantage of his property's natural landing on the shores of Admiralty Inlet--one of the few good landings on west Whidbey--to build a dock for commercial traffic on the Puget Sound, especially trade from Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. Because most transportation in the area moved by water, Ebey's Landing, on the main Puget Sound shipping route, minimized transportation costs. The landing remained active until a new dock was built at Fort Casey at the turn of the century. [20]

During his nine years in the Pacific Northwest, Ebey played a vital role in territorial affairs. He served as prosecuting attorney for the Whidbey Island community and represented Thurston County in the Oregon Territorial Legislature when that county still stretched to the 49th parallel. He helped persuade the legislature to sign the Monticello Memorial, separating Oregon and Washington Territories in 1853, and assisted in breaking Thurston County into smaller units, among them Island County. Appointed by President Franklin Pierce to be collector for the Puget Sound district and inspector of revenues at the new state capital, Olympia, he relocated his customs office to Port Townsend and made it the official port of entry for Puget Sound. The title of colonel was conferred after Ebey raised a company of volunteers to fight in the mainland Indian wars of 1855-1856. He must have inspired respect, for some men refused to enlist in Island County unless under his command. [21]

Rebecca Ebey was not to live long. She was at times uneasy about encounters with local Indians, and, isolated geographically from other Euro-American farmers, she tended to remain close to home. Rebecca managed the household and battled loneliness during her husband's long absences. She also apparently became weakened from tuberculosis; in 1853 she died following an incomplete recovery from childbirth. Isaac later married Emily Palmer Sconce, a widow with a daughter named Anna.

Isaac Ebey died suddenly and violently at age 39. In 1857 a party of Haida from Canada selected him to be a "chief for a chief," the man who would die in retribution for the murder by whites of one of their chiefs, or "tyee," the previous year. On a summer evening in August a group of Haida knocked on Isaac's door and drew him out of the house. Without warning they shot him, hacked off his head for a trophy, and dumped his body in the front yard. Emily and the children, who had witnessed the killing in horror, fled to the blockhouse on the ridge. The Haida, however, had obtained their revenge, and they did not molest Isaac's family. Unwilling to remain on the farm, Emily abandoned it, leaving with her daughter Anna forever. Isaac's relatives raised Ellison ad Eason, and the two brothers later divided their father's farm between them. [22]

The Settlement Grows

Through the remainder of the nineteenth century, Euro-American settlers continued to be drawn to Whidbey Island because of its reputation as a "paradise of nature." Like the Indians before them, the first Euro-Americans settled along Penn Cove or on the rich loam of the island's prairies. The prairies, largely confined to central and north Whidbey, were taken first. Sending for friends and family, extended families often established multiple claims. Because they owned the choicest lands, these were the most successful farmers and the most stable residents on the island. Many of their original claims remain in agriculture today. [23]

In 1854 a newcomer to Whidbey Island, Calista Leach, described Penn Cove as "densely wooded with firs dripping down to the tide-regulated beaches, and along the shores Indian camps, often evidenced only by the canoes drawn up out of the reach of the tide." Gradually the Native Americans disappeared from the island after the treaties of 1855 gave whites title to western Washington. Until replaced by machines in the 1870s, some Indians continued to work on Euro-American farms, while others fished. Few retained access to the land in their own right, although a small settlement of Skagits remained for a time on Penn Cove. The majority left for the mainland. [24]

Euro-Americans who did not claim prairie lands carved additional farms from the forests or reclaimed marshland. Recognizing Penn Cove as a fine natural harbor, ship owners and traders, many of them from New England, filed claims around the rim of the cove. This prompted one historian to dub it the "Port of Sea Captains." Along the west end of Penn Cove, Captain Benjamin Barstow established the first "town" center on Whidbey Island by building a trading post there in the early 1850s. A short distance around the cove, Dr. Richard Lansdale platted the village of Coveland in 1852. Until Port Townsend ferry traffic was rerouted to Admiralty Head, travelers to Whidbey Island arrived at Ebey's Landing and proceeded on to Coveland. For thirty years the site of the county court, the town began to fade in the 1870s, overshadowed by Coupeville on Captain Thomas Coupe's claim on the south shore of the cove. Coupeville was more convenient than Coveland for farmers and the merchants who handled their trade. "Yankee entrepreneurs and Midwestern farmers" created a successful community. Merchants on Penn Cove logged their lands and shipped timber and finished Douglas fir spars to the mainland and to California. Although not formally platted until 1883, the county seat was relocated to Coupeville in 1881. The town, with its false-front shops strung along Front Street, took shape by 1890, and its population grew to between 300 and 400 by 1910, after which it remained stable for another half century. [25]

Two brief bunt notable speculative frenzies flared on Whidbey Island, sparked by false hopes of a railroad terminus in Coupeville. The first, begun in the late 1860s, anticipated the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Speculators built a few new hotels in Coupeville, but the railroad turned south to Tacoma, and the boom died by 1871. The second speculative flurry was far more ambitious. Between 1889 and 1891 promoters platted a number of townsites in expectation of the Great Northern Railway in Port Townsend. The new towns of Chicago and Brooklyn, platted on Keystone Spit in order to capture some of the anticipated trade, were inhabited but briefly. The town of San de Fuca, hastily erected across the island on the old Coveland site, evolved into a permanent community, with hotel, post office, and shops. However, its trade remained local, and it eventually lost its commercial independence to Coupeville. Of the era's boom towns, only Langley on southern Whidbey survives as a full-service community. [26]

Whidbey farmers raised crops for the market after 1860, in competition with farmers from California ad eastern Washington. In "three discernible shifts in Island County farming during the nineteenth century" production switched from grain and potatoes to sheep herding, then back to crops, and finally to intensive farming by Chinese tenants in the 1880s and 1890s. Originally entering the Pacific Northwest to work on the railroads, these farmers were quite successful; however, most were forced off the island by racial prejudice, which sometimes burst into physical violence over the next few decades. [27]

Farming was not the only economic pursuit on the island. The fishing industry rapidly rose and fell by the 1930s, ant which time fish runs became depleted. The activity with the greatest impact on the island was logging, Whidbey Island's first major industry. Native Americans had occasionally burned portions of the island's forests to allow the regeneration of plants edible by both game and humans, but the scope of the settlers' logging was enormous. If they acquired wooded lots, they usually cleared part, if not all, of them. Initially, logging occured at water's edge on Penn Cove, where removal was easiest. The first major lumber company, Grennan & Cranney, opened in 1856, followed in a few years by a small shipyard in Oak Harbor. By the 1880s a number of off-island logging companies were cutting timber on Whidbey Island. Originally slow operations that utilized axes and bull teams, they increased their output when they adopted the crosscut saw and used horses and larger crews. By 1900, a cheaper and more efficient system was introduced with the donkey engine, a steam engine outfitted with skids and a winch. Since most of the old growth Douglas fir had now been cut, loggers took cedar, hemlock, and even second growth fir; however, the largest operations transferred to Camano Island. [28]

Into the Twentieth Century

In the late 1890s, the U. S. Army began building Fort Casey as part of the defense system for the gateway to the Puget Sound. It installed ten-inch guns to face the sound. The townsites of Chicago and Brooklyn briefly housed the Fort Casey workers. The base became an important part of the local economy, and remained active as a training ground through World War II.

Within the original donation land claim settlements, the old patterns of ownership and land use generally remained stable. Despite the fact that the best lands were taken, small waves of farmers continued to arrive periodically until World War II. Some were enticed by promoters from Island County chambers of commerce or by government agents, who frequently overestimated the productivity of logged-over lands and advertised the island as a farmer's paradise. This proved incorrect for many newcomers, and few understood the limits of the soils of the remaining available land. Some upland farmers turned to egg and dairy production in the 1920s, but even this could not compete with lowland production and declined in the 1930s. [29]

Nonetheless, in-migration and visitation to the island continued. The increasingly dense urban strip around Puget Sound made the island an attractive recreation site. This situation drew more vacationers and traffic, encouraged by additional ferry service, as well as the new bridge built over Deception Pass in 1935. World War II brought thousands of civilians and military personnel into the Pacific Northwest. In September 1942 the U. S. Navy installed 265 men in the new Oak Harbor Naval Air Station, a training and operations base for land and sea planes. After the war the base grew into a permanent naval air station, concentrating thousands of military workers and their families in central and northern Whidbey Island. Their presence stimulated the local housing market, in part because they often returned in later years to retire. [30]

New Pressures on the Land

Post-war industry in the Puget Sound, coupled with general national affluence, created opportunities for leisure activity and increased the desirability of rural retreats. Californians and Canadians joined the migration into the Northwest, and second homes and vacation homes mushroomed on the island. Coupeville's population doubled between 1950 and 1960; overall population within Island County increased by 222 percent between 1940 and 1960, while the state population rose by only 64.3 percent in the same period. In the next two decades it would double again. By 1969, Oak Harbor alone had 10,000 people, brought to the area by World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. The Boeing Corporation built a huge new aircraft plant across the water in Everett. [31] As land costs rose, farmers were sometimes tempted to sell their property to developers, and farmland diminished. Waterfront acreage tripled in value, and by the end of the 1960s beach frontage was rapidly disappearing. This was the "decade of land developments" on Whidbey Island. [32]

These changes touched everyone. People with deep roots on Whidbey Island grew apprehensive about the loss of established farms to residential development, and they saw the cost of social services and property taxes rising. Farmers were well aware that to maintain a agricultural economy, sufficient numbers of farms had to survive in order to sustain the services which in turn supported them. Newer arrivals who had come to escape the urban sprawl of the mainland found that it threatened to tag along with them.

The islanders confronted other growth issues as well. The rainshadow that made northern Whidbey Island such an agreeable place to live also limited the amount of groundwater available, especially since most precipitation was lost to surface runoff and evaporation; in summer, even deep wells had limited supplies. Although salmon, shellfish, and many species of wild game had declined steadily since Euro-American settlement, the natural environment became increasingly altered and controlled by private landowners and government managers. Development threatened dwindling wetlands and the remaining natural habitat of the island's wildlife. [33]

The growing environmental and preservation movements of the 1960s and 1970s began to address the loss of natural and historical landscapes. National policies, a number of which affected Whidbey Island, slowly began to reflect such concerns. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 created the National Register of Historic Places, which offered assistance to preserve privately owned historic structures and required state surveys of all historic sites and buildings. This would be a vital took in the evolution of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. In Islands of America written in 1970, Bureau of outdoor Recreation planners identified Whidbey Island as a potentially important recreation area and recommended long-range state and local plans to protect public access to beaches and to acquire island property for recreation, open space, and conservation. The Shoreline Management Act of 1971 addressed the fact of vanishing public beaches. [34]

In Island County, a planning commission began in 1956, but planning and zoning control were not rigorous. Although the county had had a general plan since 1964, no comprehensive plan or zoning code existed until 1966, when an "interim" zoning ordinance was adopted (it was to remain in effect for eighteen years). In response to the development pressures of the 1960s, the Board of Island County Commissioners formally established a planning department in 1973 and made it responsible to the planning commission. The primary responsibility of the planning department was to develop the comprehensive plan and adopt a final zoning code. After extensive public hearings, the county adopted a comprehensive plan in 1977, containing policies to guide future development while preserving the island's natural resources. Some citizens, however, felt that the commissioners were attuned to an older vision of progress, continuing practices adopted when the county was relatively rural and undeveloped. By the 1970s, Whidbey Islanders were no longer in consensus about development and the meaning of progress. The old frontier mentality, the right to exploit public or private property as one chose, competed with an increasingly powerful preservationist ethic. Ironically, environmentalists sometimes fought to preserve a "natural" landscape that had long been altered by humans, and it was difficult to agree on the limits to be placed on development. Conflicting expectations erupted into political clashes and litigation in the 1970s. Friendships were strained, factions formed, and community cohesion wavered. [35]

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Last Updated: 27-May-2000