Last updated: July 16, 2022
Jim Crook said he “always had a mind for inventions.” When he was a boy, Jim’s father had to lock up the tools and workshops at their family homestead at English Camp to prevent Jim from working on his inventions when his father wanted him to perform farm work. Amongst the farm equipment Jim built and designed were a loom, a spinning machine, a carding machine, and a tractor that also raked hay. Around the same time the Wright Brothers were designing the world’s first airplane, Jim was working on a flying machine. However, his father destroyed it before Jim could test it. Most ingeniously, Jim Crook created a system of pulleys that would automatically make his bed once he got up in the morning and tuck him into bed at night!
The Crook Family began homesteading at English Camp in 1876, just over 3 years after the Royal Marines left San Juan Island. In 1913, Jim Crook met with an unidentified “Englishman” who wished to see the cemetery on Young Hill. This visit eventually resulted in Jim’s official hire by the British government to maintain the Royal Marines’ cemetery at the rate of $10 per year. From at least the 1940s onwards, tourists regularly visited the Crooks’ farm to see the remains of English Camp with the assistance of Jim and Mary Crook, who served as tour guides.
In 1963, as the legislation that would eventually create San Juan Island National Historical Park was introduced in Congress, Jim and his sister Rhoda, who had moved in with him after Mary's death in a 1959 automobile accident, transferred much of their land to Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. After the park’s creation in 1966, Rhoda and Jim Crook still held title to 170 acres of land in this area, including this house, where they still lived. Jim Crook died in 1967 at the age of 93. Rhoda lived in the house until she died in 1972, at which point all of the land that her parents homesteaded, including the house that her brother had built, became part of San Juan Island National Historical Park.
Jim Crook’s neighbor, Jerry Jameson said Jim left such a legacy that, “It has always been difficult for me to see where English Camp ended and Jim Crook began.” Today, you can see many of Crook’s inventions in the collection of the San Juan Historical museum. Much of its collection has been digitized and is accessible on the internet. You can read this historic structure report to learn more about the interior of the Crook House and the Crook Family’s history on San Juan Island. In the fall, pear and plum trees that were part of Crook’s farmstead bear fruit and are available for visitors to pick. The park also preserves the nearby Sandwith Orchard, planted by homesteading neighbors of the Crook family.