Crook House

Black and white photograph of a large home constructed of wood and brick with people in front.
Crook house shortly after its construction

Quick Facts
Friday Harbor, WA
This house was built by Jim Crook, a farmer, inventor, and preservationist. Jim was a year old on January 5, 1876, when his parents, William and Mary, moved into English Camp, just over 3 years after the British military left.

In this partial poem, written in 1960, Crook described his life on this land:

“In English Camp
Where British soldiers once did tramp
There is where I've spent
My long career. 
I've hauled the logs
And drained the bogs
And worked
With horse and steer. 
I've handled wood cord after cord
And threw it down a slippery board
At the bottom near the bowI piled it high up on the scow.
I plowed up fields filled with stumps
With tools on wheels
I smoothed the lumps.”

The Crook family found English Camp “perfectly preserved” upon moving in. Unlike most island homesteaders of this period, who lived in small log cabins, the Crooks had their choice from numerous finished structures that included pantries, mantlepieces, and dedicated kitchens. They also took advantage of the already cleared land on the parade ground where they planted apple and cherry trees and sowed grain crops. Skilled carpenter William Crook transformed existing buildings into metal workshops, storage areas, and boatbuilding yards and housed his brother in the Officers’ Quarters. During this period, several structures were lost to accidental fires.

By 1900, the year that Jim Crook began constructing this house, the Crook farm was a prosperous operation, housing 65 lambs and selling 500 pounds of cherries, as well as eggs, and wool. In 1901, William Crook died and Jim Crook inherited English Camp from his family. Shortly before his death, William Crook hid an enamel pot containing $1,395 in gold coins and currency in the English Camp Barracks. The missing pot of gold became a subject of island lore and legend until it was rediscovered by the National Park Service almost seventy years after it was hidden. It was given to William Crook’s 93 year-old daughter, Rhoda and the pot itself is now housed at the San Juan Island Historical Museum.

The Crook House which was finished in 1903, is far more substantial than the surviving English Camp structures the Crooks had lived in for the past three decades. It was probably built to serve as a home for a large family, likely Jim and his sister Mary’s family. Unfortunately, Mary Davis’s children all died when they were young and Jim never married, making this home a rather large residence for three adults.

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 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!

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.

San Juan Island National Historical Park

Last updated: February 5, 2024