New Artifact Selection On View at American Camp

The above objects from Officers' Row are now on display at the American Camp visitor center.

Mike Vouri

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News Release Date: September 15, 2012

Contact: Mike Vouri,

Park visitors can gain sense of daily life during the joint military occupation and the farming period that followed by checking out the newly refreshed archaeology exhibits at San Juan Island National Historical Park's American Camp visitor center.

Visitor Center admission is free. Call 360-378-2240, ext. 2233 for accessibility and other information. The center is located at 4668 Cattle Point Road.

The exhibits were installed in time to celebrate the Washington StateDepartment of Archaeology and Historic Preservation's Archaeology Month, which focuses on collections, projects and programs around the state throughout October. Check out the department's website at for more information.

The American Camp cases were redone to present the results of archaeological surveys and excavations performed in conjunction with the December 2010 move of the former Adam C. Brown house from Friday Harbor to its original location on Officers' Row on the American Camp parade ground. Between 2007 and 2012, the park undertook research in preparation for the relocation, which included integrating analyses of islander oral history, historic documents and architectural construction techniques.

The archaeology work was done through collaboration between the park and Fort Vancouver National Historic Site's Northwest Cultural Resources Institute (NCRI). As a result of these research activities, new findings have been revealed about the history of the site, particularly on the design and methods of construction of the military encampment, and adaptive reuse of military structures and the American Camp landscape by early homesteading families.

Excavation crews for the project were primarily led by Fort Vancouver National Historic Site archaeologist Beth Horton and unearthed 14,886 total objects. An NCRI exhibit preparator, Meagan Huff, selected 17 representative objects for the Brown house case, plus designed and reorganized all of the cases by elevating selected objects clear plastic risers. She also included descriptive information and photographs of the various sites within the cases.

One entire case is devoted to families that once occupied the house during the military period from 1860 to 1872 and immediately afterward. It is unknown when the building was moved to Friday Harbor, as the building does not appear on town plats until 1884.

The artifacts reflect a period when rural settlers were primarily farmers who raised cereal crops, fruit and livestock. Among the earliest homesteading families was that of Robert Firth, the last agent of the Hudson's Bay Company's Belle Vue Sheep Farm. Firth, followed by his daughter Manie and her husband Joe LaChappelle, occupied a former U.S. Army Officer's Quarters at American Camp continuously until 1923 when they sold to the McRae family.

Among the objects on display are sherds of earthen ware, a hand-painted teacup, drawer pull, ink bottle, cow bone, and a tobacco pipe bowl. Combined with two other cases of artifacts related to the joint military occupation and a large case of pre-contact American Indian and First Nations (from the park's Burk Museum collections), more than 6,000 years of daily human life are represented, according to park historian Mike Vouri.

The joint occupation cases were originally installed in 1996 through a fund-raising project among Friday Harbor merchants led by former Griffin Bay Bookstore owner, Susan Eyerly. The money was used to build the cases and create the original labels. Before that time objects from the park's collection-the fourth largest in the NPS Pacific West Region-had never been formally displayed at American Camp. Eyerly also designed placement of the objects and helped with the installation. She passed away in April 2006.

The case displaying the pre-contact artifacts was installed in 2006 in conjunction with the Burke Museum, where the park's re-contact collection is housed and researched. A wall display for the Burke case was installed last spring.

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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