Just off the coast of Northwest Washington State lies an archipelago of 172 islands known as the San Juan Islands. The four largest, San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw, attract visitors looking to connect with flora and fauna. Whale watching, kayaking, biking, and hiking are the draw here, as well as the world-class local food grown or caught in the waters surrounding the islands. Prime tourist season is June through September.
The first visitors to the San Juan Islands were the Native peoples of the Lummi, Samish, and Saanich tribes. Some of these tribes permanently settled in small villages, although many only visited the islands in the summer to hunt, fish, and gather food.
In the 1840s, the British were settling on nearby Vancouver Island. By the 1850s, the British had created the successful Hudson’s Bay Company, and a military headquarter in Victoria on Vancouver Island’s south end. They realized the strategic importance of the San Juan Islands and started to observe the ingenious ways the indigenous people fished and farmed the land. Their ability to cultivate and catch an abundance of food led the British to recognize its commercial possibilities. This prompted them to set up a fish processing facility and a large farm for crops and livestock on San Juan island.
The Americans also wanted to settle on the San Juan Islands and started to make their own homesteads on San Juan. For a time, the British and the Americas shared the land in relative peace. However, in 1859, due to a dispute about a pig, the British started a war with America, which lasted 13 years. By 1872 Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany arbitrated the conflict in favor of the Americans, and it became an official American territory populated with hardworking people who made their money in shipping, fishing, and farming.
By the 19th century, shipping companies added routes, making it easier to transport goods and for travelers to visit. This attracted many entrepreneurs and adventurous tourists who wanted to explore the vast opportunities on the islands. More visitors meant more hotels, some offered luxury accommodations and gourmet food and activities for relaxation.
Today many of the hotels and prominent buildings on the two largest islands have been restored or repurposed. They look almost exactly as they did in the early 1900s. Additionally, the stunning landscape on all of the islands has been carefully protected; the shoreline and green space haven’t changed much from the former days.
As you might imagine, historical buildings often come with original inhabitants, whose life on the island was too good to leave behind. The supernatural world is just as intriguing as the natural world on San Juan and Orcas Island.
An Unusual Customer
On San Juan Island sits an industrial port town called Friday Harbor. In its heyday, Friday Harbor’s ships brought tourists, mail, and packages. It was a major commercial hub. The exports would include all the fruit, seafood, and grain grown on the islands back to the mainland. As the budding town was growing and prospering, stately homes sprung up on streets steps away from the harbor.
One stately home was built in 1892, and it later became the Presbyterian Manse in 1903. After a time, it returned to a private residence. Today it is a beloved used bookstore called Serendipity (website here).
A few years ago, one of the shop owners arrived in the morning to open the store. She saw a woman looking out of the window by the front door, seated on the window seat. The shop owner thought her partner must have arrived earlier and let a patron in, but the entrance to the shop was locked. She opened the door and noticed the figure stand up and walk away, recalling that the figure wore a black duster type coat and had her hair in a bun. Very fashionable for the 1950s. The shop owner called to her, but there was no answer.
The shop owner mentioned her experience to her friend, and soon the town was buzzing about the ghostly sighting. Some members of the family who owned the home in the forties and fifties still resided in Friday Harbor. When they heard about the sighting, they brought a photo album to the bookstore to see if any of the ladies in the pictures would seem familiar. As it turns out, the proper woman, the shop owner, saw was in the pages of that album. She had passed in 1957. The shop keeper is very pragmatic but insists, “ I know what I saw.”
Hotel De Haro’s Permanent Guest
On the northwest side of San Juan Island is Roche Harbor. In the 1800’s wealthy industrialist John S. McMillin owned and operated the limestone quarry and lime kiln at Roche Harbor. He purchased the Hotel de Haro in 1886, and by 1890 a tiny town grew around it that included a company store, school, and homes for the employees of the quarry.
The Hotel de Haro is on the grounds of the modern Roche Harbor Resort. It has grown to include shops, a restaurant, a marina, and a spa. Guests are welcome at the Hotel de Haro, which is Washington’s oldest operating hotel (since 1886). It still has 20 guest rooms (some with a shared bathroom) and a display in the lobby about the quarry and famous guests like Teddy Roosevelt.
When the McMillin family was in residence, Mrs. McMillin hired Miss Adah Beeny as a governess. Miss Beeny was a dedicated employee. After the children were grown, she remained to take care of Mrs. McMillin and was a beloved member of the McMillin family for three generations until she died in 1955. There is a mausoleum in the woods that John built for his family, and Adah’s ashes are interred with them. The tomb is open to the public and is worth visiting.
Many people who have visited the hotel and staff members report experiencing Adah, a friendly soul who means no harm. She will open the kitchen storeroom and turn lights on and off. She likes to open and close drawers too. The staff had reported hearing a rustling of clothing when no one was nearby or just a vague feeling that someone was there.
Local historian Robin Jacobson started collecting supernatural stories over forty-years ago and has heard many tales about Adah, both at the hotel and by the family crypt. Her main interest is the history of all the islands and the preservation of historic places. Still, she is always up for a good ghost story. “There are two different spirits at the Haro, one is definitely Adah, and one seems more sinister. The staff has mentioned a feeling of coldness going past them and a feeling that whatever the spirit is, it does not have good intentions.
Get information and rates for a stay at Roche Harbor Resort here.
The Lady In Red – Moran Mansion
Shipping magnate Robert Moran built a 54-room mansion on his favorite spot on Orcas Island. After Moran lost his wife, he sold the dream home to Donald Rheem of the Rheem manufacturing family in 1938.
Rheem was married to a socialite named Alice Goodfellow, who was quite the handful. He wanted a private property where he could keep his wife away from the San Francisco society. He often left Alice alone when he returned to the city for work. Legend has it that Alice would don a red lacy negligee or red cocktail dress and high heels. Then she would head into town in her car or on her Harley Davidson motorcycle to play poker with the fishermen. She was reputed to have had several affairs. Her drinking and partying were legendary, but not the cause of her death. Alice died at an early age from cancer at the age of 54.
Alice may have left the world, but her spirit never left the Moran mansion. Today the estate is a part of the more massive Rosario Resort and Spa. While the mansion no longer houses guests, it is open for tours as a museum, small concerts, and on the garden level, the resort spa.
Back in 1987, when guests occupied the mansion, there were tales of passionate lovemaking coming from an adjacent room. So loud, it woke a few of the patrons, who complained. The room was not occupied. Staff members and guests have also described seeing the ghost of Alice in her negligee and high heels appearing seductively in the music room of the mansion. Or hear the clackity clack of her high heels down the corridor on the second floor where her private rooms were located. Sometimes she is seen carrying her beloved dog.
A Past Worth Preserving
Jacobson says that the supernatural is yet another unique feature of the islands that keep folks curious and engaged with the importance of preservation (her main goal). She leads talks about the historical aspects of the islands and always has a packed house. Ms. Jacobson offers ghost tours in May and in October, where she discusses the buildings, their history, and the spirits who are larger in death after their life.
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