Where Life is Sweet
Blackberry Island
Welcome to historic Blackberry Island, Washington, where visitors discover what locals know: Life Is Sweet. Whether you came to the island via Getaway Bridge or by Island Ferry, you’ve entered another world, a more relaxing world. Island life moves at a slower pace than it does in nearby Seattle. Here, the most important decision you’ll make all day is whether to spend the day picking blackberries or to kick back with a good book as you enjoy the ocean views all around. On a clear day, you can see the snow-capped peak of Mount Rainier in the distance, inspiration for many local artists.

A Short History of Blackberry Island

With Seattle to the north and east and Bainbridge Island to the west, Blackberry Island is approximately six miles long and four miles wide at its widest point. Blackberry Island was discovered in 1792 by George Vancouver, a British naval captain who extensively explored the Puget Sound. He spent only two hours on the island before he reboarded his ship, which may explain why American settlers who arrived in 1848 via the Oregon Trail were unaware that the island already had a name. They called it Blackberry Island in celebration of the fruit bushes that dotted the island landscape. Vancouver’s original moniker, Feather Island, will forever remain a footnote in the history books.

One of those early settlers was Benjamin Franklin Montgomery, who had grown up as one of seven sons of a lighthouse keeper in Maine. He hated lighthouses and managed to talk his fellow Islanders into outlawing the structures when they wrote the first charter in 1857. Instead, the island is encircled by floating buoys that warn ships they’re close to land.

In 1889, the population on the island doubled from 100 to 200 residents after a fire devastated Seattle’s business district. It was in 1889 that the Three Sisters were built – the island’s finest examples of Victorian architecture. During the early 1900s, the population continued to grow as Scandinavian, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Jews, and other immigrants discovered the Seattle area, and then ventured a little further to discover the rugged beauty of Blackberry Island.

In 1916, when liquor Prohibition began in Seattle and the rest of the nation, the people of Blackberry Island refused to give up their wine, and they were isolated enough that the law turned a blind eye. There were no speakeasies on the island, nor any sort of establishment that would raise eyebrows today, but Seattleites knew they could enjoy a glass of wine in peace on Blackberry Island. And so the tourism industry was born, and remains the main industry on the island today.

 

Blackberry Island MapIn February of 1942, FDR signed the order that established the entire West Coast as an “exclusion area,” which meant that no person of Japanese descent was allowed to live in this area. The citizens of Blackberry Island quietly allowed their Japanese neighbors to stay, and even helped them to hide on two occasions, when Federal authorities did a sweep of the island.

On May 18, 1980, during the annual celebration of Founders Day, the eruption of Mount St. Helens about 100 miles to the south stranded hundreds of tourists on the island. Getaway Bridge was closed until engineers could determine whether it had been damaged by seismic activity, and the ferries halted service because of the fine, gritty ash in the air. In those days before the internet and cell phones had become ubiquitous, many said they felt as if they had been completely cut off from the rest of the country.

Download the Blackberry Island Map

Things to Do

Berry Picking. Tourists on Blackberry Island are affectionately known as “berry pickers,” and there are plenty of berries to be had (in season). Three businesses on the island allow tourists to pick berries by the bucket: The Jam Spot on the north end of the island, Wagner’s Blackberries near the river, and Thornbirds in the south, near the crane habitat.

Crane Spotting. The Puget Sound Cranes have fascinated scientists for years because of their ability to recognize human faces. Non-scientific civilians enjoy them for their colorful plumage. Mated pairs of cranes engage in “unison calling,” standing close together to sing a complex duet, much like their more common cousin, the Sandhill Crane. The Puget Sound Cranes make their home here on the island year-round.

Wine Tasting. Blackberry Island is home to five wineries, and the Wine Walk is a popular activity with weekend visitors. (By the time you reach the fifth winery, you might find yourself doing the Wine Stumble, but each of the wineries will be happy to shuttle you back to your hotel.)

Whale Watching. The Washington coast is on the migratory route of the Gray Whale. Every spring, the whales pass by en route from Mexico to Alaska. Contact Sunset Marina for the tour schedule. You just might be lucky enough to spot an Orca or a Humpback Whale, too! Dress warm. Even in the summer, it’s chilly on the water.

Daisy Gazing. Blackberry Island is the Daisy Capital of the West Coast. Islanders feel that daisies, like the cranes, are best viewed in their natural habitat. Please don’t pick the daisies – leave them where they are so others can enjoy their beauty, too. You’ll find daisies of many colors all over town, but the best spots for daisy gazing are on the far north end of the island, near Getaway Bridge, and just north of the Blackberry Island Inn. Ask your innkeeper to pack you a picnic lunch!

 

 

 

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