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Island historians present a new view of Vashon’s past
The first account of Vashon’s colorful past since Oliver Van Olinda took pen to paper 80 years ago will be released to the public Thursday.
Bruce Haulman and Jean Cammon Findlay, Island historians with deep roots on Vashon, have written a fresh account of the Island’s storied past, looking at everything from the glaciers that shaped Vashon to the Native people who first lived here to the way the arrival of Euro-Americans altered the landscape.
“Images of America: Vashon-Maury Island,” published by Arcadia Publishing, is largely a photographic account of the Island. Some 200 photos fill the 125-page book, each with long, descriptive captions.
But the two historians have also structured their slim volume as a narrative that captures the trends and developments that have shaped the Island over the decades. Six chapters, each beginning with a short essay, depict the overarching trends of the last few centuries — including “Settlement: 1865-1890,” “Boom: 1890-1920” and “Postwar Growth: 1945-1980.”
Haulman, a historian who just retired from Green River Community College, said he’s been writing and thinking about Vashon’s history for nearly two decades and had a conceptual framework in mind for how such a book should be structured.
“I believed it was important to get a modern reinterpretation of Vashon’s history for Islanders and visitors,” he said.
Van Olinda, a man of his time, was dismissive toward the Native Americans who still lived in beachfront settlements at the turn of the 20th century, when he wrote his “History of Vashon-Maury Island.” Haulman and Findlay provide a fresh look at early Native life, noting in the first chapter, “Though one may think civilization began with European settlement, the Coast Salish S’Homamish occupied the island for at least 3,000 to 6,000 years.”
Both Findlay and Haulman said they found certain aspects of Vashon’s history particularly fascinating. Findlay, for instance, noted that Islanders upset over a private ferry line run by Capt. Alexander Peabody helped launch the state ferry system. Early on, she added, “Ferries were seen as a stop-gap until the bridges could be built. We came so close to being just another suburban community like Mercer Island.”
Other trends became apparent. The Island has long struggled with the sustainability of its businesses, questioned growth and have felt at odds with King County and the state, Haulman said.
“The issues we’re facing today are not radically different from those when Euro-Americans first came to the Island: Who are we as an Island and how are we going to develop?” Haulman said.
Both Haulman and Findlay liked building the book around photographs, a requirement of Arcadia’s “Images of America” line of publications. But the approach also presented challenges. Certain watershed events, Haulman noted, weren’t photographed — such as the famous incident at the north-end ferry dock in 1948, when a group of Vashon vigilantes wouldn’t let Peabody’s private ferry moor as part of an ongoing protest over the shoddy service his line provided.
“There are holes,” he said. “Photos depend on time and place and a photographer being there.”
Particularly challenging, both authors noted, was the difficulty of finding photographs from the last 20 to 30 years. “When we got to the 1980s, the photographic record almost disappeared. People don’t think of that as history,” Haulman said.
As a result, Haulman hopes to begin “a day in the life of Vashon project” four times a year, when photographers and writers are dispatched for a day to record life on the Island.
Both Findlay and Haulman said it was a joy to work together, poring over photos, writing and editing each other’s work and striving to create what Findlay called “one voice that comes from putting our two styles together.”
Meanwhile, they said, they’re looking forward to discussing the books at gatherings and events, where they can elaborate on Vashon’s rich history.
“That’s what we can bring up,” Findlay said. “The untold stories behind the book.”
A book launch party will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 14, at the Vashon-Maury Island Historical Museum. The authors will also be on hand to sign their book at the historical association’s booth at the Strawberry Festival on Saturday. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Vashon’s historical association.