Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten

The remote beaches and rugged coastlines of the San Juan Islands are frequently mentioned as one of the top vacation destinations in the world but travel magazines rarely mention their history as a haven for turn of the century smugglers and rum runners. Famous privateers made and lost fortunes smuggling drugs, immigrants and alcohol in and out of these misty coves and waterside caves along the US/Canadian border while secretive island residents found creative ways to supplement their farming and fishing income through some illegal side jobs.

Island stories from the 1920’s are full of enterprising settlers who set fake signal fires to trick smugglers into dropping their loads of rum and whiskey early so a second crew could row out and collect the shipments bound for Seattle or Vancouver Island.  Legend has it the Deer Harbor general store on Orcas Island openly shelved Prohibition era liquor behind regular goods since the going rate for a bottle of whiskey was $16 a quart while eggs were 15 cents a dozen.  Bottle caches were often hidden on Canada’s D’Arcy Island next to the leper colony and a very special double seat outhouse sat by Obstruction Pass on Orcas with one hole dedicated to personal business while the second hole was actually the entry point to man-made caves and stashes of whiskey.

Signs of this side of the San Juan’s secret economy are all through the area if you know where to look and as we’ve traveled through the Islands we’ve spent some fun days at both Deer Harbor and the aptly named Smuggler’s Villa on Orcas.  We’ve boated around fog filled coves on multiple islands, climbed into sandstone caves on Sucia, and just this summer walked along Rum Runner Road on Lopez Island.

Gone but not forgotten

Posted as part of the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Gone, But Not Forgotten.

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34 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten

  1. how interesting is this. this reminds me that there is apparently a similar notorious history to parts of Vancouver’s lower mainland as well, although there is not too much info available. heard about it from a friend who is a history buff, and had forgotten all about it until i read your post. thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome, Kris and thanks for reading. From what I read there was a lot of cross border smuggling between the San Juans and Vancover Island. The US and Canadian authorities had older boats, out dated equipment and very small staffs, they couldn’t compete with the high volume operations.

  2. I learned a bit of history tonight! I didn’t know D’Arcy Island long ago served as a leper colony for Chinese immigrants. How sad. Eric used to live off Smuggler’s Cove Rd. on Whidbey. Thanks for the lesson!

  3. when I used to tend bar we made rum runners all the time (well in Florida that is) – and now I know some of the history – and cool sign – great take on the wpc 🙂 ❤

      1. blackberry liquor – rum, juice, banana creme liquor and some add brandy. we used to light ours up – with some 151 rum – but this may be a Florida thing and may have nothing to do with rum runners – ha! oh and sometimes we did not even have to make rum runners – they were in a machine like a slurpee – just pour and go 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Otto. I took the photo this summer because of the elements you mentioned, the novelty of the street name and the water/dock behind. This photo prompt pushed me in the right direction to do more research and share some stories. It’s great to know you also enjoy visiting the San Juan Islands.

      1. I am also familiar with all kinds of home brews from my childhood in Germany. There was always someone in the village, or a family member somewhere who made a great schnapps (from potatoes) or a heady fruit wine…

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