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