Since prehistoric times, Blakely Island has been a “summer place.” Native Americans camped at the southern edge of Thatcher Bay in the summer to hunt, fish, gather berries and dry their harvests for use in winter. Today, most of the residences on the island are vacation homes concentrated at the North and South ends of the islands.
Captain George Vancouver navigated the San Juan Islands in 1792. The first European settlers arrived in the late 19th century and homesteaded. Among these were the Theodor Spencer family, who lived on Blakely for 3 generations and some of whom still live in the San Juan Islands. Logging, fishing, and farming helped support settlers. The proximity of Spencer Lake to Thatcher Bay, and thus a large source of freshwater to ocean-going vessels, lead to the development of a community on Blakely. A sawmill was built here, as was the island’s first post office. The mill was powered by water flow from the lake into the bay.
The island was almost completely clear-cut by the 1950’s. About the same time, the power system for the sawmill broke and the community at Thatcher Bay failed. Very little remains of this community except a few rusting pieces of machinery and cabins that are slowly deteriorating and collapsing. Thousands of cubic yards of sawdust was dumped in the bay over the life of the mill and it eventually suffocated most marine life. In 2014 the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group dredged Thatcher Bay and restoration of marine life has begun.
Between the 1950’s and 1970’s, much of the island was sold to private individuals. Floyd Johnson and Doc White platted the north end of the island for a flying and yachting club. The marina and airstrip, together with most of the homes, are on this land. David Syre platted the south end of the island, where a few larger properties were developed. Most of the remaining land was purchased by Thomas Crowley, Sr.
Mr. Crowley donated 967 acres in 1976 to Seattle Pacific University. He also paid for construction of the buildings, which were completed in 1984. David Syre and the Crowley family, together with many other donors, helped fund an endowment which pays for operation of the field station.