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History of Bainbridge Island, Washington

Bainbridge Island, an upscale bedroom community of Seattle, is close — only a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown — yet is a world away. When Captain George Vancouver sailed into the Puget Sound in 1792, he did not realize Bainbridge was an island. It was not until 1841 that U.S. Navy lieutenant Charles Wilkes discovered the Agate Pass waterway separating the island from Kitsap Peninsula. The island was named after Commodore William Bainbridge, commander of the frigate USS Constitution in the War of 1812. Bainbridge Island was the home of the Suquamish Indian Tribe, led by Chief Kitsap. In 1855, the tribe ceded Bainbridge Island to the U.S. Government. In the late 1800s, the world’s largest sawmill opened in Port Blakely, near the island’s southeast border, and employed more than 1,000 men. Both Port Blakely and, on the island’s northeast border, Port Madison, boasted large hotels, schools, foundries, and substantial shipbuilding businesses. The history of those former mill towns is preserved in exhibits of the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, located downtown in a restored red schoolhouse built in 1908, which was moved to the present site. In the early 1900s, the U.S. Army built Fort Ward, which provided coastal defenses for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard until it became obsolete in the 1930s. In 1938, the U.S. Navy took over Fort Ward, while confiscating several surrounding properties and evicting their owners. Large acreages were turned into antenna fields overnight as a top-secret international radio listening station was built. Radio communication and code schools were established that lasted through Korean War. After the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, when the United States entered World War II, citizens of the island suffered a blow. In March 1942, Bainbridge Island became one of the first communities required to respond to a presidential order that uprooted people of Japanese ancestry for security reasons. About 220 Japanese residents — most of them U.S. citizens — were forced to leave their island homes. They were sent first to a camp in California’s Mojave Desert, and then to Minidoka, Idaho. The island’s newspaper kept information flowing between the displaced residents and islanders with regular columns appearing from the internment camps. Following the war, many were welcomed home by their friends and neighbors. Today, 36-square mile Bainbridge Island is home to more than 22,000 people, the majority of whom commute to work in Seattle. The City of Bainbridge Island has become known for its arts community and has its own performing arts center and art galleries featuring local and regional artists. Historic Winslow, a district within the city, is known for its trendy cafes and one-of-a-kind shops featuring unusual gifts from the Northwest. Bainbridge Island offers rustic charm with quiet country roads and beautiful gardens, making it a favorite destination. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy boating, biking, hiking, and strolling through the parks and Bloedel Reserve, a nature lover’s paradise. The island is a part of the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau’s tourism program and is one of the first stops for travelers headed to the peninsula, which is just across Agate Pass Bridge at the island's northwest corner.