In 1792, Captain George Vancouver, an English explorer for King George, anchored off the Island's south shore at today's Bean's Bight. He named the point Restoration Point in honor of the day King Charles II was restored to the English throne. The Suquamish, led by Chief Kitsap, were at their nearby summer camp. In 1855, as part of the Treaty of Point Elliott signed by Chief Sealth (Seattle), the Suquamish ceded Bainbridge Island and their other lands to the U.S. government.
In 1841, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes visited the Island while surveying the Northwest. Lt. Wilkes named the Island after Commodore William Bainbridge, commander of the frigate Constitution in the War of 1812. He also named several other areas of the Island and these names are still in use today.
The Territory of Washington was created on March 2, 1853. In 1857, a new county was formed and eventually named Kitsap in honor of the chief. The first county seat was at Port Madison. Business was conducted from the office of Commissioner George Meigs, owner of the Port Madison Mill.
By the late 1800s, Port Blakely boasted the world's largest sawmill. Mill workers came from many nations. Japanese and Hawaiian communities and an Indian village were located nearby. Many Filipinos emigrated to Bainbridge Island during the 1920s; others came as shipyard workers during World War II.
Both towns, Port Blakely and Port Madison, had large hotels, schools, foundries, and substantial shipbuilding enterprises. The Hall Brothers Shipyard built 88 vessels, most of which were large schooners for hauling lumber. The economic depression of 1893 helped close the Madison Mill. Port Blakely Mill closed in the mid-1920s, 57 years after it began.
In the 1900s, the U.S. Army built Fort Ward at Bean's Point. Four gun batteries and a minefield in Rich Passage provided coastal defenses for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard until it became obsolete in the 1930s.
The Hall Brothers Shipyard, which moved in 1902 from Port Blakely to Eagle Harbor, was world-famous. The name of the town then changed from Madrone to Winslow in honor of Winslow Hall. In 1905, across the harbor on Bill Point, the coast's largest wood preservative facility grew. The community there was named Creosote after the coal tar derivative.
Visitors & Accommodations
Five hotels and several resorts served visitors to early island communities. The Port Madison offered elegant dining from the 1860s, and the Bainbridge Hotel served Port Blakely. The 40-room Pleasant Beach Hotel, with its bowling alleys, swimming pool, billiard room, and pavilion, hosted everything from church conferences to world championship prize fights and was considered the Coney Island of Puget Sound.
The Hotel Winslow and other boarding houses served shipyard workers and visitors. The hotel at the Manitou Park Chautauqua grounds on Skiff Point housed visitors who came to hear William Jennings Bryan and John Phillips Sousa.
Growing a Community
With few interior roads, most early island travel was by water. Mosquito Fleet steamers carried freight and passengers between Island landings and Seattle and Kitsap destinations. Communities grew around some 30 mosquito fleet landings, and residents knew their captain's whistle signature. Car ferry service began by barge from Point White to Retail. Regular car service to Seattle began in 1923 from Port Blakely. In 1937, Seattle car ferry service moved to Eagle Harbor.
Eleven neighborhoods had their own schools until islanders voted to consolidate in the 1920s. The county's first school was in Port Madison. One of the nation's finest private schools, the Moran Preparatory School, a forerunner of Seattle's Lakeside School, served young men from a Manitou Park campus.
Touring theatrical companies and locally produced performances helped keep the arts alive in the early mill towns. Silent films played at theaters in Fort Ward, Port Blakely, Manitou Park, and Winslow. In the mid-1930s, the island's first sound theater was built in Tudor-style Lynwood Center and is still in operation today.
The Impact of WWII
In 1938, the U.S. Navy took over Fort Ward from the Army, confiscating several surrounding properties and evicting their owners. Large acreages were put into antenna fields overnight as a top-secret, international, radio-listening station was built. Radio communication and code schools were established that lasted through the Korean War. The Fort Ward command also oversaw the construction of the Navy's largest radio transmitter at Battle Point, with a tower 300 feet taller than the Space Needle.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the World War II in the Pacific, the Island was hit hard. In March, 1942, Bainbridge Island became one of the first communities required to respond to Executive Order 9066, which uprooted those of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were U.S. citizens, and forced them to move inland. Two-hundred-twenty Japanese-Americans were sent to Manzanar on the edge of the Mojave Desert, and then to Minidoka in Idaho.
Editors of the Bainbridge Review, the Woodwards, kept islanders informed on the activities of displaced residents during the war, and regular columns appeared from the internment camps. Editorials pointed out violations of the Bill of Rights inherent in the Executive Order. Many Islanders were appalled at this treatment of their friends and neighbors. They supported the Japanese-Americans, and welcomed them home at the end of the war.
After the War
In honor of the young men who lost their lives in World War II, Island residents raised funds for a Living Memorial Field at the high school. With only hand tools, the world's largest public school student-built project, a 1,000-seat grandstand, was erected for the memorial by carpentry trade classes between 1947 and 1951.
The town of Winslow incorporated in 1947, developed water and sewer utilities, and became the Island's urban center. The Agate Pass Bridge was built in 1950 and with it the Island's first state highway. The Army returned to install a Nike missile base and radar station. The Washington State Ferries took over the old shipyard and Winslow became a busy connection to the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.
Some Islanders felt they were paying an undue portion of the county's taxes and receiving indifferent county services. Others were concerned that major decisions affecting the Island were made with little input from Islanders. In 1969, a bid for incorporation of the area outside Winslow failed at the polls. Another effort in the early 80s did not reach the polls. But in 1988, a citizens' Home Rule organization became active, culminating in the 1990 vote to allow the City of Winslow to annex the remainder of the Island. This vote was so close that a recount was needed. In 1991, residents voted to change the city's name to Bainbridge Island.
The island was originally incorporated under Washington State Law (Revised Codes of Washington) as a Code City with a Mayor / Council Form of Government. The form of government was changed to Council / Manager following a vote of the people in May, 2009.