Bainbridge Island has a deeply rooted and storied history that spans generations, and exploring its unique history and attractions makes for a fun and interesting weekend away. Here, you’ll find interwoven histories of the Island’s many inhabitants, dating back to the earliest Native American Tribes that used the area as seasonal hunting and fishing grounds. We’ve put together a 3-day itinerary that will allow you to delve deeper into the fascinating stories behind this rural island community. Destination Bainbridge offers a comprehensive listing of the Island’s lodging and rental properties, and is the best resource when it comes to planning your trip to Bainbridge. It’s time to settle in and get ready to learn more about the fascinating history of Bainbridge Island.
Day One: A History Lesson in Winslow
Bainbridge Island has been through many interesting periods of development over the years, dating back to its earliest discovery. Bainbridge Island and surrounding areas were used as seasonal hunting and fishing grounds by the Native Suquamish Tribe. One of the first explorers to charter the waters around Bainbridge Island was Captain Charles Wilkes in 1841. It was Wilkes who named the island, after Commodore William Bainbridge. The Suquamish Tribe ceded Bainbridge Island to the U.S. Government in 1855, and it was at this point that Bainbridge Island’s history took a dramatic turn. As the western world began to grow, Bainbridge Island was coveted for its abundance of trees and waterways. It wasn’t long before the logging, shipbuilding, and boating industries moved into Bainbridge Island.
The best place to begin your understanding of Bainbridge Island’s history is the Bainbridge Island Historical Society’s Museum, located just off Winslow Way, and a short walk away from the Ferry Terminal. The museum itself is housed in a 1908 schoolhouse, and it provides a wonderful overview of Bainbridge Island’s history. Here, you’ll find details about the earliest families that homesteaded the island, the Croatian fisherman who settled in Eagle Harbor in the 1880’s, the famous Port Blakely Lumber Mill, and of course the Japanese American Internment Exhibit.
Once you’ve finished exploring the exhibits at the historical museum for the day, we recommend taking your time to browse through the remainder of shops lining Winslow Way, so you can get a feel for the quaint town Bainbridge Island is today. There are a variety of charming shops to explore, including Danger, Dana’s Show House, and Eagle Harbor Book Company, as well as a beautiful waterfront harbor to explore. Winslow way is also home to three of our local winery tasting rooms, including Eleven Winery, Amelia Wynn Winery’s Tasting Room & Art Gallery, Eagle Harbor Winery, and a newly opened 2nd location for Fletcher Bay Winery. For dinner, try out the newly opened Agate Restaurant, formerly known as the Agate Pass Cafe in Suquamish, which is located behind the Bainbridge Brewing Alehouse, and next to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.
Day Two: Exploring Blakely Harbor and Fort Ward
Once Bainbridge Island’s resources were discovered, it was only a matter a time before the island saw new industry and growth. Bainbridge Island’s first mill was built on the north end at Port Madison, which became the first area of settlement on the island. In 1863, a sawmill was built at Port Blakely. The Port Blakely Lumber Mill was at one time was the most productive lumber mill in the country. In conjunction with the Hall Brothers Shipyard, the lumber mill was responsible for rapid population growth on the Island, as it needed immigrant workers to fuel the operation. The shipyard built a total of 77 vessels at the shipyard before moving to Eagle Harbor in 1902. Ultimately, this growth led to the development of a ferry system between Bainbridge Island and Seattle. The Port Blakely Mill closed in 1914.
To this day, you can explore the old Port Blakely Mill site on Blakely harbor, which has recently enjoyed some revitalization. Today, Blakely Harbor is a beautiful 40-acre park along the shorelines of the quiet harbor that once housed the Port Blakely Mill. Also located at this site is Yama, the 7-acre portion of Blakely Harbor Park that was once the site of the Japanese community associated with Blakely’s lumber mill era. Today, Blakely Harbor Park is a beautiful place for picnicking, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.
After spending time at Blakely Harbor, it’s time to head further south on the island towards Lynwood Center. Grab some lunch at the Marketplace at Pleasant Beach, before heading to Ford Ward Park. Fort Ward Park, formerly a state park, is a 137-acre marine park along the souther shore of Bainbridge Island. In 1903, Fort Ward was officially commissioned as a coastal military fort primarily built to protect the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. During WWII, Fort Ward was used as a radio station and training school for communication personnel. The Navy decommissioned the Fort in 1958, but remnants of gun batteries were left behind. The walking trails through Fort Ward Park are a wonderful place to spend the afternoon.
For dinner, you can stay in the Lynwood Center area and enjoy pizza at Treehouse Café, a popular local pizzeria, or head back to the downtown core and enjoy dinner at The Harbour Public House, which serves up great cocktails and a yummy mix of mostly-organic and locally sourced pub food.
Day Three: Visiting the Japanese American Internment Exhibit
During WWII, Bainbridge Island’s Japanese American residents were the first in the nation to be forcibly removed from the island and sent inland to concentration camps, due in large part to our close proximity to Naval Bases. In total, 227 Japanese Americans were ordered to leave the island with six days’ notice. In total, over 120,000 Japanese, many of whom were American citizens, were banished from their West Coast homes and placed in concentration camps during World War II. This somber act was a significant moment in Bainbridge Island’s History, and a moment the island hasn’t forgotten. The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, located near the Eagledale ferry landing dock where our local Japanese residents were forced from their homes on March 30, 1942, serves as a poignant reminder of this history. The Memorial and the Bainbridge Island Historical Society have done a remarkable job gathering the histories of those affected by Order 9066 and Civilian Exclusion Order 1. Visiting this memorial, and understanding the history of our community both before and after these acts, is an essential part of any trip to Bainbridge Island.
If you plan to continue on to the Kitsap or Olympic Peninsulas, there are plenty of historic attractions worth exploring, including the town of Port Gamble, which is a National Historic Site. Other notable destinations are the military installations of Fort Worden and Fort Flagler near Port Townsend. Another interesting place worth visiting, which is accessed from downtown Seattle, is Tillicum Village on Blake Island. As you can see from even this brief overview, the history of Bainbridge Island is fascinating and informative. When you want to find a soft place to land for the night, look at Destination Bainbridge’s availability calendar and book a room with any of our fine lodging properties.