Good Friday to You


Attached is an article I wrote on place names on Bainbridge Island. There I was working on this at the Bainbridge Library last night, when who should appear but enthusiastic Bainbridge history expert Jerry Elfendahl! So I held an spur-of-the-moment interview to fill in some holes, but it’s difficult to keep Jerry quiet in a library … there were problems …


By Rachel Pritchett

Capt. George Vancouver’s fruitless quest to find the Northwest Passage brought him to Puget Sound and Bainbridge Island in 1792, possibly making him the first known European contact with this region.

With officers with names like Peter Puget and Joseph Whidbey on board his two Royal Navy vessels, he eventually anchored off a point on the eastern side of Bainbridge Island where Native American were having a seasonal gathering. Natives welcomed the young explorer and his crew of hearty surveyors, and paddled out to the ships to trade ceremonial items.

From there, Vancouver and his men set out mapping Puget Sound lands and waters, bestowing place names as they went that sometimes remembered war heros or officers on the Chatham and Discovery that made up his squadron. They named that stretch of land they were anchored off of Restoration Point, in honor of the re-establishment of the monarchy in England by King Charles II in 1660, according to “Picture Bainbridge: A Pictorial History of Bainbridge Island,” by Jack Swanson. And Admiralty Inlet, as well, according to “Bainbridge Through Bifocals” by Elsie Frankland Marriott, in honor of the overseer of England’s navy. And “Rainier” for a big mountain, named after British navy admiral Peter Rainier.

Port Orchard Bay was named for a ship’s clerk on the expedition; Puget’s Sound and Whidbey Island for his officers.

Vancouver had a quick temper with his men and failing health made it worse. A third of his crew bore scars from his floggings, according to “Peter Puget” by Robert Wing.

But life wasn’t all pain and toil. There was time to enjoy spruce beer, made from boiling spruce or fir boughs, then combining the liquid with yeast and molasses. Vancouver’s fleet left, believing Bainbridge Island was a peninsula.

While Bainbridge Island had many Native American names (some still stick today, like Yeomalt), the big caucasian name-giver here was Capt. Charles Wilkes. He arrived here in 1841 with his ample fleet as part of the United States Exploring Expedition under President Andrew Jackson, the first of its kind. Wilkes named a whopping 300 places in Washington.

The large bay at the north end of Bainbridge became Port Madison Bay, and its west and east points Jefferson and Monroe, in Wilkes’ parade of presidents’ namesakes. Wilkes, who, along with an earlier Hudson’s Bay Company team, discovered this really was an island, named Agate Pass not for its see-through rocks, but for young Alfred Agate, a New York botanical artist with the expedition. A botanist, William Rich, got a passage named after him.

Of course, it was Wilkes who named Bainbridge Island, after Commodore William Bainbridge, a U.S. naval captain in Tripoli in the War of 1812. Bainbridge was somewhat famous for his declaration of “let us meet the foe at sea” as his ship, the Constitution, took part in a victory over the British, according to a Seattle Times article. Bainbridge also spent 19 months in prison for running for running a frigate aground off Tripoli, according to “Picture Bainbridge.”

Wilkes named Port Blakely and Blakely Harbor for Capt. Johnston Blakely, another War of 1812 figure.

Like Vancouver, Wilkes ran a tight ship. One crew journal describes him as “a rascally tyrant, liar, black-hearted enough to be the devil’s brother.”

Now on to some names that came later on Bainbridge, starting with the two most embarrassing ones first: Toe Jam Hill and Welfare Avenue.

Some say “Toe Jam” is a variation of the name of an oldtimer who used to live there – Torjam. Two other theories involve a tavern at the foot of the hill. One says the bartender there gave the cheap rotgut – toe jam – to immigrants who lived nearby. Another says the bartender gave the toe jam to workers from the Port Blakely Mill seeking a free drink.
As for Welfare Avenue, it may be an embarrassing address for social climbers here, but it’s actually named after the esteemed maritime family.

Here are some more on the island’s communities, according to local history buff Jerry Elfendahl:

Rolling Bay, which really had three locations, may stem back to the Suquamish name for “place where the waves get jumping.” Another theory is that it is a variation of the name of a squatter who once lived there. The “Manitou” in Manitou Beach refers to a creator in native tongue, but may have been given by white men much later looking for a resort-like name.

Eagle Harbor probably named by the Wilkes Expedition for a War of 1812 hero or because there were a huge number of them there, as the Suquamish noted. Wing Point and Bill Point at the north and south are parts of the eagle. Eagledale used to be called Southside but was changed in a contest.

Crystal Springs was named for springs formed there from receding glaciers. Point White really was, due to all the droppings from birds there to find food. Manzanita was so named because a postmistress gazing at madrona trees thought they were manzanita trees. Fort Ward was named by the War Department in honor of Col. George Ward, wounded at Gettysburg in 1863. Pleasant Beach used to be called Sylvan Grove. And Gazzam lake was named for Warren Gazzam, who platted Crystal Springs.

And still more:
Faye Bainbridge wasn’t a woman at all. Faye was the name of an attorney-turned-farmer who gave the land to the state. And Tolo, as in Tolo Road, comes from the Chinook jargon to earn. Falk and Grow are street named after old settlers. and Battle Point after a great Native American battle that took place there.

More Place Names
Following are some more place names and their origins for Bainbridge Island and surroundings:
Arrow Point: A point on the west flank of the island named for the many arrowheads and artifacts found by Albert Lord in 1906 when he platted the area.
Bean’s Point: A former name for the island’s Restoration Point. Bean was the name of a settler there killed by Native Americans.
Blakely Harbor and Rock: Named for the U.S. Navy guy by Capt. Charles Wilkes. That would be Capt. Johnston Blakely, killed in the War of 1812.
Creosote: A community on Bill Point where a wood-preservative facility operated.
Eagle Harbor: There are two theories. One is that it was named by the Wilkes Expedition for Lt. Henry Eagle, a War of 1812 hero. Another is that the Suquamish Tribe knew it as a place where eagles congregated.
Madrone: A old name for Winslow.
Murden Cove: Named in 1856 by a U.S. Coast Survey for a beach dweller who lived there.
Soquamic Bay: The former name given to what’s now Port Madison Bay in 1824 by a Hudson’s Bay Co. man.
nWinslow: Named for Winslow Hall, one of the Halls Brothers who had the shipyard.
– Sources include “Place Names of Washington” by Robert Hitchman and “Vancouver’s Discovery of Puget Sound” by Edmond Meany