The history of Anacortes begins over 10,000 years ago when the Skagit River valley was home to a number of Native American tribes known collectively as the Coastal Samish. Within the Coastal Samish their were two language groups; the Straits group including the Samish, Lummi, Semiahmoo and Clallam tribes and the Lushootseed group including the Upper Skagit, Skagit, Swinomish, Snohomish and the Snoqualmie. Although they were distinguished by different languages, all these tribes survived and flourished due to the region’s tremendous abundance of natural resources such as salmon, sea mammals, shellfish, lumber and big game.

Beginning in the seventeenth century the local tribes of Native Americans would successively come into contact with Spanish explorers under the command of a Greek sailor, Juan de Fuca, Capt. George Vancouver of England and the United States Exploring Expedition, however, it would not be until 1846 that the first permanent, non-Native American settlers began to arrive in the Skagit Valley. These early settlers, much like their Native American neighbors, were drawn to the valley’s many natural resources. But, the settlers were also attracted to the rich soil of the valley and the deep- water harbors that graced Fidalgo Island.

Shortly after the Civil War Fidalgo Island and the Skagit Valley received national attention as the possible site of the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Land values sharply increased and people flocked to the region amidst a speculative boom in real estate. In 1873 a national economic panic ended this boom, but the stage had been set and Fidalgo Island would continue to receive consideration as the site of a large and important railroad city.


In 1876 Amos Bowman arrived on Fidalgo Island. He soon bought 160 acres of land, built a wharf, a store and started a post office and an newspaper and in 1879 he named the town after his wife, Anna Curtis. Bowman also began to publish and distribute informational tracts touting the many advantages of locating your home or business in Anacortes and he stressed the island’s accessible harbor and waterways and the abundance of old growth timber. These marketing efforts resulted in another land boom in the early 1880’s. This boom was also induced by continuing rumors and speculation concerning a railroad connection to the East and ultimately, via ship a connection with the Orient.

This boom, as was the case in the 1870’s was short-lived and in 1882 the development of Anacortes stalled. In 1888 Bowman agreed to sell 2000 acres of land to the Oregon Improvement Company as a land grant in exchange for the company starting a railroad connection in Anacortes. This transaction started the largest flurry of speculation in Anacortes in 1889 and Anacortes was rechristened the "Magic City" due to a frenzy of building, rising prices and population growth. At the height of this boom Anacortes also became known as the "Liverpool of the West" and the "New York of the West", although with the railroad’s decision to locate the terminus in Tacoma, the rapid growth of Seattle and the Panic of 1893 Anacortes’ dream of prominence faded and came to an end.

From 1900-1945 the residents of Anacortes once again turned to the region’s natural resources to provide for their livelihoods and growth. By 1930 Anacortes had become known as the "City of Smokestacks" due to the proliferation of lumber mills and shingle and box factories. A number of salmon canneries were also built and in the early 1900’s Anacortes became known as the "Salmon Capital of the World". As the salmon stocks decline d in the 1930’s the Anacortes became the home port for large schooners converted from the lumber trade for service as cod fishing schooners that would journey to Alaska in the summer months and return to the canneries in Anacortes for the winter.

Following World War I, however, the Pacific Northwest experienced a general industrial decline and as a leading center of industry Anacortes fared particularly hard. The stock market crash only continued the town’s downward spiral and many of the residents took jobs with the Civilian Conservation Crop constructing many buildings and roads, and most notably the Deception Pass Bridge. The lumber mills and canneries continued to close after World War II, but in the 1950’s the town was given new life by the arrival of two major oil refineries.

In the years following the arrival of the refineries other industries tried to come to Anacortes, once again attracted by a deep water harbor. But, unlike the speculative boom years of the 1870’s and 1890’s the residents of Anacortes began to reject new industry that they believed would damage the natural and scenic beauty of Fidalgo Island. In the process both a nuclear power plant and an aluminum factory were turned away and the city made an effort to create an extensive system of forest lands and natural areas throughout the island. Presently, the beauty and relative quiet of Anacortes have served to attract a number of new residents as well as an increasing number of tourists and today the City of Anacortes is known as "The Heart of Northwest Adventure".

 
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