Centuries ago, the land that comprises the bulk of what we now call Cape San Juan was an island separated from the rest of San Juan Island by a narrow strait. Over the centuries winds and tides worked to form the narrow isthmus joining the Cape to the main part of the island.
The National Geographic Society reports that there is evidence of human occupation of the land north of Cattle Point as early as 10,000 years ago. There is ample evidence that the beach overlooking Goose Island was a gathering place for aboriginal peoples during certain times of the year. Until the development of the property that comprises the Cape’s
community beach there were large concentric circle rosettes made of stones. Why these formations were constructed nhere is not known, but they may have been used for ritual purposes. To the great chagrin of the University of Washington’s Anthropology Department, these formations were covered by dredge spoil from Fish Creek when additional lots were added.
One of the first European records of this area is found in the log of Captain George Vancouver. He and his crews were frequent visitors to the waters around the San Juan Islands on his voyages of discovery. The log reports the expedition was laid-to at anchor behind Protection Island at the mouth of Discovery Bay. The smaller of two ships was sent across the strait to explore the islands to the north. The log contains a detailed description of Cattle Pass, including Whale Rock and the Point. It also includes a hand drawn chart of the area from which the Cape is easily identified.
Around 1960 Bob Lorentz, a Seattle recreational land-developer, approached Sam Buck of San Juan Properties with a view to obtaining some land in the islands. The search culminated in the acquisition of two parcels. One parcel evolved into Brown Island in the middle of Friday Harbor and the other into Cape San Juan. Cape San Juan owes much to the aforementioned Sam Buck. His help and great knowledge of County government and contacts with State and local officials paved the way for the initial development and subsequent additions.
At the time of this acquisition, the county road ended at South Beach and the only access to the Cape was via an old logging road, which subsequently became a hiking trail inside the American Camp National Historic Park. Access from the shoreline was restricted and potential lot owners had to wait until a road was built around Mount Finlayson. An agreement was reached whereby the County would extend the road to Fish Creek in exchange for one hundred feet of waterline at the end of the road, adjacent to the present marina.
In addition to the problem of road accessibility there was a line of dolphins down the middle of Fish Creek that provided a convenient moorage for local fishermen. The dolphins that were in Fish Creek were removed when a separate agreement was reached with their owner, whereby the Cape would build a dock. The north side of this dock was leased to the owner of the dolphins for twenty years and was used in much the same fashion as the dolphins, as a convenient moorage for local commercial fishing activities.
A third problem was the absence of a reliable source of water. After a protracted and intensive search, a geologist found a reliable source of water on the shoulder of Mt. Finlayson and several wells were drilled on State of Washington land. These wells remain the source of the Cape’s water and great care is taken to preserve the natural settings of the well-head sites, pump house and cisterns located on land leased from the State Department of Natural Resources. By a county conducted election early in 1982, the Cape San Juan community established the CSJ Water District and elected the first three Commissioners. These Commissioners immediately commenced a reconstruction project that included new transmission and distribution lines, a second reservoir, hydrants, and water meters for individual users. The Farmers Home Administration approved the estimated cost of $397,000 for the project and provided financing. The final total project cost was just $62,500! In 1984 the Washington State Association of Water Districts named the CSJ water district “Outstanding Small Water District”.
Once a guaranteed source of water was available, a local contractor, Harlo Freeland, began development work. The design for Cape San Juan followed the typical format of numbered lots of somewhat similar land area and street frontage situated in numbered divisions plus designated roads and common areas. The original plat consisted generally of the lots fronting on what is now Cape Drive (formerly East Harbor Drive). Subsequent additions developed the north end lots and those fronting Fish Creek from Cape Drive, and then the interior lots, Driftwood Lane and finally, Marina Lane were added.
By the early 1970’s all the existing lots were sold. The resulting combinations of the additions became the Cape San Juan Commission, (now called Cape San Juan Homeowners Association), formed under charter from the State of Washington and comprising 129 acres, sub-divided into 154 lots. There are several areas that provide parks and green spaces and a central tract that provides amenities. These include a large, heated outdoor pool, picnic area, and fire hall, which doubles as a community center. Another feature is the Marina, located on Fish Creek, that provides four-season moorage for approximately forty craft of various sizes.