by Isabel Ashley
Halloween isn’t the only event happening at the end of this month; San Juan County, established on October 31, 1873, turns 150 years old. The anniversary will be celebrated with pop-up events that kick off this Halloween and will continue through October 2024, and will be inclusive of the entire county, not just San Juan Island. The county is framing this milestone through an organizational lens, recognizing that the geographical space of San Juan County and the Coast Salish Tribes that have stewarded this space have been here since time immemorial.
“We’re really trying to make sure we honor them in our celebrations and acknowledge what contributions they have made to the county’s formation,” said Erin Wygant, Communications Coordinator of San Juan County.
The theme of the anniversary is “150 Years of Service,” and the county will be taking a retrospective look at what it has accomplished in the last 150 years. Teaming up with the Journal, they plan to publish a monthly history spotlight on different departments within the county, sharing fun facts, such as the first marriage license and how the auditors office came to be, and making the county’s history more accessible to the public.
In addition, the county is asking community members and different organizations to contribute a shared photo album online by uploading photos relating to the county’s history. They have already reached out to different history museums, the San Juan Island Theater and the Journal for memorable moments of the county’s past. Later, they hope to incorporate the photos into community art projects or murals. Residents can participate by uploading their photos on the Engage San Juan webpage at https://engage.sanjuancountywa.gov/150th?tool=brainstormer#tool_tab.
“Your history is part of the county’s history, too,” said Wygant.
The Engage San Juan page will also have information on the pop-up events, photos from past events and help the community stay up to date on the festivities. The first pop-up celebrations will occur at the Trunk or Treat event on Lopez, the Halloween festival on Orcas and at the courthouse on San Juan Island for “Haunted Courthouse Tours.” The tours will be open to the public on Oct. 31, 3-5 p.m., and participants can collect commemorative stickers, sweet treats and learn the history and chilling stories of the ghosts that roam the court house’s halls. The county expects to hold different pop-up events throughout the year, such as on the 4th of July and at the County Fair.
Looking towards the next 150 years, the county is most notably focusing on how they can improve the lives of the islanders. This idea is reflected by the county’s initiative made at the beginning of this month to impose a 32-hour work week for county employees. Among the many reasons for this shift, it was a top priority to support the wellbeing of these islanders to enable them as a strong workforce to serve the community.
“We are in a unique position where the workforce is the community,” said Wygant. “I enjoy working for the county because I am working in support of my friends and neighbors. And it feels extra special to be part of this milestone in county history.”
Take part in this milestone as well by staying in the loop on the county’s celebrations and visiting the Engage San Juan page at https://engage.sanjuancountywa.gov/150th.