Camano Island

Tracing European settlement of this Puget Sound community uncovers Nordic roots

Photo: Solveig Lee
Over a century later, this Olsen descendent poses with a historical photo of her family on their farm.

Solveig Lee
Mount Vernon, Wash.

The Camano Island Historic Sites presented a two-day “Camano Island Historic Sites Tour” on March 25-26, 2017. The Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center in Stanwood served as the welcome center. What a wonderful time to see the beauty of this island and learn about its history. After viewing historic exhibits displayed at The Floyd, one traveled at one’s leisure to well-marked sites throughout the island. Off I drove to Utsalady!

Utsalady was a historic site during the territorial days of Washington. The grandeur of forests with ships resting in the bay! Sawmills and shipyards dotting its shoreline!

The year was 1853 when the first white settler arrived at Utsalady. In that year, Lawrence Grennan and Marshall Campbell recognized the potential of the area and started a spar camp and made plans. They secured permission from the local Kikiallus chief to cut timber and then went to San Francisco and bought machinery. It was lost at sea as they made their way up the coast. They were therefore forced into bankruptcy. In that year, Capt. Parker financed a new mill for Grennan and Cranney. Completed by February in 1858, they shipped their first shipment of spars and lumber to Shanghai, China. In 1866, a flagstaff of 150 feet, 24 inches at the stump and 11 inches at the top, went to Paris for the International Exposition of 1867 to fly the American flag. In 1877, the mill was sold to Puget Mill Company, which enlarged the mill and increased the capacity. The mill closed in 1891.

By 1859, Camano’s oldest city, Utsalady, was thriving. The name, meaning “land of berries,” was given to the area by Native Americans, for it was a favorite place for them to pick berries. By 1870, it is said there were 54 houses and 147 people, blacksmith shops, a telegraph, a saloon, a shipyard, and a school. In 1872, the Masonic Hall was built. A granary stored Skagit grain. By 1883, ships carried lumber daily to world markets.

In 1891, Utsalady had a store, hotel, post office, a bunkhouse for millworkers, a recreation hall, and the beginning of the Norwegian Lutheran congregation. After the mill closed, people turned to farming and ranching.

Near Livingston Bay, one finds Camano Lutheran Church. Of particular interest are the altar, pulpit, baptismal font, and hymnal board. They were carved mainly by J.P. Larson with help from Knute P. Frostad. The 11 different woods were received as gifts from captains who shipped lumber from the Utsalady Mill.

The Camano Pioneer Cemetery is located about four miles west of Stanwood on Highway 532 at Terry’s Corner. It was originally plotted in 1887. It has been said that the eastern portion of the cemetery was dedicated for burial of paupers. At the cemetery, one finds names such as Iverson, Frostad, D’Jorup, and Borreson, all well-known persons from the area. The Kikiallus tribe lived in this area, and a cranberry bog lay to the south.

On May 8, 1908, the Utsalady Lutheran Ladies’ Aid organized by a group of Christian women at the home of Constance Olson. The ladies were concerned over the lack of Sunday School or religious training for the children in the community. They wanted a parochial school during the summer months. In 1916, there was a parochial school for three weeks. The Ladies Aid paid $10 in its support.

The ladies were always trying to make money—lutefisk dinners, clam chowder dinners, basket socials, or raffling quilts. The Utsalady Ladies Aid Building stands today as a symbol of community spirit for those living on the north end of the island.

An interesting photograph taken in 1884 shows men who were active in the life of Utsalady: seven were Norwegian, two were Swedish, one was Irish, one was Danish, and two were Americans. Crowds of people filled the ladies’ aid hall, including many members of the Kikiallus tribe.

Those early years were different from the life of today. Travel was often by horse or canoe. Utsalady was important to many, for it was also the point of departure for early European settlers to the Stillaguamish and Skagit Valleys.

This article originally appeared in the April 21, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.