Various native peoples of the Coast Salish tribes inhabited the islands beginning about 13,000 years ago. Spanish explorers named Orcas Island in honor of the viceroy of Mexico, a man with 13 names, one of which was “Orcasitees.”
Subsequent explorers such as Captain George Vancouver in 1792 and Charles Wilkes from 1839-1842 mapped the islands and waters of the region. At that time, Orcas and the island archipelago had been settled by the peaceful Lummi Tribe.
The first white settlers on Orcas arrived as part of the Hudson’s Bay Company hunting expeditions. These hunters eventually built cabins and settled on Orcas. Settlements developed slowly for much of the 19th century.
Built around landings and early post offices, the settlements of West Sound, Olga, Deer Harbor and Eastsound grew in accessible shoreline locations around the island. Slowly, businesses and schools were constructed and these small hamlets became destinations for both passengers and freight. Lime, fruit, wool and salmon were among the earliest commodities to stimulate the local economy and promote a commercial connection to the mainland.
In the early part of the 20th century, tourism, based around as many as 25 local resorts, became popular in the region and continues to be a significant component of the local economy.
- More than 160 boxes of apples were shipped from Eastsound docks in 1895.
- Templin’s Store was the market most islanders shopped at for most of the 20th century (now Ray’s Pharmacy).
- Emmanuel Episcopal Church is the oldest church on Orcas and was built in 1885.
- The hamlet of Olga was founded in 1860 and the Olga Post Office established in 1890.
- The West Sound Store was built in 1892.
- The stone observation tower atop Mt. Constitution was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1936
- Orcas Island Historical Museum exhibitions of island history displayed in historic cabins and special exhibitions
- Darvill’s Bookstore Featuring books on island history, author presentations, book signings and more
- Peter C. Fisher Gallery Scenic postcards and prints of historic Orcas scenes
- The Moran Museum at Rosario is noted in the National Register of Historic Places for photographs, furnishings and fixtures housed in the gorgeous mansion.
- Keepers of the Patos Light Information about this outer island historic lighthouse destination
- Orcas Hotel has been offering accommodations since 1904 at the Orcas Landing