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Historic Officers Quarters Set On Permanent Foundation

San Juan Island National Historical Park

National Park News

The historic officers' quarters, once known as the Brown House, was lowered onto its permanent foundation at San Juan Island National Historical Park's American Camp unit on Monday, January 30 by park maintenance workers and Nichol Brothers House Moving of Everett, Washington.

 The 1856 vintage, box-frame building--designated Historic Structure-10 (HS-10) on National Park Service (NPS) rolls-- for more than 130 years, sat the corner of West and First streets in downtown Friday Harbor. The house was acquired by the NPS and moved to American Camp by Nickel Brothers House Moving Dec. 2, 2010 and positioned immediately adjacent to the existing officers’ quarters, which, from the closure of the army post in 1874, remained in use on the site as a farmhouse. 

National Park Service archaeologists, led by Beth Horton of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, worked for more than a year excavating the house site in preparation of setting it onto concrete and steel anchorages , which will safely sustain the structure for many years. Nichol Brothers eased the house down, inches at a time, while removing the steel I-beams that had been supporting the house several feet above the ground throughout 2011.

Both buildings originated as officers’ quarters at Fort Bellingham (see drawing on reverse), which was established in August 1856 by Capt. George E. Pickett on Bellingham Bay to protect settlers from Indians raiding from today’s British Columbia and southeast Alaska. The fort was abandoned and dismantled from 1859-1867 and moved to San Juan Island to house the army during the joint military occupation by Great Britain and the United States.

Ownership of the house was transferred to the National Park Service by owners of the Friday Harbor House hotel. The house restedon cribbing and steel I-beams, which for more than a year provided structural support.  Park maintenance crews also installed a new roof and enclosed the house to protect it from inclement weather. 

The park will apply for funding to compile a historic structure report, which provides documentary, graphic, and physical information about a property’s history and existing condition. A report must be completed and the resultant planning instigated before restoration efforts are undertaken.

Island lore has long identified the Brown house as an American Camp artifact. Three years after the joint military occupation concluded in November 1872, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps auctioned the buildings at American and English camps. Several of these buildings that were moved off site have been identified over the years, and two—the Laundress Quarters at American Camp and the Hospital at English Camp—were returned to their original sites. 


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