Irish eyes are smiling

By Peggy Darst Townsdin

Special to the News-Times

Saint Patrick’s Day is a great time to honor the Irish founders of this village, which Dr. Richard Lansdale named Oak Harbor in 1851.

Records show Oak Harbor was established on Jan. 4, 1851, by the original donation land claims of three young bachelors: Sumner, Taftzon, and Freund.

It was the Irish pioneers who really got the town of Oak Harbor going, entrepreneurs and adventurers who sailed the seas from the other Emerald Island to build this beautiful waterfront town, establishing all of the first stores, hotels, wharves, businesses, churches, schools and social clubs.

Let’s begin with sea captain Edward Barrington, descended from an English/Irish “landed gentry” family of Ireland. Edward went to sea, from Cape Breton, at a young age, settling in Oak Harbor in 1851.

Barrington built the first store in Oak Harbor, which also included a busy saloon and pier on the waterfront. From here he sailed Puget Sound and the world, bringing people, produce and household wares in and out of the harbor. Barrington had bought the land owned by both Sumner and Taftson, thus owning a large portion of the waterfront at one time.

Pioneer Way was named Barrington Avenue for the first 100 years of Oak Harbor’s existence, from about 1851 to 1951. The famous schooner, “Growler,” was built in 1859 right on the waterfront for Barrington. The captain married young Irish lassie, Christina McCrohan in 1865.

The large Barrington home, which was used as “The Oak Harbor Hotel” for many years, was torn down in the 1970s.

Next we have the Maylor brothers, Thomas and Samuel, who left Ireland in the 1840s, ending up in Oak Harbor to take donation land claims in 1852, on the land known as “Maylor’s Point,” which later became home to the WW11 PBY Seaplane Base. The Maylors and their families became successful businessmen in town, building a large store, dock and homes. The Maylor store still sits on the corner of Dock and Pioneer streets. The Victorian “Joe Maylor” house still graces Dock Street.

John Maylor was a professional photographer, running a studio in town. We have him to thank for many of the historic photos we have now of downtown Oak Harbor.

Not to be forgotten is Harvey Hill, another Irishman who arrived in Oak Harbor in the 1880s. Hill was a carpenter and helped build many of the early houses and buildings. He also recorded town history and wrote for the early newspaper. His house still sits on Ireland Street.

Hill also built and ran a general store, which is also one of the old wooden buildings which still exist in “Old Town,” while many others have been torn down over the years. The Hill store is now “Mr. Music” and was for years the popular Masten Variety store.

Another very active and successful Irish businessman and town builder was L.P. Byrne, who arrived in the 1880s. Byrne built a luxurious resort hotel, store and saloon, on the corner of what is now Pioneer and Midway Boulevard He also built a long dock, which reached far out into the harbor. He hired Hill to build a large two-story warehouse on the waterfront as well as a lovely mansion, for himself and his young bride, Katy Nunan. The first high school classes, town meetings, Catholic masses and dances were held in Byrne’s warehouse.

Byrne died in 1913, before his hotel and warehouse along with several buildings in East Oak Harbor went up in flames in the horrific 1920 fire. His house still stands just North of Oak Tree (Smith) Park on Midway, more evidence of the early day contributions of the Irish to the building of Oak Harbor.

Other Irish pioneers, who arrived in 1858, were the large Francis and Grace McCrohan family, and the Thomas Nunan and Maurice O’Leary families. These Irish families and those above, made up the social and economic fabric of the early and thriving historic town of Oak Harbor.

Many descendents of all these Irish town founders still live on this island, and in the Puget Sound area.

Over the 157 years since 1851, the Irish, Norwegian, Swiss, Dutch and more, as well as the U.S. Navy, have contributed to making Oak Harbor into the beautiful, vibrant, interesting and growing waterfront “village” which the Native Americans and early pioneers called “Paradise.”

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, as we celebrate our town heritage, and the contributions of the Irish pioneers who overcame persecution, hardship and suffering to survive and thrive, building the foundation on which “O’Carbor” is built.

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