Bridge links island's past with its present

Deception Pass Bridge — that great connection between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands over the rushing waters of the sound — is justification of the certain knowledge that dreams do come true, even though they may be a long time in the making. Capt. George Morse, one of Oak Harbor’s first sea captains who settled here, shared his dream with his daughter Sadie, who told about sailing with her father on his sloop through the pass and hearing him say, “One of these days there will be a bridge across this water.”

He already had in mind the building of a bridge that was to become one of the tourist attractions of the great Northwest, stretching from Goose Rock to the little island in the center of the pass and on to Fidalgo. The little four-car ferry would be needed no more. Capt. Morse went to the the state Legislature in its early days and there was promise of the sum of $20,000 for building a bridge at Deception Pass. But, alas, there was no money forthcoming. Capt. Morse had to be content with a promise. But the dream did not die. When our family came to Whidbey Island in 1920 we were ferried across from Fidalgo to the northern tip of Cornet Bay. It was our first ferry ride, but not our last.

To get from Oak Harbor to Anacortes, or Mount Vernon, or Bellingham, the ferry was the route, running on the hour. Special late-at-night ferries could be obtained by telephoning. From Olson’s Landing (today’s Strawberry Point) another ferry took travelers to Camano Island and the highway to Everett and Seattle. It took more than 50 years of visionary bridge building to bring the structure about. The community of North Whidbey united yearly in a Cranberry Lake picnic as publicity for the bridge building. Deception Pass State Park was in its infancy, with camping facilities, a beach on the east side of the lake, restrooms and picnic tables. The Cranberry Lake picnic was something Islanders looked forward to. Bands played, politicians took advantage of the speaker’s stand, there were prizes for races, and even for the largest family.

At the height of the Great Depression, Deception Pass Bridge was built and opened, and became one of the Northwest’s most prized monuments. At the center of the view from the bridge, to the northwest, Mount Baker, a smoldering volcanic snow-covered mountain, sits atop the foothills of the Cascade Range. To the far west, Vancouver Island’s lights twinkle in the evening after the sun goes down. Small islands dot the east and western views, and the waters rush through as the tide changes. Milton Anderson, an old timer, told us of being on a fishing boat off West Beach while the bridge was being built. As his boat was negotiating the pass, a big bundle of timber being lifted to the top of the span broke loose, and the result was a tide full of new lumber floating downstream. Anderson said they picked up a boatload of new lumber. Earlier a prison camp was built on the south wall of Fidalgo Island, where prisoners cut rock into gravel which was loaded down to barges below, to be taken to Seattle for construction. The remains of the camp may still be seen. It was closed to adventurers following the death of a person who got too close to the edge.

In earlier days when opium and Chinese laborers were being smuggled into the Northwest, the pass was a favorite passage to the mainland. It is told that an Indian woman sat on the little island inside the pass with a bonfire which alerted smugglers that all was clear. No bonfire, hold everything. We have had phone calls from people who would like to know how the name Goose Rock came to be. The closest we can get is the possibility that geese nested atop the rock, when John Cornet came to make his home on his bay.

Dorothy Neil has gathered and recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. Her 10 books chronicle Whidbey life and times.

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