‘Images of America: Roche Harbor’

For the history-minded, there is nothing quite so pleasing as reading a well-written book of non-fiction about the place in which you live. Richard Walker, editor of the San Juan Journal on Friday Harbor, has written such a book, entitled “Images of America: Roche Harbor.”

Presented in an engaging and informative style, the book focuses primarily on the settlement years, when the Hudson’s Bay Company first came to the island in 1845. It weaves in the archaeological history of the island, as well as the First People and their interaction with settlers, and both groups’ influences upon one another.

Most of all, it objectively describes several important historical events, such as the Pig War; as well as the depiction of the establishment of the lime industry, which was first started by the Royal Marines, but was later firmly established by John McMillin.

Lime was the cornerstone industry in Roche Harbor, roughly through the years 1860-1956. Lime deposits lay thick within a cliff above Roche Harbor, and men would blast the limestone out of the rock, cart it down to the kilns that were built below the quarry and, using the kilns, they would burn off the carbon dioxide within the limestone, leaving a powdery product called quicklime.

Quicklime was used in concrete making, as well as in combination with other chemical substances in the creation of “glass, paint, paper, plastics, and tiles.” Spalls, or limestone rock which was too small to burn, was used in steel production, as flux in steel-making. Flux removes impurities from the steel and increases slag production.

Another huge bonus of this book is the abundance of photographs that illustrate the development of the lime industry in clear detail, as well as other facets of Roche Harbor. There are hundreds of crisp black-and-white photos that document the building of the limestone workers’ quarters; the adjacent industry of barrel making (barrels were used to transport the finished quicklime); the ships and tugs in port, as Roche Harbor was also deep enough to accommodate the vessels that would take the quicklime to market; and the store, churches, hotel, gardens, and school that made up the seaside village.

This is an excellent walk through local history, and provides an entertaining as well as educational lesson about the San Juan Islands.