VASHON ISLAND: THE PORTAGE STORE

Vashon Island, a sparsely populated place of rolling farms and woodlands, is a pleasant ferry ride from Seattle or Tacoma. From a plane you’d know that Vashon, sometimes called Vashon-Maury Island, is two islands joined by a small chunk of land between Puget Sound and a sheltered harbor. Native Americans fished, gathered and hunted here for centuries. Then explorer George Vancouver’s 1792 visit signaled the change that resulted in the eventual removal of native peoples.

Something undefinable but subtly discernible hovers in the air at this juncture, perhaps because the topography of water meeting land is so rich.  The harbor draws thousands of ducks, grebes, loons and more bird species each winter. Surely it was the same back when the S’Homamish, a Coast Salish tribe, had a settlement here. The S’Homamish are said to have used a nearby grove of madrone trees for their canoe burials. Bodies were wrapped and put into a canoe with offerings. The canoe, with holes in it to drain water, was hoisted into the trees. It reminds me of Tibetan sky burials, another relatively open  manner of disposing of the dead. There’s something intriguing about the mixing of elements – water, earth, sky and spirit –  in the canoe burial.  Though visible traces are long gone, do S’Homamish spirits still linger in this spot?

I spent an afternoon  on Vashon Island last week. Ignorant of the island’s history, I was intent on a relaxing day of back road drifting and photo opportunities. The ferry disembarked at the north tip of Vashon and I traced the main road south towards Point Robinson on Maury Island, where a lighthouse sits on a beach with a commanding view of Mt. Rainier.  As I traversed the narrow strip of land between Vashon and Maury I noticed an old abandoned building just off the water’s edge, facing the sound.  It drew me in with its flat front of softly weathered wood. It was the kind of deserted ruin photographers love – full of character and peeling paint,  it was sparely lit by reflected light from the harbor. A bamboo grove chartreuse with sunlight crawled across a sagging porch.  The sign in the window said “The Portage Store.”

The building offered up its bones. I feasted.

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When I got home I googled “Portage Store.”  The smaller original building was built in 1903, then moved in 1910 to accommodate the larger two-story building. This was the community’s post office until 1968. Much of the original store, which closed for business about nine years ago, remains as it was – that’s evident when you compare an early photograph to recent photos.

There wasn’t much information online about the old building. Supposedly someone lives in part of it; a few years back students from the University of Washington in Seattle did a project proposing a gentle re-purposing of the building to preserve its character and keep it going. That plan clearly never took off.

There wasn’t enough time left that day as the sun went down and I had to consider the ferry schedule and the drive home. I must go back and look again, before it’s gone. Maybe I’ll find that Madrone grove where canoe burials married spirit to sky and earth, or maybe better light will unmask long forgotten details in the Portage Store’s construction.

 _

At Poppy’s request, (see comments) here’s the lighthouse and the view of Mt. Rainier from it. The Point Robinson Lighthouse was built in 1915, and yes, people were rescued in the area by it’s keepers. It went automatic quite a while ago, and when locals heard the attractive keeper’s houses next to the lighthouse were in danger they formed an organization. It’s a park now and guess what – you can stay in the keeper’s quarters!

The photo of the lighthouse was taken the first time I came to the island, in October last year – same for the one of Mt. Rainier. Last week’s weather was far less brilliant than the sunny day you see below; the Mt. Rainier photo in the header is from last week – hazy!

 

 


33 comments

  1. Isn’t it fun to discover an abandoned building and then to find some of its history? I hope you’ll find upon your return that someone has taken on its preservation. Looks like another fun photo walk, Lynn. 😊

  2. Sounds like quite the adventure. Sad to run out of time for ferry schedules. A return trip seems to certainly be in order. I’ve enjoyed the digging up of history that you do for your images.

  3. You’re not replete yet Lynn 😉 I can tell . Much more of its shadowy past to be revealed I’m sure on a return trip . What a place … I’d have been itching to get out my camera too … are you holding back on the lighthouse and harbour and birds …. we want to see it ALL you know 🙂
    Lovely post .

    • Oh, the lighthouse isn’t a very inspiring one, not like some I’ve seen on your side…but the Mt. Rainier view is fabulous. I didn’t want to change lenses and it was a bit hazy so that photo isn’t what it could be but I’ll add it. And the harbor – I haven’t really seen it, certainly not with the birds there – another reason to return!

  4. Great post! When I was a kid, I always had a romantic vision of Vashon Island as my great aunt & uncle lived near the Vashon ferry in West Seattle…and I thought how great it would be to stowaway on a ferry one day 🙂

    Super photos, they all take in what I imagine Vashon to be in the last century ~ and it was great to read of the history, as it made the photos come to life a bit more. The first photo is a great jumping in point! Cheers!

  5. Fascinating post—canoe burials? Love your parallel to the building photos (which are gorgeous!). Will you stay at the Point Robinson Light? Happy Thxgiving, J&A

  6. What a fabulous potter through the past, and how divine the slivery blue greens of the house with all that fresh bamboo. Part of me loves the idea of perhaps camping out on the island . . . . !

    • Yes, isn’t the bamboo gorgeous, esp. against the old painted wood? I really want to see it in better light though. It’s an interesting place, full of organic farmers and old hippies and such. You’d have a blast.


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