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Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve

The Land | The People | The Place | The Vision | Activities

 

Description

Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve provides a vivid historical record of Pacific Northwest history, including the first exploration of Puget Sound by Captain George Vancouver in 1792; early settlement by Colonel Isaac Ebey, an important figure in Washington Territory; growth and settlement resulting from the Oregon Trail and the Westward migration; the Donation Land Laws (1850-1855); and the continued growth and settlement of the town of Coupeville.

Within the fast growing Puget Sound region, Ebey's Landing NHR has quickly become the remaining area where a broad spectrum of Northwest history is still clearly visible in the landscape. The historical landscape of the reserve appears to today's visitors much as it did a century ago, when New England sea captains were drawn to Penn Cove. Historic farms are still farmed, forests harvested and century-old buildings used as homes or places of business.

Unlike many National Park units, the 25 square mile historical reserve encompasses a mixture of federal, state, county and private property, all managed in a way that preserves its historic essence. This means that changes in the cultural landscape will continue but in a way that respects the past.

There are two state parks within Ebey's Landing NHR as well as the historic waterfront town of Coupeville, one of the oldest towns in Washington State. Learn more about Ebey's Landing by reading the Administrative History .

 

Reserve Information

Hours/Seasons:
Scenic Waysides - Daily - 8:00 a.m. to dusk.
State Parks - Daily - 8:00 a.m. to dusk.
Island County Historical Museum - Summer - Daily - 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Winter - Friday-Monday - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Directions:
From Seattle via bridge - Take I-5 north to Burlington; turn west, onto SR-20 towards Anacortes. Proceed on SR-20, crossing Deception Pass Bridge, through Oak Harbor, to Coupeville.

From Seattle via ferry - Take I-5 north; turn onto SR 525 at exit 182 and proceed to the Mukilteo ferry terminal. The ferry sailing takes about 1/2 hour. Once on Whidbey Island, proceed north on SR 525 about 26 miles to Coupeville.

From the Olympic Peninsula via ferry - Take the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island. The ferry sailing takes about 3/4 hour. Once on Whidbey Island, proceed north on SR 525 about 26 miles to Coupeville.

Fees:  There is no entrance fee. There are free hiking trails, beaches, and state park facilities. The reserve visitor information display at the Island County Historical Museum is also free. Entrance to the museum is $3.

Weather:  Ebey's Landing NHR enjoys a mild maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters. Summer highs may reach the 80's, but evenings can always cool.

 

 


Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is a new kind of national park. It was created by Congress in 1978 "to preserve and protect a rural community which provides an unbroken historic record from...19th century exploration and settlement in Puget Sound to the present time." The people of Central Whidbey Island urged its creation, realizing that the area's unspoiled natural beauty and many historic sites portray the dramatic story of Pacific Northwest exploration and westward migration, an important chapter in our nation's history.

Enduring patterns of community life in such a setting have created a unique cultural landscape. The vistas, woodlands, and fertile prairies of the Reserve are much the same today as they were 100 years ago when New England sea captains were drawn to Penn Cove and farmers to Ebey's Prairie. Time has touched only lightly upon Central Whidbey. Still, the landscape of the Reserve continues to grow and change, shaped as always by the community of people who live and work here. Farms are still farmed, forests are logged and historic buildings are still actively used today as homes or places of business.

Verdant Whidbey Island lies at the extreme north end of Washington's island-strewn Puget Sound, forming the eastern boundary of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To the east rise the glacier-clad peaks of the North Cascades, to the north and south stretch miles of deep water, islands, and coves. Silhouetted against the southwestern sky, the Olympic Mountains form a dramatic backdrop for the island's rural setting. In the central portion of Whidbey Island is Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. Its boundaries encompass broad fertile prairies, high seaside bluffs, rolling woodlands, shallow brackish lakes, and a deep protected cove.

 

The Land

The landscape of the Reserve, with its pattern of field, forest, and shoreline, has a quiet kind of beauty all its own. Part of this beauty lies in the diversity of its land forms, and vegetation. Within the boundaries of the 17,400-acre Reserve there are five distinctive character areas which together comprise the natural landscape. Overlaying each of these are the tangible reminders of man's presence upon the land.

Coastal Strip The western shore of the Reserve, along Admiralty Inlet, is an eight-mile strip of narrow, sandy beach that gives way to dramatic bluffs and low ravines. The elevation ranges from seal level to just over 200 feet. Many of the bluffs are sparsely vegetated, relatively unstable, and constantly eroding. Access to the fragile bluffs is limited to the State Park trail along the crest. From this vantage point, an unobstructed westerly view opens towards the Pacific Ocean across the rough waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Prairies Three large natural prairies cover over 5000 acres of the Reserve. These prairies were once giant lake beds, formed over 13,000 years ago by the receding glaciers. All are defined by ridges that embrace the rich fertile soils, an especially valuable resource. About one-third of the prairie lands are planted in squash, grains, forage and seed crops. The remainder are a mixture of wetlands, pastures, woodlands, and farmsteads. Together these features form a cohesive character area, one that holds the telling physical remnants of human history old fence lines, hedgerows, orchards, field patterns, weathered barns, and Victorian farmhouses.

Woodlands Two large, densely wooded areas on the Reserve comprise just over 4500 acres. These forests are primarily second and third-growth Douglas fir and Western red cedar, with an understory of alder, salal, and rhododendron. Steep-sided, glacial-melt depressions called kettles, some over 200 feet deep, are found within these forested areas. With the exception of Fort Ebey State Park and Rhododendron Park, the woodlands of the Reserve remain relatively undeveloped and inaccessible.

Uplands The upland areas of the Reserve are undulating, gently rolling hills that sweep up from the shorelines on either side of the island. Primarily pastures and cultivated fields carved out of woodland stands, these areas are sparsely settled with scattered farms and residences, forming a patchwork on the pastoral land.

Penn Cove Penn Cove, with its own special ambience, covers over 4000 surface acres. This scenic shoreline changes from low beach front at Monroe's Landing, to uplifted banks at Coupeville. Along the west edge of the cove, the lowlands shelter lagoons that provide a rich habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds. Modest beach cottages contribute to the peaceful setting at Good Beach and Snakelum Point, where permanent and seasonal residents enjoy the tranquility of the quiet cove.

 

The People

When the first Euro-American settlers came to Central Whidbey Island, they found a land tempered by centuries of human habitation. As early as 1300, the Skagit Indians had established permanent villages on the shores of Penn Cove. The island provided an abundance of natural resources for their sustenance salmon, bottom fish, shellfish, berries, small game, deer, and water fowl. The Indians cultivated the prairies with selective burning, transplanting, and mulching to encourage the growth of favored root crops like bracken fern and camas. more than 1500 American Indians were recorded in the area in 1790. By 1904, the Indian population around Coupeville was reduced to a few small families.

Whidbey Island was named by explorer Captain George Vancouver in honor of his subordinate, Joseph Whidbey, who explored the island in a ship's launch in 1792. Vancouver's well-publicized exploration of Puget Sound helped prepare the way for settlers to the area. A more important inducement was the Donation Land Law of 1850, which offered free land in Oregon Territory to any citizen who would homestead the land for four years. Newcomers flocked to the fertile prairies of Central Whidbey, and, within three short years, had carved out irregularly-shaped claims that followed the lay of the best land. Today this early settlement pattern can still be seen by the fence lines, roads, and ridges of the Reserve.

Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey was among the first of the permanent settlers to the island. Upon the advice of his friend Samuel Crockett, Ebey came west from his home in Missouri in search of land. Both men had filed donation claims on Central Whidbey by the spring of 18451. Ebey wrote home, enthusiastically urging his family to join him.

Today some farmers of Central Whidbey still plow donation land claims established by their families in the 1850s. Their stewardship of the rich alluvial soil preserves a historic pattern of land use centuries old.

Fertile farmland was not the only incentive to settlement. Sea captains and merchants from New England were drawn to the protected harbor of Penn Cove and the stands of tall timber valued for shipbuilding. Many brought their families and took up donation claims along the shoreline. One colorful seafaring man was Captain Thomas Coupe, who startled his peers by sailing a full-rigged ship through treacherous Deception Pass on the north end of the island. In 1852, Coupe claimed 320 acres which later became the town of Coupeville on the south shore of the cove.

The early success of Central Whidbey's farming and maritime trade transformed Coupeville into a dominant seaport. The past remains apparent in Coupeville today, with its many 19th-century false-fronted commercial buildings on Front Street, its historic wharf and blockhouse, and its rich collection of Victorian residential architecture.

The military introduced another layer of history to the landscape of Central Whidbey, with the construction of Fort Casey Military Reservation in the late 1890s. Built on the bluff above Admiralty Head, Fort Casey was part of a three-fort defense system designed to protect the entrance to Puget Sound.

The first contingent of U.S. Army troops reported for duty in 1900, and eventually numbered 400. The fort became a social center for the surrounding community, hosting ball games, dances, and other social events. Today, the handsome wood-framed officers' quarters, the gun escarpments, Admiralty Head lighthouse, and other remnants of military history still stand at old Fort Casey.

Near the north boundary of the Reserve is Fort Ebey, a remnant of the defensive build-up of World War Two. To the south, the 1943 Coupeville Outlying Landing Field Is still used today, providing aircraft carrier landing practice for Navy pilots.

 

The Place

At the heart of the Reserve is the well-preserved 19th century seaport town of Coupeville, situated just off SR 20 on Penn Cove. To see the community's picturesque Victorian architecture first-hand take the Island County Historical Society's self-guided walking tour. Brochures are available at the Historical Museum, where you will also find fascinating exhibits on the island's colorful past. For a sense of the town's maritime heritage, stroll out on the once-bustling Coupeville wharf. Be sure to explore the varied eateries, antique stores, and gift shops that line historic Front Street.

Beyond the streets of Coupeville, visitors can experience the rural beauty of the 17,400-acre Reserve by automobile, bicycle, or on foot. A self-guided driving/biking tour will lead you to scenic vistas, interpretive wayside exhibits, and historic sites. Look for the many one-hundred year old farmsteads, most still in use as working farms, scattered throughout the landscape. Visit the historic Admiralty Head Lighthouse and the ten-inch "disappearing" guns at old Fort Casey. Do not miss Sunnyside Cemetery with its many pioneer family headstones. At the cemetery, on Crockett Prairie, and in Coupeville, see several of the Reserve's historic blockhouses dating back to a brief era of settler-Native American tensions in the 1850s.

There are many ways to enjoy nature on a visit to the Reserve. Choose among the various memorable hikes and explore beaches, bluffs, woodlands, and prairies. Enjoy bird-watching at Crockett Lake, Keystone Spit, or Penn Cove. Scuba-dive in the waters of Admiralty Bay at Fort Casey State Park's underwater reserve. Launch your boat at Keystone Harbor, at Coupeville, or on Penn Cove at Monroe's Landing. Picnic or camp at Rhododendron Park Fort Casey, or Fort Ebey State Park.

The Trust Board of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve maintains an administrative office in downtown Coupeville at the Island County Historical Museum. For more information on the Reserve in general, visit the museum (hours vary: call 360-678-3310), or write to:

Trust Board of Ebey's Landing NHR
P.O. Box 774
Coupeville, WA 98239
(360-678-6084)

Stewardship:  Private property comprises over 90% of the Reserve. Please respect the property rights of the residents of historic homes and farmsteads and remember to hike only on designated trails. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times. Please leave driftwood, plants, rocks, and other natural features within the Reserve undisturbed for others to enjoy.

Access:  Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is located on central Whidbey Island off the coast of western Washington State. The island is easily accessible from the mainland by automobile, via SR 20 from Anacortes. The Washington State Ferry system provides year-round foot passenger and automobile service from Port Townsend and Mukilteo. In the summer season, ferry lines can be quite long, and travel delays should be expected.

Camping:  Camping on Whidbey Island is limited, with sites most readily available in the spring and fall. To find out more about camping at the two state parks within the Reserve call Fort Casey State Park at (360) 678-4519 or Fort Ebey State Park at (360) 678-4636.

Safety:  No beach fires are permitted within the boundaries of Island County. High tides can be dangerous to beach hikers. Use extreme caution to avoid being trapped on headlands and watch carefully for beach logs moved by sudden high waves. Wayside exhibits and scenic pull-outs are provided throughout the Reserve for leisurely viewing. Please avoid stopping your vehicle in the middle of narrow country roads.

 

The Vision

Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is the first unit of its kind within the National Park system. Congress intended that the Reserve would remain largely under private ownership. To ensure that the riches of the Reserve are protected for future generations, the National Park Service purchased development rights to key sites including a portion of the original Ebey donation land claim. The Park Service continues to work cooperatively with Washington State Parks, Island County and the Town of Coupeville for the on-going protection of the historic rural landscape. Most of the land in the Reserve is privately owned.

Some of the techniques used to preserve open space, farmlands, and historic sites within the Reserve include purchase of scenic easements, land donations, tax incentives, zoning, local design review, and purchase or exchange of development rights. This strategy reduces the cost of protection, keeps the land productive, and allows for private stewardship to continue as it has for generations.

Administration and management of the Reserve is the responsibility of a local Trust Board. Seven residents, a representative from State Parks, and one from the National Park Service, serve on the Trust Board. The group promotes sound preservation practices and interprets the rich natural and cultural history of the Reserve for thousands of visitors annually.

 

Activities

Tour Ebey's Landing NHR by car or bicycle, visiting waysides that exhibit the early history of the Pacific Northwest. Visit Fort Casey State Park and Fort Ebey State Park for breathtaking marine views and learning about military history. Hike the bluff trail that starts at Ebey's Landing or from the Prairie Overlook near historic Sunnyside Cemetery. Eat lunch in historic Coupeville or take a picnic to one of many beaches. Visit the Historical Museum. Scuba dive at Fort Casey Underwater Reserve or visit the Admiralty Head Lighthouse. Birdwatch at Crockett Lake. Mountain bike in the Kettles area, in Fort Ebey State Park.

  

 

For Additional Information Contact:

Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve
P.O. Box 774
908 NW Alexander St.
Coupeville, WA 98239
(360) 678-6084

 

For more information visit the National Park Service website