Bill Haroldson spent his childhood visiting South Whidbey for the fishing.
He stayed at fishing resorts, a place many people today are unfamiliar with. But they were a common feature back then, with more than 20 on the island.
Today, fishing resorts are just a whisper of South Whidbey’s history.
Haroldson, 75, has lived in Clinton full-time for 13 years and is the acting president of the South Whidbey Historical Society. He wanted to make sure resort history was preserved so he, along with the organization, published the history in a book called “Resorts of South Whidbey Island.”
The book covers South Whidbey fishing resorts from their beginning in the 1930s to their decline around the 1960s.
The idea of the book began from a talk given by Warren Farmer, a native of Bush Point. Farmer, 79, was asked by the historical society to give a talk on anything he wanted. He chose the history of fishing resorts on South Whidbey and was surprised to find few people at the meeting knew anything about the resorts.
“We realized it’s a piece of South Whidbey history that’s gone,” Haroldson said.
Haroldson and Farmer began putting the material of the book together about five years ago. They looked at why the resorts left the island. One of the common assumptions they came across was the thought that fishing had declined. But Haroldson said it was, in fact, more a result of people becoming more affluent in the late 1950s to 1960s. The last resorts closed between the 1970s and 1980s, he said.
People wanted their own boats and land, Haroldson said. Resort owners eventually subdivided the land and years later fishing did begin to decline, he said.
Farmer grew up on Bush Point Resort, which his father owned. He said it was a wonderful place to grow up and has lots of memories there. Farmer was too young to work at the resort but would fish in the early hours before school, his wife Darla recalled from family stories. When the bus came, he would jump out of the boat to catch his ride to school, she said.
The resorts were an affordable way for families to vacation. A cabin cost about $2.50 and a rental boat cost $1. The resorts included a boathouse, five to 20 cabins and a trailer area. The cabins were small, about 12 feet by 16 feet, sometimes unfinished and often without electricity.
“Growing up, the resorts were all around. I thought they were common,” Haroldson said.
One of the key points Haroldson wants readers to take away was the abundance of fishing on the island. Salmon fishing used to be plentiful, but was greatly reduced by fish traps, which are now outlawed.
“To me it is sad,” Haroldson said. “Some of us wanted to tell the story that we had some outstanding fishing.”
Haroldson frequented Jim & John’s Resort, near the ferry dock at old Phinney Landing. He has a lot of memories on the island including catching a 25-pound king salmon.
“To say I’ve done that more than once is a thrill,” he said.
“This was a big part of island history. When people came to fish, that was their weekend … a lot of people that came to the resorts now live on the island,” Haroldson said.