A Short History of Barnum Point

View of Barnum Point from road east of  Triangle Cove of the sight of the original Barnum home. The park is not accessible from this point. The new entrance is from parking lot near the end of Sunrise Blvd. Photo taken 2019.  See our 2020 calendar for a historical view of this historic place.

Our treasured new Island County park on Camano Island, like our others, has an unusual history.  The 166 acres that is now a park was a single landowners property since about 1904 when it was purchased by Sterling J. Barnum.  His early ownership undoubtedly coined its name.The United States Board of Geographic Names describes Barnum Point on Camano Island as a cape.  With its steep south facing cliffs it is a prominent geographical feature in Port Susan and now a stunning Island County park with wide panorama views of the Cascades and Mount Rainier.  The point or cape is now an Island County park with stunning views of the Cascades and woodlands in Port Susan.  Its history is still to be found in the vegetation, fields and woodland trails.  We are forever grateful to the family for making this available to us.

Metsker Maps, and Chas. F. Metsker. Metsker’s County Atlas: [Island County, Washington]. Tacoma, WA: Metsker Maps, 1949.

In 1904 when Sterling Barnum bought the property, a second phase of logging had begun after the Utsalady Milll closed a decade earlier.  The Camano City area was growing and Livingston Bay had several surrounding farms.  The family’s history here begins with Sterling Barnum (1868 – 1936) who came from Binghamton New York to be near the water.

In their earliest days according to accounts by his daughters the Barnum family fished and raised Rock Island Red chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, vegetable gardens and a large orchard. They lived on what they produced and had little association with Stanwood. Potatoes and some oats were their cash crops.   They also grew strawberries that ripened before other farms because of the long afternoon sun. Their only modern convenience was a telephone at the time

The bridge to the island wasn’t built until 1909 and the road from Stanwood where there was a ferry crossing, only went as far as Terry’s Corner.  Before the bridge, the family made only a few trips a year to Stanwood on a scow or a rowboat.  Usually supplies were picked up by the steamer or scow that brought supplies to the mill across the cove before there was a road.  They went in on the incoming tide and came back on the outgoing tide. The children rode their pony to Terry’s Corner to pick up mail.

In 1908 Barnum was instrumental in establishing the Central School (Island County District #21) for his children and others in the vicinity so they would not have to travel all the way to Utsalady or Camano City.  Classes were first held in the Evans home, neighbors of the Barnums.  A school building was originally constructed at the corner of Russell Road and Barnum Point road and eventually moved to property just north to the current location of the Island County Sheriff department.

Mr. Barnum served one term as County Commissioner from 1914-1915 to promote road building on the island and by the 1920s the Island was welcoming auto traffic through Stanwood.

Inn at Barnum Point Sign, 2006 – This sign now removed but once marked the entrance to the Barnum Point Inn from the early 1990s until about 2013.

A few family members stayed on or used it as a summer place.  The most recent memory of popular access was the construction of Barnum Point Inn, a new bed and breakfast built in 1992 or 1993 by Carolin Barnum DiLorenzo.  She operated it for about 25 years.

The property remained in the family’s hands until the 2010s when family members could no longer support the property.  In about 2013 they began negotiating with community groups interested in preserving this spectacular and undeveloped geographic feature that could have been sold for residential development.  Purchases of different sections were made over a period of years and final purchase was made and the park became complete with a new parking lot in 2019. Funding for the purchases came from Island County, Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Washington Department of Ecology. To start off the successful fundraising campaign, more than 600 private donors responded with proactive support from Friends of Island County Parks, Whidbey Camano Land Trust and many other volunteers.

c. 2020; Stanwood Area Historical Society and Karen Prasse;  All rights reserved.