By Steve Dunkelberger
Anderson Island elusively sits on the horizon for most people on the Puget Sound. Only residents and the occasional tourist know of its woods, waters and scenic views.
It has much to offer. Some bonuses of what it offers is what can’t be found on the island. The 8-mile-long island has no stoplights, only one general store, a single restaurant and not a single chain store or coffee shop. It is quiet, calm and less than an hour away from the city life found on the mainland. Cyclists trek through the forrest-lined roads and trails. Golfers whack a few balls at the Riviera Country Club. Romance seekers walk the beaches and nature paths next to the handful of bed and breakfasts. History buffs visit the past the island’s historic farm complex.
Anderson Island measures about four miles across and sits three and a half miles off Steilacoom’s shores. Naval officer Charles Wilkes named the island in l84l in honor of Alexander Canfield Anderson, who was the chief Hudson’s Bay Co. trader at the nearby British trading post of Fort Nisqually in what is now DuPont.
Scandinavian immigrants settled on the island around the turn of the last century much like they concentrated in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Islanders to this day with the name Anderson or Andersen largely come from these homesteaders.
The Netherlands-American Manufacturing Co. anchored much of the island when it formed in l924 to make logs and furniture for West Coast living rooms. It gave the name New Amsterdam Bay to a cove on the west side of island, while Steilacoom carpenter Nathaniel Orr lived near the bay in the 1850s. The story goes that the Scandinavian settlers who followed him named the bay after him. They mistakenly thought Orr meant ore, as in coal. The word for coal ore in Swedish is oro. The settlers called it Oro Bay.
The Anderson Island Historical Society’s museum preserves what life was like on the island during these early years. The Johnson farm, where the museum is located, was established in 1896, when John Oscar and Alma Marie Johnson bought 40 acres from Bengt and Anna Johnson. The two Johnson families aren’t related. John served as superintendent of the school, school board clerk and oversaw the cemetery. The couple had four children, Alida, Oscar, Ruth Alice and Rudolph.
Alma Marie died in 1907, forcing her 14 -year-old daughter to drop out of school to help tend the farm. Oscar then entered World War I and suffered from shell shock when he returned. Alida worked as a trainee at Tacoma General Hospital during the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918. The virus killed 500,000 in the U.S. and 21,640,000 around the world in just more than a year. She called her time at the hospital a nightmare of helplessly watching hundreds die.
John died in 1924. Rudolph and Oscar then carried on by supplying eggs and milk to the islanders at well-below-market price. Ruth Alice died in 1962. Oscar died in 1969. Alida died in 1973. Rudolph died in 1975. The whole family is buried in the Anderson Island Cemetery.
The family homestead and surrounding acres of land was deeded to the Anderson Island Historical Society in 1975 by Ruth Alice’s daughter, Alma Ruth, to use as a museum. It’s preserved island history ever since and provides not only a look at early island life, but a time long gone to current generations.
The farmhouse is furnished with many family heirlooms, as well as donated items reminiscent of the style and period. Many of the quilts in the museum were restored or reproduced by Lois Scholl, whose efforts on behalf of the Historical Society earned her the title Mother of the Museum.
The island’s Riviera Community Club’s restaurant, camp sites and golf course is available for residents and their guests, but that is a pretty soft rule. A full round of golf costs guests $25, with club rentals available as well. The restaurant is open for dinners only Thursdays and Fridays and for lunch and dinner Saturdays and Sundays. Two parks, Interlachen on Lake Florence and Jim Ray Park on Lake Josephine, are popular with families for picnicking, swimming, boating and fishing. Lake Josephine, a 73-acre lake, and a smaller Pine Lake nearby are stocked annually with Rainbow Trout. Lake Josephine is maintained as a “quiet” lake and only electric motors are permitted. Florence Lake is open year round and offers good harvest opportunity of rainbow trout and brown trout. The lake also supports naturally reproducing populations of largemouth bass and bluegill sunfish. There is also an undeveloped boat ramp on the north shore, in Lowell Johnson County Park.
Visit Anderson Island
From Tacoma, head south on Interstate 5 for about 15 miles. Take the DuPont-Steilacoom exit (exit 119) and head north about 6 miles to Steilacoom and the ferry dock. Plan on arriving about 30 minutes before the ferry is scheduled to leave. Ferries run about every hour from the Steilacoom Landing Facility, 56 Union Ave., Steilacoom. Visit their website here or call (253) 588-1950.
Anderson Island Historical Society’s museum is located at 9306 Otso Point Rd. Island visitors should follow Yoman Road from the ferry dock until they reach Otso Point Road. They should then take a left. The museum is on the right. The donations-only museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer or by appointment. Maps of the island attractions can be found in the museum’s gift shop. For more information, call (253) 884-2135.
Information about the Riviera Community Club can be found here.
Photos courtesy Steve Dunkelberger