As we prepare to leave San Juan Island Historical Park, I want to share with you the questions, old and new, that people asked most often. I do this as we leave every park, and you can find previous questions from Death Valley, Chickamauga, Fort Frederica, and Grand Portage. Here are the top four questions we get at English Camp.
The most common question goes back to the purpose of Visitors Centers. “Where are the restrooms?” People expect a Visitors Center to have restrooms, which is why English Camp has an Information Center instead of a Visitors Center. Because we are a historical building (built in 1860) we don’t have any running water. Consequently we only have pit toilets at English Camp. The pit toilets are located up in the parking lot or across the parade ground. Neither is close to the Information Center. We are thankful for the distance because it means we are far away from the smell, but it makes the restrooms hard to find.
2. The second question people ask is related to the first because of the historic building. We have a lot of people who ask “Is this building original?”. The answer is yes – and no. The original building was an enlisted men’s mess hall built in 1860. There is an addition that was barracks space and added in 1868.
When the British left in 1872, the Crook family homesteaded the land. They lived in the building for a while until they built a farmhouse. But they preserved the building and made repairs to it as needed. When the National Park Service acquired the land in 1966, the original building was still standing. The NPS took it apart, built a concrete foundation, and then put it back up. But they left out the pieces that were rotten. So about 60% of the building has original boards but they may not be in the original location.
3. A third common question is “How old is that tree?” They are referring to the big-leaf maple in the yard next to the Information Center. The tree is 350 years old (based on a core sample). At one time it was the largest Big-Leaf Maple in the world, but a couple of branches broke off in 1969 and it lost that status. It is still a huge old maple and people enjoy sitting in its shade for picnics. This year a raccoon family had its nest in a hole in the tree and we enjoyed watching the Mama lead her babies up and down the tree.
4. The final question we answer a lot is always asked with a chuckle, “What happened to the pig?” The people who ask this question know the British pig was shot by an American settler and they want to know what happened after it was shot. We don’t know for sure what happened to the pig, but we can speculate. The shepherds at Belle Vue Sheep Farm were Hawaiians, and we think they took the dead pig and had a pig roast. Which led to the island tradition of having a pig roast after the 4th of July parade.
As we work in Visitors Centers, we get lots of interesting questions – old and new. We love to talk to our guests and answer any questions they have.