Oak Harbor is a city located on Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. The population was 79,275 at the 2014 census. Oak Harbor was incorporated on May 14, 1915.
Oak Harbor is Whidbey Island’s largest incorporated city. Named for the Garry Oak trees which grace its skyline, the city’s growth coincided with two major events: the building of Deception Pass Bridge on July 31, 1935, and the completion of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island on September 21, 1942.
Oak Harbor’s history goes back to the early 1850s, when three settlers staked claims where the city now stands — Martin Tafton, a shoemaker from Norway; C.W. Sumner from New England, and Ulrich Freund, a Swiss Army officer. Freund retained part of his claim, which today is home to his descendants.
Houses and businesses sprouted up along the shores of Oak Harbor as the pioneers relied entirely on water transportation until the 1900s. For the next thirty years, steamers and freighters carried passengers and freight from the Island to the mainland and back.
The Irish came in the late 1850s, making Oak Harbor grow and prosper as they fished and farmed the area. The city’s Dutch heritage arrived in the 1890s when Hollanders were disillusioned with the northern Midwest U.S. and came to Whidbey Island.
Churches, schools, and more businesses followed the arrival of the Hollanders. A high school was built in 1906. Oak Harbor flourished as a small country town until Deception Pass Bridge and the U.S. Navy Base connected the city to the rest of the world.
Deception Pass Bridge, a National Historic Monument since 1982, is actually two spans that link Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island over Canoe Pass and Deception Pass. The bridge, one of the scenic wonders and destinations of the Pacific Northwest, was a Public Works Administration project built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Deception Pass State Park, Washington’s second most popular state park, has over 4,100 acres of forest, campsites, trails, and scenic vistas of the San Juan Islands, Victoria (British Columbia, Canada), Mount Baker, and Fidalgo Island.
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