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Roche Harbor, Washington: From Company Town to Luxury Resort

Historic Roche Harbor has it all and now you can, too.

September 15, 2009
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In the 1880s, the Roche Harbor Lime and Cement Company operated a thriving company town nestled in a quiet cove on San Juan Island in Washington’s Pacific Northwest. Naturally occurring lime from the nearby hills was mined, processed, and shipped worldwide. Lime production peaked in the 1920s and the property, site of an 1840s trading post, was sold in 1956 and converted into a recreational marina and hotel that incorporated the historic structures. The white wooden planks of the old company buildings still stand out against the hillside of green pines and cedars. Flower-covered trellises and lush gardens are a stark contrast to the rocky ledges and twisted Madrona trees that cover the approaches to the bay.

The historic Hotel de Haro was built in 1886 to accommodate traveling businessmen negotiating lime contracts and is still in operation today. In most of the 18 quaintly furnished rooms, bathrooms are down the hall and the floors are a little crooked, but the charm of the hotel makes up for that. A long communal balcony invites you to relax in a rocking chair with a good book and watch the boats come in. Up a winding yellow brick road, nine original cottages, where the company housed married workers, dot the sloping hillside. These cottages are now popular guest rooms in the summer, and vacationing families play on the same lush green lawns and sleep under the same roofs where miners once slept.

Those who prefer luxury to nostalgia have other options. The McMillin Suites feature large private balconies and heated bathroom floors that are perfect for chilly Northwest mornings. Quarryman Hall, the newest part of the resort, has 12 luxury suites with modern touches like flatscreen TVs and gas fireplaces. Resort facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, and three restaurants-including fine dining at McMillin’s- as well as an espresso stand, boutique shops, a grocery store, and day spa.

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Naturally, the best way to get to Roche Harbor is by boat. The marina is open year-round and has nearly 400 slips, many on floating docks that can handle vessels up to 150 feet, with water, power up to 100 amps, and, sometimes, cable TV and phone. Marina facilities include showers and restrooms, garbage and recycling, a full-service fuel dock, and pump-out facilities. During the summer months, marina events include weddings, yachtclub gatherings, and boat rendezvous. Excellent catering services and a 40-foot party barge make Roche Harbor a spectacular venue for dockside parties. Whale-watching tours and kayak rentals are available at the marina. Those adventuresome enough to paddle out toward Lime Kiln Point State Park (www.parks.wa.gov/parks) may see orca whales while kayaking.

If you can’t come by boat, there are other great ways to get to Roche Harbor. Kenmore Air (www.kenmoreair.com) operates a fleet of vintage deHavilland Beaver and Otter float planes that service Seattle, the San Juan Islands, the Canadian Gulf Islands, and many points in between. The majestic float planes soar at low altitude above some of the most pristine cruising grounds in the world. If you own or lease a private plane, there is also a self-service airfield on land adjacent to the property that can handle small planes, helicopters, and some jets.

Another great way to travel to San Juan Island is via the Washington State ferries (www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/). Ferries leave the mainland from Anacortes and arrive in Friday Harbor. You can bring your car on the ferry and drive across the island to Roche or you can walk on and get to Roche Harbor by taxi.

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With all it has to offer, you may well decide you never want to leave Roche Harbor! No problem-in 2003 a master plan to add 76 new dwelling units to the Roche Harbor complex was approved and various stages are now for sale. There are 17 completed dwellings (www.rocheharbor.com/realestate) including carriage houses, townhouses, and cottages on the green just up the hill from the hotel. If you prefer to build your own dream vacation home, there are 27 lots in the “Captain’s Row,” with prices starting as low as $168,000 and ranging up to $1.2 million. All of these dwellings are standalone buildings, with a homeowner’s association to protect your investment by maintaining the highest quality standards for construction, as well as the overall design of the homes in the neighborhood. A parcel with 17 lots called “The Woodlands”(www.woodlandsatrocheharbor.com) is also currently under development and prices for these start at $650,000.

This historic area has come a long way over the years: from a trading post in the 1840s, to a company town, and now a world-class resort. The rustic charm and beauty of the San Juan Island’s spectacular boating scene may draw you in, but the shoreside amenities of Roche Harbor Resort will surely make you want to stay a while longer.

Roche Harbor Resort, (800) 451-8910; **www.rocheharbor.com**

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