History of Port Blakely

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Port Blakely 1864-1922 - A History of the Mill

In 1864, before the railroad reached Seattle, Captain William Renton purchased the land around Port Blakely Harbor on the southeast side of Bainbridge Island.

There he built the Port Blakely Mill Company, which flourished for the next four decades and became the world’s largest sawmill under one roof. Lumber from the mill was shipped all over the world.

After Captain Renton was blinded in a boiler explosion, his nephews, the Campbell brothers, took over the operation of the Port Blakely Mill. In 1903, Ned Skinner and Jack Eddy purchased the company. Ned and Jack teamed up for numerous ventures in the Puget Sound, including the Skinner and Eddy Shipbuilding Company. They divided their assets in 1923: Skinner took the shipbuilding company; the Eddy family took the Port Blakely Mill Company.

Because the mill was large and needed modernization, the decision was made to scrap the mill but remain in the forestry business. Port Blakely’s primary business continued to be timber crops, although as the population grew, the company created a real estate subsidiary and sold off some of the properties for development. Due to the rising land values on Bainbridge Island, in 1997 Port Blakely Timber listed for sale 1,100 acres on the south end of the island. Inspiration for IslandWood came from the land, and the knowledge that half the children in the Puget Sound region were not receiving environmental education programs. Washington State had mandated environmental education, yet never funded it, and children from economically-challenged communities were not getting these education programs. Paul and Debbi Brainerd learned about the need and purchased 255 acres of the 1,100 acres in 1998. In the following year, the Brainerds donated the land to IslandWood, the new non-profit organization, which then began a community fundraising effort to raise money for the buildings.

During construction, IslandWood cleared only 12 of their 255 acres, leaving most of the land as a living laboratory. The wood cleared from the 12 acres was used to create most of the furniture you see on campus. Additionally, the wood was used for trim, moldings, baseboards, door handles, and cedar trees were milled for siding on the exterior buildings.

In the fall of 2002 IslandWood formally opened its doors. Today IslandWood provides students and teachers with residential educational programs that inspire community and environmental stewardship. In addition, programs for adults and families are provided as well as educational conferences for the community.

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