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Living History at Harrison House!

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Harrison House circa 1919! Photo courtesy of Sandy/Alfred Middleton
Harrison House circa 1919! Photo courtesy of Sandy/Alfred Middleton

Last month, we had the pleasure of hosting guest Sandy Middleton, from Alaska. It turns out that in the early 1900s, her grandparents, Alfred and Vivian Middleton, were the owners of the house that is now the corner building of Harrison House! Sandy enjoyed a stay in the Orcas Suite more than most probably would – after all, she was sleeping in the same house her grandparents slept in almost 100 years ago! She was kind enough to share some information and memories with me!

Alfred and Vivian purchased Lots 1 and 2 of Block 2 of the Nichols First Addition in 1919. We now call that building Harrison House Suites, and the original Craftsman home was built in 1905.

Sandy’s “Grampa and Gramma” slept in the corner room on the main level of the house, next to the formal dining area. Her father’s room was what we now call the Orcas Suite.

“Of course, both the house and the Orcas Suite have changed to accommodate guests as opposed to being a family dwelling,” Sandy mused over email. “Dad’s room didn’t have a hot tub, I’m sure!”

She said the porch was bigger, while the bottom level didn’t have any usable living areas; it was walled in with dirt floors.

Sandy told me that her dad has mixed feelings about the house now being a B&B.

“He’s really glad the house has been revived and kept up, but of course, he remembers it with the qualities of a single family home, as opposed to lodging for multiple groups of people.”

Gordon, her father, actually stayed with us back in 2005, during a mini family reunion. We can only hope that he was proud of what we’ve done with the place, and he knows that we all have a deep respect and fondness for the house that we have built our livelihoods around.

Harrison House today!
Harrison House today!

Sandy’s grandfather has often shared stories of his youth and family. He told her that Friday Harbor, a small town just as it is today, had all the best qualities of a small town. Everyone knew everyone, and people helped each other. He has fond memories of our town, and it’s lovely knowing that those qualities have stood the test of time. We still find Friday Harbor to be a charming place, where everyone knows everyone and helps one another.

Sandy’s grandparents are sure a couple of fascinating people. Alfred moved here from Nebraska as a baby with his family in 1891. He was an excellent baseball player, even being asked to sign with a pro team in Seattle. Instead, he ran the Star Theater and then built our theater in 1915 with Vivian, his bride. She played piano to accompany the silent movies they showed. Later, they were partners in Bell-Middleton Co., a grocery store, along with Vivian’s brother, Clarence Bell. Clarence sold his share shortly after, and Alfred and Vivian ran it until 1957 when it was purchased by Blair King. That store, of course, is now King’s Market!

Vivian Bell was born in Kirkland, Washington in 1894. She was the first grandchild of Kirkland founder Peter Kirk’s to be born in this country. Her family summered in Roche Harbor and eventually relocated there. Her mother died when she was very young, and Vivian and her sister were raised by their aunt Fanny Capron in Friday Harbor. She taught piano lessons to the residents here throughout the years. She passed away in 1967, six years after her husband.

For her part, Sandy is grateful when older homes are preserved and cared for.

“There isn’t just historical value for the community in these homes; there is also value in these places becoming B&Bs, so descendants of those early community builders can share in their ancestors’ lives by being able to stay a night or two, and have a small connection to the generation who once lived within those walls.”

We wholeheartedly agree, Sandy, and are so thankful for you taking the time out to come visit us and teach us more about the beautiful property we have come to care for. Every time I walk through the halls of our inns, I feel the life that has been within those walls for so many decades. We hope you come experience it for yourself soon!

By Libby Baldwin

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