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Whidbey Island
and The Legend of Deception Pass

Chapter Fourteen

Deception Pass has an Interesting Past

Deception Pass was named after it became evident that the swirling waters were NOT a river. The Spanish explorers called it Boca de Flon but Captain George Vancouver's First Mate, Master Joseph Whidbey, sailed through to prove that "the Pass" separated a large island we know today as Whidbey, from the island to the north, Fidalgo. The Deception Pass waters changed with the changing tides, as many a mariner has discovered.

North Whidbey was first settled by Sea Captains, men whose four-masted ships sailed around the world, and Captain George Morse settled in Oak Harbor. His daughter, Sadie Morse Davis often sailed with him on his sloop through Deception Pass. On one sailing, he pointed out the two promontories on Whidbey and Fidalgo, and told his daughter: "One day we will have a bridge across this Pass, with Pass Island as the center support."

When Captain Morse was elected to the Washington State Legislature, he introduced a bill in 1909, apportioning some $90,000 toward the building of Deception Pass Bridge. But alas, there was no money in the new State's little treasury to build such a structure. However, in the 1920s the American Legion took it upon itself to reactivate the interest in a bridge, and the Cranberry Lake Picnic, a yearly event, was born!

The event brought hundreds of picnickers together at Cranberry Lake to hear the Governor speak, along with other dignitaries who endorsed the need for a bridge across Deception Pass, enjoyed band music from Mount Vernon and Anacortes, and spread their picnic fare on tables and on the grass!

The bridge was built during a difficult time; it was during the Great Depression and money was scarce. There was little work, but with government WPA and other assistance, Deception Pass Bridge became a reality.

The Deception Pass area was a busy one in the early days before the turn of the century, and again during the days when smuggling of Chinese and later of contraband liquor were problems of high priority in law enforcement. On North Whidbey, cattle were stolen, loaded on barges and towed across the waters to La Conner, and those that escaped became "wild cattle" in the Crescent Harbor area and north to the Pass.

The story is told of an Indian woman hired by smugglers, who sat on a small Island in the Pass with a fire which told those doing the smuggling through the Pass that "all is clear" and vice versa. Rum runners who avoided the Pass landed their boats on West Beach and took their cargo by truck to the East side of Whidbey where they reloaded onto boats. However, the Pass was the favored route, cheaper and faster providing they didn't get caught!

Fishing was always good at Deception Pass, and early settler Carl Engle told of his father William Engle, arriving in the early 1850s on a sailing ship that stopped just outside of Deception Pass to wait for the change of tide. Engle said hundreds of salmon were leaping from the waters all around!

On the south side of Fidalgo Island near the bridge are the remains of a state prison camp where inmates used their time to break up rock to be pushed over the bank onto scows which delivered the gravel to build up the Seattle waterfront.

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