In 1872, the British Royal Marines abandoned their campsite, known as English Camp, along the eastern side of Garrison Bay on San Juan Island in Washington Territory. Word of the prime real estate spread to the pioneer couple William and Mary Crook as they trekked the Oregon Trail. Seizing the opportunity, William and Mary, along with their two children, Mary and Jim, took possession of English Camp under American homestead land laws in the mid-1870s.
Though William was a master carpenter he didn’t have to build a home at English Camp. Instead, he and his family lived in a number of the sturdy structures left behind by the Royal Marines. In 1880, the family welcomed the third and last child, Rhoda, while living in the “Lieutenant’s House.”
To support his family, William built houses, boats, and caskets for local residents. He also planted fruit trees and grains on the old parade field, and raised chickens and sheep. Like his father before him, Jim took an interest in carpentry. After his parents’ deaths, Jim built the Crook House, a large Edwardian style home, which he shared with his sister, Mary, and her husband, Herbert Davis.
Jim loved the homestead, and rarely left it to go anywhere. Self-sufficient and a confirmed bachelor, he occupied himself with tinkering, inventing, and carpentry projects as well as the general upkeep of the farm. He was renowned locally for the farm equipment he built from materials he found at English Camp. Today his equipment, including a 2-ton carder machine, is preserved at the San Juan Historical Museum.
Though Mary and Herbert had four children, none survived childhood. After Mary and Herbert passed away, Jim was left alone on the homestead. Rhoda moved into the Crook House to help care for Jim who suffered from arthritis. Without heirs, Rhoda and Jim decided to donate some of the homestead to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission in 1963. In 1966 the San Juan Island National Historical Park was officially created and it included the Crooks’ donated land. Jim passed away in 1967, leaving Rhoda the sole heir to the remaining property. Rhoda sold the rest of the property to the National Park Service in 1968. She was allowed to continue to live in the house and the three acres surrounding the home until her death in 1972.
The Crook House remains much as it did when it was first built. However, it underwent a few renovations over the years. The kitchen was an addition at the rear of the house in the 1960s. Other updates include a modernized bathroom and wall heaters. Even with these updates the house still retains its distinct character with its original door frames and one-of-a-kind sliding door in the parlor. Today the Crook House, except for the second floor which remains unfinished, is open to the public for tours given by the National Park Service.