In 1791 Narvaez of the Eliza Expedition discovered and named Guemes Island and Padilla Bay. Just a year later, Master Joseph Whidbey of the Vancouver Expedition discovered Deception Pass and Whidbey Island. Both were named by Captain George Vancouver.The animal population of sea otter, beaver, and other fur bearing animals was seriously depleted by trappers. Hudson Bay Company had a small trading post at Pass Lake.
Hunters, trappers, prospectors, soldiers, and surveyors were the early white settlers. They became farmers of fruit, cabbage, cauliflower, and hops and raised cattle. The native people were the Samish and the Swinomish Indians. The Samish lived on Samish Island, Guemes Island, and on the northern part of Fidalgo Island. The Swinomish lived on the southern part of Fidalgo Island, northern Whidbey, and on part of the Skagit (meaning "hide from the enemy" pronounced Ska-jit) River delta.
The Cap Sante area was called The Portage in 1870 and the area along the Guemes Channel came to be called Ship Harbor. At that time, Anacortes was also known as City of Necessity, Magic City, and Squaw Harbor. In 1876, when Amos Bowman and his wife moved to the eastern area of Ship Harbor, he established a post office and named the city Anacortes, derived from his wife's maiden name Anna Curtis. It was his dream that Anacortes would become the terminus for a trancontinental railroad.
It was this speculation that brought the boom in 1890. The population went from 200 on January 1st to 2,000 by mid-March. The boom quickly turned into a depression by the end of 1890 when it became clear that Anacortes had not been selected as the railroad terminus. It was at this same time that the Puget Sound Black Ball Ferry Line was conceived by Joshua Green. He delivered mail and cargo to Friday Harbor and was operating two such boats by 1910. The Anacortes Electric Railway that was to run from Anacortes to Dewey Beach didn't do so well though. The power failed about a mile down the track on its very first trip.
Not to be kept down for long, Anacortes incorporated as a city in 1891 and began the road to economic recovery in its fresh identity as a fish and lumber town. Dozens of fish processing plants were built for salmon canning and codfish curing. Chinese immigrants who worked in the canneries experienced a great deal of prejudice. By 1903, there were four shingle mills and three sawmills, forming the second major industry of Anacortes. Sloans Shipyard on Guemes Island, built ships during World War I, and employed 600 people in the spring of 1917.
Some of the other early industries were the Anacortes Box and Lumber Co., See's Brick Factory, Anacortes Glass Factory, Anacortes Steam Laundry, and in 1925 the Anacortes Pulp Mill started operation. From 1930 - 1990, a community cooperatively owned plywood mill operated. But by the 1950's, victims of the shift to cardboard paper for boxes, the box mills had ceased operation.
Shell and Texaco both built refineries on March's Point in the late 1950's and in 1960 expensive housing developments were built, most notably in the Skyline area. Marinas, motels, and other tourist based industries emerged.
Since 1962, when Anacortes hosted its first Anacortes Arts and Crafts Festival, Fidalgo and Guemes Island have become known as places where many fine artists and writers live and create. Anacortes Community Theater produces several highly admired plays each year. With the Vela Luka Croatian Dancers and the Skagit Scottish Highland Dancers in residence, there is never a lack of entertainment and recreation.