I knocked on the door of the Inn at Barnum Point. Although I grew up on Camano Island, I had never visited this distinctive but set apart point of Camano Island.
An elderly but spry woman came to the door. I did my best to introduce myself.
“I’m Jason Dorsey. My family has lived on Camano since 1969. We’re artists, and are finishing an art Studio. Our Grand Opening is in December and our family of artists are painting beaches of Camano. I’m also writing a coffee table book about Camano’s beaches. I want to celebrate their beauty and help newcomers to our Island understand their rich history and provide a guide to enjoy them.” I stumbled over my words.
She smiled at me and asked, “You’re part of the Dorsey family, huh? You know Renae then. She helped me out for a while here at the Inn.”
With that the warm and gracious Carolin Barnum welcomed me into her Inn and shared the story of Barnum Point. And I heard first hand about some of the biggest and best news about Camano’s Beaches: Carolin told me that the gossip I had heard is true! Barnum Point is going to be renamed the Barnum Reserve and become a Island County Park offering over a mile of shoreline to be enjoyed by the public.
Here is the story that Carolin Barnum (her married name is Dilorenzo) told me.
Barnum Point was named after her Grandfather. Her Grandfather, Sterling Jones Barnum, moved from Parma, ID to Camano in 1904 with his wife Mary, she was called “Mammie”, and their three girls, Marie, Margaret and Katherine.
He bought the 124 acres at Barnum Point for $1,500. Her dad, Robert Sterling Barnum, was born a year later in 1905 in what Carolin called “a crummy old house”.
It had been used by loggers that worked at the Cedar Shake Mill that was located on Driftwood Shores. Their house was near the inlet to Triangle Bay, looking at Driftwood Shores.
It was a rough life. They lived off the land. They had a cow for milk for the kids. They also had sheep and chickens. On low tides they took the boat to Stanwood to trade the eggs. Sterling drove the oxen to Terry’s Corner to get the mail. It was to much for Mammie; she may have had a nervous breakdown; in any case, she went back to Idaho to recoup. Tragically her back was broken in getting treatment from a chiropractor and she died soon after. Sterling’s sister moved to Camano to help him raise the kids. Sterling added another room to the house. He and Robert slept on the floor. Sterling was crippled; he dealt with Arthritis, what was then called rheumatism. But managed to serve on the school board and as a road commissioner. Carolin’s dad, Robert and the girls, grew up in the beauty and solitude of Barnum Point. He and his older sisters attended Stanwood Schools. And wherever their path in life led them, Carolin said that all four of the kids eventually came back to Barnum Point.
Her dad, Robert, went off to college in the University where he met and married his wife. In 1933 Carolin came along. They lived in Ballard but spent their weekends on Camano. Robert worked at the Stimson Mill. On Friday, Carolin remembers that everything would be packed and ready to be put into the car when Robert got home. “We would quickly eat, clean up, and on we’d go”. There was no I-5 so they took back roads.
Thus Barnum Point is the place of family legacy for the Barnums. Sterling Barnum’s relatives have lived here, and their ashes have been spread here. This place kept the family together, cousins playing on the beach, enjoying the lazy summer days and the apple trees.
Carolin had the Barnum Point Inn built 25 years ago. It is Bed and Breakfast with three rooms. Room One is a suite; Room Two is a standard bed and breakfast room; and Room Three an apartment. She says that it is busy, almost always full, when the weather is good: May through October. “Then it’s dead. January you can starve” she says.
She shared stories about a Woolly Mammoth tooth that her dad found buried in the ground there. How in February 2006, there was a major storm that hit the Island with a 106 mile an hour winds that devastated Driftwood shores and Juniper Beach.
I asked her what was most distinctive about Barnum Point and she said people always say “it’s so quiet here.” Recently a guest said that all they could hear was the coyotes howling.
Soon Barnum Point will become an Island County Park. Its distinctive swoosh of a cliff line and golden green grass framed by dark green fir and cedars and its delightful mile of cobble beach that looks out at Stanwood and Mount Baker to the east, warm beach and the mainland to the southeast, and Driftwood Shores and the beaches of Southeast Camano to the south will be an enchanting playground for Islanders. The old Inn at Barnum Point may be torn down; Carolin is making decisions about a life estate, granting her the right to live in the Inn until she passes away. She doesn’t know.
What she does know is that in the summer of 2017, over 20 acres of Barnum Point will be dedicated to conservation, and over 20 acres with a mile of shoreline will become Island County Park. Then 100’s, even thousands of people, will be able to enjoy the quiet beauty of Barnum Reserve. And in this way the legacy of the Barnum family lives on.
How you can help the Legacy of Barnum Point be enjoyed
There is a specific way that you can be a part of ensuring that the legacy of Barnum Point can be enjoyed by the public. There is a 37-acre tract on the eastern side of the Point (with 1/3 mile of shoreline, 17 acres of upland forest, and 20 acres of tidelands) that is in imminent danger of being sold for private use. The Whidbey Camano Land Trust needs to raise $368,000 bySeptember 6 to buy this at-risk property before it’s sold in a bankruptcy sale to a private party. As of August 9, they have raised almost 70 percent of the $1,135,000 property cost (via donations, pledges, and a state salmon recovery grant), yet more support is needed! Protection of this key 37-acre property is critical to the larger goals of conservation and public access in this amazing place that is Barnum Point.
You can be a part of helping Barnum Point be an even more amazing place for the public.