On March 1, 1926, Island County commissioners establish the Port of Mabana following a February special election in which voters support the port measure, 21 to 6, and elect C. E. Ecklund (District 1), A. C. Johnson (District 2) and M. Wagner (District 3) as the first port commissioners. The Port purchases 66 feet of tideland and the Mabana Dock in 1926 from property owner and logger Nils “Peg Leg” Anderson for $500 and will continue to operate the dock until World War II, providing access for passenger, freight, and mail service. As Camano Island shifts from an early logging economy to recreation in the 1920s, the Port’s business in its first years is repair and maintenance of the dock. After 1942 the Port will have many inactive years and although port records do not show when the dock disappears, it is likely that it lasts into the early 1960s. Controversy will surround the Port in the 1970s over the issue of parking and use of the waterfront at the Port site. The issue divides South Camano Island residents, but public access is retained, though there is no dock. Today the Port of Mabana is an active port with the regular work of keeping the beach area cleared of debris.
Camano Island communities grew from small logging camps that operated at various island locations in the 1890s and early 1900s. One of the largest and earliest mills on Camano was at Utsalady on the island’s northwestern tip. By 1856 it had become an important spar and lumber port, continuing until 1891. By 1920 most of the island’s old-growth timber had been cut.
Until a bridge was built in 1909 to Camano Island from Stanwood on the mainland, Camano was a very isolated place. The south end of the island was even more so. Nils Anderson (b. 1860) began logging the south end in the 1890s. Around 1911 Nils Anderson purchased the tidelands and a year later platted Mabana and began to sell parcels of logged-off land. About the same time E. G. “Jack” Hogle opened a store and established a post office on August 3, 1912. A rough road was finally built from the north to Mabana in 1916.
Anderson built a 900-foot wharf that became known as the Mabana Dock. The wharf was long because the water was very shallow and needed to accommodate passenger, mail and freight service. Before the dock existed, travelers had to row out to board the shallow-draft launch Ruby Marie but after the dock was built, the Alvarene provided regular passenger service. The dock had a narrow-gauge track that operated with a small rail car that transported logs onto steamers.
Anderson was a Swedish-born immigrant who arrived in the U.S. in 1879, came to Washington in 1883 and lived for a time at Sandy Point on Whidbey Island where he met and married Johanna (Hana) Hellman in 1891. Known as “Peg Leg” due to a serious logging accident and resultant amputation of a leg, Nils continued to log and prospered from both the sale of timber and real estate.
In 1898 the Andersons purchased a ranch at Mabana and built a home for their family that eventually included Mabel (b. Maude Margaret in 1894), Helen Dorothy (b. 1897), Pearl Adella (1899-1984), and a son, Niles. As an adult Pearl Anderson Wanamaker would become a state legislator and a highly influential State Superintendent of Public Instruction, serving in the latter position from 1941 to 1957. The name Mabana is said to be a word created by combining the first letters of daughter Mabel’s name and the last letters of wife Johanna’s.
In the early 1900s the Andersons moved to Seattle’s Rogers/Seward neighborhood but they kept the property at Mabana as a summer retreat. When the children were grown, Nils and Johanna moved back to Camano Island where Nils held various Island County offices including state representative, county engineer, and Island County Commissioner.
From Logging to Real Estate
A swing bridge completed in 1909 changed the lives of Camano Islanders, connecting them to the mainland at Stanwood and drawing new residents to buy the newly cleared land. The soil was poor but the land was cheap. With spectacular water and mountain views, Camano Island offered bathing beaches, facilities for fishing, and an excellent beach for clam digging and crabbing. A 1913 real estate brochure about Island County mentions Nils Anderson and Mabana:
“Mr. Anderson conducts large logging operations around Mabana, and it is his determination to turn the land from which he has removed the timber, and which is very fertile, into well-kept garden tracts of five to forty acres each. The land sells from $40 to $70 an acre. ……Island County affords the finest of summer home possibilities, and Mr. Anderson intends the development of Mabana for this purpose” (Island County: A World Beater).
Port of Mabana
By the 1920s Camano Island’s population had grown with new residents and a summer population. Port creation was a way to provide for dock improvements. It was also a way to ensure a political voice for south Camano Island. In 1925 Port of Camano was formed at Camano City, a town just north of Mabana. This Port would be disbanded, reinstated, and then disbanded permanently.
In February 1926, Mabana area voters approved formation of the Port of Mabana, 21 to 6, and elected Carl E. Ecklund (District 1), A. C. Johnson (District 2), and M. Wagner (District 3) as the Port’s first commissioners. The Port was officially established by the Island County commissioners on March 1, 1926.
The new port commissioners met on June 11, 1926, to ask Nils Anderson for a deed to the dock. Anderson sold 66 feet of shoreline and the Mabana Dock to the Port for $500. No further minutes exist until 1934 when commissioners met to find a way to repair the Mabana Dock for passenger, freight, and mail service. Local residents volunteered their time to do the repairs and in September of 1934, $314 was collected from 35 residents by subscription for the purpose of dock maintenance. The following year the Port decided that workers should be paid and a tax was levied for this purpose.
The Port discontinued operation of the dock in March 1942, at which time the County took over repair and maintenance of the road. In 1950 funds were levied for road maintenance to the beach. After termination of the ferry service, the community continued to freely use the Port tidelands and adjacent beach property for swimming, boating, beach parties, and picnics. It is a mystery when the dock actually disappeared; no one clearly remembers and Port records do not say. But oral accounts by longtime residents indicate that it lasted into the early 1960s.
Reviving the Port
During the 1970s, a controversy brought the Port to life when it became embroiled in battle with a developer who purchased the old Anderson property from the heirs of Niles Anderson (son of Nils and Johanna). The new property owner immediately posted signs barring the public from using what had always been open for public use. In 1972 he filed for a development permit to build a bulkhead and fill on both sides of the public road in order to add five lots for five homes and for a private boat launch. Despite Port protest, the County granted the request for a standard four- to five-foot seawall, but the property owner instead put in a seven-foot concrete bulkhead that ran across Port property. Attempts at reconciliation with the developer were unsuccessful and after much protest by citizens and the Port, the County removed 40 feet of the wall from the county road end.
On April 10, 1972, Island County commissioners responded to requests to re-form the Port, which needed to be decided by a public vote. However, the Port of Mabana had never officially been dissolved, so an election was unnecessary.
Trying to establish itself once again, the Port hired the services of Reid & Middleton to draw a comprehensive plan. The resulting report stated that the Port desired only the one lot north of the county road, Lot 4, to be used for parking adjacent to the port property, which could be developed at such time and to such extent as the citizens of the port desired and the Port could afford. A tax was levied at the government rate of 45 cents on each $1,000 of property within the port district.
Voters elected new commissioners and a plan was initiated in 1972 to annex all of Camano Island into the Port of Mabana. Voters rejected the plan (and would do so again in 1981). Around 1979 the Port decided to no longer make improvements and terminated the 45 mill levy.
Today’s Port of Mabana
Having a Port of Mabana ensures that south Camano Island residents have a political voice (although a fair number of voters in the district may not be aware of the low-profile Port's existence). Collected tax appropriations from the past have amounted to a Port treasury of $35,000 which presently is invested in a low-interest government Certificate of Deposit. The Port uses a small amount of these funds to keep the beach cleared of debris, mainly for crabbing (at high tide) and the use of small boats.
Port of Mabana commissioners in 2011 are Fred Monte, Michael O’Brien, and Frank Kukuk, each elected to a six-year term. They meet once a year. All property surrounding the Port has been developed, severely limiting the available parking at the base of the county road.
The Port of Mabana District is currently an active port. Its boundaries range from the southern tip of Camano Island north to Mountain View Road, the same as when originally formed. The Port has no facilities and the water access is a 40-foot break in the seawall, with a sandy beach and shallow port that accommodates small boats. The location provides a beautiful vista looking west across Saratoga Passage to Whidbey Island, with the Olympic Mountains in view on a clear day.