The Long and Winding Road that Turned the Island into a City 30 Years Ago

It’s hard to believe – looking back now – that the City of Bainbridge Island, as an incorporated entity,  has been around for three decades.

If you’re a long-time islander like me, or a newbie fresh off the boat, the island’s transformation from a place of summer homes for Seattle elitist and an inexpensive oasis for artists, craftsmen, entrepreneurs and farmers, is a fascinating tale. Back in the early 1990s, Bainbridge had a population of somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 to 16,000.

More and more people  – especially younger folks with families – were moving here from California, the Midwest and the East Coast. They loved the island’s bucolic lifestyle, the laid back feel of the place, and it’s charming setting between bustling downtown Seattle and the Olympic Mountains. Many of those “newbies” – ourselves included – cherished the island’s sense of community, its small town ambience, its affordability (hard to fathom that concept now but compared with other desirable areas – San Francisco, LA, Chicago, New York – it was),  and its ease of living.

You have to remember that physically Bainbridge was a quite a different place back  then. Indeed, the Island Village shopping center, where Safeway is located, didn’t exist, there was no McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no wine-tasting rooms, and maybe a half dozen restaurants, at most.  Whole subdivisions and developments,  such as North Town Hill, Harbor Square, Hidden Cove Estates and pretty much everything you see in Lynwood Center and Fort Ward today, as well as many other spots, were a mere glint in some architect’s eye in the early 1990s, and were years away from being built.

Back in those days, the island was definitely more of a small town. Sophisticated in many ways, but still a small town. Our main drag – Winslow Way – reflected this. Yes, there were a smattering of restaurants and novelty shops, but the avenue also housed a legitimate hardware store, an appliance outfit, a carpet and floor coverings business, along with Eagle Harbor Books and the Puget Power building, where many of us dropped off our monthly power bills.

Tourism  as we know it today, simply did not exist.

It was into this environment, or should we say, a fear of losing it, that locals rallied around the idea of home rule and annexing the rest of the island into the existing City of Winslow. It took several efforts to get the annexation measure on the ballot, but it finally happened on Nov. 6, 1991 when islanders outside of the existing city’s boundaries voted. The annexation and formation of what eventually became the City of Bainbridge Island passed by a razor thin margin of 51% to 49%.

Simply put, those in favor of annexation wanted more self-determination for the island and less control by the Kitsap County Commissioners, while those opposed to the move were fearful of losing the island’s rural feel and of more taxes.

Check out the attached You Tube video to take a deeper dive into how all-island government and the City of Bainbridge Island came to be. What’s more community members are invited to attend a celebration of the 30th anniversary on Tuesday, Nov. 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. Visitors will have the opportunity to sign a guest book commemorating the City’s anniversary and enjoy a commemorative cookie.

Photos, documents and a slideshow will be displayed during the event. If you like, you can bring photographs or mementoes from the annexation efforts to contribute to the City’s archives. According to city officials, the  event is a chance to acknowledge all those who “served the Bainbridge Island community, as a Council member or volunteer.” On Tuesday evening, the City Council will commemorate the special anniversary with a proclamation during it regular business meeting.

What’s more, the nearby Bainbridge Island Historical Museum is getting into the act with a new exhibit, Protest, that features some of the items from the annexation campaigns (for and against). The exhibit will continue through November. Click here to learn more about the Protest exhibit.

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