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Island History

The Fox Island Museum offers opportunities for learning and fun

By Abigail Thorpe

Photo Courtesy of Samantha Elise Tillman

Just 5 miles off the shores of Gig Harbor in the middle of the Puget Sound lies the small, picturesque slip of land called Fox Island. At just under 6.5 square miles, it’s not a large place, but it has a unique history in the Puget Sound and a proud and enthusiastic group of locals dedicated to making sure that history is preserved.

Before the first white settlers arrived, the island was home to native tribes like the Puyallup and Nisqually Indians. During the Puget Sound War in the mid-1850s, the island had a darker history—it served as the internment camp for Indians displaced from their homes by the U.S. Government.

Years later in 1888, A.J. Miller purchased a large tract of land on Fox Island and relocated his family from Grinnell, Iowa. Many of his neighbors followed to occupy the area that was then known as Sylvan, and in 1896 the residents scheduled the first annual meeting of the Sylvan Historical Society for the following year.

Following the Fox Island School’s closure in 1961, a collection of artifacts detailing the history of the island were gathered by Cecil Fassett for display in the school. In 1974, a building site was donated to the Historical Society by George and Lois Miller, and three years later Dick and Addie Chapman donated a log cabin from their property to be used as a main exhibit. The cabin once belonged to the Acheson family, whose daughter Lila Acheson Wallace would become a significant donor to the Fox Island Historical Society and the museum that would follow from the first collection of artifacts.

“The mission of the Fox Island Historical Society is to enrich the greater community through the discovery, preservation and sharing of knowledge about the history of Fox Island,” write Gail Jones, Karen Kretschmer and Virdie Golliher, board members of the Fox Island Historical Society.

The current museum that houses Fox Island artifacts and serves to preserve the area’s history wasn’t built until 1980, but it has since served as a key social and educational hub for the island.

Together the Fox Island Museum, Acheson Log Cabin and the nearly complete Barn make up the museum exhibits, in addition to a state-of-the-art collection facility. “We actively seek to acquire items that relate directly to Fox Island history,” share the board members.

“Volunteers have been a crucial part in the museum throughout its history,” they add. “It continues to be an all-volunteer nonprofit organization.”

In addition to the exhibits in the main museum and the Acheson cabin, which remains mostly original and is open for tours, there is a Museum Store and Book Nook inside the main museum.

“The museum and all that it contains provides a cohesiveness to the residents of Fox Island,” say Jones, Kretschmer and Golliher. “It is a place where individuals can drop by to relax and chat with volunteers, browse the books and enjoy the warmth of belonging to this community.”

The store focuses on items directly related to the history of Fox Island, and the Book Nook sells used books, providing a popular local hangout for residents and visitors. The Barn, which is currently under construction, will primarily be used to display agricultural items and help educate the public about Fox Island’s agrarian history.

“The Island residents look to the museum whenever they need information regarding an historic property recently purchased or in the process of selling,” explain the board members. “The museum retains historical information that highlights many properties. It also functions as a research center for those wishing to know about this area.”

The Fox Island Museum is more than just a local museum for visitors—it is a gathering place for locals and visitors alike and hosts several anticipated events throughout the year. One of the most memorable is the Memorial Day Pancake Breakfast, which is followed by a ceremony at the Fox Island Cemetery, which local Scout Troops participate in.

Throughout the year the museum also hosts an All-Island Garage Sale, the Boat Cruise Around Fox Island, which charters an historic vessel and offers a two-hour narrated tour of the island, and the beloved Santa Visit on the first Saturday of December.

“With the population of Fox Island just under 4,000, we are able to maintain a sense of the quintessential small-town feel for our major events,” shares the board. “By far the majority of volunteers live on Fox Island so that we are all part of the community that we serve.”

The museum shares a strong environmental commitment with the community, and actively helps promote events to highlight this—from Arbor Day celebrations to beach clean-up on Shark Day, and partnering with Harbor WildWatch for the annual boat cruise.

The museum is typically open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 pm, although current COVID-19 restrictions have limited capacity of the Book Nook and Museum Store, and temporarily closed exhibits.

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to head over to Fox Island for a day of learning about the area’s history, take some time to explore and enjoy an educational adventure. You’ll meet welcoming, friendly docents and learn about a slice of Puget Sound history.

To find out more, and for updates and current closure or hours, visit

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1 Comment

Yvette Rideout
Yvette Rideout
Apr 09

This isn't island history. It's just about your museums.

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