written by Boyd Pratt
Robert Firth kept diaries, and the years 1865 and 1866 are extant. Written in a nice hand with often unconventional spelling, the entries record his continuation of many of the farming practices of his predecessor. He mentions both the little and big fields, which he planted in oats, peas, and potatoes. Place names such Sheep Station, New Station, Chandler’s Prairie, and Bald Hill indicate that Firth was still using many of the original Belle Vue Farm pastures and stations. However, the introduction of a growing number of new names of American settlers—Fleming, Hannah, Hubbs—as well as San Juan Town—the rough grouping of stores, bars, and brothels that serviced the soldiers of American Camp—indicates the future outcome in the settlement of San Juan Island.[ii]
After his wife Jessie died in 1889, Firth rented the farm to his son, Robert Jr., and lived in the American officer’s quarters (‘Pickett’s House’) with his youngest daughter, Mary Jane (Maimie). One of his grandchildren recollected that Belle Vue Farm at that time consisted of “a number of log houses in a hollow square with quite an orchard in the center”.[iii] Eventually, the buildings were used for storage of equipment as well as hay and other crops. On October ??, 1927, Mary Jane and her husband Joe Chapelle sold the farm to Robert McRae for $13,000. The property included 160 acres along with all the livestock and farm equipment.
[i] Several of the Firth children married into local families; for instance, Robert Firth, Jr., married Lila Hannah, the daughter of an American farmer on the island (Firth Family file, San Juan Historical Museum, Friday Harbor).
[iii] “Inez Calhoun Shaffer”, 1960 paper in Firth Family file, San Juan Historical Museum, Friday Harbor.