When the first European explorers reached Whidbey Island , they found it one of the most densely populated places in the Northwest. The original inhabitants, the Salish tribe, depended upon the rich resources of both the sea and the land and used fire to keep the prairies open. The prairies in southern Whidbey attracted settlers in the 1850s, who took advantage of the Homestead Act to carve out farms.
Credit for the 1792 “discovery” of Whidbey Island goes to Joseph Whidbey, master of George Vancouver’s flagship, the HMS Discovery. Whidbey explored the island in a small vessel, although he wasn’t the first one there; while exploring the island’s west side, Whidbey stumbled upon the rotted remains of another ship, too weather-beaten to identify.