The history of Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory at Walla Walla University

In 1938 the Department of Biological Sciences at Walla Walla College offered its first outdoor summer school. Similar extended experiences occurred in 1939 and 1941. During WWII these extended trips were not possible, but in 1946 thirty five students went on a six-week expedition into the Canadian Rockies. In 1947 it was decided that instead of a "traveling school", a more permanent site on salt water should be established for the study of the marine environment in a Christian setting.

That summer, Dr. Ernest S. Booth, chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences at Walla Walla College and a strong proponent of field natural history, held classes in a rented fish cannery three miles west of Anacortes (the remains of which can be seen adjacent to the Anacortes ferry terminal). From 1947 to 1954 Booth continued to hold summer classes at the cannery. Enrollment each summer ranged from 50 to almost 200 students. Though inexpensive (Booth rented the cannery for $1 per summer), space and facilities in the cannery were rather limited. In 1954 Booth began looking for another more permanent site for a biological field station.

In the early 1920s, Henry Graham and his son, John, purchased land on Fidalgo Island adjacent to the Military Reservation, now part of Deception Pass State Park. The Grahams built cabins and developed the property into the Rosario Beach Resort. In March 1946, the Grahams sold the resort to Gilbert and Margaret Hull, long-time residents of the region. At that time sheep grazed on open range along the grassy slopes above the property; several cabins were clustered toward the north end of what is now the marine lab's beach; and a utility shop was situated at the site of today's residence hall.

The dining hall (removed in December 1999) was the Hull's residence and variety store. The store featured newspapers, food, fishing tackle, and other items popular among vacationers. By 1953 the Hulls had tired of the unrelenting responsibility associated with operating a resort and decided to sell. The price? $53,000. When Ernest Booth saw Rosario Beach Resort in 1953, he knew he had found the right place for a biology field station.

Fearful of losing the property to another buyer, Booth emptied his personal savings account ($15,000) for earnest money - and then notified the college of what he had done. George Bowers, president of WWC at the time, was understandably shocked. "I've gotten you out of many a problem, Ernest," Bowers told his friend, "but I don't know if I can get you out of this one. You may have just bought yourself a marine station."

Although the board members did not want to approve the purchase merely to remove their headstrong professor from a financial predicament, they realized that "it is desirable that Walla Walla College have a more respectable station and that Rozario [sic] Beach property offers this better location."  Booth's purchase was approved on August 9, 1953, but only after the board voted unanimously that in the future Booth should make no financial commitments without prior approval. In 1955 the first summer session at Rosario Beach had begun.

Since 1955 Rosario has seen many changes. One dramatic change was the demolition of the old lab buildings and construction of new laboratory facilities in the 1970s. The first and larger of the two buildings, constructed largely by volunteer labor in 1974, was dedicated as the Ernest S. Booth Laboratory in 1983 in recognition of his pioneering courage and foresight in the establishment of the marine lab.  Four new cabins were completed in 1994, six additional new cabins in 2001, and six more in 2014-16.  May 2001 witnessed the dedication of a new cafeteria, Lindgren Hall. In 2007 the official name of Rosario was changed to the Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory.

While students and staff enjoy the the new facilities, Rosario retains its quaint charm and sense of history - and some students still reside in the simple cabins built by John and Henry Graham in the 1920s.