A Passage to Bainbridge Island

When I tell people we live on Bainbridge Island, they often assume we have to take a ferry to get anywhere on the mainland. It’s true that we often take the ferry to Seattle, but since 1950 there has been a bridge spanning Agate Passage at the Island’s northern tip.

I have long puzzled over the fact that the locals usually refer to this as the “Agate Pass bridge.” Indeed, according to Google Maps the Agate Pass Bridge crosses over Agate Passage.

The term “pass” has historically more often designated a passable way through mountains or other obstacles. In former times it could be used to designated a crossing over a body of water, or even a bridge (the Oxford English Dictionary calls this usage “now rare”).

In modern usage, this is the most common OED definition of “pass” in its geographical sense:
A way through or across an area where passage is limited by natural impediments, such as trees, marshes, or hills. Chiefly spec.: a route over or through a mountainous region; a narrow passage between mountains. 
But a pass can also be a channel within a body of water:
A navigable channel, esp. at a river's mouth or in a delta; spec. one in the Mississippi delta.
But it a pass is usually not the name for the narrow body of water separating two land masses—a strait. So why do most neighbors of Agate Passage refer to it as “Agate Pass”?

Is it just a handy abbreviation? Maybe, but we also have Rich Passage to the west, and nobody ever calls it ”Rich Pass.”

But on Agate Point we have an “Agate Pass Road.”

In the wider area, there’s the wonderful Agate Pass Cafe in Suquamish, Agate Pass Crossfit in Poulsbo, and Fabrik Agate Pass Stoneware made in Seattle by Jim McBride in the 70s and 80s.

On the other hand, we have right here Agate Passage Psychological Services. In this era of personal “journeys” it makes sense that a psychotherapy clinic would choose “passage” over “pass.” Similarly, local Quakers have formed the “Agate Passage Friends Meeting.”

By now you may wondering: are there agates in Agate Passage? Not so far as I know. Surely if there any existed, genuine Agate Passage agates would be choice souvenirs in the many local shops serving tourists.

In fact the name has nothing to do with the gemstone.

In 1841 Captain Charles Wilkes was leading a US Navy expedition to scout  navigable waters to the west, including Puget Sound. He was the first explorer of European descent to discover that Bainbridge was indeed an island, when he found the strait separating what is now called “Agate Point” from the Kitsap Peninsula. He named it “Agate’s Passage” after the expedition’s distinguished artist, Alfred Thomas Agate (1812–1846)—a significant fact in that although the Island is poor in agates it now abounds in artists.

Agate created the first known depiction of nearby Mount Rainier, where there are many agates.

Agate Island in Fiji was also named in Alfred Agate’s honor because of the usefulness of his drawings he made in that area years earlier.

As for “Bainbridge,” that was a considerably more arbitrary name assigned to the Island by Capt. Wilkes in honor of American Naval hero William Bainbridge, captain of the USS Constitution in a string of victories of which the Navy was extremely proud.

Finally, why do residents capitalize “Island” when referring to their home land mass, even when the word  is not preceded by “Bainbridge”?

They just do. “Bainbridge” is understood.

1 comment:

Linda Carlson said...

And we say Deception Pass.