When we moved to Bainbridge Island in the summer of 1997, it was a sleepy small town. Not as rural as before the bridge was built in the 1950s on the north end of the island, but still only about 12,000 residents with an atmosphere that made us feel like we had stepped back in time to a slower, quieter, more hospitable era. For us it was a comfortable place where we could heal and establish ourselves as a couple without the baggage of former spouses.
The community welcomed us. We bought a house on an acre of land surrounded by 100 foot tall fir and cedar trees; walked our daughter down a country road to school; prepared dinners once a week for an after school program at a local church; volunteered for the public art committee; hiked trails through pristine forests a few steps from our home; and shopped for groceries, books, hardware, and more on a main street reminiscent of a movie set. A shopping trip took a bit longer than in the big city because we always bumped into someone we knew. Bainbridge Island was paradise.
Every year on the night before the Fourth of July, a salmon bake and live music brought out island residents to create chalk drawings and dance on main street. The next day a crowd gathered on the same street a few minutes before neighbors and friends marched in a parade. Employees of the local grocery juggled phony vegetables and rubber chickens. Children rode decorated bicycles and pulled crepe paper covered wagons. The highlight of the parade each year was the librarians' book cart drill team.
Then developers discovered the island. Housing subdivisions and condo projects obliterated tree farms and strawberry fields. The chamber of commerce mounted a campaign to attract tourists. Small businesses disappeared from main street replaced by restaurants, gift shops, and dress boutiques. To celebrate the night before the Fourth, the drone of bounce house pumps, and screams from ball pits overtook chalk drawings, musicians, and dancers.
Five years ago when our daughter graduated from high school, enough was enough. We moved back home to Portland. Although the Bainbridge Island promoted in the travel section of the Sunday Oregonian still sounds like paradise, it is a disappointing shadow of its former self.