History of Langley

The City is indebted to the following authors for the information contained in this condensed history: The Langleyites of Whidbey Island - 1899-1921 by William A McGinnis; Langley, the Village by the Sea by Lorna Cherry; The History of Langley, a Hometown Study by Bryan Stelling. And we are grateful to Cynthia Trenshaw for her synthesis below.

Jacob Anthes left his home town of Gros Gerau, Germany at the age of 14 and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of finding adventure and to avoid registering for compulsory military service. Anthes found his way to Seattle where a businessman hired the young man to be in residence on a wild tract of homestead land on Whidbey Island so that the businessman could ratify the homestead rights to the land. While living there Jacob Anthes explored all of South Whidbey on foot and decided on the Langley area for his home. He was too young to file his own homestead, so in 1881 he purchased 120 acres from John G. Phinney for $100. He built a log house on the property and began cutting cordwood to supply the steamers in Saratoga Passage. He cleared several acres of land and grew vegetables and tons of potatoes which were sold to logging camps. When he turned 21 in 1886, he filed a homestead on 160 acres. In August of 1890 Anthes bought the tract that became the Town of Langley.

Jacob Anthes chose well. The 400 acres of land that Langley occupies has five streams or springs that run into it. It is accessible from all directions and to open water without having to traverse steep hills - that was important when horse teams were used to haul cargo. Various sections of land have proven to be well-suited to growing fruits, berries and vegetables. And the eastern vista from Langley takes in a spectacular view of Saratoga Passage and the Cascade Mountains.

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 Logging truck at the Howard Store
prior to 1909
 Howard's Store  Looking East along First Street
prior to 1909


In the spring of 1890, Jacob Anthes succeeded in convincing several businessmen to form the Langley Land and Improvement Company. Later that year, Jacob conveyed his land, which today incorporates all of the waterfront business area of Langley, to the Company and in April of 1891 the Company officially platted the Town of Langley which was named after its president, Judge J.W. Langley of Seattle.

The Company then built a dock at a cost of $5,000 below the bluff near the current intersection of First Street and Anthes. The dock extended 999 feet. Jacob Anthes then built a general store and post office across the street from the dock. He constructed his own home next to the store and created a water system by tapping into a creek that ran down the hill past his home. Sternwheelers docked regularly at Langley to deliver mail and settlers to the area.

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 The Langley Marina, early 1900s  Looking North along Anthes Ave  Looking down Wharf Street
towards the Langley Dock

Hard economic times hit the south end of Whidbey Island a short time later, and many families left their farms. After many severe storms, in 1894 the Langley dock broke up and the big boats stopped visiting the town. Later, however, the Alaska Gold Rush and the development of Elliott Bay promoted an economic boom in the area. A school district was established in 1898, and a schoolhouse was built to accommodate the children of the area. In 1899 a road district was organized and roads were improved in the following years.

In 1902 the Improvement Company deeded all the property back to Anthes for $3,000. Mr. Anthes built a new dock in the Wharf Street area. The new dock was U-shaped and had two driveways with a warehouse at the end in which to store freight. Steamers and tugboats began to use Langley as a port and freight area once again. Business developed and a wide dirt road and a wooden plank sidewalk were built from the dock area up the bluff to the business center.

The dock changed ownership several times and many businesses came and went. In 1913 a group of citizens worked together to incorporate Langley into a self-governing class-four town. The new town elected F.E. Furman as its first mayor. A fire engine was purchased and a volunteer fire department started. An 8' x 8' jail was constructed with a lean-to at the side under which to park the fire engine. The fire department became a part of Fire District 3 in 1999 and is still staffed, in part, by volunteers.

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 Looking West along First Street
sometime between 1913 and 1921
 "A "Bird's Eye View" of downtown Langley about 1911. The Star Store with owners
Joe and Martina Primavera


Langley's first telephone system was installed in 1906 with as many as 15 residences per phone line. In 1919 lights were installed on First Street. They were powered by a gasoline motor. The power system was upgraded in 1929 so that residents could use electricity on Monday and Tuesday mornings to do their laundry. The power system was sold to Puget Sound Power and Light in 1931, but the telephone system remains locally and independently owned to this day. The water system has been owned by the City of Langley since 1928.

It is believed that Langley was the first municipality in the nation to elect an all-woman council. This happened in December of 1919 just shortly after Congress passed and the President signed the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. Miss Helen Coe was elected mayor and with the all-woman council immediately set to work "cleaning up the town".

In the 1960s and 1970s, Langley attracted its share of "hippies," some of whom had an uneasy relationship with the more established citizens. Eventually many of these counter-cultural folks became assimilated into the community, leavening Langley with their artistic skills and progressive ideas, helping to create today's cultural balance that makes Langley such an attractive place to live, work, and visit.

Langley became a city in 1975, 62 years after first incorporating. Though the streets have since been paved and the business district is considerably larger, Langley has not lost its rural character or its friendly flavor. In a world and a region where most of us live at a hectic pace, Langley offers a quiet refuge and a welcome alternative.

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 The Olympic Club later
renamed The Dog House
 Looking East along First Street
about 1935