The Peace Arch and the Mayflower

By Bruce Jones

as published in the Evergreen Log, Winter Issue 2013


The metal trunk rests peacefully at Maryhill, a southern Washington mansion started in 1914, overlooking the Columbia River. Built by Samuel Hill, son-in-law of James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railroad, the mansion was named for his wife and daughter, but the building was never occupied as a house. Fund shortages during WWI led to Hill canceling construction, but in the mid 1920’s he was convinced to have the building finished and used as a museum.


Today the trunk sits in a room with its nearby companions, a favorite chair and globe of Mr. Hill. The information tag nearby reads: “This chest was used by Sam Hill to carry a beam fragment from the original Pilgrim ship, Mayflower, from England to the United States. The relic was then placed in a vault within the Peace Arch at Blaine, Washington, in 1921. Two small planks removed from the fragment now rest inside this trunk.”


Really? A piece of the Mayflower is sitting in a trunk along the Columbia River just south of Goldendale, Washington? How did that happen?

The Trunk, Globe, and Chair at Maryhill
(photo by T. Todorovich)


The story began back around 1913.  Frank Mackenzie was a member of the British Columbia parliament, whose district included the area south of Vancouver to the U.S. border. His idea was to create a Peace Arch exactly on the U.S.-Canadian border that would be reachable from Vancouver by paved highway. The arch would honor the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent, signed in 1814, which ended the War of 1812 with Britain.  Canadian auto clubs immediately joined in the plans, and $100,000 was allocated by British Columbia for the road. Word was passed to the Blaine, Washington’s automobile club, where the ceremony would be held, and they enlisted support from multiple auto clubs and chambers of commerce. At that point it was decided that the Pacific Highway Association, a group of auto road advocates, should coordinate the entire proposition. And that is how Sam Hill got involved. As president of the Pacific Highway Association, he was considered to be the “foremost Good Roads man in the Northwest.”


Funding was not available due to the world war, but in 1919 Hill had design plans created for an arch, which were used to lever interest in holding new ceremonies, this time hopefully by September, 1920, to honor the new Pacific Highway. In a meeting in late 1919 details of the arch, with its open gates, as well as the creation of an international park, were announced and agreed to by the participants.


One of the main advocates working alongside Sam Hill was Frank Terrace, a Seattle-area resident and long-time vice-president of the Washington State Good Roads association. One headline in the 1919 Bellingham Herald amply showed his involvement. It stated Erection of Gigantic Portal at Boundary Line near Blaine is Planned—Plans For Structure Made by Frank Terrace.”  


In early 1920 Terrace spotted an article in an English newspaper about the discovery on a farm in Jordan, England of oak timbers from the Mayflower.

The barn at Jordan in 1920
(from The Finding of the Mayflower)

James Rendel Harris, a noted academic from Cambridge and John Hopkins had just published a treatise entitled “The Finding of the Mayflower”, where he outlined his belief that an old barn on the Quaker farm in Jordan was actually constructed with the bones of the Mayflower. Terrace passed on the information to Sam Hill, who immediately conceived of the idea to take a piece of the wood and place it in the Peace Arch, since besides marking the completion of the Pacific highway from the Canadian boundary to Mexico, the arch also commemorated a century of peace which existed between the United States and Great Britain.


The enthusiasm continued with construction starting up in 1920. Reaching 67 feet high, the arch was made of concrete, of which 3,500 sacks were donated by R.P. Butchart, of Victoria’s Butchart Garden’s fame. The steel reinforcement (50 tons) was given by Elbert H. Gary of New York, a founding partner of U.S. Steel. Original shrubbery in the surrounding gardens was donated by Robert Moran, a prominent shipbuilder from Seattle, and builder of Rosario Mansion , known today as Rosario Resort. Meanwhile, Hill and Terrace planned for a trip to England to try to secure a timber from the old barn. From an article in the Bellingham Herald, the story continues. “A Quaker himself, Mr. Hill prevailed upon the British Society of Friends to give him a piece of the Mayflower to place in the arch. The timber end he secured is 20 inches long and six inches square. For its better preservation, Mr. Hill was presented with a hand-wrought chest, weighing 172 pounds and fitted with a combination of seven locks, the gift being made by Sir Basil Thompson, chief of Scotland Yard.”

The trunk today at Maryhill

(photo by T. Todorovich)

At the donation ceremony in Jordans, England, it was remarked that this would be the only time the ship would ever again be cut.


Plaque covering the Beaver Niche
(photo by Bruce Jones)

A large niche was created in the west side of the arch to hold the remains from the Mayflower. Meanwhile, for the eastern side, it was decided to place a remnant from a ship famous in British Columbia history, the S.S. Beaver. The first steamship to ply the waters of the northwest, it originally served to support the Hudson’s Bay Company outposts from the Columbia River to Alaska, then later on chartered by the British Royal Navy to survey and chart the coast of British Columbia. It ran aground off the coast at Stanley Park , Vancouver in 1888 due to operator error, and in 1892 finally sank. Many pieces of the ship are today in the Vancouver Maritime Museum .


The placement of the arch was quite ingenious. It was placed exactly on the border, but the border runs through the arch from the northwest corner to the southeast corner, which provides for a couple of unique things. The eastern niche for the Beaver remnant is completely in Canada, while the western niche for the Mayflower is totally in the U.S. In addition, this means the eastern gate inside the portal is in Canada, while the western is in the U.S. Thus, symbolically for the gates to “close the border”, both countries must participate. (In truth, the gates are not hinged, just mounted.) The park surrounding the arch is a rare area where it is approved for visitors to cross from one country to the other and back again without passing through Customs.


Inside the portal looking toward Canada Customs
(photo by Bruce Jones)

The big day came on September 6, 1921, which aligned with the departure date in 1620 for the Mayflower from England. With an estimated crowd of 10,000 to 15,000, Blaine became host to citizens from both sides of the border, who came to attend the dedication ceremonies to be held at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon. The day before, Hill had received the relics from the Mayflower and the S.S. Beaver from Frank Terrace, in a formal ceremony held in Victoria. The S.S. Patricia arrived in Blaine at 1:30 p.m., with 383 attendees from Victoria. In addition, six train coaches from Vancouver brought their delegation. Many others arrived by auto, as one would expect at a ceremony whose main coordinator was the Pacific Highway Association. Forty policemen from Blaine were used to assist in parking, which prohibited any vehicles closer than 1,000 feet to the arch, in order to accommodate the people attending.


After an opening invocation by Robert Pretlow, a Quaker minister from Seattle, Hill was introduced by George Ellsperman, a popular customs officer of the Port of Blaine. Hill installed the two timbers in their respective niches, and also laid a cornerstone with a time capsule, to be opened in 2021. His short remarks were punctuated with his best remembered quote--he stated “War satisfies neither the victors nor the vanquished. Perfect peace alone satisfies.” Other speakers of the day included the governor of Oregon, and Judge Thomas Burke of Seattle, probably best known today as a namesake of Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail.


In 1922, British Columbia funds were used to help form a small park surrounding the arch, which was re-dedicated in 1926 by Sam Hill and Queen Marie of Rumania, in a visit that also included a dedication at Maryhill.


Peace Arch Park in the 1930’s
(Elias Breidford Collection at
Peace Arch State Park )

Fundraising by individuals and organizations from the Blaine Peach Arch Post of the American Legion to schoolchildren of Washington and British Columbia was ongoing, resulting in an enlarging of the surrounding park area. With Sam Hill’s passing in 1931, a commission to honor Hill’s involvement resulted in the Washington State Park named “Sam Hill Memorial Park”, encompassing six acres on the U.S. side of the Peace Arch. Today’s name is Peace Arch State Park.


Peace Arch State Park Today (photo by Bruce Jones)



The passage of time is never kind to objects and the Mayflower timber was no exception.

The plaque covering the Mayflower niche
(photo by Bruce Jones)

In the 1990’s restoration work was done on the arch, and it was found at the time that the two sealed niches had leaked, with water damage on the timbers of both the S.S. Beaver and the Mayflower. Minor touching would cause it to flake. The Washington Department of Parks removed the Mayflower timber and then immersed it in a preserving fluid for two years to stabilize the object. Pat Doran, curator for the Skagit County Museum (the county in which the Peace Arch is located) then offered to pack the timber piece in acid-free storage materials to insure proper storage.

The next Thanksgiving season Ms. Doran thought the timber would make a great object for a seasonal exhibit, so she asked to “borrow” it.  State parks staff said that was fine, since she had helped to preserve it. Wondering if there were more pieces to the relic, Pat contacted Maryhill Museum and found that yes, there were two more fragments, but they were in a locked trunk (yes, that one) and the lock was damaged. A locksmith was called, and found inside were three fragments, whose grain and color matched the large piece perfectly!


Thus the Thanksgiving/Christmas season of 1996 became the only known public display of the Mayflower timber, when it was shown at the little Skagit County Museum in La Conner, Washington.


Today, the fragments are noted as being still in the trunk, according to Maryhill Museum, but where is the main relic? The S.S. Beaver fragment is in Vancouver at the Maritime Museum .  And the Mayflower relic? It is currently stored at Washington State Parks’ Central Collections facility in a climate-controlled environment. They indicated there are no current plans to put the relic on display, so for the foreseeable future, this is as close as one can get to this piece of Mayflower history in Washington State.  

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, collection #85.1931.1 (restricted use)


For more photos related to this article, click here.