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Brief history of Rosario Resort

Robert Moran was born in New York. His father was a stone mason and machinist. Robert traveled by steamship from New York to San Francisco in 1875. Finding no employment, he used his last $15 for a steerage ticket on a steamship to Seattle, leaving him with 10 cents to his name. He worked as a cook (not a talent), then as a deckhand on various steamers. With help and in his spare time, he studied mathematics, drafting, and engineering.

Moran paid for transportation to Seattle for his mother, five younger brothers, and two sisters. When they arrived, he quit steamboat engineering (he was 25), and started a marine repair shop with his brothers on Yesler Wharf. He ultimately acquired property for their own machine shop. The family did well, and Robert was elected to City Council in 1887. In 1888, he was elected mayor. In 1889, the Seattle Fire took place. Yesler Wharf and the Moran machine shop were destroyed; he worked to rebuild the city quickly. The Moran Brothers Company grew and in 1900 they won the contract to build a battleship for the Navy. They built the USS Nebraska, launched in 1904.

Robert Moran circa 1920s

Due to the strain of work, Moran, at age 48, followed doctors' advice and retired in 1905. The business was sold in 1906 to Eastern capitalists, then again in 1916 to Todd Shipyards. Moran took a pleasure cruise through the San Juan Islands and visited Orcas Island. He felt the slow island pace would be good for his health and, despite orders to rest, purchased a small sawmill on the island. The Moran family lived in the previous owner's residence while the mansion at Rosario was built between 1906-1909.

Before construction began, Morgan developed the property to be self-sufficient in terms of power and water, building his own hydroelectric power system to run the shop and later electricity for Rosario, including heat at the Mansion. His machine shop and warehouse, built before the Mansion, produced the bronze castings of hinges, door fasteners and other hardware still used today. In 1925, he rebuilt the machine shop; it still stands today. He brought timber to the island from all over the world to be shaped by his shipwrights and artisans. Interior wood is mostly Indian teak (parquet flooring) and Honduran mahogany (several hundred doors). Much of the work looks like ship's carpentry since that was his background. The fireplace in the lounge today is the original, cast in one piece by the Moran Company with marble chips from Seattle's Union Depot.

When finished, Rosario earned the name "Showplace of the San Juan Islands." Moran acquired 7,800 acres by 1911. Rosario was the Moran home, although they opened the estate to guests each Thursday. There was horseback riding, hiking, camping, trout fishing, swimming, croquet.

In 1911, he tried to donate 2,998 acres to the State of Washington as the Moran State Park. For some reason, the offer was declined. He persisted and in 1921 the State accepted. The park includes Mt. Constitution, four mountain lakes, and woods. After the park was dedicated, Moran, at his own expense, built miles of roads, trails, bridges and gateway arches.

In 1932, Moran's wife Melissa passed away from cancer. Their sons did well: their eldest, John, headed the Moran Manufacturing Co. in Seattle. Next son, Frank, founded Lakeside School and created Moran School for Boys on Bainbridge Island. By 1932, Moran had lost his wife and all his siblings. He decided to sell Rosario. It was purchased by Donald Rheem, a California industrialist, and his wife Alice, in 1938. At 81, Moran built a new home near the ferry landing on Orcas. He passed away on March 27, 1943; he was 86.

The Rheems used Rosario as a part-time residence. Alice made improvements (oriental rugs, antique furniture) to the Mansion. She changed the exterior from maroon to white. Friends visited often, but the estate was more private than when the Morans lived there. Alice died at Rosario in 1956 and Donald sold it in 1958. The buyer was Ralph Curton and the Falcon Corporation out of Waco, Texas. He planned a resort residential development and several Moran brothers' homes were sold to private owners. The development didn't happen and Rosario was sold in 1960 to Gilbert Geiser, former mayor of Mountlake Terrace. He opened it as Rosario Resort in June 1960. Olympus Real Estate Partners bought Rosario in 1998. They sold to Jerry and Craig Barto in 2008.

The property includes 74 acres and the Moran Mansion which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is much more to the history of Rosario. Visit the museum at the Moran Mansion, and enjoy "Rosario yesterdays" written by General Manager Christopher Peacock.

Historical presentation at Rosario

May 2019


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