On Oct. 23, 1915, Frances P. Larrabee donated 20 acres of land to the State of Washington that would soon become the state’s first state park. The donation had been planned with her late husband, Charles X. Larrabee, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, and Governor Ernest Lister. The donated land was envisioned as a scenic park and auto campground to complement the Chuckanut Drive section of the Pacific Highway, which was nearing completion.
Larrabee had been instrumental in the development of Chuckanut Drive. In the late 1890s, he began lobbying the state to fund the conversion of a rustic logging road that ran along the shores of Bellingham Bay and Samish Bay into a scenic highway. In 1909, the first in a series of legislative appropriations for the route came, and in 1913, the road was designated as part of the Pacific Highway, an early north-south route along the Pacific Coast of the United States.
The park was first opened to the public in October of 1915, to coincide with the dedication of Chuckanut Drive. On Nov. 22, 1915, the property officially became the first state park in Washington. Originally known as Chuckanut State Park, the park’s name was changed to honor the Larrabee family on February 15, 1923, although Frances insisted that her husband would not have wanted such recognition.
In its early years, the park had limited facilities but quickly grew popular with motorists. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, emergency work relief funding from the Public Works Administration was used to construct the first amenities at the park, including a pair of restrooms still in use in the park’s historic day-use area. In 1944, a distinctive bandshell designed by architect Earl E. MacCannell was built.
Frances and her son Charles later donated another 1,500 acres to increase the size of the park, which now stands at more than 2,500 acres.