The Broken Pillar Story of San Juan Island’s Most Interesting Monument

Photos and content by Jennifer Furber published on July 25, 2017

Just a short drive from the Tucker House Inn is the historic village and resort of Roche Harbor. John S. McMillin, builder of the Roche Harbor town, was originally a Tacoma lawyer. He entered the lime business in 1886 after hearing of ships carrying lime from northern ports to California.

History of the McMillin Family

McMillin, a lifelong Republican, was a friend and advisor to Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt came to The San Juan Islands on a hunting expedition and visited McMillin at Roche. To impress McMillin, Roosevelt called in the destroyer USS Jones, which was about to sail to the Pacific, and had her anchored in the harbor. McMillian, in turn, impressed Roosevelt with a salmon BBQ on Henry Island. Following it was an evening banquet at Roche’s pavilion. The night ended with dancing on a tree-lined barge that was anchored in the harbor, moored beside a barge which held the band that played for the dance. 

monuments in friday harbor

For more than 20 years the Roche Harbor Lime company ran a monopoly on all the lime business west of the Mississippi River. They sent much of the lime sold through Roche to California to manufacture the cement to rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906. McMillin prided himself on helping rebuild San Francisco and felt great purpose. He talked openly about building a monument to honor his achievements and connections.

The Afterglow Vista

They named the family mausoleum the Afterglow Vista. They derived the name from the phenomenal play of colors in the channel’s waters during Roche’ summer sunsets. The Mausoleum stands tall in the center of a ten-acre forest plot adjacent to Roche Harbor Resort. You can reach the Mausoleum by a short trail passed fenced grave plots. You can access it by a pair of stairs, representative of the Masonic Order.

On the east side of the great structure, the winding stairs are in reference to the winding spiritual life of us all. It is not a straight path to spirituality as no one can see the future. The stairs were built in sets of three, five, and seven to represent the three stages of life (youth, adulthood, and old age). The five stairs play homage to the five orders of architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite) as well as the five senses.The seven stairs honor the liberal arts and sciences (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy). The circumference and diameter of the columns are the same as King Solomon’s temple. The massive size of the mausoleum is almost incomparable to the deep meaning behind this structure.

san juan island memorial

This San Juan Island landmark is the result of a lifetime of hard work. John McMillin thoughtfully incorporated symbols from Masonry, the Bible, Sigma Chi fraternity, and his own family unity. 

Why the Broken Pillar?

They intentionally built the broken pillar in two sections. The space between the chairs nearest the pillar was left for the sun to shine through at the Vernal Equinox. Historically, the sunshine takes the place of all family members of the McMillin family forgone but not forgotten. It is evident in the bright light making the column complete. You can see this in the photo to the right!

The broken pillar represents the broken line of life, how one often dies before his/her work is complete.

In the center of the structure is a round table of limestone and cement and six stone and cement chairs. The chairs are arranged in the same order as the traditional McMillian family dining table had been for decades. Each chair base also serves as crypts for the ashes of the family. This formal sitting position of ashes represents a very symbolic reunion after death. The placement of the chairs strategically allow the June sun to shine through the broken column on the crypts of John S. and his wife. This unites the couple in everlasting light.

Visit the Mausoleum During Your Stay

When you stay at the Tucker House Inn or Harrison House Suites, you are just a short drive away from the Mausoleum. Make a trip out of it and visit Roche Harbor for dinner while you do!