It has a few names: Afterglow Vista, McMillin Memorial Mausoleum, and Afterglow Mausoleum, but one thing’s for sure: The John S. McMillin Mausoleum in Roche Harbor is a San Juan Island must-see.
Since you can probably have it to yourself in the colder months, we mentioned it in our winter activities blog here. This is a destination you’ll want to venture to any time of year, though. Commissioned by John S. McMillin (1855-1936), the founder of Roche Harbor, this grand structure is both a tomb and a piece of art. It is the final resting place of McMillin, his wife, three children, and personal secretary.
It is a thing to witness, to marvel at, and to return to again and again.
Who Was John S. McMillin?
Born on October 28, 1855, in Sugar Grove, IN, John S. McMillan attended DePauw University, where he pledged as a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He earned a law degree, and after practicing in Lafayette, moved his family to what was then Washington Territory where he became the president and general manager of the Tacoma Lime Company.
In 1886, McMillin and his partners in the Tacoma Lime Company bought Roche Harbor, and the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company was born. McMillin again served as president and general manager. Then, McMillin built the Hotel de Haro and became involved in politics (he ran for Senate and lost, but served on the railroad commission and was the Washington State delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1924 and 1932).
University Greeks will appreciate knowing that McMillin helped to install Sigma Chi chapters at universities around the country, including at Washington State University and at The University of Oregon.
McMillin ordered the construction of Afterglow Vista six years before he died. McMillan and his family members’s ashes are interned (he was cremated) at the base of the thick concrete chairs that also act as headstones. The whole scene represents the family dinner table and the unity of the McMillins during life and death. An empty space at the table is rumored to represent the McMillin son who turned away from the family’s Methodist faith.
How Do You Get To The Mausoleum?
Navigate to Roche Harbor Cemetary and you’ll soon see signs for the mausoleum. You’ll see the Roche Harbor airport in front of you when you park by a fence facing back toward where you came (assuming you came from Lakedale). The mausoleum is located in a wooded area, and can be accessed by following a wide, easy, and relatively short trail through a set of gates topped with the words “Afterglow Vista.” It is pretty hard to get lost on your way.
Roche Harbor, Hotel de Haro, and the marina will all be to the left and below you. Once you arrive at the mausoleum, you’ll see a plaque that reads:
“The structure is approached by two sets of stairs, representing the steps within the Masonic Order. The stairs on the east side of the mausoleum stand for the spiritual life of man. The winding in the path symbolizes that the future cannot be seen. The stairs were built in sets of three, five, and seven. This represents the three stages of life (youth, manhood, age), the five orders of architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Iconic, Corinthian, Composite), the five senses, and the seven liberal arts and sciences (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). The columns were created to be the same size as those in King Solomon’s temple. The broken column represents the broken column of life—that man dies before his work is completed. The center of the mausoleum boasts the round table of limestone and concrete surrounded by six stone and concrete chairs. The chair bases are crypts for the ashes of the family, while the whole represents their reunion after death.”
What To Expect
The mausoleum is a massive structure that combines neoclassical elements with masonic symbolism. Its open-air rotunda (fun fact: the columns were originally going to hold a brass dome over the table, but in the end, the family decided to leave the site exposed to the elements) includes six chairs inscribed with the names of each person buried under it. The six chairs surround a limestone table—naturally. Each seat sits in front of a broken Roman column, representing unfinished business in life.
It is a place that will leave you awestruck. On a foggy or darker night, it may feel somewhat haunting, so plan your time around sunset appropriately. Bring flashlights if you’re easily spooked. We have visited during daylight hours only and found it to be a magical and powerful experience, especially during the months when San Juan Island sees fewer visitors.
We have so many magical, beautiful, and wonderful places to visit while you’re here, and if we were to build an itinerary for you (we’d be happy to—just ask), Afterglow Vista would be at the top of it.
Many thanks to Gina Pajoman for the image below and Explore Washington State for the top photo!