The administrative centre and only town of the Western Isles, Stornoway lies at the head of a sheltered harbour that opens out onto the North Minch. Settled since Neolithic times, there was a Viking settlement here and a Stornoway castle was built in the 12th century, but destroyed in 1653. Made a burgh of barony in 1607 by King James VI, Stornoway only developed to its present size with the rise of fishing in the 19th Century. It became the main centre of the Scottish herring fishing industry in 1912, but as fishing declined during the 20th century, the people of the town turned to the weaving of tweed which flourished especially after the Second World War. In the 1960s Stornoway mills employed 1000 workers and distributed yarn to 1500 mainland weavers. Today tourism, textile, seafood and offshore oil industries are important to the town.
Visitor attractions include the Western Isles Museum, An Lanntair Art Gallery, the Lewis Loom Centre and numerous craft and knitwear outlets.
Lews Castle College is situated in the grounds of Lews Castle which was built by Sir James Matheson (1796 - 1878) shortly after he bought the island in 1844. Other buildings of interest include the Town House, Old Town Hall (1905), St. Peter's Episcopal Church (1839) and 19th century Amity House, formerly the Custom house and now the offices of the Pier and Harbour Commission. Martin's Memorial Church, named after the Rev. D.J. Martin, stands on the site of the house in which Sir Alexander Mackenzie was born.
One of the most famous sons of Stornoway, Alexander Mackenzie was in 1793 the first European to cross the North American continent, giving his name to the Mackenzie River which he followed to the Arctic Ocean.
The 1500 pupil Nicholson Institute, the largest of the 13 secondary schools in the Western Isles, was founded in 1873 as a result of a bequest by Alexander Morrison Nicholson, an engineer.
An airport links Stornoway internally with Benbecula and Barra and externally with Glasgow and Inverness on the mainland. Roll on-roll off car ferry services have operated since 1973 between Stornoway and Ullapool.
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