A Century Ago, My Farm Was for Sale

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vashon island fog

When My Farm Was for Sale…

My farm house was built in 1888, when Washington was a territory and a year away from statehood. Just five years prior, the Northern Pacific Railroad had been completed, linking the Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest. Across the Sound, Seattle was only eight years away from being put on the map as the main embarkation port for the Yukon gold fields.

I try to imagine what life on Vashon was like at the time, a 37-square-mile wilderness in the middle of Puget Sound, an island of dense old-growth forests and a sparse number of settlers.

Oliver Scott Van Olinda (1868 – 1954) came to Vashon in 1891 and remarked on his first arrival, recalling his walk from Langill’s Landing up to Center, which is less than a mile from my farm.

“I came from the great prairies of Nebraska and, as I walked up to Center in the gathering dusk of a mid-August evening, giant fir trees towering three hundred feet above me on either side of the trail in an almost impenetrable wall and flanked by great banks of ferns, the beauty of the scene was overshadowed by the thought that such environment must harbor great hoards of bears and catamounts. I marveled at the folly of man, in thinking he could ever convert such material into a farm, a garden, or even a home. It was truly a stupendous task to contemplate.”

O.S. Van Olinda took this photograph of the road leading from the Vashon Dock to Center, in 1891.

A mere (and astounding) thirty years later (approximately 1919), the island had been mostly cleared of timber and farmland began to dominate the landscape. And it was that year, in 1919 that my farm was offered for sale. Surprisingly, a copy of the property’s sale brochure has survived, replete with telling details of farming on Vashon Island, and really, what had been accomplished in a very short time.

The following is a direct transcript of that pamphlet, which the previous owners Karin and Buzz, so kindly left with me and the house.

Within this transcript, I will highlight UPDATES with personal insights for a bit of then-versus-now perspective, based on 100 years of change (or not).


For Sale

Country Home and Farm

old vashon farmhouse 1919

VASHON ISLAND

The tool barn on the far left is the only remaining outbuilding.

PROPERTY – 32 acres, all in cultivation except about 3 acres.  About 10 acres under lease until Sept. 1, 1920, now in strawberries and producing good crops. About 7 acres in winter wheat, which usually produces 20 to 25 bushels per acre, or good wheat hay if cut early. Once acre in loganberries, which have given splendid returns per acres, on Vashon Island.

About 3 acres seeded to permanent pasture.  Balance in small mixed orchard of apples, cherries, pears, crab apples, peaches and prunes; also a few strawberries , raspberries, blackberries, currants, etc.; garden, chicken yards and buildings. All fenced and cross-fenced.

UPDATE – The property now has been whittled down to less than five acres. I’ve planted a new orchard, established a chicken yard and built a small coop, and fenced the front fields to deter the island’s hungry deer population. I’ve built a 30′ x 70′ high tunnel greenhouse and cleared a great percentage of the wild brambles once covering the property’s former pastures. 

SOIL – Sandy loam, especially suited for berries and small fruits.

BUILDINGS – Good 9-room house, including bath and sleeping porches; cement foundation, and in good repair throughout. Hot and cold water upstairs and down. Large barn, would accommodate 10 to 20 cows; good hay mow and feed bins; large fruit or storage house, milk house, hog houses, chicken houses, tool and implement sheds.

UPDATE – The house still stands proudly and with a welcoming presence that defies explanation. I’ve been working to fix her up and keep her around for another 100 years. It’s a slow, expensive, but deeply gratifying process. Most of the tall windows are original, with the exception of the south side of the house where storms yield no mercy to the exterior. The large barn collapsed decades ago, as did the substantial chicken house. There’s no trace of the other out buildings or water tower, but the tool and equipment barn still stands and thankfully enjoys a new roof and needed structural support.

EQUIPMENT – Farm is fully equipped with tools and implements, plows, harrows, grain drill, mower, disk, hay rake, wagons, everything needed which go with place.

WATER AND ELECTRICITY – Good, deep well, inexhaustible supply of splendid water, tower and 1000-gallon tank which supplies water under pressure to all parts of the house and buildings. There is also a never-failing spring for pasture use. House and buildings are all wired and electric light and power available throughout. Two H.P. electric motor pumps water, cuts hay and furnishes power for any machinery needed. Telephone with long distance service, daily mail at door.

UPDATE – The well is gone, but the house is supplied with Water District 19 water. 

SURROUNDINGS – There are a very large number of Madrona, Maple, Locust and Cedar trees about the yard, which make it very attractive and homelike. A good view of the water, Mount Rainier and the Olympics is obtained.

UPDATE – The large trees remain, though some of the ancient madronas have fallen to earth like old soldiers with bad knees and brittle bones. The Black Locust trees and giant maple have few rivals on the island in regard to stature. I love them like members of the family. The enviable view has been swallowed up by forest.

LOCATION – One-quarter mile south of Beall Greenhouses (largest in the northwest; five acres under glass), Vashon Island; 1 1/2 miles from Vashon dock, 1 1/2 miles from Vashon Bank, bank, post office, stores, churches; high and grade schools in easy reach and transportation free; 2 miles from ferry dock, where ferry to Des Moines makes six round trips daily, giving automobile service to Seattle and Tacoma over splendid paved and gravel roads. Also good boat service to both Seattle and Tacoma direct. This will soon be added to by installation of ferry service direct to Seattle and Kitsap County from north end of island, all of which gives most excellent transportation facilities.Vashon Island strawberry patch 1919

UPDATE – The Beall Greenhouses remain but are in complete disrepair and now overgrown with brambles, weeds and trees. The site and sights are surreal, like a monumental greenhouse ghost town consumed by nature, ignored by man. All the ferry routes mentioned are currently in operation, with the exception of the Vashon – Des Moines run.  

The Beall Greenhouses when fully operational. My place is just south of the tree-lined creek at the top left on the photo.

VASHON ISLAND – Lies between Seattle and Tacoma, giving unsurpassed markets for all products. The island has always been notd for its berries and small fruits, and is now coming to the front on egg production, many large and electrically equipped plants being in operation, and on account of markets, climate, soil, etc., seems particularly adapted for this business.

The island has always been noted for its berries and small fruits, and is now coming to the front on egg production, many large and electrically equipped plants being in operation, and on account of markets, climate, soil, etc., seems particularly adapted for this business.

UPDATE – Farming and self-sufficiency no longer play major roles in Vashon’s economy, instead the island is intrinsically tied to wealth and well-being of Seattle and Tacoma. Still stunningly rural, Vashon’s growth is also tied to water resources and unincorporated King County zoning regulations. That and the inconvenience (for some) of a ferry commute, make Vashon a rarified place. Small farms are making a resurgence and finding ways to earn income, from the farm-to-table culture to the making of local cheese, cider, wine and specialty products for customers interested in locally-source and delicious food. In my case, I grow flowers and fruits, teach classes, and host visitors at my farm’s Airbnb: Little Gemma, oh yes, and I write a blog. 

UTILITY – This place can be utilized for general farming, dairy, or hogs, but is more particularly suited for berries, small fruits and chickens, or as a country home place. Also it has good possibilities for cutting into small tracts later on, as its location and view is good, and will prove a good investment from any standpoint. As a home place there is no more pleasant or satisfactory location on Puget Sound. Pure salt water air, picturesque view, strategic location, fine roads and excellent transportation, with freedom from tramps and shifting and shiftless population make it an ideal home spot.

UPDATE – The only animals I keep are some cheeky chickens and an even cheekier bulldog. Berries are still the star performers for me, from loganberries, to raspberries to tayberries. The sandy loam soil suits their natures and habits well. In the orchard, my heirloom apples shine a little brighter each year, both in presence and taste. I built a large greenhouse to extend the season for growing mammoth and exceptional dahlias, zinnias, marigolds, and scented geranium for the floral trade and summer weddings. 

I delight in knowing the farm once had territorial and Puget Sound views. A century later, reforestation has screened my Mt. Rainier view to the South and the Olympic Mountains to the west. I could not agree more with the following line, and I am happy to report it stands true a century after written, “As a home place there is no more pleasant or satisfactory location on Puget Sound.”

Thankfully, some things never change.

PRICE – $16,500.00; terms can be arranged, or might accept properly located live property of lesser value as part payment.

SEE PROPERTY

Call on or address owner at 201 Boston Block, Seattle or on premises. Ferry leaves Des Moines 7:55. 9:45, 11:30, 2:55 week days, and 8:30, 11:30, 3:00 Sundays. Stage to Des Moines leaves from First and Union Streets.

W. S. DANNER, Owner,

201 Boston Block, Seattle, or Vashon, Wash.

Tall Clover Farm

Originally known as the Danner Place and then Callaway Corner, the seventies manifested a new name, The Peach Palace, thanks to a jarring, and later beloved paint color that has now faded to a laid-back beige. Notoriety also came in the common knowledge that The Peach Palace was a party house, once occupied by members of Vashon’s most popular and notorious rock band, the Doily Brothers. Fifty years later and I would bet you dollars to donuts that I could walk in any direction with a gardening spade and dig up a beer bottle. 

The name Tall Clover Farm is my own invention, one that manifested itself through quirks, coincidences and conversation (but that’s a story for another day).

Buddy would send his love, but he’s a little preoccupied with that beautiful view.

Be well, and thanks for visiting…

bulldog sitting on a table
Speaking of good views…

43 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Tom,
    I love receiving your mail. They always make for interesting reading like this article tonight. Thanks for keeping me up on the Tall Clover Farm news. I’m located in Olympia.

  2. I’m speechless.
    I grew up in this amazing Island and visit as often as I can. But as your sweet words describe the Island; the then and now, Time has stolen the freedom and carefree times of youth and left only memories of “Magical times.”
    Thank you Tom, although wealth has stolen our magical Island it’s nice to know there are those that search out the history of what was “Vashon”.

    • Tina, I can only imagine growing up here, you lucky woman. As an Air Force brat, I moved around the country about every other year. Perhaps that’s why I love my community here so much. Vashon is still a special place, but we have to be dedicated stewards to keep it welcoming and a home for those who love her. Well wishes, my fellow Islander.

  3. Hello Tom and Buddy,
    Enchanted by your take on life and the surrounding environment that you always present a bewitching view .

    One often moves into a home but the historical events are so often tucked away never to come to light again.You have inspired me to delve into the past of my old home.

    Hugs and butt rubs for Buddy from V and the Furry Gang

    • Hey V, thank you. It’s a fun detective story for me. I just found a book yesterday, out of pure coincidence, that highlights pioneer remembrances. The Callaway family (the folks who bought the place in 1920) are included, so my research continues. Say hi to the Furry Gang!

  4. I absolutely love reading your articles and look forward to each and everyone! Love the history of your home ! Hi from the SF Bay Area & another island- Mare Island with a pretty interesting history of its own.

  5. How lucky for you to have a little piece of your home’s history! I love the peek into the past with current update. Shiftless tramp-free living! Thanks for this morning’s top read 🙂

  6. Tom,
    Few people would relish the history and heritage of their home and land as you. What a wonderful testament to the forebearers and your love of the island.
    Thank you for sharing. It was a wonderful read!

  7. Nice one, Tom — the Peach Palace (I see dead peachness, I guess) endures as one big canvas for your whimsical delicious creativity and Buddy’s performance art.

  8. Love that old sleeping porch! Can you grow dahlias year-round in your greenhouse? I feel like I receive a gift every time I see Tall Clover Farm in my Inbox. Happy Holidays!!

    • Thanks Karen, what a lovely compliment, one I don’t take lightly. As for the sleeping porches, they are wonderful spaces, now windowed in, but still inviting. My hope is to one day put in large hinged divided light windows that I can pull up and hook in place to open up the room to westerly breezes and the garden in bloom.

  9. Great stuff, Tom – thank you! I love the history, and it’s fascinating to see the old pictures. And I bet if the original owners could see how you are taking care of the house and land, they would be smiling. Take care, and adios,

  10. I agree with Michael. That was my first thought when I saw the picture of your beautifully-maintained home and the lush lawns. What a sense of history it gives one to follow the history of a home through the years. For sure your house has a longer history than mine – mine was built during the Second World War and is one of the areas designated “Wartime Housing.” The Architecture students at McGill University did a wonderful project some years ago showing how the development has grown and changed throughout the years. What it has maintained is a sense of community that is rare in a city the size of Montreal, and I am always conscious of the house’s history as I work in the garden or walk through the rooms. Your house is very lucky to have an owner who appreciates its history and I’m sure its spirit is nodding its approval!

    • Thank you Sandra, I really marvel that the house wasn’t “improved” upon too much. The south side stairwell endured an indignity of awful angular replacement windows circa 1970–windows better suited to a prefab log home. Buddy likes them because they let a flood of sunlight in on the landing — perfect for sunbathing and napping or both. I’m not sure how to approach them and replace them, so they stay for now. Thanks for sharing some insight into your community. It sounds pretty special, especially any time you can keep a friendly scale and approachable neighborhood.

  11. Tom – I loved your 100 years about your home. We moved to Vashon in 1965, with 4 small children. I was not sure about living on an island, especially on the water in Glenacres. After couple of months I was hooked! We jumped into island life, St. John Vianney, St. Patricks Catholic Churches, schools, pre school and Jaycees. Our house was the Beattie House, the road end was an old dock (Aquarium) where there had been a store and Post Office. When we first arrived there were still a couple of old pilings marking the spot. We were told the road ran north along the beach. George (June) Blair owned the property, it was called Blairs Addition on the County Records. He moved the road away from the beach to where it is still located. Thank you for sharing.

    • Edith, sounds like you landed on a little slice of island heaven. I saw Aquarium on an old map once and was puzzled by the name. So glad to hear more about it. Thanks for sharing that great recollection.

  12. What a beautiful place. So cool that you can trace your home back from so long ago. I don’t know if you watch Aerial America (channel 367 on Dish), but, Washington State was on this morning. Made me so homesick. As a transplant from Kalama, Wa. to Mississippi State I miss the mountains and forests so much. Thank you for a great post and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    • Thanks Pamela, I’ll check out Aerial America, sound stunning! I’d love to revisit The South someday, but I fear I might melt as a Pacific Northwesterner, used to 60-degree summer days. 😉

  13. Hi Tom! Isn’t history just the greatest thing? My neighborhood in Tacoma has just been placed on the National Historic Register! The area is called “College Park” and Jeff Ryan, an architect that lives nearby, is responsible for doing all of this great work to get us there!

    I’ve also been looking into family history. It turns out that the family legend IS TRUE! I have direct relations that came to the “American Colonies” with William Penn way back in the 1600’s. This Spring I will be traveling to Pennsylvania to visit the site where the brother of my 6th great grandfather built the first meeting house for the Quaker colony in Middletown PA. How exciting is that?!?

    Bless you, Tom. Tess The Wonder Dog says “Hi” to Buddy!

    PS – I’m the plum jam lady.

    • Hi Margaret, so great to hear from you. I suspected you had a noble line in you somewhere. 😉 Buddy sensed it first that day at the farmers market. Keep me posted on how the trip east goes.

  14. Hi Tom and Buddy,
    Love, love, love, your blog. Thanks for sharing the history and memories of your 100 yr. old home. Love that you include wonderful photos in all your postings. I can almost feel the home’s history and the see the people who lived there—just as you have shared your life with us in the home now. Great writing! Like Karen, I too feel like I have received a gift every time I see Tall Clover Farm in my Inbox.
    Happy Holidays!

  15. I also love finding Tall Clover Farm in my inbox. Really loved reading the history of your home. Isn’t it amazing that these old houses last so long with a little tender loving care. They seem to roll with the hard times knowing that one day somebody like you will come along to tend their wounds. What wonderful surroundings you live in, doing what makes you happy.

    Wishing you and Buddy a very happy Christmas.

  16. Tom ! Listenining to your latest show ! You sound like you are on NPR ! Love the old pgotos .. and you are talking about FRUITCAKE. I am fasting today Rats , sounds really good ! Merry Christmas!

    • Wow Brooks, thanks for that sweet compliment. Um, NPR, I’ll take it! Next time you’re in town drop by for fruitcake, I’m sure I’ll still have a wedge in the freezer. 😉

  17. Tom Thank you so much for this posting. So grounding for us featherless bipeds to look out for our roots. By way of a gift back I send you this. One of the loveliest stories of our home. It reminds me so much of Haida Gwaii- expect the sea mist to roll out of your screen and bead your hair with pearls….sandra

    • Thank you Sandra, what beautiful words. And the imagery of that short animation is stunning and hypnotic. ummmmm….my heart beats a little slower after watching.

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