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.”
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).
Country Home and Farm
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.
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.
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.
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…