Rock Bottom Line || Kathy Baxter’s Vision Becomes Historic Reality

Posted in Blogs, Community, History, Literary

BY HARRY ANDERSON
October 26, 2016

My friend Kathy Baxter is a very spiritual person. In fact, she made her living until recently as a spiritual coach, helping people overcome physical and emotional issues to find their own wisdom and truth with a variety of healing modalities.

So it’s no surprise that she uses meditation and visioning in her own life. In 2012, living in a rented cottage in Freeland while gradually winding down her practice in Seattle, she spent time imagining where her journey would now take her.

“I meditated a lot,” Kathy said, “and a vision came to me—a small farmhouse on a little piece of land on a prairie with a sweeping view. I invested in that vision and waited.”

Kathy Baxter’s house before restoration (photo courtesy of Friends of Ebey’s)

Kathy Baxter’s house before restoration   (photo courtesy of Friends of Ebey’s)

She didn’t wait long. Within days she opened a Whidbey real estate website and saw the exact picture she had in her vision. And what has happened since then has taken her on quite a journey.

The house for sale was on Ebey Road just outside Coupeville, almost exactly in the center of Ebey’s Prairie. It was a two-story, 1890 farmhouse on an acre of land with a squash barn and a horse barn.

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OPEN HOUSE
Historic Perkins House
Sat. Oct 29, 1 to 3 p.m.

1405 Ebey Road near Coupeville
Sponsored by the Friends of Ebey’s
and its Ebey’s Forever grant program

No charge but donations accepted
for the Ebey’s Forever fund.
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But the house was a wreck, written off as a teardown by most potential buyers and their contractors. It had been terribly “remuddled” in the 1950s; its old vertical double-hung wooden windows were replaced with horizontal sliders, a “modern” front door was added, its clapboard siding was covered over with cedar shakes, and its original yellow exterior paint color was changed to pale lavender. “They tried to turn it into a ’50s ranch house,” Kathy said. Also, every room was filled with stuff: boxes of junk, old furniture, kitchen bric-a-brac, etc.

Baxter’s house after restoration. (photo courtesy of Friends of Ebey’s)

Baxter’s house after restoration (photo courtesy of Friends of Ebey’s)

But the price was certainly right—$135,000. By the time Kathy made her offer the property already had an accepted offer with four backup offers, many from buyers who expected to tear it down and build a new house. But, true to her vision, Kathy waited and, one by one, all the other offers fell out. She struggled for several months to find a bank that would lend on such a dilapidated house. But finally, on Christmas Eve, 2012, the house was hers.

“I had blind faith that I could do this,” she said. “I had been told there were no ‘little properties’ on Ebey’s Prairie like the one in my vision, that nothing was for sale anyway, and that I likely couldn’t afford a house there even if one did come up.”

She didn’t know how it could happen, only that she believed it could. “Every step along the way has been an unlikely long shot. I just decided to keep taking forward steps until I couldn’t.”

Shakes removed from front and new cedar shingle roof installed (photo courtesy of Friends of Ebey’s)

Shakes removed from front and new cedar shingle roof installed (photo courtesy of Friends of Ebey’s)

Things began to fall into place. Her vision was to restore the house as much as possible to its original look and configuration as a prairie farmhouse. After one large contractor flatly turned her down, she found a small contractor on Whidbey who was absolutely sure it could be restored, and who really wanted the work. Staff members at the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve office were enthusiastic supporters and helped her find many resources to make the restoration as accurate as possible. (The staff maintains the inventory of contributing historic structures in the Reserve that now includes 426 buildings—including Kathy Baxter’s house.)

With help from the Reserve office and long-time prairie residents, Kathy has pieced together a bit of the history of her house. An unknown owner built the four-room house in 1890; a local farmer may have used it as a home for his seasonal farm workers. A dining room and kitchen were added around 1900, but it had no indoor plumbing. By 1915, ownership had passed to the family of Sabine Abbott, a Whidbey homesteader in the 1860s who returned to the island late in life after working in Seattle.

In the late 1920s, the house passed to Abbott’s granddaughter, Thirza Cawsey. She never lived in it but rented it for much of the ’30s to a branch of the Sherman family, pioneer farmers on Ebey’s Prairie.  The Shermans bought the place in the ’40s and divided the original five acres among themselves except for the acre with the house and barns. In 1950, the Shermans sold the property for $1,000 to the Smith family, who still operate the nearby Willowood Farm.  The Smiths did a major remodel, adding the house’s first indoor bathroom and a laundry porch.

A Navy captain bought the property in the early ’60s and added perhaps its most unique feature: an above-ground nuclear fall-out shelter in the horse barn with concrete walls two feet thick.

Edwin Perkins and his family, operators of a chainsaw and lawnmower repair shop in Oak Harbor, purchased the house in the ’80s and lived there until Edwin died in 2011.

All that history made Kathy even more determined to give the house back its “old dignity.” But it took a lot of work. She organized volunteer groups to help rip off the shakes and expose the original clapboard siding; I happily joined that rigorous effort one Saturday morning in 2013, earning blisters on my hands in the process.

5-old-front-door-spot-discovered

Boarded-up frame of the original front door (photo courtesy of Friends of Ebey’s)

Then came a very lucky break. The non-profit organization, Friends of Ebey’s, had been founded in 2011 to raise funds that would help property owners preserve and restore historic structures in the Reserve. Kathy applied for and received an $11,000 matching grant that paid for a new cedar shingle roof like the one the house had in 1890 as well as clapboard siding that was milled to match the original and used to replace rotted sections.

“I doubt I could ever have afforded those expensive things without the Friends of Ebey’s grant,” she said. “These grants are an accelerator that take a restoration from ‘serviceable’ to accurate. They preserve historic integrity in a way that nobody else is doing.”

Once the shakes were removed, architectural discoveries were made. The openings of the original double-hung windows were found. And the biggest surprise was the boarded-up frame of the original front door on the north corner of the front wall. Kathy has installed newly milled double-hung windows where the originals once were and she found, in a South Whidbey barn, a front door at least 100 years old that was exactly the right size for the original doorframe.

The restoration took nearly two years but today Kathy is proud to show off her beautiful home, which she will do this Saturday (Oct. 29) from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. during a public Open House sponsored by the Friends of Ebey’s.

And, being the spiritual person she is, Kathy is aware that this space has been shared by many before her. A friend of hers who she describes as a shaman, or spiritualist and healer, visited her not long after she moved into her historic home. He immediately sensed that there were “a lot of spirits here,” Kathy said. Four of them, he believed, were Native Americans who had lived on the prairie long ago and loved it so much that they stayed around to “guard the land.”

“That explained so much to me,” Kathy said. “It tells me why people love this place and families have stayed here for decades or more, and maybe it’s even why we created the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.”

Image at top: Kathy Baxter and her completed “new” home  (photo by Harry Anderson)

Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor, and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.

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Comments

  1. What a great article! I remember you driving us by this loveingly restored home and introducing us to Kathy when we visited Whidbey this past summer. Loved the history and the before and after photos too. Awesome job Harry!

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