Vashon Island is dotted with a good number of historical landmarks that bespeak her step by step development. The first inhabitants were native tribes that hunted, fished, and fought with marauding northern canoe fleets as well as with each other. Next came the lumber harvesting days, with fishing, brick-making, and other pioneer activities accompanying. With deforestation, the island entered its agricultural phase, strawberries especially standing out as its prize produce. Small towns have now arisen and roads, ferries, and an on-demand airport connect the modern island, if in a somewhat limited way, with the surrounding state of Washington, but the reminders of the past remain intact. Edifices and artifacts that to the people of a former time were everyday sights are now of the nature of miniature museums, glimpses into the past, windows to another world.
Hilmar and Selma Steen House
Dating from 1911, this former home of Hilmar and Selma Steen, who immigrated to Vashon Island from Norway, is exquisitely designed. The brick foundation, the beautiful enclosed porch, the nearly unchanged interior, and the old-style beveled glass windows show the care and hard work that were put into the construction of Hilmar’s home. A nearby lumber mill that Hilmar’s family operated provided the house with electricity- a rare luxury at that time on the island.
Marjesira Inn in Magnolia Beach on Quartermaster Harbor
Dating from 1906, Ira and Jessie Case’s Marjesira Inn sits on a bluff above the harbor just behind the Marjesira wharf where visitors would land before entering the Summer get away town of Magnolia Beach. The inn provided food and lodging, and Jessie personally baked the bread. Ira was a newspaper operator, a state legislator, and a generally important figure on the island, yet that did not stop him from joining in with the local carpenter to piece together this four-story guest house.
Thomas and Etta McNair House in Burton
Dated to 1890, Thomas and Etta McNair’s Queen Anne style two-story home was built in the elegant and complicated Queen Anne Style by McNair himself. His income earned working in Tacoma most of the week made the building project possible. He would go by row boat across the sound while his wife stayed home and worked on the farm and took care of the house. McNair was quite a builder, also erecting a number of other area structures, including a local school facility.
Mukai Agricultural Complex in Vashon
Japanese immigrants Denichiro Makai and his wife Sato Nakanishi arrived on the island
in the early 1900s to establish a strawberry plantation, having heard the fame of the island’s strawberry industry while living in Seattle. Their innovations helped expand the reach of the island’s strawberry sales to far away lands by setting up a processing plant
that involved new and better methods of freezing the berries so as to fetch a better price abroad. The complex dates from 1910, and includes a packing plant, the Mukai’s home, and a garden (currently being restored) that combined Japanese and American landscaping techniques.
Schwartz-Bell Log House in Ellisport
In 1930, the Schwartz family came to Ellisport, Vashon Island seeking healthy, fresh air for their children to breathe, running from the city’s coat-soot air. This one-story cedar-fronted log home is a good example of the less expensive types of buildings families of necessity reverted to during the Great Depression. The materials were cheap and often found right on the land itself.
Smith-Baldwin House at Fern Cove in the town of Vashon
This picturesque, waterfront property sits near the shady-wooded, beautiful Fern Cove in Vashon. The house was built in 1912 for Elizabeth Smith by Seattle architect Harlan Thomas in the Georgian Style and wears the label “Rose Cottage” for its built-in rose patterns. Smith’s daughter, Dr. Belle Baldwin was among group of women in the country to become degree-holding doctors. The house is now incorporated into the Fern Cove Preserve of the Vashon Park District.
Harrington-Beall Greenhouse Company Historic District in Vashon
A few miles outside the town of Vashon lies the remains of a 23 acre greenhouse that played a major role in King County horticulture for a century. It was once the number one location for orchid and rose production in the nation and had earned a world-wide reputation for excellence. The Beall and Harrington family homes, the greenhouse complex’s 59 progressively more modern greenhouses, the on-site power plant, and the old-time farming implements help one to appreciate the realities of agricultural life at this famous greenhouse facility.
Vashon Hardware Store in Vashon Center
The building in which the present mid-town Vashon Center hardware store resides is the same place, with a 1930s addition added on, in which the very first store on the whole island was housed. The antique interior reminds residents of their past even as they shop for their common hardware and garden supply needs.
Vashon Odd Fellows Hall/Blue Heron Art Center in the town of Vashon
Now the Blue Heron Art Center, this 1912 building was originally the headquarters of the Odd Fellows Lodge and was the meeting place for numerous community celebrations and theater performances. It was truly a center of social activity in Vashon.
Other historical landmarks of note include: one of the few Russian Orthodox monasteries in the United States, the Bike in the Tree, the Seattle Distilling Company’s micro-distillery, and Sea Breeze Farm with its sustainable farming methods. The list of landmarks could go on and on, as the island is so full of history and so much has been left intact from earlier times in this slow-changing, rural island community.
The landmarks of Vashon Island represent the lives and endeavors of past generations of Americans of all walks of life. Everyone came to the island from somewhere else, whether just across the sound or across the world, but all sought to find a better life grounded in time-honored rural traditions even while constantly innovating and contributing to the prosperity and general well-being, not only of their own tiny domain, but also of the state, nation, and world. Through commerce and notable achievements of its residents, Vashon has made a real impact on the history of the state of Washington, so it is no surprise if “outsiders” wish to come lay their eyes on some of the significant sites found on the island.