Lynnwood couple works to preserve Lynnwood’s past

LYNNWOOD — The back yard is a like a private arboretum: a little shaggy, but lush and shady.

The greenery hushes the traffic that rushes by.

Here, there is history, and there is love, in an old house at a Lynnwood intersection, just blocks from the Alderwood Mall.

Ken and Katsuko Carlson bought the place in 1977. They raised three kids. Family photos fill the mantle, side tables and walls.

Ken Carlson, 82, keeps a scrapbook, narrated, of their lives.

He fell for his bride while serving in the Foreign Service in Japan. He liked that she spoke softly, that she was sincere and pleasant, that she had a college degree. They both worked for the American consulate-general in Kobe. They married in Tokyo in 1966 and lived in California and Seattle before moving to Lynnwood.

“It was nice here,” Ken Carlson said.

Katsuko Carlson, 76, stacks sweets on the coffee table for visitors. Her husband teases her about her collection of thousands of books, many of them in Japanese. Their 50th anniversary is approaching.

Earlier this year, the Carlsons were recognized by city leaders for their efforts to preserve local history by taking care of their home. One certificate is issued each year.

The 1.5-story house at 188th Street SW and 40th Avenue W. previously belonged to the Alderwood Manor pioneers, Leo Echelbarger and his wife, Helen Chase Echelbarger.

The exact age of the house is disputed, but it’s more than 100 years old, and listed on the historic Lynnwood tour.

* * *

There was no historic Lynnwood when Dean Echelbarger was born in 1922.

His grandfather, Albert Chase, had the house built.

From the outside, the house still looks about the same, said Echelbarger, now 92 and living in Edmonds.

Back then, the streets were more like trails, he said. The house had a bigger yard, before 40th Avenue was moved west.

The Echelbargers worked in freight, oil, paving and real estate. He and a partner helped start the Alderwood Mall.

It’s hard now to believe how Lynnwood used to be, Dean Echelbarger said.

“In those days, everybody worked,” he said. “As kids in school, as soon as we were old enough to help in the yards and keep the cows, my dad had cows and stuff, you went to work. I was driving truck when I was probably 12 or 13 years old, maybe even a little younger than that, hauling hay, doing things like that.”

Echelbarger was one of nine kids, though the youngest was born after he left for the Army.

“We were stacked three high,” he said. “My mother used to can absolutely everything. She’d have 400 or 500 jars for winter, but all the women did that in those days.”

The family hand-dug the basement for the house, using picks and pans, he said. It was a rough go. The gravel that covered the basement floor came from the beach in Edmonds.

That house was considered huge back then, he said. Now it almost seems small.

He remembers the Gravenstein apples that grew in the back yard. They were the best in the world.

* * *

The Carlsons needed a house big enough for their family. They paid $36,500. They’ve mostly left it as-is.

“We have the same couch and everything,” Katsuko Carlson said.

In 1977, Lynnwood’s population was approaching 20,000. Ken Carlson remembers when people could ride horses on 188th.

The road has doubled in size. It can be dicey getting out of the driveway.

Katsuko Carlson likes when the wisteria blooms over the front porch.

She worked for the Seattle Public Library for 27 years, much of that time with the bookmobile team. Her husband also worked as a travel agent and newspaper editor.

She paints, too, flowers in gilt frames.

A extension cord caught fire in the kitchen 25 years ago.

They had to pull up the linoleum. They found 1937 newspaper underneath that’d been used to line the floor. There was a Tarzan cartoon strip. They also found an antique cardboard box for soap — some brand they’d never heard of.

Ken Carlson saved the items.

The Carlsons’ three kids graduated from Lynnwood and Edmonds high schools: Jeannette, Wayne and Karen.

The couple has five grandkids now, too. The youngest is four. The oldest just started college.

Ken Carlson went around the world as a young man, once riding a motorcycle from Germany to south Asia. His scrapbook has pages for different countries, trips, pictures and stories from their life together.

The couple still aims to travel at least once a year. The trip to Japan got to be too much, though, too tiring.

For awhile, their daughter Karen worked for a Seattle TV news station.

Katsuko Carlson watched her every chance she could, getting up early to catch the broadcasts before dawn.

* * *

The yard is a lot of work. Everything grows so fast.

“The lawn, all of a sudden, it catches,” Ken Carlson said. “If it gets too long, you’ve got a heck of a time mowing it.” He’s been trying to scrape and dig away the moss that fights with the grass for life.

The trees shed, every hour, all year, thwarting his raking.

This season’s pears are just starting to show.

“When they come down, they just come down, hit you in the head,” he said. “You just can’t eat all of them.”

There are raspberry bushes, rhododendrons, thyme and poppies, too.

The Carlsons planted more trees: figs, apples, peaches, cherries. The cherries are still a little sour this year.

Ken Carlson tried studying Japanese, but worries about getting it right. At a market in Japan, he once heard folks call him “strange foreigner.”

He likes to spend time at his desk.

“We walk every day, and I read books every day, and we watch Japanese TV and all the sports. Right now are the Mariners games,” Katsuko Carlson said.

Some say their house was built in 1917, but Ken Carlson has only seen documents saying 1908 or 1914. County property records say 1910.

Still, he said, “it’s not too bad for something that’s over 100 years old.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

Take a tour

The former Echelbarger house at 18806 40th Ave. W. is among more than a dozen homes and properties on the historic Lynnwood walking tour. The tour is about three miles long.

The city also offers an historic driving tour, and geocaching opportunities. There are more than 50 designated historic sites in Lynnwood.

More info: 425-670-5000.

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