A condemned Langley house slated for the wrecking ball turned into a history mystery when a log cabin revealed itself under layers of peeling wallpaper.
“I’ve been doing this 37 years but never encountered anything like this,” said demolition specialist Tony Chase, who prides himself on always checking before he swings, chops and destroys. “It really tripped me up.”
Property owner Marian Myszkowski also had no idea a log cabin hailing back to the days of horse and buggy lay hidden in her back yard.
“My parents never said anything about a historic log cabin being here,” she said.
Built with hefty cedar logs and hand-hewn square notch corners, the 25-by-17-foot cabin was renovated in the 1930s. A newer post and block foundation was set, the logs were sheathed for siding, a kitchen/bathroom added and a tin roof constructed.
Essentially, the cabin got entombed in the walls of the house as it got prettied up and modernized.
Chase, president and founder of Affordable Environmental Inc. in Everett, said his usual jobs involve demolitions, cleaning up meth houses, murder scenes and “just about anything you want to see go away.”
Chase offered his own theory — in his good-humored way — on why the cabin vanished.
“All of these types of renovations over an old structure are started by women poking someone,” he said. “Ma probably said, ‘Hey, this place looks older than dirt.’ That’s what my wife does.”
Chase peeled back six layers of pink, yellow and floral wallpaper, even newspapers from the walls. When he spotted a newspaper dated July 25, 1935 describing the opening of the Deception Pass bridge on Whidby Record’s front page, (spelling back then) he ran to Myszkowski’s house to tell her she might want to reconsider the demolition.
Myszkowski then contacted the historical society and the piecing together of the puzzling log cabin began.
Some say the cabin reminds them of tiny structures made from toy Lincoln Logs. Or that it resembles Daniel Boone’s old Kentucky home.
Those who really know such things say it’s unique — for the Pacific Northwest, that is.
“This is a very common type of cabin structure seen all across the country, but I’ve never seen it on Whidbey Island,” said Harrison Goodall, who specialized in historic structures and architectural conservation for 50 years. “I’ve passed this house again and again and never even knew about it.”
The provenance of several old wooden structures on Myszkowski’s Langley Road property is unknown. In 1990, when her parents bought the main two-bedroom ranch house, the 16.5-acre property came with the abandoned farmhouse, two small moss-covered sheds and a long wooden work building. After her mother died in 2004, Myszkowski sold two five-acre tracts of land, moved into the main house and assumed the property’s mortgage.
“It was an eyesore,” she said of the falling-down, rotted-roof old house that neighbors say was last occupied in the 1970s. “I just wanted it gone.”
But its old bones are staying put awhile as local and state historians try to unearth the cabin’s secrets.
Several origin ideas have been put forth since its May 5 discovery.
Kyle Walker, project manager of the South Whidbey Historical Society, explained some theories when Woodhaven students stopped by at Myszkowski’s invitation. Woodhaven is a small, private school based out of the South Whidbey Community Center.
“The who, what, when they built it is unknown,” Walker told the class. “We really don’t know much about it.”
Among the ongoing theories being investigated: Early logging or surveying crews built it as a bunkhouse; squatters used it for hunting and fishing; an indigenous family could have built it and resisted the move to government-assigned reservations. Or it could have been erected in a hurry to qualify for land claim acts that wooed Americans west with Manifest Destiny zeal.
Walker offered the students a quick history lesson to put the cabin’s timeline in perspective.
Snohomish people originally lived in villages on South Whidbey around what’s now known as Sandy Point. In 1850, Isaac Ebey became the first white settler to claim land on Central Whidbey while Langley founder Jacob Anthes arrived in 1880 and began cutting trees to supply Mosquito Fleet steamboats. He also helped plat the land, built a wharf and created roads. Perhaps the cabin’s creator knew Anthes or worked with him, Walker said. “It might have been an early settler to the island, and he was making a go of it.”
Clues to when it was built lie in construction. The entire structure is handmade and remnants of the original chinking or mud mortar filling gaps between timbers can be seen. The only nails found are long, hand-pounded square nails used to secure the roof rafters and wood shingles. “The square nails are indicative of the 1800s because machine-made nails weren’t made until 1900,” Walker told the class.
Dirt also holds clues. Myszkowski encouraged the teens to take a rake and sift for artifacts because old bottles, bits of china plates and old tools had already been discovered.
“Everything uncovered around the cabin will tell us even more,” she said.
Freshman Alicia Jenkins spotted a small bell, heavy and rusty. Holding it up, Walker said it may have been used on livestock.
Another student, Maggie Hogan, spotted small bones in the mud. She picked up the bird skeleton, showing it to Bob Waterman, president of the South Whidbey Historical Society. “I’m always finding bones wherever I go, bones and mushrooms,” Hogan said.
A small clear bottle then popped up. Following a dunk in a bucket of water, raised letters on the bottle read: Lee’s Pharmacy, Second and Columbia Street, Seattle, WA.
A true medicine bottle.
Plowing through land deeds, county and census records, historical society members have been able to piece together some of the cabin’s history.
On the 1892 U.S. census, Abram Pulver, 57, a farmer, is listed as owning the 40-acre tract. Born in 1832 in Geneseo, N.Y., Pulver moved to Montcalm, Mich. with his wife and five sons. By 1900, records show Abram and his wife, Jane, living in Seattle. He died in 1910. Subsequent owners include Mabel Piatt and Reginald L. Taylor.
The origin of the cabin could go back even further in time, possibly to the 1850s.
State architectural historian Michael Houser found the property listed as a donation land claim by Abram Pulver in 1893.
“Keep in mind that you had to prove up the land before officially getting a patent so the cabin could (have been built) 10 years or more before that,” he wrote in an email. “I see some square and round nails, which would also point to an early 1880s date.”
In general, log cabins dating back to the 19th century are rarely seen in the Evergreen State, Houser said, because they’ve been torn down.
“Any log cabin in Washington state is rare,” he said.
As its past gets explored, Myszkowski ponders the future of a 150-year-old piece of pioneer history she never knew she owned. An inventory of the cabin and its surroundings is ongoing as well as outreach with architectural historians. Walker said university programs may also be contacted to solicit interest in using the site as a student summer field study.
Myszkowski credits the guy she hired to pulverize the property for the unplanned pause.
“I told Tony that I wasn’t going to pay him for any of his demolition work because he still left me with a building in the end,” she joked. “Tony Chase, he’s the real hero. He could have just gone right in and demolished the whole structure, paying no attention to what was being revealed.”
South Whidbey Historical Society asks if you have information about the cabin site or would like to volunteer with the project, call 360-221-2101.
This story originally appeared in the Whideby News Times, a sibling publication to The Herald.