Lisa and Stew Pickford aren’t just owners of their 129-year-old Queen Anne Victorian home on Avenue B in Snohomish. They’re its custodians.
Over the past two decades, they’ve done what it takes to keep the historic home in tip-top condition — redoing the plumbing, replacing the boiler, renovating the kitchen so it meets modern needs while still matching the rest of the house, and painting the intricately detailed exterior.
“Things come up,” Lisa told The Daily Herald in 2011. “You find the money. You do it.”
Their home “is a prime example” of late-19th century Victorian-style residential architecture, said Christopher Gee of the Snohomish Historical Society. “Stew and Lisa have done an excellent job of maintaining it.”
It’s no wonder that the roughly 2,500-square-foot home has been a favorite stop on historic home tours over the years, especially on the annual Christmas Parlor Tour, for which it’s the most-requested house, thanks to Lisa Pickford’s devotion to elaborate holiday decorating. This year’s tour is set for Dec. 8, and will include the Pickfords’ home.
“Everybody loves Lisa’s house,” Gee said.
The Hensell House is the Pickfords’ third old home. They previously owned and renovated two homes in Seattle: a bungalow in Wallingford and a foursquare on Capitol Hill. They both are retired from the University of Washington, where she worked in the parking office and he was a forestry professor.
The Snohomish home was built in 1890 for L.W. and Mary Hensell, about a decade after the land it sits on was granted by the federal government to Snohomish pioneer E.C. Ferguson. It’s a typical example of the Queen Anne style, with a wraparound porch, a turret that shelters a second-floor balcony, stained glass in transoms above the double-hung windows, and a steeply pitched roof.
L.W. Hensell was a jeweler and one of the town burghers. Fine homes like his expressed Snohomish’s civic pride, in an era when it was still the county seat and was filled with optimism for the future.
But a severe recession in 1893, followed by a controversial vote to move the county seat to Everett in 1894, took some of the wind out of Snohomish’s sails. And the Hensells’ marriage also appears to have foundered; Lisa Pickford said she’s seen a newspaper clipping reporting that L.W. was ordered by the court to stay away from the house he built. In 1902, Mary J. Kohn (nee Hensell) sold the home to the second of its 13 owners.
The home’s ownership history is recorded on a framed document hanging in the foyer. Those previous owners deserve a good deal of credit for the house’s excellent condition, Gee said. It’s always been occupied by its owners; it’s never been a rental, and it was never subjected to the dire fate of many old homes: to be hacked up into multiple rental units.
The foyer functions as a mini-museum of the house’s history. A display case contains artifacts the Pickfords have found while working on the house, inside and out, such as the silver spoons Pickford guesses were used by kids to dig in the garden.
Also displayed on a foyer wall are portraits of P.A. Wright, a longtime Snohomish School District superintendent, and his family. The Wrights lived in the home from 1926 to 1948, and their legacy lives on there, Lisa Pickford said. Wright’s daughter, Annette, was the source of much of the home’s history, compiled by the owners previous to the Pickfords, and contained in a thick binder. She had polio as a child, and slept in a bed on the first floor near the stairs.
The superintendent turned a butler’s pantry into a small bathroom, and modified the front parlor to use as his office. “He built these bookcases, and he wrecked the moldings doing it,” Pickford said.
“If I were to take that out, I would love to replace it with a fireplace.”
Part of the Pickfords’ work over the years has been correcting earlier repairs that weren’t period-correct, or well-executed.
“In the good old days, people didn’t take care of their homes very well,” Lisa Pickford said. A prime example, she said, are the stained-glass transom windows, a signature element of Queen Anne Victorian design. “They didn’t try to save the colored glass. When the windows started falling apart, they just threw them out,” she said.
The Pickfords have done their best to keep the house true to its period. When they redid the kitchen, their carpenter built an elaborate crown molding out of seven separate pieces of wood. But some compromises were necessary; they had to use medium-density fiberboard for a few missing molding pieces, because wood trim thick enough to carve the intricate patterns is unaffordable today. On the exterior, a fiber cement product was used for fish-scale siding because the cedar available these days curls, she said.
The home is a perfect showcase for the couple’s eclectic collections, including a blow gun Stew Pickford brought home from Indonesia, where he worked in forestry for six months. They had to keep the blow gun well out of the reach of their two sons, Lisa Pickford said. There’s a vast array of other treasures on display, including Stew’s collection of cribbage boards and Lisa’s trove of crystal glassware — “the real stuff,” she said. “Know where I get it? Value Village.”
As for renovations, Lisa Pickford said they’re “pretty much” done.
Then she remembers the upstairs window casing where the paint’s starting to peel.
“That house is getting touch-up jobs constantly,” Gee of the historical society marveled.
Snohomish Christmas Parlor Tour
Tour historic Snohomish homes decorated for the holidays from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 8. Hosted by the Snohomish Historical Society. Tickets are $12-$15. Advanced tickets are available at Joyworks, 1002 First St.; McDaniel’s Do-It Center, 510 Second St.; and Annie’s On First, 1122 First St. Buy tickets day of tour at the Waltz Building, 116 Ave. B. Call 360-568-5235 or go to www.snohomishhistoricalsociety.org for more information.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.