Renewing a home on Dutch Hill saves a bit of family heritage

  • By Debra Smith / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, June 28, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

L eonard and Nancy Bluhm snapped photos of their Snohomish house when they bought it in 1992.

The farmhouse in the photos looks tired and tiny, the white asbestos siding weathered and dingy.

Photo Gallery

The vista northward looking directly at the south side of the home…. [ view gallery ]

This home was never fancy, but time had chipped away any appeal. It would have been easier to knock the old structure down and start fresh.

But the couple had a vision of what the house could be, and Leonard Bluhm had a sentimental attachment. They decided to fix it up, but it wouldn’t be easy.

His family had occupied this land on Dutch Hill since 1903, and they wanted to hold onto as much family history as they could.

Bluhm, 65, knows this land intimately. He can look across a field and spot cedar trees his mother planted decades ago or dredge a hundred memories from his childhood.

His grandfather, H. William Ohlde, tamed this patch of land in 1903. The native of Germany first tried farming in Wyoming and Kansas but had no success. He traveled to California and Oregon before settling on 40 acres of Dutch Hill. His holdings would eventually grow to 320 acres before being sold off or split among his descendants.

It was on one of these parcels of land that Leonard Bluhm’s uncle, Walter Ohlde, built the little home with salvaged lumber in 1941. The square house had no eaves and measured 24 by 28 feet on the inside. He chose a no-frills floor plan: a parlor and bedroom at the front of the home, a kitchen and bathroom in the back. Two bedrooms upstairs remained empty and mostly unused.

Walter Ohlde’s bride, Hazel, would spend nearly all of her married life in the parlor. Disabled by multiple sclerosis, she lay in a bed positioned in front of the window so she could gaze out on the fields.

Longtime locals knew Ohlde, a beekeeper, as the “Honeyman of Dutch Hill.” When he died in 1992, the Bluhms decided they would buy one of the remaining parcels still owned by the family. Nancy Bluhm remembers telling her mother their plans.

“My mother just sobbed,” Nancy Bluhm, 62, recalled.

“You can’t move into that!” Leonard Bluhm remembers his mother-in-law blurting out.

They can and did.

At first, the Bluhms focused on making the house livable. Walls were filthy with soot from the wood furnace. Windows leaked and were rotting. They scrubbed and wallpapered and replaced the old knob-and-tube wiring, so-called for the ceramic knobs and tubes used to insulate the wiring. They ripped out windows and took down walls.

Nancy Bluhm admits in those early years, she didn’t always share her husband’s vision. She had left a beautiful home in Marysville with “a woman’s dream kitchen,” modern and spacious with floor-to-ceiling cabinets and drawers.

Her 1940s kitchen was cramped and dark. The cabinets were painted turquoise and orange and the counter space was so limited she washed dishes in the bathtub during family functions. She began carting around a photo spread from “Country Kitchens” magazine, a perfect picture of what she wanted.

“Honey, just be patient,” Leonard Bluhm said. “We’ve got a goal, a dream here, and you will get your kitchen back.”

First, the house would get dormers, wraparound porches and closet space. They reversed the stairway to bring it up to code. Throughout the remodel, they added decorative touches that suggest a much older home such as tongue-and-groove bead-board ceilings and wood molding. They converted an old ironing board closet into a canning pantry, now neatly filled with homemade canned goods.

For a time, the couple kept bees, and they still raise chickens and grow a sizable vegetable garden. They’ve added curved planting beds and neatly trimmed the grass.

Finally, three years ago, the couple added an addition to the house, her dream French country kitchen and living area. White painted wood cabinets, bead board and solid wood floors give this modern kitchen the warm country feel Nancy Bluhm had dreamed of.

“I go in there, and I just want to cry,” Nancy Bluhm said. “There is hope, there is a way you can take nothing and do something with it, it goes to prove it can be done.”

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or

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