Nickel Bros successfully move Bill Liles’ home onto a barge in Ebey Slough to make its way out to Hat Island on Thursday, July 21, 2022 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Nickel Bros successfully move Bill Liles’ home onto a barge in Ebey Slough to make its way out to Hat Island on Thursday, July 21, 2022 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Island-bound homes are rollin’ down the river

Remote work has spurred an uptick in homes being relocated to Hat Island. One firm is bringing in three by barge this month.

HAT ISLAND — The homes were supposed to arrive by barge while most of the island was sleeping, but winter storms had shifted sand on the shoreline.

One was coming from Marysville, two more from British Columbia. After a week delay, they’re set to be unloaded Thursday evening onto the shores of Hat Island, a private island in Possession Sound between Everett and Whidbey Island. In the house-barging business, the sea has its own schedule.

The three houses are part of a recent wave of homes delivered to the island, which has 60 full-time residents, a golf course, yacht club and 110-slip marina. There are no stores or restaurants, and a gas pump opens for just an hour on weekends. A private ferry shuttles residents to and from the mainland.

Also known as Gedney Island, the isle is 443 acres, about the size of the average farm in the United States.

The island saw an influx of new residents during the pandemic amid a shift to remote work, island manager Kim Gleason said. As real estate prices climbed, more turned to moving old homes by barge.

“It’s cheaper and more convenient for some owners than to build out here,” she said.

Nickel Bros, a company that specializes in hauling houses, has moved five homes to Hat Island in the past two years, said Jeff McCord, the company’s marketing and sales representative. That’s about as many as were moved in the 15 years before 2020.

And more are coming.

“By the end of this year, we are expecting to move as many as 12 houses to Hat Island,” McCord said.

Nickel Bros, with operations in south Everett and British Columbia, has moved or lifted an estimated 10,000 homes since its founding in 1956.

“We rescue houses,” McCord said. “Our customers upcycle them and give them about a 80- to 100-year life. Very often the homes are threatened for demolition.”

Last week’s trio of homes were originally scheduled to arrive to Hat Island after 11 p.m. last week to coincide with high tides. The tide will be even higher at 7:13 p.m. Thursday. The houses will need to be transferred from barge to shore on trucks via a 100-foot ramp.

“The island has been extremely supportive with the practice of moving houses,” McCord said.

When the Marysville home is delivered next week, it will bring with it a piece of the city’s history. The little house was built around 1900, about a decade after the city incorporated. At one point, it was owned by Dorathy Duborko, married to former mayor Arthur Duborko.

The home sat along Delta Avenue until 2019, when the city began demolishing four blocks to make way for a new Civic Center. Nickel Bros moved the house with plans to renovate and sell it.

Three years later, the company found a buyer. Bill Liles, of Honolulu, Hawaii, is the historic home’s new owner and soon-to-be Hat Island resident.

For two years, Liles has eyed the island as “a great, part-time retirement place,” he said. Earlier this year, he found the perfect spot: an empty lot on the Hat Island Golf Course with an ocean view.

He and wife Diane purchased the property for $42,000 in February, according to county records. Then islanders told him of the Nickel Bros’ house-moving business.

“As soon as I looked at (the Marysville home), I realized what it could be,” Liles said. “It just looked like a fascinating project.”

The couple renovated the 900-square-foot two-bedroom home. On Thursday, Liles watched as the house was loaded onto a barge in Ebey Slough to make the journey to Hat Island.

“All the furniture is in it, the TVs are up, it’s ready to go,” he said on Thursday.

Liles said he and his wife hope to move into the house in the next few months, once a new foundation is built. They plan to golf, boat and fish. Giles enjoys the silence of the island and its history.

“It was a place I didn’t know existed and now I can’t live without it,” he said.

Hat Island took off as a resort community in the 1960s and was dubbed the “Hat Island Riviera,” according to a history by Robert A. Brunje on the Hat Island Community Association’s website.

Before settlers arrived, ancestors of the Tulalip Tribes maintained a clamming village on Hat Island. The tribes retain treaty fishing rights there.

Kim Gleason, the island manager, has lived on Hat Island for 22 years.

“(It’s) truly eclectic,” she said. “It’s really changing.”

She said younger families have started moving to the island in addition to retirees. The population climbs to about 100 in the summer. The self-sufficient island maintains its own roads and water system, and property owners pay a $1,200-a-year assessment for maintenance and personnel.

Want to visit? You’ll need an invitation by a local to take the Hat Island Ferry.

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; Twitter: @jacq_allison

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