The proof is in the guest book.
Visitors come to the Jacob Ebey House from points all over the United States. Some come from different countries. The majority tend to come from Seattle and surrounding communities.
“People have found the place,” Al Sherman said.
Sherman is one of the original volunteer docents from 2011 when the Jacob Ebey House opened its doors to the public.
The home, built in 1856, rests on the ridge above Ebey’s Prairie in Central Whidbey and offers an intimate look at what pioneer living was like in those days.
“The majority of visitors and particularly young people come up to the blockhouse and say, ‘What is that?’” Sherman said, referring to the structure in front of the home. “And that opens the door, man. We say, ‘Hey, these guys were scared of Indians and they built a blockhouse to protect themselves. And that leads to Col. Ebey and the rest.”
Memorial Day weekend is considered the start of the summer tourist season for the Jacob Ebey House and other nearby historic and natural attractions that are part of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
Docents will start their first shift of the season at 10 a.m. Saturday and will greet visitors and share their wisdom of local history four days a week through Labor Day.
The house will be open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Since the Jacob Ebey House opened to the public six years ago, the number of visitors have continued to climb, doubling from about 3,000 guests in 2013 to roughly 6,000 in 2016, according to reserve manager Kristin Griffin.
“That’s just four days a week and with all volunteers,” Griffin said. “We think it will keep increasing.”
To accommodate the growth, parking was expanded next to the Reserve’s office at the end of Cemetery Road. Work started this week to install a new self-contained vault toilet to replace the portable unit.
“We wanted to be able to provide a welcoming bathroom facility,” Griffin said. “Our visitation is increasing. It’s not just a summer operation anymore. It’s year-round.”
The shoreline and bluff trails at Ebey’s Landing, the mystique of the historic Ferry House, the Town of Coupeville’s historic waterfront and the surviving structures at nearby Fort Casey and Fort Ebey state parks have long been popular draws for tourists.
The ridge above Ebey’s Prairie became more intriguing for visitors once the Jacob Ebey House opened. A new Pratt Loop trail created last year that links the bluff trail to the Kettles Trails system has only given more reason for visitors to explore in that direction.
“You could go to the overlook parking (across from Sunnyside Cemetery) and never see a soul and now it’s packed all the time with cars,” said Sally Straathof, a part-time reserve ranger who also serves as docent coordinator. “We’ve established a parking area on the west side of the trust board office. During nice weather, that’s packed all the time, too. It’s amazing.”
Griffin has a theory that she thinks accounts for part of the rise in popularity.
“Everything in Seattle is booming and we’re a day trip to them,” she said.
Griffin said it’s a busy time at the reserve with plans already starting for next year’s 40th anniversary celebration. Other projects are in the works, including one this summer to fix up the sheep barn along the Pratt Loop trail as a learning space for educators to utilize.
The Ferry House will be open for guided tours once a month during the summer starting June 24.
A critical issue the reserve is facing, however, is docent staffing at the Jacob Ebey House, Griffin said.
The reserve is looking for people interested in sharing local history. Those interested should call 360-678-6084. Volunteers work four-hour shifts.
“They are proud of their community, proud of the resources and history here and they just love sharing it,” Griffin said.