TOP O' THE MORN: Clover grew before Navy planes came

We remember we were making small talk and asked, “How do you like living in Clover Valley?”

A puzzled look, then, “Clover Valley, where’s that?” The Navy chief had lived there for three years. He had never seen any clover, he said. The naval air station is in Clover Valley? Another amazed pause. “Fantastic.” His friend the first class had never heard of it either. Nor had their friend the commander. They were interested, but not very. Everything has a history, even the Navy. So what’s great about a place called Clover Valley. A good spot for a runway or two.

Back in the prehistoric days before World War II, the valley was selected by the Navy because there was less fog in that area than anyplace else hereabouts. Or so we were told. It is a low place that runs along the west side of Whidbey Island to where Dugualla Bay indents the land.

A few thousand years ago it was a waterway. As few as 70 years ago, Dugualla Bay cut in with water deep enough for boats and barges where the highway is now. Tumbling creeks, large enough for fish ran into Dugualla Bay.

Dugualla Bay means “haven” in native languages and was a familiar rest stop for paddlers. The fish creeks gave up long ago and the bay itself was diked and drained to produce lush fields.

Then came the 1890s and a flood of settlers arrived. From the Dakotas and Michigan came Hollanders looking for farmland and where they could be free from the age-old fear of sea water.

It is said many Hollanders investigated the rich farming areas of Skagit Valley, but found the river flooded yearly. So they came to Whidbey Island which had no rivers and had protection from flooding.

The new islanders worked in pole camps and anywhere they could find employment in order to pay for their land. Slowly they cleared Clover Valley with horses and by hand. The bottom land emerged from standing timber and deadfalls to produce potatoes and wheat and clover and oats.

Charlie Nienhuis’ small sawmill produced lumber for neat homes and barns and the Hollanders took their places in government and business and built their churches. As Taapke Zylstra Nienhuis said to me once, “We don’t like to think about the old days. We are Americans.”

Then came the Navy and the country in crisis! Some of the houses built by Dutch pioneers still stand on the outskirts of what became the Navy base. Families who had lived in Clover Valley for generations pulled stakes without a backward look.

They were Americans. Their country needed their land if there was to be any free land for anyone. The war was on us and them, and Whidbey Island.

History is not all great causes and noble deeds. History is heartache and tears and sacrifice, and mostly, change. Change may come as it did to Clover Valley in 1941 or it may come gradually without hardly anyone noticing. New people move in and start new lives, new traditions and new history.

It has always been thus. But in years to come, someone browsing through dusty books from a hidden shelf may come across the words “Clover Valley,” and in an archeological dig find that underneath the hangars and runways, apartment houses, schools, barracks and great paved areas there was a place, like Camelot … called Clover Valley.

Dorothy Neil has been writing and recording local history for more than 50 years. Her books chronicle local life and times.

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