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The Alexander-Libbey House in Coupeville
By Peggy Darst Townsdin
Special to the News-Times
The Gothic-style Libbey House on Main Street in Coupeville that may be torn down or moved was built in 1870, by John Alexander, Jr. In 1851, at age 16, he had accompanied his parents on the schooner “Exact” from Portland to Olympia. On the same trip, the vessel set ashore at Alki Point, with the Denny Party, Seattle’s founding family, who were also on board.
John Alexander Sr., who was born in Ireland in 1806 or 1808, filed for a Donation Land Claim on August 1, 1852. His claim adjoined the claims of Isaac Ebey on one side and Captain Thomas Coupe on the other. Alexander’s land ran from what is now referred to as “Ebey’s Prairie,” all the way right down to the water’s edge on Penn Cove.
Alexander’s claim is home to “Prairie Center,” the “Big Rock” or “Rock of Ages,” all of Main Street and of course the historic 1855 Alexander Block House, which he built next to his home, to protect his family from the warring Indians from the north. He also built a beautiful inn there, which went by many names over the years, most famously known as The Block House Inn, which his widow first ran for years as Mrs. Fay’s, having married Capt. Fay after John’s death. The beloved inn burned in a terrible 1960s fire. The Island County Historic Society Museum now sits on the exact spot where the inn was located.
When John Alexander, Sr., died in 1858 he was buried next to his blockhouse in a hollowed-out log, Indian- style, at his own request. Somewhere along the line his body was moved to Sunnyside Cemetery and placed among the other pioneer town founders. Recently his large slate tombstone, which was deteriorating, was removed and placed inside his beloved blockhouse. A duplicate stone was carved from granite and placed back at Sunnyside to mark his final resting spot. I give this history as a background to the house’s existence on Main Street.
Alexander’s son, John Jr., married Anna Lanning and built this house on a piece of the historic Alexander property. It was built with great style and beautified with the ornate scallops, stylish windows and balcony deck.
Inside is an interesting curved stairway leading to the upstairs bedrooms. No doubt a grand view of the cove and developing village was afforded from this room and balcony.
In 1877 Alexander sold the beautiful home to Joseph Barstow Libbey, another pioneer who had married Mary Etta Cook.
Joseph and Mary raised four children in this home. The house has been in the Libbey family all these years, for several generations, until just recently sold.
The Alexander and Libbey families were highly prominent and well thought of Pioneer Coupeville “movers and shakers,” as they say, involved in town government, and the establishment of this historic town.
Now the old house is in danger of being torn down even though it is already on the Historic Register, thanks to the efforts of the late Jimmie Jean Cook, author of, “A Particular Friend, Penn’s Cove.”
Peggy Darst Townsdin lives on North Whidbey and writes extensively about its history.