Blockhouse on solid footing

Imagine tucking the kids in at night and then worrying that the enemy might be sneaking up the hill intent on killing you all, perhaps even beheading someone like they did Isaac Ebey.

Naturally, you’d want some place safer than a farmhouse, something stout and able to withstand an attack. A last place of refuge for your family.

Such was the purpose of a blockhouse in the 1850s. There were nine of them on Central Whidbey and four still stand. One sure to remain standing for many more years is the Davis Blockhouse, erected in 1855 and restored twice, once in 1930 and again in October 2007.

As told by historian Theresa Trebon, Northern Indians killed Isaac Ebey in August 1857. It’s still the most celebrated death in Whidbey Island history. The beheading by Indians thought to be from Canada prompted the construction of several blockhouses by terrified settlers, including one built by the three Davis brothers, one of whom, John Davis, became the guardian of Isaac and Rebecca Ebey’s three children. Rebecca had died not long after arriving on Whidbey Island.

This particular blockhouse never saw action, but it did provide a measure of reassurance to the settlers. Roger Sherman, local historian and sexton of Sunnyside Cemetery on which the Davis Blockhouse sits, said that during the “Indian scare of the 1850’s, settlers went to the blockhouses at night.”

The kids in the Davis Blockhouse had it better than most, as it was the only one with a fireplace, though it must have been smokey without a chimney. The two-story structure also featured two windows on the lower level and one above, presumably to keep an eye on the surroundings. There were holes purposely left in the chinking to serve as peepholes and shooting holes.

The Cemetery District 2 commissioners allocated $25,000 this year to restore the blockhouse, which hadn’t had a makeover since The Ladies of the Roundtable funded the last effort in 1930, in honor of the Pioneer Mothers.

The job entailed considerably more than replacing nine rotted logs. That was done, but only after a new rock and gravel base was installed to prevent further rot. And jacking up the building caused the remnants of the original fireplace to crumble so it had to be rebuilt.

The cemetery district contracted with a small business from Colorado called Back Again Restoration, described by Sherman as “one guy and his helper,” who followed plans drawn up by a historical architect, Harrison Goodall of Clinton. Much of the manual labor was provided by the Coupeville Lions Club which contributed 250 hours of work over 10 days.

Sherman is proud to show off some of the finer points of the restoration. Steel channel iron was ingeniously hidden to support the second floor of the 17- by 15-foot structure, the old concrete floor that held moisture was removed, and some of the old logs that were only partially rotted were saved by splicing new logs into the old.

Some details remain, such as putting preservative on the wood, but essentially the restoration work to the Davis Blockhouse is done, at least for another generation. “They stabilized it and made it last for another 50 years,” Sherman said.

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