Old house, new life

A Central Whidbey Island home approximately 150 years old is getting a new foundation along with a new lease on life.

Workers have spent more than a week preparing to raise the Jacob Ebey House so a foundation can be poured for the historic home.

It’s part of a $490,000 project to convert the presently unused building to a visitors center for the many hikers who enjoy the trails scattered throughout Central Whidbey Island.

“It’s an adaptive re-use of an early settlement,” National Park Service Operations Manager Leigh Smith said of the project to restore the Ebey House. The project is funded by the National Park Service.

The Jacob Ebey House, which stands on a hill overlooking the prairie south of Coupeville, was built in 1855 and is one of the oldest buildings in the state. The two-story home, along with its accompanying blockhouse, are examples of the earliest Euro-American-style settlement in the Pacific Northwest.

To preserve the structure, workers will first install the new foundation and then replace anything in the building that’s rotted. The work will meet preservation guidelines set by the Department of Interior, said Mark Preiss, manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Workers have to raise the building approximately three feet to provide enough room to place the new foundation. In addition to the foundation work, the infrastructure will be replaced and the building will be made handicap accessible. Once the building is rehabilitated, a nearby trail, which leads out to the bluff, will be moved to include the Ebey House, Preiss said.

The project is expected to take two years to complete.

Workers have been spending the past week preparing the home to be raised.

“This is the oldest building we’ve ever picked up,” said Kevin Smith of Whatcom House Movers. “This lift is mostly two chimneys with an airbox.”

He said the chimneys, which were installed at either side of the building, provide the most challenging part of the lifting project. The chimneys are built separate from the home and he has to work to attach the chimneys to the house so every part of the building can be safely raised.


dig their job

While workers place large steel beams underneath the Ebey house, archeologists from the National Park Service are busy sifting through the buckets of dirt that were removed from underneath the building.

So far, the two archeologists have found broken plates, broken bottles and brick fragments.

“It’s just what you’d expect to see underneath a 150-year-old house,” said Dave Conca, an archeologist with the National Park Service while he was sifting through another bucket of dirt. He works out of the North Cascades National Park.

Conca and another archeologist have spent more than a week sifting through the dirt underneath and surrounding the Ebey House.

One discovery of note is the Chinese ceramics he found, which could be an indication of Chinese people possibly living on Whidbey Island early in its history.

The items found at the Jacob Ebey House will be cataloged and analyzed, and fragments stored at a site in North Cascades National Park.

Originally home to one of the earliest white families on Whidbey Island, the property was sold by the Ebey family descendants in 1880. The history is sketchy until 1929 when Frank Pratt, Jr., purchased the property. The property was owned by the Pratt family until Robert Pratt died in 1999. His death raised concerns that the 147-acre property would be opened up for development. However, that property, which included the Ebey House, Ferry House, bluff and Perego’s Lake, was donated to The Nature Conservancy.

The Ebey House had been vacant for decades before Coupeville resident Ken Pickard moved there in 1970. He lived there for 12 years. Hay remnants left in the house suggest it had been used for storage before Pickard moved in, according to information provided by Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Once the work is complete, the building will move to its next use, which will be a visitors center that will provide people with an original example of 19th Century construction.

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