Three generations gathered in the living room of the old farmhouse on Ebey’s Prairie. Most had flown in from California to be there. One drove in from Seattle. All wanted to reconnect with their ancestral home.
The smiling faces belonged to the descendants of Edward Jenne, who with his brother, Jacob, settled in Coupeville in 1876. And this fall, the family returned to those roots for a family reunion at the Engle Road farmhouse that Edward built in 1910.
“What a treat it was to actually stay here,” said Jean Dandona, great-granddaughter of Edward Jenne, remembering an overnight visit with her daughters for a “girl’s getaway” four years ago.
This trip, her brother Joseph’s family had the opportunity to stay at the farmhouse and he said he felt the same way.
The farm is now owned by Fran Einterz and Joyce Peterson, who rent out the Jenne Farm Gathering House for overnight visitors and special events. The couple is working to preserve the home’s agricultural connection by maintaining it as a working farm.
For some descendants of the Jenne family, this visit was their first trip to the home. For others, it was a return to a familiar part of family history.
Joseph Dandona said he wanted his children to see where their family had come from, and had stopped by the farmhouse about nine years ago to see if he could have a look around.
After no one answered his knock, he tried the handle and found it unlocked. He and his family then peeked inside. He said he figured he could explain what he was doing there since he is the great-grandson of Edward Jenne.
He also fessed up to munching an apple from an old tree on the property. He said he couldn’t resist the chance to partake in the fruit from a tree that his great-grandfather likely had planted.
“I always felt a little bit guilty,” Joe said with a grin. “But I really liked picking that apple.”
This time around, Joe had the permission of the current owners to be at the farmhouse.
In fact, Einterz and Peterson said they were eager for him and his family to visit and learn more about the family history. The visit turned into an enthusiastic two-way exchange.
The farm’s current owners pointed out some unique architectural features, such as the original windows and woodwork that had remained unpainted over the years. Joyce noted that the home was among the first Coupeville area houses to have closets in the bedrooms rather than armoires. The barn was built on a concrete foundation – another fairly unique feature, Fran added.
All of the farm complex buildings were constructed from wood from the peninsula, old growth douglas fir. The barge full of lumber cost $5,000, said Joyce.
“He was interested in quality through all areas of his life,” great-granddaughter Jean said.
This extended to education, she said. All of Edward Jenne’s children, even the girls, went to college.
The Jenne family’s history began in Germany where Edward and his brother Jacob were born. In the 1860s, the two boys with their parents moved to Illinois. As young men, the pair would head to Washington state.
Jacob arrived on Whidbey Island first on March 1, 1876. His route would take him via San Francisco, then Port Townsend and then on to Whidbey Island. Edward would join him six months later.
The brothers rented and worked the Willowood farm — the original Eason Ebey farm, now the Smith farm. Jacob would leave farming and build the Central Hotel on Front Street and Alexander, which is no longer standing. Edward would continue farming Willowood after Jacob changed careers.
Edward’s first wife, Louisa Schafer died in 1885 and no kids were born in this marriage. He would have five kids, Harris, Edna Velma, Manetta, Eldon and Gladys with second wife, Agnes Smith. The family members gathered for their mini-reunion were descendants through Edna Velma.
Joe said he believes that his great-grandfather must have been a pretty tough guy. He recalled how at one point late in his life Edward broke his back.
The story goes that he was chasing a cow when he fell off a stump. To get medical treatment, Edward had to travel to Mount Vernon.
At this time, the Deception Pass bridge had not been built and Edward had to make the ferry crossing. On his return, from head to hip, he was bound in a plaster cast.
A few years later, Edward would die in the living room — the very place that the family had gathered. He was sitting, waiting for his wife on a Sunday morning so that they could head to church.
The family shared happier stories, too.
Jean recollected how her mother, Gladys, spoke so fondly of her year living at the Jenne farmhouse. Gladys lived as a companion with her grandmother.
“It was the happiest, the best year of her life,” said Jean, “And she had a good life.”
“It was such a positive experience,” Joe said. “She really thrived up here and loved it.”
Even though Edward’s descendants left the area behind, Jillian Araluce, Jean’s daughter, still feels a connection to this area. Jillian felt called to move to the Pacific Northwest and she attends the Art Institute of Seattle.
Paget Bolotin, Jean’s other daughter, also feels a similar pull.
“It is really exciting and special to come back here,” Paget said. “I love the Pacific Northwest. I always have.”
She has already informed her husband that as part of living in Los Angeles now, in their retirement years Whidbey Island will be their home.
And on this trip, her husband Nate was finally able to see the place she has felt so connected to.
“I have been talking about this place for years,” Paget said, “So it was exciting to show him.”
Special thanks to Lynn Hyde, education and outreach coordinator at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, for her help with this story.