Home of first Oak Harbor mayor moves to Coupeville

A part of Oak Harbor’s history floated away this week, but fortunately it’s now safe and sound in Coupeville.

Nickel Bros., a well-known structure-moving company, picked up the two-story, circa-1879 Ely farmhouse and moved it through the city streets in the dark late Wednesday and early Thursday morning. The 60 tons of house was placed on a barge and transported to Coupeville, where it was off-loaded at high tide and moved to its new home on Northeast Lauren Street.

“This has been an adventure, to say the least,” said Seattle resident Mary Jane Jones.

Jones and her husband are the home’s new owners.

The house was built by Jerome Ely, a Civil War veteran and Oak Harbor’s first mayor. It was located next to the Whidbey Presbyterian Church off Southeast Eighth Avenue, according to Bill Waite, the church’s building and grounds chairman.

He explained that the church purchased the structure in 2008 and partnered with the Opportunity Council to provide housing to families, especially victims of domestic violence.

This year, however, members of the church decided they could no longer afford to keep the house, especially after it became clear that it needed a new furnace and roof repairs. They didn’t want to demolish the historical structure, so it was placed on the market with the hopes that it would be moved and once again become a home, Waite said.

The Joneses happened to be in the market for just such a house. The Renton resident explained that her kids wanted to move to Whidbey Island, so she wanted to find a house on the island. She purchased the house from the church for a nominal amount and a promise to move it.

The cost of the move was advertised at $127,500.

“It’s a great old house,” Waite said, “and we’re really glad to see it’s going to be someone else’s home for the next 100 years.”

After Jones couldn’t find a for-sale house she liked, she decided to look at houses that could be moved to a suitable spot on the island. She discovered the Ely farmhouse through Nickel Bros. and thought the 2,900-square-foot house was perfect.

Waite put together a brief history of the “Queen Anne Free Classical style farmhouse.”

According to his account, Ely sold or donated the house and surrounding property in 1918 to the Oak Harbor First Reformed Church. It was a parsonage until 1948, when the first of three families — the Neinhuises, Eelkemas and Hansens — made it their homes. The church purchased it and surrounding property in 2008.

While Nickel Bros. have house moving down to a science, there was a slight wrinkle with the Ely farmhouse. Waite explained that moving the house in the moststraightforward way meant cutting some larger branches off a Garry oak tree.

Because of city ordinances which protect the trees, the city was going to require a hearing, Waite said.

Instead, the Nickel Bros. found a way to rotate the house and move it out without disturbing the tree.

Jones said the old farmhouse will become a family vacation home.

“There’s a lot I want to do with it,” she said, “but it’s very livable the way it is.”