It was 1964 and the Millers wanted to live some place other than Navy housing.
They wanted something of their own, a small square of earth to keep.
Alice Miller, now 80, remembers it wasn’t easy to get a loan back then. They had good credit but Bill Miller, then an E-5 in the Navy, didn’t make much.
With the help of a VA loan, they purchased a 1935 bungalow for the then princely sum of $12,500. They also purchased a home with a history and a story.
“FOR US to be able to buy a home that big with that big of a lot for that price was virtually unheard of in those days,” said Bill Miller, 80.
The home, located in a development called Patton’s Hideaway near Hastie Lake and West Beach roads, was one of more than a dozen houses the late real estate developer Lloyd Patton bought cheap in Seattle and had barged to Whidbey Island.
It was an audacious plan.
But Patton was an audacious guy, an original thinker and a self-made man from Texas, who transformed the sleepy north end of Whidbey Island by building sub-division after sub-division.
Of all his real estate developments, probably none created quite the stir this one did.
“It was crazy — everyone thought it was nuts,” said Lanny Nienhuis, a long-time Oak Harbor real estate agent who knew Patton well.
“But he did it, and he did it well.”
LLOYD PATTON and his wife Bertha came to Oak Harbor in 1943 with the Navy. One of eight children, Patton grew up in Texas in a family so poor he only wore shoes to church on Sunday. He lived through the Dust Bowl. He later told his daughters the storms were so bad they turned day to night.
Patton was a man of deep faith. He and Bertha were founding members of what was then First Baptist Church — now known as the Church on the Rock. It seemed children weren’t in the cards for the couple until they had an opportunity in their early 40s to adopt triplet baby girls.
THE PATTONS’ daughters, now 66 — Martha Rodman, Mary Simpson and Marie Littke — remember their father as a loving man with a wonderful singing voice. He was a man who found success in business in part by seeking the wisdom of elders in town.
“He was a talker,” said Rodman.
“He made friends easily with different people,” she said. “And he was a man of his word.”
Simpson remembers driving with her father to Seattle to look at houses, pretty with their brick arches, and looking for treasures from the families that had to leave those homes.
“He didn’t want to see the homes destroyed when people could live there,” Rodman said.
“They had value.”
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Interstate Defense and Highways Act, making available money to build the Everett-Seattle-Tacoma Superhighway known as Interstate 5.
The 20-mile stretch through Seattle displaced businesses and entire neighborhoods of homes. Patton saw an opportunity.
In a 1983 article in the Whidbey News-Times, Patton told the reporter he had a vision to move the homes from the path of the project.
“Well, they needed them out of the way, so I decided to do it for them,” he told the newspaper.
“I just started buying homes.”
“Homes, homes and more homes.”
Some he bought for cheap, and others the city of Seattle gave him, according to the 1983 article. All of the houses were brick, though some of the new owners decided to cover them with siding.
The heaviest home was two-and-a-half stories and 85 tons.
CREWS JACKED up the homes off their foundations and drove them on flatbed trucks to Lake Union where they were loaded onto a barge and transported to Whidbey Island.
Patton put that 85-ton behemoth on the corner of Hastie Lake and West Beach Roads. He said he wanted it there so people would see it and want to buy one like it.
Plus, he told the reporter, they couldn’t haul it up the nearby hill.
The homes were placed in a then largely undeveloped area. Patton did then what regulations would probably not allow today. He used bulldozers to shove sand to the water’s edge, forming a ramp.
The barges were held until high tide and then brought in as close as possible for off-loading.
THE MILLER family would ultimately purchase a bungalow sited farther up the hill.
Alice Miller enlisted in the Navy as a young woman, serving a four-year stint as a military photographer. When some of the homes arrived by barge, the family had an 8-mm movie camera on hand.
They didn’t get to see their home barged — it was already in place when they bought the home.
Patton transported the homes a few at a time.
Her son, Clay Miller, was a preschooler at the time — too small to form his own memories of the homes being barged in.
A real estate agent himself now, Clay Miller said he is amazed at the scale and scope of the plan — and that Patton was able to make a profit.
“It always amazes me,” he said. “We don’t do things like that anymore.”
Patton wasn’t the first or only enterprising soul to move homes to Whidbey. In fact, there are other stories of people moving homes — including using farm animals, Miller said.
But it’s Patton who moved so many houses in such dramatic fashion that perhaps people best remember.
LAST MONTH, Alice Miller said she decided it was time to move to Harbor Tower Village, a senior community in Oak Harbor.
Except for deployments, she had lived in the home since purchasing it with her ex-husband.
Together they raised four children there.
Through the years, the home became the focal point of warm gatherings as the family expanded to include grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Alice Miller said she doesn’t mind moving, but she didn’t want to the home to leave the family.
“I loved my neighbors,” she said.
“It was a good place to raise kids, a great place to grow up. And it was a kind of hideaway.”
On Wednesday she signed final paperwork to sell the home to grandson Seth Miller, 23, and his wife Becky, 24.
The couple are Oak Harbor High School graduates.
Seth remembers many holiday dinners with tables stretching from one end of his grandmother’s living room to the other.
Seth recently got out of the Marines. Becky’s about to start a new job as a special education teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.
THE NEWLYWEDS were renting an apartment in Everett and originally looked for homes there, but the only thing they could afford was a one-bedroom condo.
This chance to buy his grandmother’s home couldn’t have come at a better time.
“She didn’t want to sell it to just anybody,” Becky Miller said.
“It was a huge blessing.”
On Wednesday the couple was busy painting the kitchen, making it their own. Power tools sat ready in the living room.
Seth Miller has big plans for the yard too.
They dream of raising a family of their own there.
And that house that traveled all the way from Seattle to Whidbey, for Alice Miller holds good memories.
“That house — it was a wonderful thing.”