When Lorraine Weatherby was a young girl in the 1930s, she and three siblings lived in a tall white farmhouse on what was then known as Clover Valley.
She only lived there for five years but remembers the house being surrounded by a vast sea of yellow.
“It was just unbelievable the amount of daffodils,” she said.
Weatherby is 88 now and few traces still exist from her early childhood in Oak Harbor.
The old farmhouse built by her grandfather around 1900 still stands but its future isn’t so secure.
The house is one of eight historic farmhouses located on Navy property that are slated for demolition.
Remnants from the days when Clover Valley was fertile land carved out by Dutch farmers before they gave up their farms to make way for the creation of Ault Field at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, the remodeled farmhouses are no longer used for Navy housing.
The private entity that owns the houses, Pacific Northwest Communities, LLC, a part of Hunt Companies, is focusing on new construction as opposed to maintaining old properties and no longer wants the old farmhouses in their inventory.
After three years of back-and-forth consultations involving the Navy, Pacific Northwest Communities, the state Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation and descendants of one of the farmhouse’s original owners, an agreement was reached to give the farmhouses one last chance to stay intact.
Pacific Northwest Communities is giving away the houses under one condition — the new owners must pay all costs associated with relocation.
All eight of the houses were built between 1900 and 1941 and remodeled extensively to initially become officers quarters and were used as military residences until being phased out in recent years.
All are located on federal property near Ault Field, most of them moved from their original location.
“At the end of the day, we need to move them out of our inventory,” said Greg Raap, vice president for Hunt Companies and Pacific Northwest Communities.
“The Navy asked us to replace the farmhouses with new construction homes, which we did.
“We’re not using the farm homes for housing.
“We don’t want to let them just sit there for another 40 years and deteriorate and just fall apart.
“The best way to preserve them is to get them in the hands of those whose goal is preservation of those homes.”
Pacific Northwest Communities has owned and managed Navy family housing at NAS Whidbey and other Washington bases ever since it entered a public-private venture (PPV) with Navy Region Northwest in 2005.
The company is transitioning the single family residences it owns in Oak Harbor away from Ault Field and more toward the Seaplane Base, where more services are offered to military families.
The historic farmhouses have been a sticky issue.
Since the process began to figure out what to do with them, the situation became more complicated when the houses were determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places because of their association to Ault Field during the base’s buildup to World War II.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to consider what effect their actions or actions by others on federal property may have on historic properties.
The key thing to consider, according to the federal legislation, is whether any proposed action will have an “adverse affect” on a historic property.
And if that is to occur, the public must be provided an opportunity to address ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate the adverse effects.
“They didn’t want to avoid,” said Kendall Campbell, archaeologist and cultural resource program manager at NAS Whidbey, referring to Pacific Northwest Communities. “You can’t really minimize demolition. So it was mitigate.
“And this is mitigate,” Campbell said, holding up a nine-page Memorandum of Agreement between Navy Region Northwest, Pacific Northwest Communities and the Washington State Historic Preservation Officer regarding the demolition of eight farmhouses at NAS Whidbey.
Three years ago, descendants of Henry Riksen and others were able to tour the historic Riksen home, one of the signature farmhouses that is pegged for demolition.
As part of continued compliance, the Navy is holding a 30-day public comment period for those who want to weigh in the plan to demolish the homes, which could start late this year, or express interest in acquiring them.
Campbell said she’s fielded numerous questions about the farm homes, including why the Navy can’t just save them. She reiterated that the Navy is no longer in the housing business.
“I can’t make the decisions for the Navy to save or not to save but I can try to do best by the properties,” Campbell said.
“That’s what I have tried to do in my part with this agreement is do the best by these houses and give them a chance.”
That chance now rests in lifting them off their foundations and moving them elsewhere — a venture that often proves to be too costly for most.
Kathy Lunsford, the great-great granddaughter of Henry Riksen, said her family can’t afford to save the Riksen home.
“If I was 30, there might’ve been something,” Lunsford said. “I’m ready to retire. A young couple in Oak Harbor, yeah, that would be wonderful.”
Most of the homes have some beautiful interior features. However, most also contain asbestos siding.
Weatherby’s grandparents and parents lived in the farmhouse that once stood on 20 acres near the base chapel but since has been moved outside the gate to Clover Valley Road.
The house, which now goes by Quarters P, was built by her grandfather, John Van Nieuwenhuisen, who raised chickens on the farm until the egg market crashed.
“It would be a sad thing,” Weatherby said of the proposed demolition.
“Not only for where I grew up as a home but for the others there that would be demolished as well if somebody doesn’t take them.”
One 1895 farmhouse that goes by Quarters K will avoid the bulldozer. It is located near Gallery Golf Course, has a saltwater view and is still used for Navy housing.
Scott Hornung, an Oak Harbor resident who retired from the Navy in 1991, said he doesn’t understand why the Navy wouldn’t consider using one of the historic homes as a command display and interpretive center.
Such a center, he said, could be used to not only recognize NAS Whidbey history, but the connection to the farmers in Clover Valley who gave up their farms and livelihoods to make way for the air field, which opened as “Clover Valley Field” in 1942.
A year later, Clover Valley Field was renamed Ault Field.
“There’s a strong connection or feeling between people who farmed Clover Valley and the Clover Valley name itself,” Hornung said.
Hornung said that the two boarded-up farmhouses just outside the Saratoga Gate might make sense as a command display and interpretive center both because of public access and the large parking lot nearby.
“I think there should be more of an effort to save the houses than tearing them down,” Hornung said.
He contrasted the situation with the fire this month in Coupeville that leveled the historic Smith barn and the strong community sentiment to rebuild it.
“We’ve got history there that represents something significant to the community and we’re just going to voluntarily tear those buildings down?” Hornung said. “There’s just something that seems wrong about that.
“Somehow the effort to preserve or resurrect the Smith barn might allow some consideration to save the farmhouses.”
HOW TO PROVIDE PUBLIC COMMENT:
There are two ways to provide comments and concerns about the proposed demolition or to inquire about acquiring a farmhouse.
Comments may be sent by mail to: Commanding Officer, NASWI, Attn: CRPM, 1115 W. Lexington Dr., Oak Harbor, WA 98278.
Comments may be sent by email to: NAVFACNWCR@navy.mil
To learn more on how to comment, go to the NAS Whidbey website at https://www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrnw/installations/nas_whidbey_island/om/environmental_support/section-106-national-historic-preservation-act.html