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Vashon Community Care property has storied history | Time & Again
The property where the bustling Vashon Community Care Center now sits has gone through a series of transformations over the past 100 years — beginning as a working ranch, becoming a boarding house and farm for the poor during the Great Depression and finally transitioning to its role as a community-supported nursing home.
P.E. Ellsworth originally purchased the property along what is now Vashon Highway in 1908 and built the farmhouse, barns and other outbuildings seen in the 1915 photograph of the Ellsworth Ranch.
Ellsworth sold the property to the Carnation Company in 1918, which operated the farm until 1928, when it was purchased by the Seattle Exchange Club and given to Goodwill Industries to operate as a working farm to provide, according to the Seattle Daily News, “employment and a program of rehabilitation for men and women in need of such help.” The Exchange Club Goodwill Farm became an important support for the displaced as the Great Depression took hold and deepened during the 1930s.
Lena Johnson was the cook for the farm from 1937 to 1944 and continued cooking for Leon and Nell Hebert when they purchased the farm for $10,000 in 1944 and renamed it Hebert’s Boarding House. The Heberts continued to house many of the men and women who had been residents since the depths of the Depression. Public assistance paid $30 per month for each resident. Tom Hebert, Leon and Nell’s son, who grew up on the farm, described it as fully self-sufficient, with “hogs, draft horses, rabbits, Vashon’s only public stud bull — the famous Boeing Bull — milk cows grazing in the front yard, saddle horses, 1,000 chickens, a huge vegetable garden, and goats, goats, goats.”
As the residents aged, the Heberts gradually transformed the farm into a licensed nursing home and in 1953 changed its name to the Vashon Nursing Home. They continued to operate it until 1957.
Bruce and Dorothy Smith, who purchased the nursing home from the Heberts, renamed it Island Manor Nursing Home and added a new kitchen, a dining room and the west wing. The barn was demolished in 1963 to create a parking lot. In the 1970s, Bill Ide purchased the nursing home and added a “Summerfest” barbeque that quickly became an Island Manor tradition.
Mike McIntyre purchased Island Manor in 1977 and added a walking path around the property for residents to use. In 1980, Jim and Judy Alexander bought the facility and undertook a series of renovations that brought the structures up to current building codes; they also rebuilt the kitchen and performed major work on the sewage and water systems. The Alexanders formed a partnership with Regency Care Centers in the early 1990s with the intent of building a new facility and opening it in 1994. But a number of factors prevented the plan from being realized, and the project was abandoned.
In late 1995, the Alexanders announced they were closing the facility because of rising costs and regulations, which made operating a nursing home in an aging farmhouse difficult. The closing would displace the 36 residents, and as a result members of the Vashon community rallied to save the nursing home.
In an effort led by Ted Kutscher and Ted Clabaugh, 30 Islanders pledged loans to guarantee the lease of the property and within two weeks organized a nonprofit, Vashon Community Care Center, to keep the facility operating.
The group quickly discovered that an entirely new facility would be needed within five years because of the deteriorated state of the original building and new regulations for care centers. The board of Vashon Community Care Center took on the challenge and enlisted the cooperation of Providence Health System to purchase the property and plan construction of a new facility. The board contracted with Providence Mount St. Vincent to manage the new care center.
The new building, with a 40-apartment assisted living facility, a 30-bed nursing home and a five-day-a-week adult day care program, opened in August 2001.
The photograph of the present Vashon Community Care Center shows the new facility, designed to maintain the lines and feel of the original 1908 building. As a minor note, the board just recently changed the center’s name; it’s now Vashon Community Care.
The history of this site is a rich one. Its many transformations, resulting in a community-supported care facility, is a great example of what a community can do when confronted with a crisis.
— Terry Donnelly is a landscape photographer. Bruce Haulman is an Island historian.