Following the sale of almost 60 acres of the sprawling Misty Isle Farms estate to four separate buyers in June, the purchase of another 5.2-acre parcel of the estate closed in mid-August, for a sale price of $500,000.
The buyers of the parcel, Adrianne and Matthew Williams, were also among the buyers in June. At that time, they purchased 5.15 acres and a large, older house on Wax Orchard Road for $925,000. Their August purchase is directly adjacent to that property — the site of the old Wax Orchards fruit processing cannery.
Now, with both transactions combined, the married couple owns a key piece of Vashon’s agricultural history — both the 4,300 square foot homestead and 11,000 square foot production facility for what was once a thriving, 243-acre enterprise on the island’s south end called Wax Orchards Farms.
On this expanse of land, the Wax and Sestrap families planted and maintained orchards of cherry and apple trees for decades, though all of the land has now been sold — with more than half of it purchased, over time, by Development Services of America, a food conglomerate controlled by the late Thomas Stewart, who died in 2010.
One of Stewart’s last purchases of the Sestrap’s land, in 2007, were the parcels now owned by the Williams’s, where the family home and cannery are located.
Under the terms of the 2007 sale, Betsy Sestrap, the matriarch of the family who helped build a thriving product line of cider, fruit and fruit-sweetened products sold by the farm, was given the right to continue living on the property until her death in 2012.
Betsy’s daughter, islander Anna Swain, said she was glad to hear that her family’s home as well as the adjacent cannery is now once again owned by a family with young children.
Adrianne and Matthew Williams, who moved to Vashon from Tacoma, have three children who now attend Chautauqua Elementary and McMurray Middle School.
“It was a fun and interesting place to grow up,” Swain said of her childhood home, recalling the wide expanse of land she was able to roam on, with only some restrictions. “… There was always something going on, and there were always plenty of chores. So it will be a good place for kids to grow up.”
Swain also said she hopes the cannery building can be given a new life — something Matthew Williams said he is interested in as well.
In an email to The Beachcomber, Matthew said he was open to ideas from islanders in terms of the use of the cavernous building — which, in the Sestrap family’s days, included a drive-in freezer and ample shop space.
He and his wife bought the cannery, Matthew said, because it sits only a stone’s throw from the family’s new home, and it was close enough that they had some concerns about what might come of it if they didn’t buy it. But now, he added, they are considering all options for the building.
Currently, commercial zoning of the site allows for food processing operations including bakeries, breweries, wineries, packaged foods and canneries.
“Our hope for it is that it becomes something that supports the island business community,” he said.
Matthew, who owns a company that commissions and services commercial equipment for restaurants, said he’d be interested in hearing ideas from Vashon business owners and organizations about the potential uses of the space.
“Between the much-needed building repairs and the time it’s taking to get permits, we figure we still have a while to dial in the vision for it,” he said. “For now though, we are happy to be able to keep it paired with the Sestrap house and excited about the potential for the cannery to turn into something great.”
Matthew encouraged interested business owners and organizations to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with their ideas.
The purchase is the latest development in the marketing of Thomas Stewart’s legacy on Vashon — the vast Misty Isle Farms estate, where Stewart, a major Republican donor, once hosted annual picnics with guests including Newt Gingrich and John McCain. Stewart died in 2010, in a helicopter crash, after moving to Arizona.
Unable to sell all of Misty Isle Farms to a single buyer despite more than a decade of intermittent effort, the owners of the sprawling Vashon estate had had some recent success selling it off in pieces.
The Misty Isle Farm property, which included 47 tax parcels totaling 525 acres, is bounded by SW 220th St. on the north, 115th Ave. SW on the east, SW 232nd St. on the south, and Wax Orchard Road on the west. It is bisected by Old Mill Road.
In 2007 — the same year that Stewart’s company purchased the Sestrap’s homestead and cannery property — the entire estate was listed for a whopping $125 million. But as the Great Recession hit and years passed, the asking price dropped dramatically – to $43 million in 2014, then $28 million in 2017, before the owners decided to market the property in smaller pieces.
King County has been interested in buying all of the western half of Misty Isle Farms, including the recently sold properties, for conservation purposes.
In a 2019 application to the county’s Conservation Futures program, which funds open space acquisition, the County Water and Land Resources Division said it hoped to eventually purchase 228 acres of Misty Isle – everything west of Old Mill Road.
The acquisition “would preserve farmland, increase recreational opportunities and protect ecological values,” the application said, citing the property’s habitats including pasture, streams and wetlands, as well as 75 acres of deciduous, coniferous and mixed forest.
However, the division’s application sought money that year to help buy only 93 acres – mostly bordering Old Mill Road – that did not include the recently sold properties. The parcels the county targeted instead included the pasture that is home to the annual Vashon Sheepdog Classic, and much of the forested corridor of Fisher Creek, a stream that supports cutthroat trout, coho and chum salmon.
Conservation Futures approved $2.6 million toward the purchase in 2020.
Greg Rabourn, of King County Water and Land Resources Division, told The Beachcomber that the county is continuing to pursue preserving this portion of the Fisher Creek watershed and that the county’s interests are not affected by the recent sales.