The Betty MacDonald Network™

A literary society and fan magazine
Editor's Blog

The Deserted Mansion – PART TWO!

Back at my office, I pulled out the local phone book. I began by looking in the regular listings, under “G” for Graysmarsh, and about fell off my chair. There in the listings was: Graysmarsh Anderson House and a phone number. I quickly dialed the number, but there was no answer. I left a brief and somewhat vague message on the answering machine. The next day, a very nice gentleman named Morty from Anderson House returned my call. Morty confirmed that an industrialist named Anderson had, indeed, built the estate in 1908. He said only two families had ever owned the property and he worked for the current owners, who had kept it in the family since the 1940’s. The family had purchased the property from Anderson’s widow, Agnes. But Morty couldn’t remember Mr. Anderson’s first name.

Did he know anything about the story of a “South American bride”? No. “That’s not true,” he said. A woman named Agnes was Mr. Anderson’s only wife and she had lived for several years after his death. It was true, however, that she never came to the estate. She was a Seattle socialite and had no interest in living so far away from her home. She had never even visited, Morty said. I tried to wrangle an invitation to see the property, but Morty stressed that the owners wanted no visitors, did not allow tours of the lodge or the grounds, and basically are a very private family who still uses the estate for family gatherings. There was some beach access which the family felt was sufficient for people who wished to see the estate. Morty gave me a few more tidbits of information, then hung up and I knew I’d learned all he could share.

At the end of Port Williams Road there is nothing to indicate it once was a thriving village. As a matter of fact, there was nothing at all except water, sand, and a monument to a fallen hero from World War II. No mention of the cannery, no remnants of any homes, and certainly no large estate. It is a beautiful, peaceful spot, and I made a mental note to bring my grandson here one day soon. Then I turned around and drove back toward town. On the way, I noticed a side road which turned sharply in front of what looked to be a gated driveway. I turned onto the road and pulled up to the gate posts, which clearly had once held large iron gates. Now they merely stood as sentries to guard a tree-lined lane which led to a wildlife preserve. Could this be the Anderson Duck Sanctuary I’d seen noted on the old map? I cautiously turned into the driveway, driving slowly, and found a small “compound” of buildings at the end of it. There were two homes, one quite small and one a bit larger, though clearly not an “estate.” But there were very large barns and several stables and sheds in the compound. No people were around, but a dog barked at my car.

I turned around and drove out before the dog got any more upset. I was confused. The description of the area matched my notes perfectly, but there was certainly no “20-bedroom” estate here. Had it been torn down and these smaller homes and barns built in its place? Their age was hard to determine, but they looked to be at least 40 years old. I drove back out the tree-lined driveway and noticed a sign that said “Graysmarsh Farm.” I know Graysmarsh is a large “U-Pick” lavender and berry concern in Sequim. My first summer on the Peninsula I’d cut a beautiful bundle of lavender in their field. But was it somehow connected to this Anderson fellow? Probably not. I drove to my office to call the main office of Graysmarsh and see what I could find out.

Now I became determined to get more information about Anderson, so I returned to the library. A librarian helped me find some references to the property, and even told me that she’d been to the “hunting lodge” as a child. Alfred H. Anderson had been many things, but the property in Sequim was developed to entertain his duck hunting friends. Today, much of the property is a preserve for water fowl – a bit ironic, I suppose. In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, school children were brought there on field trips. The librarian said she would try to find out more information about Alfred Anderson and call me.

A couple of weeks later, the librarian called and also sent me a copy of an email from another branch’s reference librarian. It stated that the reason Mr. Anderson’s beautiful estate is not noted in any of the historical information is because there was “some scandal, possibly an affair” associated with him. So it wasn’t a South American bride – it was a scandal. I later found out that it had to do with Anderson’s untimely death in 1914. Apparently, he collapsed in a New York hotel room, in the company of a lady who was not his wife. How typical of Betty to take the gist of a story and change it just enough to make it fascinating, but not a cold, hard fact!

From The Egg & I:

The main house, a Victorian grande dame, was prickly with cupolas, little balconies, and chimneys. The sagging porches and paneless windows gave it a wrinkled toothless look. Crouching at the back was a huddled mass of servants’ quarters with caretakers’ cottages, barns and farm buildings across the driveway on the other side. Buildings, orchards and gardens were strung along the edge of the bluff, but so obliterated by second growth, firs, blackberry vines, and salal that only by stumbling on broken bits of fence were we able to guess what had been where. (The Egg and I, p. 156)

Another trip to the property cleared up the rest of the story. The buildings I’d seen at the end of that tree-lined lane had been Anderson’s hunting lodge, stables, barns, and a out-buildings. They had been preserved, though the property had been vacant for periods of time over the decades. The stately home Betty and Bob explored was on another part of the property, and it, too, was still standing. One quiet Sunday afternoon, my fellow Betty MacDonald researcher, Ellen, and I drove to the mansion. It is set back from the road, and a large lavender field lies between the fence line and the home. We walked up, planning to ask whoever we saw if we could take a few photos. No one came out. The house was empty. Maybe it always was empty, it was hard to tell. We looked through the glass windows that flanked the front door and could see a large foyer and what may have been a ballroom. The home certainly was lovely, though had a lonely feeling that may have inspired Betty to exaggerate its run-down condition.

Around the back, we saw the large balcony which Betty had described as “rickety.” Like the rest of the house, it was in good condition, and strategically placed to look out over the Straits of Juan de Fuca, an amazing view. Several buildings and a caretaker’s cottage lie north of the home, and some horses grazed in the fields when we were there. The mystery of the deserted mansion was solved and, once again, I had been privileged to see, touch, smell, and photograph this bit of Betty history. I wonder what she would say if she was with us today?

Epilog: Since beginning this research, I have found out a great deal about Alfred Horace Anderson, the man who built this beautiful home. After his death, Anderson’s widow, Agnes Healy Anderson, made a gift in his name to the University of Washington by building Alfred Anderson Hall. It was dedicated in 1925, and still stands today.

Leave a Reply