Debbie finds the old mansion … or does she?
By Debbie Scott © 2008
April 1, 2008
It was almost dusk when we got back to Discovery Bay, but Bob insisted that we stop at the “mansion,” a decaying and deserted old estate sprawled along a bluff overlooking Discovery Bay and facing the Crow’s Nest. It seems that years and years ago a lumber king for some strange masculine reason thought this spot would be a fine place to bring his young South American bride; but she (and I don’t blame her) stayed two months, said to hell with the good neighbor policy and ran home as fast as her little South American legs would carry her. The lumber king, hurt and bewildered, closed up the estate and never came back. (The Egg and I, pg. 185.)
They are only a few paragraphs in that marvelous book, The Egg & I, written by witty American author Betty MacDonald some sixty years ago. But those words created in my mind a vivid image of Betty and her husband Bob wandering through a once stately old, mansion somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The book said the home had “about twenty” bedrooms, but only one bathroom; a large ballroom; stables and barns, all covered with vines and cobwebs. Even more intriguing was the book’s retelling of the rumor that a wealthy lumber baron had built the estate for his beautiful South American bride. But she had refused to stay and, heartbroken, he’d abandoned the once-elegant home, leaving it to decay.
I lived on the Olympic Peninsula and couldn’t help but wonder if the old mansion story was true. I knew Discovery Bay well and was curious to see if the house was still standing. I knew that if this part of the story was true (the book is fiction, after all), Betty and her then-husband Bob would have been exploring its rooms and hallways in the early 1930’s. So a home in disrepair then, built around the turn of the last century, quite possibly had been destroyed, the land sold, and a new home – or many homes – may be standing in its place now. I wanted to know. I wanted to find it. I was sure I could.
According to the book, Betty and her husband Bob Heskett, together with Bob’s sister and brother-in-law, had been driving back from a day’s outing on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula when they stopped to explore the old house. Where did they stop; were they an hour from their home in Chimacum? Two hours? Just down the road? I re-read the pages in the book for clues, and a visit to the local historical society helped me narrow the search. Best of all, it convinced me that the mansion really had existed at one time. A letter in their files, one that actually criticized Betty’s description of “Anderson’s place,” was all I needed to get the ball rolling. Looking at an old map of Discovery Bay, I saw something that made me nearly jump with joy (bearing in mind I was in a library). There, along the coast of the bay, was a large plot of land with the notation “Anderson’s Duck Sanctuary.” Anderson! He must be the wealthy “lumber king” Betty mentioned in the book. But it seemed almost too good to be true. Could the old site really be right in the town were I worked five days a week, and just a few miles from my office? Could it really be that easy?
I was working in a small town called Sequim (pronounced “Skwim”), on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. Sequim is about 40 miles from the Egg and I farm, and Bob and Betty would have passed through it on their way back from their visit to Lake Crescent that day. From the description of the area, I was sure the estate – and I was now convinced it had existed – had been on Sequim Bay, at a spot along the coast called Port Williams. Port Williams had once been an active fishing port with a cannery, company store, large pier, and several homes. A large, white mansion once had stood on the site. Could that have been the Anderson estate? A trip to the Sequim Library gave me some answers, but there was no mention of a man named Anderson. I decided to drive out to the area still known as Port Williams, a short drive from my office.
To read: THE DESERTED MANSION – PART TWO, please click HERE!