SEQUIM — A bit of serendipity, a friendly neighbor and a state-funded program is helping keep a piece of Sequim history alive.
The Olson family, who owns and operates the Lavender Connection off Cays Road, is in the finishing stages of a months-long project to restore their 100-year-old-plus barn, thanks to a grant from the Washington Historic Preservation Society’s Heritage Barn Grant program.
Rebecca Olson said a significant portion of the structure, part of the original Lotzgesell family homestead, would have collapsed under the weight of this year’s “Snowmageddon” snowfall in February had the family not already started the major renovation project.
“We certainly would have lost a third to half of the roof,” she said.
Olson said in April 2018 that Judy Reandeau Stipe, volunteer executive director for the Sequim Museum & Arts, stopped by the property to see if the family was interested in applying for a state grant designed to help preserve structures like the Olsons’ barn.
“It’s such an important part of the history of the area,” Olson said. “That’s the architecture of the region.”
Olson said she collated as much research as she could about the Lotzgesell barn, sent it in for consideration to the Washington Historic Preservation Society and late last year received word it was one of several applications selected, with the state matching dollar-for-dollar cost of the repairs.
As of last week, Olson said, the project is running more than $100,000.
She said she feels fortunate that her family was able to preserve a piece of Sequim history, and hopes that others with barns in the area know they can apply for similar funding.
“It’s important for people to realize it’s an option,” she said. “We would not be able to do this project without the grant.”
The grant timing was such, Olson said, that the family was initially told they’d need to finish the project within a year. Fortunately the Olsons had a retired civil engineer (Rebecca’s father Richard) and a contractor (her husband Doug Mazzeo) available and able to do the work.
Since last fall, the pair have been at work in the major two-phase renovation, with Mazzeo taking the lead on the final stages on the roof of a barn described as “a combination of saltbox gable (uncommon in this region), with a gable-on-hip shed on the south side.”
Replaced portions of the barn, predominantly beams and rafters, were done with wood similar to the original construction, Olson said, while much of the barn’s sides remain intact.
While there are a few bits of the overall renovation to finish — and the state has given them an extension to complete it — Mazzeo said the vast majority of the work will be done in time for the influx of visitors to Sequim’s annual Lavender Weekend in mid-July.
Dubbed “Old Red,” the Olsons’ forklift became a somewhat unexpected key piece in the renovation. Attaching 16-foot posts to help support a sagging portion of the roof, “Old Red” helped the barn survive the brunt of “Snowmaggedon” earlier this year, Mazzeo said.
According to Olson’s research, the barn’s history dates back to the mid-1800s to George Henry Lotzgesell, one of the first pioneers to establish a homestead in the Dungeness Valley.
In a history piece Olson recorded and sent to the Washington Historic Preservation Society for grant consideration, she wrote, “Verbal historic records list both 1859 and 1864 as the homestead settlement date. Historic documents are difficult to read, but the certificate of ownership from President Andrew Johnson appears to have been recorded on June 18th, 1876.”
The Lotzgesell family owned the property for decades and after clearing the land of timber, eventually began dairy and cattle farming, Olson noted. In addition to farming, George Henry Lotzgesell was a prominent member of the Dungeness and Sequim communities, serving as justice of the peace and later county commissioner. When he died in 1907, he split his homestead land between his sons Frank and George.
In 1913, both sons built dairy barns within a mile of each other on opposite sides of Cays Road — the dividing line that split the original homestead, Olson wrote. George Lotzgesell’s dairy barn is still standing off Lotzgesell Road, operating continuously as a dairy farm and known as the Milkey Dairy as recently as the 1990s.
Frank Lotzgesell also became one of the more successful dairy farmers in Clallam County, presumably using the 1913 barn — now part of the Olson’s Lavender Connection — for his business, Olson wrote. In 1920, Frank Lotzgesell sold a 40-plus acre parcel of the original homestead to his daughter Bessie and her husband Frank Knopf, of which the Olson’s farm is a portion. The Knopfs then sold the parcel in 1924 to Emerson Boone and Violet Cameron, who farmed on the land until they sold it in 1942.
Several farmers have owned the property over the years, Olson noted, and it eventually was subdivided into two short plated parcels at some point in the 1960s, with the historic barn on one lot and the majority of the land on the other. One of the lots in the Olsons’ current parcel was purchased in 1969 by a man named John Lavender, who used the barn to store hay.
“We have been assured by friends of his that he would be delighted to know there is now a lavender farm on his property,” Olson wrote in the grant application.
The properties changed hands a few more times and eventually both short-plated parcels that were reunited and sold to Richard and Susan Olson in 2004.
“Our parcel is just a small portion of the original Lotzgesell homestead, but fortunately the land has escaped extensive development, and has been farmed almost continuously since it was originally settled by the Lotzgesells in 1864,” Olson wrote.
The barn was assessed in 1926, but tax valuation records and the construction of the barn indicates it was built in 1913 by Frank Lotzgesell, she wrote.
“This means the barn is one of the oldest barns still standing in the Dungeness Valley, and an incredibly important piece of the Lotzgesell homestead farm history,” Olson wrote.
The next round of state grants for projects like these is in October, Olson said.
Through 2017, Heritage Barn Grant funding has provided assistance to 83 Heritage Barns throughout Washington state.
“Criteria for funding include, but are not limited to, the historical significance of the barn, urgency of needed repairs, and provision for long-term preservation,” according to the Heritage Barn Grant website. “Priority is given to barns that remain in agricultural use.”
Contact Jennifer Mortensen of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation at 206-462-2999 or [email protected] for more information about the grants.
See other barns receiving grants from the Washington Historic Preservation Society at dahp.wa.gov/historic-registers/heritage-barn-register/heritage-barn-grants.
Olson said she’s also seeking any personal history and/or historic photos of the barn as the family hasn’t been able to track down any prior to when they purchased the property in the mid-2000s, minus a 1954 survey map aerial photo.
Contact the Lavender Connection at 888-881-6055.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].