PORT LUDLOW — A group formed to restore a 115-year-old church has finally acquired the title to the property.
It took a year of effort to gain a clear title last week, said Terra Coyan and Jesse Michaels, co-founders of the Friends of Swansonville, because it wasn’t known who exactly owned the church building at 11 Werner Road in Port Ludlow.
“The title has been a mystery to the community and the Jefferson County system for many years,” Michaels said.
“The original deed dates to 1905 — no record of ownership to an individual, only to an entity that has not existed for over 40 years,” that being the Christ Congregational Church, which dissolved in the 1960s, she added.
Since then, the building was used by a variety of groups, but nothing was legally updated until last week, Coyan said.
Hans and Helene Swanson gave the land to the community in 1903 for a nondenominational church. Hans Swanson along with Severin Johnson, Hjalmar Johnson, George Bates and Mike Anderson built the church in 1904 and 1905. The deed was issued in 1905 to the Christ Congregational Church.
It was a busy place in the 1920s and ’30s, Coyan said, but eventually membership declined and the congregation dissolved.
“We know that they never really went through the legal process, and they probably didn’t have to back then to update the deed. So they [different church groups] just kind of carried on using the building,” Coyan said.
“The mystery of who owned this building and how it [the deed] functioned from a legal standpoint was always just, ‘Oh the community owns it.’ Well, Jessie and I were like, those are nice words, but what does that mean?” Coyan said.
Myron Swanson, the grandson of Hans Swanson, helped the Friends of Swansonville gain title, Coyan said.
He helped the group contact each of the more than 80 descendents to get waivers giving over any right they might have to the property to him and then gave the deed to the Friends of Swansonville, Coyan said.
“A very special thank you to Myron Swanson who made this possible,” the group said on its Facebook page.
The group now has begun preliminary talks with county officials to acquire an occupancy permit and other necessary documents, Coyan said.
Board members “have poured hours of time” into helping to build the history content, putting together a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, a five-year strategic plan for how the building can be used as a community center, grant writing and other endeavors, she said.
Board members are Jean Brittingham, Gayle Moug, Jake Thomas, Don Forbes, Tim Renesma, Tod Spedding and Kendra Hermanson, Coyan said.
Once the group can begin restoration work, the first project will be the bell tower. The face of the tower has been rotted out by water that came in through broken windows.
The entire restoration project will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is estimated. The group so far has received more than $35,000 in monetary and in-kind donations.
It raises funds under the nonprofit status of the Jefferson County Historical Society, which features the project on its website at tinyurl.com/PDN-swansonvillejchs.
Once completed, founders of the group hope to have a a space for community events as well as a small museum in the back and a digital museum devoted to the history of the church, Swansonville and Port Ludlow.
Coyan and Michaels both moved to the Peninsula in 2011 and live in the same neighborhood near the church.
Coyan is a licensed interior designer who has worked on several residential, commercial and hospitality projects, including historic building restoration and preservation, while Michaels has managed an historic apartment among other properties.
“We would both drive by this church every single day and see it just slowly falling and melting away,” Michaels said.
“So we connected together, and we both had the desire to see it saved and restored, and to honor its history.”
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at [email protected].
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].