JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Holiday tour opens window on childhood

SHE WAS THE youngest of the 14 cousins, but Phyllis Silva-Keith still remembers the big house on G Street, a block off Cherry.

She can picture her Aunt Mary in the kitchen, preparing huge meals for family parties.

She remembers climbing the stairs to the top floor, where the cousins played in the expanse of the nearly empty ballroom.

Most of all, she remembers looking out of the half-moon window under the eaves and marveling at how different everything looked from that height.

“I felt I was on top of the world,” she said.

Phyllis hasn’t been inside her aunt’s home in Port Townsend for 65 years. But on Saturday evening, she once again will step over the threshold of the three-story house where her aunt and uncle, Maria and Phillip McCullem, who had 12 children, lived during the 1930s.

Listed as the Pettygrove House, it will be one of four stops on the Victorian Society’s 2010 Holiday Homes Tour, which Phyllis and five relatives are taking advantage of.

“We’re so happy to be together again,” Phyllis said.

A family gathering

Phyllis grew up in Port Townsend but now lives in Kirkland.

Meeting her in Port Townsend for the tour is cousin Patricia “Pat” Cox of Sequim, one of the 12 McCullem children.

Also going on the tour are McCullem descendants Donna Larsen Nouss of Port Angeles and Sandy Wall of Auburn; Terri Wood, a third cousin from Port Angeles; and Laurie McCullem of Seattle, who was married to Danny, one of the youngest of the siblings who grew up in the Pettygrove House.

It was Laurie who alerted the cousins about the family’s former home being open for the tour.

“One by one, we started talking about it,” Phyllis said. “I was young, so don’t have as many memories. But I was old enough to know it was a special place.”

Known as the Pettygrove House because of the original owners, the house was built in the Queen Anne style in 1891 but modified when the porch was enclosed and a tower room added.

Secondhand store

Phyllis did some research and found out that before her aunt and uncle bought the house, they owned a secondhand store, which they operated out of the Palace Hotel. They also lived there.

The McCullems bought the house from the Butlers, and they referred to it as the Butler House, which, like other large residences, had become a white elephant but was perfect for a growing family.

Phyllis wasn’t born when the McCullems bought the home, but she remembers her Aunt Mary and Uncle Phillip talking about how they found the house.

“They were so excited to find a house for all their children and Grandpa and still be able to afford it,” Phyllis said.

Grandpa SEmD Antone Silva SEmD is in several of the photographs that Jan James got out after hearing about the reunion.

Jan is the daughter of one of the McCullem children, Jeanette.

Jan lives in Tempe, Ariz., and isn’t able to come to the reunion, but she made a slide show for the others to view beforehand.

The 12 children

In one of the pictures, part of the family is grouped around a car in front of the barn, and the children are identified by name and nickname SEmD Michael “Mickey boy,” Cliff “Tea Pot,” Emma “Snookie,” Charles “Tiny,” Patricia “Pat,” Robert “Teddy” and Jeanette “Doll.”

Sister Shirley, who apparently didn’t have a nickname, also is in the photo, flanked by her parents, Maria “Mary” and Phillip John, also known as “P.J.” and “Mickey.”

Another photo taken in front of the house shows eight of the 12 children, starting with the oldest, Marion Nell, who was born in 1911.

Marion and sisters Emma and Shirley are wearing dresses, and brother Cliff is spiffy in a white shirt and tie, but siblings on down the line are in shirts and dungarees that look like they had been handed down more than a few times.

Not in this picture, as noted in an inscription, are George, Howard, Jeanette and Daniel.

Phyllis’ family

Phyllis also dug out photographs, finding one of her father, Milo Silva, taken in 1934. Milo, who worked at the paper mill, is holding two large geoducks in front of the McCullem house.

Phyllis and her older sister grew up in a house on the corner of Walker and Clay streets.

Phyllis remembers when civilians couldn’t enter Fort Worden without an invitation and that during World War II, blackout shades were required on windows and her father was not able to smoke outside.

After the war, Phyllis and her family moved to Spokane, where her maternal grandparents lived.

The McCullems had moved out of the big house in 1941.

“We never went back,” Phyllis said.

After high school, Phyllis returned to the Puget Sound area, where she reconnected with her father’s family.

Now retired from Group Health, she is an associate of the Sisters of Providence in Seattle.

Staying in touch

Laurie McCullem continues to keep the cousins in touch, Phyllis said, which encourages them to get together and keep the family history alive.

“We remember things that helped us become the people we are,” Phyllis said.

“The Silvas and the McCullems were so dedicated to each other. They looked after each other. That continues with us today.”

Phyllis also remembers Ah Tom, who farmed the property north of her Aunt Mary’s house.

Well-known in the region, Ah Tom was the last of the area’s Chinese gardeners. He grew vegetables and sold them door-to-door from a horse-drawn cart.

Phyllis also recalls that in the summer, she and the other children would jump on the back of Ah Tom’s horse-drawn ice cart, grab slivers of ice and run off down the street.

“Port Townsend was a fascinating place to grow up,” she said. “I still like to go back and remember happy times and the freedom of being a child.”

Along with memories, there is a house with a half-moon window where a little girl looked out at the big, wide world.

The 2010 Holiday Homes Tour is Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Tickets are limited to 100 and, if not sold out, cost $20. They include music and light refreshments at four historic houses.

In addition to the Pettygrove House, the tour offers the chance to see the interior of the infamous J.W. Griffiths House, a Victorian on Morgan Hill with a shady past that was recently featured in the Peninsula Daily News; the completed restoration of the Col. Henry Landes House, last open when the renovation was still in progress; and the James House, a former bed-and-breakfast that is now a private residence.

The tour is sponsored by the Victorian Society in America SEmD Northwest Chapter.

For more information, visit or phone 360-379-2847.


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail

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