Old Edmonds holly plantation gives way to new homes, enhanced habitat

Planted in stately rows almost a century ago and not worked since before 1950, the holly trees appear haggard and overgrown today.
The trees were planted in stately rows almost a century ago and have not been worked since before 1950. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

A little-known piece of Edmonds’ past is about to fade into history as an old holly farm just a stone’s throw from the intersection of Third and Caspers becomes the site of four new residential homes. In the process, Shell Creek, flowing along the eastern edge of the property, will receive an environmental lift as the builder plants native vegetation to replace the invasive English holly now growing in the stream buffer.

The old holly plantation comprises approximately 200 trees mostly obscured from street view by a line of homes along Caspers Street and Brookmere Drive. While the holly trees still stand in stately rows, the farm has not been worked for more than half a century. Years of neglect have left the plants overgrown and haggard, producing few of the prized red berries used to “deck the halls” at holiday time.

This aerial view shows the old holly plantation. Obscured from street view by a row of homes, the hollies were planted in the late 1920s and have not been worked commercially for more than half a century. (Google Earth photo)
This aerial view shows the old holly plantation. (Google Earth photo)

While a few of the hollies will remain after construction, most will be removed including those growing close to Shell Creek, a natural riparian zone that provides fresh-water habitat and supports a wild salmon run. Holly, native to Europe, is considered an invasive species, and according to the Edmonds City Code must be removed from buffer zones around critical wetland areas such as this.

“While we of course won’t be developing within the creek buffer, we’ll be taking great care to remove the holly trees now growing there and replace them with a mix of native vegetation,” said homebuilder Mike Echelbarger, who is overseeing construction. “This is an important part of the project. We’re dedicated to preserving the wetland around Shell Creek and helping enhance this environment for salmon and other wildlife.”

Running along the eastern edge of the property, the Shell Creek riparian zone will be enhanced with native vegetation and wetland area improvements.
Running along the eastern edge of the property, the Shell Creek riparian zone will be enhanced with native vegetation and wetland area improvements. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

According to the plans, other environmental enhancements will include rain gardens to help control runoff and a wetland area in the northeast corner of the property.

The story of the holly farm goes back to the 1920s, when Ira Gerdon built the stately Dutch Colonial home, now known as Madrona Manor, that still stands at the corner of Third and Caspers. Shortly after building the house, Gerdon planted the holly orchard in the open field just to the east.

According to his granddaughter Joan Gerdon, who still lives in the area, Ira built the home from a kit purchased “from either Sears or Montgomery Ward,” and worked the holly farm as a commercial enterprise into the 1940s.

“My grandfather was very energetic and worked the holly farm as a one-man operation,” said Gerdon. “He shipped his holly around the world.”

Madrona Manor shortly after it was built. (Photo courtesy Joan Gerdon)
Madrona Manor shortly after it was built. (Photo courtesy Joan Gerdon)

But for many Edmonds citizens, this property will always be best known as the home of the late Betty Mueller, who along with her husband Jim moved into the home in 1950. A tireless volunteer who spent countless hours working for the betterment of the Edmonds community (read her obituary here), Mueller helped found both the Edmonds Police and Fire Foundations. She was recently honored by having the new Fire Station 16 named in her memory.

Betty and Jim’s children Betsy, Jim jr., John and Mike grew up in the house during the 1950s and ’60s.

β€œThe holly farm was no longer being worked when we moved in,” Betsy remembers, “and a cow was pastured in the field with the holly trees. As children we always wanted a horse, so Jim and I would ride the cow around instead. She was pretty energetic, and we’d jump Shell Creek together with me on her back! After seeing how much we enjoyed this, my parents broke down and bought us a horse.”

After Betty Mueller’s death in 2013, the house and property passed through several hands and the holly orchard was most recently purchased by Edmonds homebuilder Mike Echelbarger. Permits have been approved, and Echelbarger hopes to begin construction this spring and be finished sometime in June.

Complete permit information can be viewed here.

— By Larry Vogel

 

  1. So glad more home are going in, just what we need, higher population density, less trees, and more cars.

  2. I would rather see new homes built on unused land within the city and its existing infrastructure (“backfilling”) than lose more forests and farmlands to new subdivisions which require construction of new supporting infrastructure.

  3. The article doesn’t say if this lovely old historic home be saved as part of the developers project? If not, another piece of Edmonds history lost…

  4. Great story and glimpse of Edmonds History. Having lived here since 1955 I was unaware of the story of the holly plantation. I am sure the project is in good hands with Mike Echelbarger and that Shell Creek will get some much appreciated rehabilitation.

  5. Larry… thanks for the great writing along with the historical perspective in pictures. Your attention to detail brings the story to life. I look forward to hearing how restoration of native vegetation works in the context of a new development.

  6. I am glad to hear that this particular Gerdon-built home will be saved. My parent’s Gerdon-built home at 610 Glen Street in Edmonds (just behind the original Edmonds High School) met the wrecking ball a few years ago and we now have a condo in its place. I watched as it was dismantled piece by piece to save some of its history before it was completely razed. Sad.

  7. As my childhood friend, Marty Corey, said in a message to me: “Boy, spent a lot of hours in this place.” I recall the fun we had along that creek. The holly farm and creek discussed in the article are behind my family home while I attended second through fourth grades at Edmonds Elementary School in downtown Edmonds. I can see part of our home in the aerial photo, though it mostly shows a huge shed in the back lot that wasn’t there when I lived there.

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