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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“The 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