Edmonds resident Shirley Johnson (born Shirley Spicer) lived alone for many years in the home she loved. Her husband and son were both long deceased, and for years she lived a mostly solitary life in her 1925-vintage house at 9309 Bowdoin Way. Despite the home being badly in need of repair, Johnson simply could not bring herself to live anywhere else, preferring to enjoy what some might describe as a pioneer life amongst the fruit trees and blackberry vines that grew on her one-acre property.
The 83-year-old Johnson passed away in January of this year.
Having no significant heirs, Johnson decided in 2018 to will her home and property to the community she loved. It was her way to ensure that things she treasured be retained and not allow the property to be bulldozed and developed into something unrecognizable.
Accordingly, her will stipulates that her property be bequeathed to the City of Edmonds “specifically for the purposes of being used as a park and/or community garden site and/or to cultivate and grow plants, fruits, vegetables and other related things all for the City of Edmonds and for the citizens of Edmonds and the local community as the City of Edmonds deems best in their discretion.”
Longtime neighbor, City Councilmember Kristiana Johnson (no relation), remembers Shirley well.
“She attended the old Edmonds High School at the current ECA (Edmonds Center for the Arts) site,” she recalled. “Her home was right next to ours at the time, but today there are about a dozen houses between us. Shirley’s mom raised chickens and sold eggs, and my mother would often send me over to grab some eggs for breakfast. I’d reach right under the chickens to get them, and I tell you, some of them didn’t like giving up their eggs!”
Johnson went on to relate that Shirley was an only child, and that her mother, husband and son had all passed on before the turn of the century. While not close as children, Kristiana and Shirley came to know each other better in recent years.
“One day she was lamenting to me about how she loved her property and was wondering how to save it since she had no heirs,” Johnson explained. “Shirley was a real character, but she knew what she wanted.”
In response, Johnson put Shirley in contact with then-City Councilmember Tom Mesaros and then-Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite to talk about how willing the property to the city might be a way to preserve it as she would wish.
“Coincidentally, Carrie had been thinking about a community garden and was looking at a site in Esperance,” Johnson added. “I suggested that Shirley’s property might fill the bill and be closer to town and more accessible.”
According to Kristiana Johnson, the 1925 home was never remodeled, still has the original windows and has so much moss on the roof that it actually keeps out the rain. The house water system stopped working “about a decade ago,” but Shirley balked at the expense of fixing it, steadfastly refusing to leave, and choosing instead to continue “living off her land,” foraging for mushrooms, apples and berries.
“She was a very determined woman,” added Kristiana Johnson. “She stuck to her dream – that the property become a community garden – and made sure that was in her will.”
A draft ordinance to accept the property has been drawn up, and the City of Edmonds Parks and Public Works Committee was scheduled to review it during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The full council will likely act on it Sept. 21.
More information, including the draft ordinance and Shirley Johnson’s will, has been excerpted from Tuesday’s council committee packet and is viewable here. The full packet including all agenda items is available here.
— By Larry Vogel