Longtime Edmonds resident bequeaths her property to city for community garden

The property was bequeathed by Shirley Johnson to the City of Edmonds for use as a community park.

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.

Shirley Johnson attended school in Edmonds, and is seen in this circa 1950 photo with the sixth-grade band. According to Edmonds Historical Museum Director Katie Kelly, Johnson is in the middle row, third from the right with the French horn.

“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.”

The Shirley Johnson house was built in 1925, and reportedly still has the original windows and siding. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

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.”

There are several outbuildings on the property, mostly covered in blackberries. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

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

 

23 Replies to “Longtime Edmonds resident bequeaths her property to city for community garden”

  1. How wonderful this is. I would have loved to have known the woman! How lucky you are to have experienced that Kristiana Johnson. Thank you. This is perfect A park a real park not a trail in the woods we have 35 of those haha. But a neighborhood garden Awesome. Great chance for the citizens of Edmonds to get to know each other. Lets suggest if we might that we let the Bowdoin area here be in charge of this and you Kristiana can help. You know what Shirley would want. As a neighborhood 5 corner will help. I know I will. I am a long time gardener.
    I find this very exciting.
    Its things like this about you Kristiana that make you so special… Keep fighting you deserve this council seat. We need you in this council seat. Sorry to make it political but I just admire how much you really know about Edmonds and its citizens. Deb Oh and Thank you Shirley Johnson for your sacrifice and extreme generosity.

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    1. This is a home and property I’ve long admired. The owners dud not cave in to hungry developers who raze and doze out our wonderful old trees and green scape to pack in new builds.
      Thankfully, Shirley Johnson remained steadfast under ( no doubt) mounting pressure, over the years to sell.
      I feel this land belongs to all the residents of Edmonds to contribute to a portion of a Community Garden rather just the Bowdoin Community.
      Will the bounty from this garden go to feed those with food insecurity? Food donated to Edmonds Food Bank?
      The land was bequeathed to ” our town ” not a particular street.
      Edmonds has a growing homeless population and food insecurity issues within its core.
      Let’s feed our community not the few.
      God Bless Shirley and her ” pioneering ways” that saved the land, the wonderful old apple tree I’ve seen since a child.
      We need more green space to filter our environment, shade and wildlife refuge for our natural habitat, as we see more trees cut down,astro turf lawns(?).
      A small refuge of the Edmonds I remember and grew up in.

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      1. This is a neighborhood market. Not a farm for our city to assimilate into their programs. It is a place to grow for all regardless of income. That sounds like what this lovely woman would want.

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    2. I’m sorry you could not have met her. She was very intelligent, artistic and very much her own person. She lived frugally her final few years relying on neighbors to take her shopping for food etc. One of the last times I saw her was at my brother’s home, not long ago, where several long time neighbors met for summer barbecues. She brought a big sack of treasures with her for me. Her artist husband had done a pencil drawing of me when I posed for a portrait class he was teaching up at one of the Spicer’s barns. That portrait was in the sack along with other art work he had done for the Leaning Tree Card Company. I spent many happy times up at the Spicer home. Shirley was also an avid reader and we shared a lot of books back and forth.

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  2. Thank you, Larry, for the wonderful article on Shirley and her friend Kristiana. Shirley was a determined woman and we are so lucky to have this generous donation of open space.

    The reason why Carrie Hite was looking for a community garden was because the previous very successful “P patches”, created by the many volunteers of the community and headed up by the Edmonds Floretum Garden Club, went back the church that had donated the plots. I hope the City utilizes local volunteer experts and doesn’t spends loads of money on consultants for designing the community garden.

    But how exciting-all that open space!!!

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  3. I am SO happy to read this article. I met Shirley briefly one afternoon, she had fallen on the sidewalk and I helped her up and waited with her until the fire dept came to check her out. Heard some good history, learned she was an Original Edmonds resident. So impressed she passed up money for Community! I too hope we use local resources for this project. I believe she knew “the farmer” who still has the garden plot on Walnut. I bet he’d be happy to help if he can! Who can reach out to him??!

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  4. What a wonderful gift to the city! A Pea Patch with volunteers. Perhaps sold at the market or help for the food bank. I would definitely try to volunteer,

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  5. Thank you Shirley !! The city of Edmonds has long been in need of a community garden. What a wonderful legacy to leave her hometown.

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    1. I believe that “farmer” on Walnut (just west of Yost Park) may have been my great Uncle Chuck (Charles) Cooper. Over time, he purchased a few contiguous parcels of land, building an adorable two bedroom home on one lot with his infamous garden on the lot next door both facing Walnut. Unfortunately, he passed away in his 100th year back in 2004. The property was passed onto a lovely family. When I read this article, it took me back to my family’s history. Uncle Chuck was married to my Great Aunt Signe (eldest of 8 girls!) whose family homesteaded in Edmonds from Finland early 1900’s. Uncle Chuck’s family immigrated from the British Isles to Canada, then to the United States. Edmonds will always hold a special place in my heart, even more so when I hear of people like Shirley and her generosity to preserve the love of community for Edmonds.

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  6. I lived three houses down from the Spicer family since I was 12 years old. Our house was built on what was formerly the Spicer farm. We moved into that brand new house around 1956. This article doesn’t mention her wonderful, kind father, Howard Spicer or her extremely talented artist husband, Mel Johnson. I loved going up to the Spicer’s home and barns. They always had cats, and kittens plus chickens. Shirley’s father had been a barber and he often cut my hair as I was growing up. Shirley was about 6 years older than I was but we formed a friendship and often when I was 17 or 18, we would go down to UW district to watch foreign films. Our families often got together with another long time neighbor for birthday dinners and summer barbecues. I truly hope a community garden is built on Shirley’s property as she wished and not sold so someone can put more houses on an already too busy Bowdoin Way.

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  7. Larry,

    Thank you for sharing Shirley’s story. This would have made her proud.

    I loved hearing the stories from the neighborhood about Shirley and the Spicer farm.
    My parents built their home in 1954 on a piece of land known as Swallow acres. It was sold to a developer who bulldozed everything and built 3 three thousand square foot homes on the site.

    I told Shirley that I could not save my family home but would do everything that I could to help her save her little farm. We hoped to do it by her 80th birthday. It took a little longer than that. In the end she lived out her life in her home and gave the city a wonderful gift. I am very happy to have helped her.

    The next step for me is to work with the Historic Preservation Commission to evaluate the property for inclusion on the Edmonds Historic Register.

    I also like the one idea of being involved with the Community Garden and offer to work with Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Fesser on this project. Thanks for that suggestion.

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  8. It looks like Shirley Johnson’s property was already on its way to becoming a park! What a wonderful legacy: The Shirley Johnson Park. Can’t think of a better use.

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  9. History of the P-Patch. It began in 1971 (maybe 1973) on a site in lower Ravenna. At the time I was operations manager for a Summer Youth program run by the Seattle schools and funded by the Department of Labor. It provided jobs for teens from low income families living in the city of Seattle. A member of our staff was a librarian at Garfield high school, John Rundberg. His wife submitted a proposal for a crew of ten enrollees to grow food for the food banks. She located a vacant field owned by an Italian immigrant whose daughter I happened to meet a decade later when she worked for the Seattle public schools administration office. We named the project the p-patch and its success caught the attention of the City of Seattle so that it was soon taken over and expanded city wide. Many enduring things came out of that program but this was one of my most gratifying.

    Off subject but pertinent. The aforementioned daughter told me about the discrimination she endured attending Roosevelt high school in the 1940’s because she was Italian and her parents were immigrants. How things change and yet remain the same.

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    1. If you are talking about the link in the story, I just tried it and it works — but it does take a while to open.
      — Teresa

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      1. I’ve tried the link 6 more times (also did suggested steps) and keep getting the same message: This site can’t be reached. The connection was reset. Try:

        Checking the connection
        Checking the proxy and the firewall
        Running Windows Network Diagnostics
        ERR_CONNECTION_RESET

        Is there another path?

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      2. Hi Just a tiny question. says 20 18 and 3 are MEN. The first time I saw this one of the posts states how her Will is written and what she insisted of for the use of this property. I think if you can find it it should be posted for obvious reasons. Sure appreciate it. I saw it here twice until today. It might have been yesterday.

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  10. Since this property is right off Bowdoin Way I hope that the planning for the road changes include some kind of parking for those who want to enjoy the end result of Shirley’s dream.

    Thanks Larry for capturing the pics and the story.

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  11. What a thoughtful gift to the residents of Edmonds. I’m enjoying reading the comments from those who knew her. A community garden sounds perfect for our city.

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