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House Party: Langley landmark turns 100

Susanne Paulson stands on the front porch of the Maine Stay, the home that she and her husband bought from the Dente family in 1996. The house is a 100-year-old historic landmark in Langley. - Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record
Susanne Paulson stands on the front porch of the Maine Stay, the home that she and her husband bought from the Dente family in 1996. The house is a 100-year-old historic landmark in Langley.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record

LANGLEY — A Langley landmark turns 100 and the community is invited to pay its respects to a home that has a century’s worth of stories to tell.

The house at 619 First St. in Langley has had many functions through the years. It was a bed-and-breakfast, a home, a birthing center and a place to crash for drunken boxers and gamblers.

Its current owners, Bill and Susanne Paulson, and Marj Dente, the previous owner for 25 years, are throwing a 100th-birthday celebration for the house from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, and the community is invited.

“It’s been fun sharing this history with our guests,” Susanne Paulson said. “It’s been fun to run into people who have history with the house.”

Sharing history

The house is one of the few remaining Victorian houses in Langley, and it has a fascinating history.

In 1908, five years before Langley was incorporated, the house at 619 First St. was brought to Langley. It was originally two one-story houses with hip roofs that were barged from Seattle, the owners said.

For the birthday celebration, Dente has summarized the home’s history and is ready to share it with visitors. She has also collected wallpapers that have been found during the various renovations to illustrate the change.

The original owner was Langley’s first postmaster who lived there with six children.

The house was raised above the ground using burnt-cedar poles, as was the custom in those days, only to be put on cement blocks with fir poles at a later date.

The house was the starting place for many well-known Langleyites. Dick and Mildred Johnson grew up in the house. Jack Metcalf’s grandmother lived there in the 1930s, Dente said.

Many other South Whidbey residents started their lives at the house when it was turned into a “birthing home” in the 1930s, when new mothers remained in bed after childbirth for seven to

10 days, Dente said.

At that time, a very small bathroom was added onto the second floor, using some of the hall space, and the home’s transformation began.

The bathroom on the first floor was added into the house during the early 1930s by enclosing the back porch entrance and making it into a room. The remodeling meant replacing the outhouse in the back yard, said Dente, who later found the pit for the outhouse after she moved a washing machine tank someone had put in the hole to fill it.

When Marj and Fred Dente moved to Whidbey from Southern California in 1972, they were looking for a farm to “get back to the land.”

But instead, their real estate agent found something better. The property on First Street had just fallen out of escrow and was available at a good price. But the seller had another buyer waiting in the wings, so a decision had to be made on the spot. The Dente’s became the owners for the price of $8,750.

Checkered past

Paulson said it was Dente’s love for the house and the history of Langley that saved the historic home.

“It was just going to be condemned. She really believes in the history of Langley,” Paulson said.

When the Dentes bought the house, the roof leaked badly.

Inside the house, 13 tubs and buckets had been placed strategically under the leaks by the previous residents, Dente recalled. And so the family started a major remodel and roofing project.

The community pitched in and the Dentes met many people who knew the history of the home and were willing to share.

During one of the remodeling sessions, the family learned that their house also had a dark history.

Men too drunk to catch the steamer back to Everett after a night of partying at the Dog House, found their way up the hill to stay at the home in Langley’s early days.

“They would hold illegal boxing matches at the Dog House and instead of going home, they stayed here,” Paulson said.

During the renovation, the Dentes found some unique artifacts. They discovered two mummified male cats while replacing the downstairs bathroom floor. The previous owners kept female Siamese cats in that room and apparently some of their suitors didn’t make it.

During the next two decades, new wiring and plumbing were installed, and the floors were repaired.

In the early 1990s, the family added more bathrooms and a master suite. A six-foot claw-footed bathtub that had been in the house since its early days was moved upstairs with great difficulty.

A new history

Dente opened the Island Palms Bed and Breakfast, running the business until she sold the house in l996 to the Paulsons.

Paulson said it had always been her dream to own a bed-and-breakfast, but she was still a teacher on the mainland. When Dente agreed to sell, the family decided to take the leap, and the house became the Maine Stay.

Paulson was enchanted by the history of the place.

“When we first came here, we were down at the museum and looked at a picture and said, ‘I think that’s our house,’” she said.

Paulson commuted to the island and had to learn how to be a bed-and-breakfast host on the job, but not without help.

“Marj left notes down to the detail how to set a table,” Paulson said.

“After a year I had invested too much. I was too far gone. I was happy here.”

The Paulsons now live in the home, but rent out the house they built next door, the Carriage House, to guests.

The Dentes have settled on the island of Kauai in Hawaii with their daughters. But they’ve come back to celebrate their old home’s big day.

“It was Marj’s idea. She said a few years ago, when the house turns 100, I’d like a birthday party,” Paulson recalled. “Now, it’s here.”

The party is from 2 to 5 p.m. tomorrow. Light refreshments and birthday cake will be served. The community is invited.

And the hosts would welcome and appreciate any additional stories about this historic home.

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