Descendent of Langley founder visits her roots

LANGLEY — The granddaughter of the man who founded the city of Langley is 90 years old.

And she’s as sharp as a tack.

Helene Ryan of Everett, whose grandfather was Jacob Anthes, was invited to visit the South Whidbey Historical Museum on Wednesday by Winnie McLeod, a descendant herself of another pioneer family.

The first thing Ryan spotted was a black dress on a mannequin. “That was my grandmother’s,” Ryan said.

Then she turned and noted it was more of a nightshirt.

“And I used to wear that,” she added.

As she wandered the museum’s extensive displays, she discovered a pair of her baby shoes, a coffee pot that sat on a stove in her grandfather’s kitchen and a unique spice grinder from 13th century China that her grandmother, Leafy Weeks Anthes, once used for cooking.

“It’s wonderful what they’ve done here,” she said.

One thing missing were life-size pictures of her grandparents, based on a photo taken by Ryan. Both had been spirited away earlier by museum curators as backdrops for the Historical Society’s Then and Now performance that night at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

Ryan was a special, honored guest as local actor Norm Boynton portrayed her grandfather describing his immigration from Europe, his claim sitting above Saratoga Passage and the effort to persuade investors to fund the town’s incorporation.

Jacob Anthes arrived on South Whidbey from his native Germany as a young boy in 1880 as a way of escaping compulsory military service, but seeking a little adventure as well.

He bought 120 acres of land near today’s downtown core and built a log cabin.

Ten years later, Anthes convinced a Seattle judge, J.W. Langley, to help form a company which eventually acquired 700 acres overlooking Saratoga Passage. Anthes organized construction of a 999-foot dock with a building housing a general store and post office on the shore.

Eventually, Anthes left South Whidbey to run a bank in Everett and most of his family followed.

Today, Ryan stays active as a writer. Her latest book, “Hakujin,” describes the plight of interned Japanese-Americans during World War II; copies are for sale at the museum.

Ryan said Langley remains a lovely seaside town, bigger than when she lived here, but not by much.

There was one thing missing, though.

“I see they got rid of the old log social hall,” she said. “That’s where I took that picture of my grandparents all those years ago. Too bad, but every town needs to move forward.”

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