Volunteers to refurbish historic cabins at Island County fairgrounds

Bill Haroldson of the South Whidbey Historical Society

Two historic log cabins at the Island County fairgrounds are getting a new lease on life.

The structures are to be refurbished by volunteers from the South Whidbey Home Builders Association after a community donation supplied funds for the preservation project. The two log cabins — The McLeod cabin and Brooks Hill cabin — primarily need roof work as the shake roofs are decaying due to old age and a lack of upkeep.

The South Whidbey Historical Society owns both buildings and keeps them open to the public to illustrate what life was like on South Whidbey during the pioneer era. Following a donation of building materials from longtime South Whidbey residents Charles and Gayle Pancerzewski, whose family has lived in Langley since the turn of the century, there are enough resources to replace the cabins’ shake roofs. The donated shingles totaled about $6,000, and additional donations will cover labor costs.

“Shakes for the McLeod cabin are of a size not available from lumber stores and would have to be custom made,” Charles Pancerzewski said.

Even so, Pancerzewski found a small shake mill that was willing to make them, and he and his wife were willing to shell out the cash.

The McLeod cabin, nearly 100 years old, needs the most work as it hasn’t been refurbished since its move to the fairgrounds in the 1980s. The Brooks Hill cabin, built in the 1890s, is in better shape due to more recent upkeep and renovation.

Preservation of the cabins has become something of a community-launched project. The South Whidbey Builders Association is offering volunteer labor for the roof installment, using the materials donated by Pancerzewski. Initial analysis of the cabins and the rebuilding work required were done by Langley resident and preservation activist Harrison Goodall.

“My understanding is that most of these settler’s log cabins are gone,” said Bill Haroldson, president of the South Whidbey Historical Society. “On the North End, they have the block houses, which were used as a means for defense. The cabins here were used for housing, and you don’t see many of those anymore.”

Work was slated for April 23, but had to be delayed due to rain. The plans to replace the roofs will get back on track on the next sunny weekend afternoon. The refurbishing project is expected to be completed before the summer months, according to Pancerzewski.

“These are log buildings that represent early settlement here on South Whidbey,” Goodall said. “It gives insight into how people lived back then in the pioneer era. The cabins are icons that make a connection to the past.”

The two cabins were moved to the county fairgrounds in the 1980s as cultural relics from South Whidbey’s past, according to Haroldson. The largely untouched McLeod cabin was built in the 1920s in the Cultus Bay area, while the more updated Brooks Hill cabin was built just before the start of the 20th century in the Brooks Hill area of Langley. When the cabins are open to the public, the South Whidbey Historical Society normally provides a docent to answer questions regarding the cabins and pioneer life on Whidbey.

“I find South Whidbey to be a very special place,” Goodall said. “It has an old rural landscape and we’ve been able to maintain the old South Whidbey very well. The historical society is taking the initiative to preserve our heritage.”