I am writing on behalf of the Historic Whidbey Board of Directors in response to the recent issue of the unpermitted remodel of the 1860 Samuel Libbey farmhouse within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. (Jan. 9, 2024) Historic Whidbey is “committed to the protection, preservation and promotion of historic sites on Whidbey Island through education and advocacy.”
Many of us feel that once a piece of real estate is purchased, the owner should be entitled to do whatever s/he pleases with it. But in the case of a significant historic structure – a part of a community’s identity – special consideration should be given. Ebey’s Reserve is a special place. The restrictions on the remodeling of historic buildings within its boundaries are not examples of government overreach as many contend.
The Reserve was established by Congress in 1978 – not as their out-of-touch D.C. brainstorm, but as the result of a hard-fought grassroots effort by the citizens of Central Whidbey to protect the character and rare historic buildings of their community.
This was not mere small town provincialism thwarting progress. The Central Whidbey Island (National) Historic District which underlies the Reserve came earlier in 1973 when local historians realized that there are more surviving homes and public buildings from the 1850s and 1860s in our community than anywhere else in the State of Washington. Erected by the very first Euro-American settlers on the island, these rare survivors have stood witness to more than a century and a half of Northwest history. They are not making any more of them.
The Reserve boasts a great many more heritage houses from the later 19th and early 20th centuries as well. Retaining the historic character of each contributing structure is vital to the significance of the whole district, which increases in value with each generation’s vigilant stewardship.
Ebey’s Reserve is more than just pretty natural vistas and farmlands; it is an extraordinary and rare legacy of our State’s heritage – a cultural landscape where our history is inscribed both in the land and in the architecture as nowhere else.
The joint County-Town Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) that oversees Design Review in the Reserve was established to make sure this cultural inheritance is preserved for future generations, just as our 1970s preservation advocates envisioned. The volunteer HPC commissioners deserve full support in providing this community service.
Prospective property owners who do not value this historical bequest might want to consider investments outside the boundaries of the Reserve. We need to do a better job of educating them that their potential neighbors, not an oppressive government, have chosen to protect these invaluable resources. That choice should be respected.