From humorous anecdotes to tragedies — and everything in between — a book of interviews compiled by Judy Lynn captures hundreds of years worth of memories about the small town of Coupeville.
“Front Street, Coupeville: An Oral History” is available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon for $9.99. Aptly, the proceeds go to support the Island County Museum.
From 2007 to 2012, Lynn recorded interviews with current and former residents and business owners and then transcribed these recollections. Many of the 103 oral histories in the book center on Front Street, the historic and iconic two-block business district on Penn Cove, but many also capture life in other areas of Central Whidbey.
“I so thoroughly enjoyed hearing people’s stories,” Lynn said, adding that listening to the memories was like a window into other people’s lives.
It was also important to her, Lynn said, to preserve, in their own words, the thoughts and recollection of ordinary people who have lived in her beloved community.
The book is a godsend for people who are interested in Coupeville, Whidbey or state history. Known for historic preservation, Coupeville is the second oldest town in the state and many of the earliest buildings still line the downtown area.
Many of the stories Lynn collected are centered on these historic buildings — the owners and businesses that came and went as well as the customers who frequented them. Other memories are passed-down family stories, town history, rumors and small anecdotes that capture the essence of the community as it evolved through the years.
Lynn explained that her mother collected people’s histories, so the idea wasn’t foreign to her. Her late friend Rose Broussau, who owned the Six Persimmons restaurant, gave her the idea of recording oral histories of Front Street.
One of her favorite interviews, Lynn said, was of Bob Cushen, the grandson of early Front Street magnate C.C. Cushen. In the early 1900s, the elder Cushen owned everything on the south side of Front Street from Alexander Street past Grace Street. He didn’t want buildings on the water side of Front Street, his grandson explained, because he thought they would slough off into the water.
One of the building Cushen owned was the grand, two-story Central Hotel, which also housed a saloon. Ironically, it was next door to the Good Temperance Hall. Cushen eventually sold the hotel so he could join the Masonic Lodge, which he couldn’t join as the owner of a liquor-serving establishment.
Cushen opened the Cushen Ford Garage in the building that is now Mariner’s Court and the Central Hotel later burned down.
As Lynn explained, Front Street flourished in the 1920s-1940s and catered to the growing needs of the town. Over the years, the business district was home to the post office, grocery stores, a car business, a pharmacy, a bank, a meat market and freezers, barber and beauty shops, a general merchandise store, a liquor store and confectionery, a saloon, a library, a laundry, restaurants, a plumbing shop and even a movie house. The essential businesses were later moved to buildings on Main Street.
Lynn said she was especially interested to hear recollections about how Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve was founded, a story that involves such well-known figures as Ken Pickard, Joan McPherson, Harlan Hobbs, Al and Phyllis Sherman, Ron van Dyk and others.
Lynn interviewed Coupeville native Leone Argent when she was in her late 90s and captured fascinating stories about the larger community. Her recollections of the wealthy Pratt family have all the drama and tragedy of a gothic novel.
Those interested in the history of Front Street buildings can go to the website chwahistoriccoupeville.com, which as built by the 4-HD Club of the Whidbey Island 4-H program based on Lynn’s collected interviews and her other historical research.