Langley’s hidden cabin secrets to be revealed by South Whidbey historians


Special to The Record

The historic “hidden cabin” of Langley is no more.

Hidden, that is.

In the year since it’s discovery within the walls of a condemned farmhouse, the 19th-century cabin has caught the interest of state historical preservationists, received “endangered” status and won grant money to help preserve it. It’s also been the site of citizen archeological searches and prompted new interest about the old days.

“When the cabin was revealed, the project energized a new base of community volunteers and audience interested in revealing the invisible history of South Whidbey,” said Kyle Walker, project manager for the South Whidbey Historical Society who’s leading the search for answers to the history of the mystery cabin.

What’s been learned so far — including a “surprise reveal” — will be discussed Saturday, June 8 at a South Whidbey Historical Society quarterly lecture. The public is invited to attend the presentation that starts at 3 p.m. at Langley United Methodist Church, 301 Anthes Ave.

What happens next for the old cedar cabin that’s in remarkable shape for its age — at least 150 years old — is still being discussed. More grants, donations and/or other fundraising efforts would be necessary to finance any long-term preservation project.

Whatever is done, “historic integrity is imperative,” Walker emphasized. South Whidbey Historical Society researchers must consider the role of Whidbey’s indigenous inhabitants and their descendants when assessing the “cultural landscape” of any historical site.

The cabin recently received notable attention from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. The organization spotlighted the cabin at its annual fundraiser last month and added the cabin to its “Most Endangered Places” list which entices donors to help save a particular piece of the past. Additionally, it also chose South Whidbey Historical Society to receive a $2,000 grant to develop a long-term preservation plan for the Langley cabin.

“There are no assumptions or definitive options at this time,” Walker said. “The upcoming meeting is one step in that (long range plan) process to solicit public input.”

Located near the intersection of Triangle and Langley Roads just outside the boundaries of the City of Langley, the rough-hewn cabin suddenly shone like a western movie set last summer in the backyard of Marian Myszkowski. (It’s since been covered for protection and looks more like an oversized shrink-wrapped hut.)

Being an “accidental owner” of local history has proven both charming and challenging, Myszkowski admitted.

“It’s exciting to have a piece of Whidbey Island history visible from my back deck,” she said. “On the other hand, it pains me that I can’t financially afford to preserve it. I’ve often wished that this beautiful log cabin was found on the property of someone with the money to take care of it.

“Or at the very least, able to put a roof on it.”

A four-month-long investigation of the cabin by the Historical Society included structural assessments by various experts, site surveys, review of census data, archival research and discussions with long-term neighbors.

Initial research at the site found signs of an old garden, a freshwater supply, an old logging road, orchard trees, a log shed and framed hen house. It was also determined that the cabin’s first and second floors must have been built at different times because the timbers are dramatically different in size.

While the definitive timeline and significance of the cabin is still being pieced together, a 15-page status report by the Historical Society reveals some consensus.

Although historians caution that new evidence often alters working theories, the report states that South Whidbey’s early days of logging by the first white settlers most likely figure into the cabin’s beginnings.

In the 1850s, transient loggers, settlers and Puget Sound logging companies began to cut vast swaths of Whidbey and Camano Islands’ forests to fuel the fast-growing steamboat industry. As logging operations moved inland, oxen/horse teams pulled logs along skid roads to the water’s edge where they were “boomed” for transport.

Langley’s founder, Jacob Anthes, may have also played an enterprising role. Records indicate he bought 120 acres of land west of the current town of Langley and built a cabin with the help of three men from Seattle. From 1881 to 1886, they cut wood for the Mosquito Fleet steamships, raised potatoes to sell to the loggers and used the old logging road found near the cabin.

In 1893, the site of the log cabin was filed as a 40-acre Donation Land Claim by Abram Pulver. It’s possible he added a second floor to the cabin to house his large family who are listed as Island County residents in the 1892 census but who may have moved out within two years.

Built with hefty cedar logs and hand-hewn square notch corners, artifacts found around the 27-feet by 17-feet cabin indicate it was inhabited up to the late 1890s.

In the 1930s, its appearance changed dramatically when new siding, a new roof, kitchen and bathroom were added by mechanic Reginald Taylor, who owned the property for 50 years.

Myszkowski parents subsequently purchased the property but never told her anything about an old cabin.

When Myszkowski decided to remove the collapsing and long-abandoned farmhouse behind her home last May, she hired the Everett demolition company, Anthony Chase of Affordable Environmental, LLC for the project. But before Anthony “Tony” Chase swung his proverbial wrecking ball, he carefully examined the cabin’s interior.

“I kept peeling back wallpaper, one layer after another of many different colors until the seventh layer revealed pages of newspapers,” he recalled.

Spotting an article dated July 25, 1935 describing the opening of the Deception Pass bridge, Chase dug a little deeper.

He had a hunch.

Then his hammer munched solid wood.

Slowly, the bones of old log cabin that had been encased and preserved by modern siding, revealed themselves.

“After 37 years in this business, it takes a lot to surprise me,” said Chase whose heavy machinery is frequently contracted to clean up messes from meth, murder and other mayhem.

After spending the summer helping with scheduled surface excavations around the cabin, the self-dubbed “demolition guy” took it upon himself to figure out how to protect the roofless structure from the elements.

He and his crew voluntarily wrapped the cabin in heavy-duty plastic, installed wooden braces, made cuts for ventilation and installed a dehumidifier system.

“I am so grateful to Tony, not only for his initial discovery, but also for his efforts in preserving the building over the winter,” Myszkowski said. “It’s become a labor of love for him and many others.”

South Whidbey Historical Society is seeking history enthusiasts to serve on the Board of Directors or as museum docents. Call 360-221-2101.