Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Rebecca: the story of Rebecca Ebey"

Three years ago, Jill Johnson was rummaging around in the historical files at the Island County Museum and stumbled upon a diary.  Written by Rebecca Ebey, wife of Isaac Ebey, the diary described their early weeks and months of settlement here on Whidbey in 1852.  "I've read lots of pioneer journals", said Jill, "but this one was special, unique -- for it's depth of feeling and the beauty of it's prose."

Thus began the process to turn this historical document into a full lenght theatrical production.  "Rebecca -- the story of Rebecca Ebey" will premier on March 23, 2012 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts as a part of their Local Artists Series. 

"Rebecca is the story of a woman -- and the pioneer community she helped found here on Whidbey," says Jill. "But it is also a story about a place...where the wind and the rain and the seabirds circling in the fields are much the same as they were when Isaac and Rebecca were here."

Ebey's Landing, Photo by Dan Pedersen
 "Rebecca" does not begin on Whidbey - but in Missouri - where both Rebecca and Isaac's families lived.  The production will move west, just as Rebecca did with her two sons in 1851 to the (then) Oregon Territory as part of the Great Migration.  "There will be authentic Oregon Trail music -- even dancing! -- and the journey will be enlivened by the voices of people who lived it."  Rob Prosch is the muscial director for the show and will stage the action as well.  Thoomas Allen will provide technical assistance with photographs and images, sound effects, and lighting.  Chris Fisher is the dramaturg for the production, assisting Jill with the script and Elizabeth Grant is the choreographer.

A grant form the National Storytelling Network, a national storytelling organization, helped Jill complete research at the Special Collections Library at the University of Washington.  Weeks of research into the letters and correspondence of the Davis and Ebey families deepened and enriched the story.

But the diary remains the core of the production.  "It's an intensely personal document," says Jill, "allowing Rebecca to pour out thoughts she would never have spoken aloud: her joy in the warmth and love of family and the beauty of the land, pride in the development of the tiny community and the region, frustration and fear of the challenges she faced."

Jill's image of "Rebecca", from the files of
Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve
But some of the most powerful moments in Jill's preparation process involved ongoing contact with the land.  This from an essay on September 30, 2011:

"I can see it now...the land.  It stretches out -- bands of green, yellow, and black: squash fields, hay stubble, and black earth, ringed by forest and shore.  For centuries Native Americans gathered camas root and nettles on this prairie and then burned it...year after year, layer after layer of ash, rich in nutrients which became ithe farms and fields of Ebey's Landing.  I stroll down the road, munching apples from a tree near the Ferry House.  The wind whistles in my ear and I can hear the surf sounds below.  Rebecca heard those same sounds; yesterday was teh 158th anniversary of her death.  Now...for just a is almost as if we share this landscape together."

Prairie Bottoms, Photo by Amos Morgan
 For more informaiton on the production, please contact the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, 800-638-7631 or 360-221-8268 or

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dear Friend of Ebey’s,

Thank you for your support of the 2011 Ebey’s Forever Conference and Community Event.  This year’s potluck had 199 attendees and the Conference featured over 230 participants.

Thanks to your dedicated support and hard work, the conference was a great success.  From the abundant and festive potluck at the Crockett Barn, to the great stories of the Reserve’s pioneer homes, Ebey’s Forever was a deeply moving gathering.  People of all ages had a rare opportunity to explore Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, with experienced guides and voices of local character. We savored the many tastes of Ebey’s, and Camp Casey grounded us in its historic setting.

Above all, the people involved enriched our understanding and enjoyment of Ebey’s Forever.  This event could not have been possible without your impressive efforts.  Thank you.  We look forward to working with you again soon.

Photos courtesy of M. Denis Hill & Lisbeth Cort

Thursday, September 29, 2011

4th Annual Ebey's Forever Conference Promises Fun for All!

Registration opened this week for the 4th Ebey's Forever Conference & Community Event, and this year's program promises family fun, field trips, and tasty fresh food. The program was just released for the November 4 - 5 event hosted by the Trust Board of Ebey's Reserve and its partners.

Its full day of workshops and field trips will be headlined by a keynote on sustaining our fragile land by Roylene Rides at the Door, Washington State Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Rides at the Door grew up on her family's ranch on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana where she learned how to care for the land.

After kicking off on Friday night with a free "Celebrating Rural Character(s)" potluck featuring pioneer stories, live bluegrass and a homemade dinner at the Crockett Barn, Saturday morning's workshop sessions will be held at the historic Camp Casey Conference Center. Afternoon field trips will let attendees hike some new trails, tour historic buildings, and enjoy a "taste-off" featuring Ebey's famous Rockwell Beans prepared by local chefs and farmers.

A full day of concurrent field trips for families to enjoy together will explore birds and beach, the Ft. Casey Lighthouse and culminate in a trolley ride through Ebey's farmland. The conference wraps up with a special farmers market and closing pie social. For the full program and to register, go to

*Photos Courtesy of Denis Hill

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Enchanted Evening - Ebey's Forever Fund Benefit at the Jacob Ebey House

Last week the community came together for a benefit to support the Ebey's Forever Fund, which will award grants to a new selection of heritage buildings on the Reserve in 2011-12. The goal was to raise $10,000 towards the fund. As seems to be the case with supporters of this cause and our dedicated community, folks came through, donated their time, money and services, and made the trek down the path to the historic Jacob and Sarah Ebey House on a beautiful evening to celebrate.

There were antique cars, as well the owners who donated their time, organized by Richard Anderson, waiting to whisk the donors around the Reserve to view recipients of last year's Ebey's Forever grants.

The Ebey's Forever Fund Committee served appetizers provided by Serendipity Catering, including local Penn Cove mussels,

and scrumptious fruit...

and drinks from the Bayleaf, Whidbey Island Winery and Flyers to add to the festive environment.

Laughs were had by all.

In a perfectly exquisite environment, the money was raised, new and old friends conversed, people had a chance to take in the scenery and enjoy music from island favorites Trio Nouveau.

We also heard from last year's grant recipients, Julie Lloyd and Dave Engle,

reminding us that the gathering was a celebration of preservation in the works, and how lucky we are to enjoy this view, and to share it for generations to come.

Big thanks to Scott Chamberlin for the pictures.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chinese Students Visit Jacob Ebey House

Today 32 students from Southwest China, along with teachers and hosts, stopped by Ebey's Reserve to visit the Sunnyside Cemetery and the Jacob Ebey House. Jewel Czutcha, a volunteer docent for the Reserve, smiling in the picture below, organized the event.

Roger Sherman was kind enough to talk to them about his grandparent's connection with one of the few permanent Chinese immigrants of those times, who was also buried at Sunnyside Cemetery.

The students are from a city with a population of 30 million, and had not seen prairieland and open space like they witnessed at Ebey's Reserve.

Roger also gave them some history of the Jacob Ebey House, the blockhouse and the surrounding crops. It was a lovely day on the prairie witnessing the students, some as young as thirteen, interacting with folks, treasures really, from our community - giving their time to help those from far away understand the beauty of this place.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jacob Ebey House Opens to the Public

Since 2007 the National Park Service and volunteers have been rehabilitating the Jacob Ebey House and preparing it for its new role as a Visitor Contact Station, when visitors will be able to engage with a living piece of history. Al Sherman, farmer, volunteer docent and member of the Trust Board of Ebey's Landing, cut the ceremonial ribbon today, signifying that the house is officially open and a new phase is beginning. Our first two volunteers, Lee Williamson and Anne Katherine, accompanied Al for the opening, enthusiastic about taking in the scenery while interacting with inquisitive visitors.

Besides the Trust Board of Ebey's Landing and its staff, the amount of time and work that has gone into this project from our partners and community members is inspiring, embodying a sense of unity that the pioneers and Native Americans before them may have also felt. The National Park Service, the Island County Historical Society and the Lions Club (along with Rob Hetler) are just a few. Volunteers from the community have worked tirelessly on every aspect of this project, from the rehabilitation to the interior displays, and now staffing the house through the summer. The Pratt family and the Nature Conservancy cannot be forgotten, without them this land may not be enjoyed as it is today.

Most importantly, the Ebey family, who courageously travelled across the country to their new found paradise, will be recognized - and their lives, which seemed tragically short, will not be forgotten. They are living on through the stewardship of this land and the special feeling that resonates while exploring it. A new life has begun for the Jacob and Sarah Ebey farmstead, come and celebrate it!

The Jacob Ebey House is open Thurs-Sun from 10am - 4pm through September 4th.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Call for Volunteer Docents

As the sun begins to peak out from the clouds and summer is finally alluring us to take to the trails, the Jacob Ebey House awaits its grand opening. Past and present will convene, and the house that once inhabited one of the original settling families on Whidbey Island will be opening its doors to the public on June 2, 2011.

But we’re not quite there. As was true in the past, when Jacob’s son, Isaac, raised his home on the prairie in two days with the help of fifteen local men, this home needs community volunteers to complete the final push towards the unveiling of this rich historical element of Ebey’s Landing.

We need volunteers who are interested in participating in a docent program at the Jacob Ebey House Visitor Contact Station. The rehabilitated home from the 1850s is located off the Ebey’s Prairie Trail that begins at the Sunnyside Cemetery Prairie Overlook and eventually links with the Bluff Trail at Ebey’s Landing. The scenery is awe-inspiring. The home overlooks farms of the prairie, Ebey’s Landing, the Puget Sound and the prestigious Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. On a clear day, Mount Rainier can be seen, making this one of the most stunning all-encompassing viewpoints on the island and arguably in the Pacific Northwest. When you stand on the front porch of this home, there is no question why Jacob and Sarah chose this spot, and there is an undeniable sense of the timelessness of the prairie.

We are looking for members of the community who want to enjoy the pristine setting of Ebey’s Prairie while educating the public about the intriguing history of the Jacob Ebey House, the perils of the Ebey family, and the surrounding land. This is a unique opportunity to share our cultural heritage, while talking with curious locals as well as visitors from all corners of the globe. We are looking for docents to fill 3.5 hour shifts during the summer months of June 2nd through September 4th. There is no previous knowledge necessary, but a passion for history and interacting with people is a plus.

The two daily shifts will be from 10am – 1pm and 1pm – 4pm, Thursday through Sunday. We are looking for docents to fill weekly, bi-monthly or monthly shifts, as well as standbys that can fill in if necessary.

There is a mandatory orientation on Saturday, May 21st, from 10am–3pm, lunch and goodies included. We will cover history of the family and the area, logistics, expectations and duties of a docent and also find out what shifts work best for you.

Email or call Alix Roos (360) 678-6084 at the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve office for further information about this opportunity or to sign up for the orientation.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February signals - Spring is on the way!

I could not help but notice that small (but real) signs of spring are beginning to pop up around Ebey's Reserve. Although I know we aren't out of winter's cold (yet), I can appreciate all of nature's happenings below ground, bark, and buds, during months we generally think of as still. The majority of hues outside are still shades of brown, but below are some quick shots of the activity signaling the many colors to come. Happy February!

Oregon Grape, getting ready to share its yellow flowers.

Lilac with growing buds of purple delight.

Daffodils, peeking out of the ground, my favorite signal of spring.

Red Flowering Current, gracing the world with scarlet highlights - hints of what is to come.

All photos were taken at the Ebey's Reserve Trust Board Cottage.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Faces from Central Whidbey's past

What can we learn by looking into the eyes of the past? Is it how, over time, people haven't really changed?
With the joy, sorrow, optimism and perseverance of humanity?
Or is it how quickly an entire life can be forgotten? How much is left unknown.
How quickly the young grow old, when looking back.
How easily a life is extinguished.
Who were they? What were they like?

What, today, can we learn from them?

Thanks to the National Park Service archives for digital copies of these glass plate negatives, shot in a studio at Fort Casey, Central Whidbey Island - exact year unknown.

Beets 101

Awe…Ebey’s Prairie - a quilt landscape of crop farming on Central Whidbey Island.

Ever wonder about the vegetable we call a Beet? Do you know where it originated? How about the age of the Beet?

When I began working for the Reserve as a seasonal Ranger I found out there are more colors to beets than just the reddish/purple kind. Prairie farmers are harvesting beets that are also white, golden, and some that are even red and white stripped when cut open to expose the inside flesh.

I did not care for beets as a kid but now love them and wanted to find out where these sweet, edible root vegetables came from. After doing some digging and becoming more inspired as my search continued, here is what I found out. This is pretty awesome.

The Beet is an interesting, healthy vegetable that originated as a wild beet on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea during pre-historic times and was called the “Sea Beet”!

During the 8th century B.C. the beet was part of the Hanging Gardens on Babylon in the Mesopotamia area known as the Cradle of Civilization. Beets are really old!

The ancient Greeks used the beet green (the leaves) for medicinal purposes and as a culinary herb. They even offered their glorious beet to the Sun God Apollo. The Romans, on the other hand, were the first to actually eat the root as part of their diet. The beet root back then was either white or black, no other color.

Now we all remember the Roman Empire and during this time of expansion was when the beet was introduced to many European cultures. Eventually, the beet seed hit the United States in 1830 (about 20 years before Isaac Ebey settled on Whidbey Island).

Today there are a variety of beets available and people use beet juice (especially the reddish/purple beets) to dye material with and for hair dye and this practice has been going on since the 1500’s.

If you are health conscious, the beet is a bonus for you! It is an excellent source of fiber, potassium, calcium and other minerals and is classified as a Super Food! Power-packed with phytochemicals and antioxidants it also lowers blood pressure, contains Vitamins A and C, is low in fat and rich in nutrients. Wow! All that from a beet!

Try this juice recipe to get your jump-start for the day:

Carrot and Beet Juice
6 – 8 Carrots
¼ medium Beet
1 stalk of Celery
Press all ingredients through a juice machine and, Voila! Instant energy.

Come to Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and see what nature has to offer.

By Sally Straathof

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Five Phesants

Tucked along the hedgerow
A brilliant white band
Wrapped like hockey tape
On a stick.
You could skate
The side roads here
Like I used to do in
MN. The furrows filled
With snow, the lines so
Familiar, like an old
Book dog eared.

The great humps of
The Olympics to the
West -- a view that
Ebey knew well as
He recollected his
Own upbringing
Back East somewhere.
Planting this new ground
Never comprehending
What would really
Grow up from these
Fields, a singular
Place -- set aside
For all to experience
Our collective rural roots
And the stories
They evoke and sustain.

By Mark Preiss, Reserve Manager

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What fun we had - Ebey's Forever 2010!

Field trip participants visit the Reuble Farmstead. (Denis Hill)

Lauren Hubbard and Shelby Gansemer sport their new Ebey's Reserve (temporary) tattoos. (Lauren Gansemer)

Roger Sherman shares stories of prairie farming with Prairie Home Production's "Squash & Wheat." (Denis Hill)

David Engle shares stories from his family at the Harmon/Engle Farmstead. (Denis Hill)

Keynote Anthea Hartig of the National Trust for Historic Preservation greets us at Camp Casey. (Denis Hill)

Farmer, Valerie Reuther high-fives Trust Board Member, Molly Hughes at the mini-farmers market.
It was a full house at the Celebrating Rural Character(s) Potluck at the Crockett Barn. (Denis Hill)