Last harvest — Development ends four generations of Issaquah farmers

July 8, 2014

By Peter Clark

Issaquah lost one of its last working farms June 30.

Up on Vaughn’s Hill, south of the Klahanie neighborhood, four generations have owned and operated the self-sustaining McBride Farm since 1891. Age, skyrocketing property taxes and nearby development caused the family to vacate the 660-acre section of land at the end of June, bringing an end to one of the final remnants of Issaquah’s rural past.

By Peter Clark Celia McBride, the youngest of the four generations to live on the farm north of Issaquah, stands under a canopy of apple trees on the land, which the family refers to as ‘Hobbiton.’

By Peter Clark
Celia McBride, the youngest of the four generations to live on the farm north of Issaquah, stands under a canopy of apple trees on the land, which the family refers to as ‘Hobbiton.’

During the final week on the land, Celia McBride, the youngest of the landowners to still live on the parcel, joined her extended family to pack up the equipment and memories left by a long legacy.

“It’s hard to leave the compound behind because there’s so many memories,” she said. “It’s just been a really fun way to live.”

With the help of cousins Pat Busby and Alex Otero, they plotted the history of the farm from when Mahlon Eastlick married Abigail Vaughn and bought the original plot of land from the railroad at the end of the 19th century.

Their daughter Helen married an Irish immigrant named Frank Keegan and took over the farm, and they had seven daughters of their own. Those seven daughters had many children of their own, including McBride, Busby and Otero.

Contributed The seven Keegan sisters, the third generation of the farm, gather for a photo.

The seven Keegan sisters, the third generation of the farm, gather for a photo.

The rolling land, with wetlands on either end of the current property line, helped the lineage grow small orchards of apple, pear and cherry trees along with livestock.

“There were six or seven cows — we sold the cream to the dairy in Issaquah,” Busby said. “A lot of milk came out of here.”


An earlier, simpler time

Four sets of families made their living there and survived off the land.

“It was a self-sustaining farm,” McBride said. “We had our own eggs and our own cows. Even when we lived here, we never went to the store.”

McBride arrived on the farm with her mother and father in 1959. She said her grandparents had trouble managing the daily work, so her family moved back onto the land to help.

“There were only three families in the area at the time,” McBride said, casting a glance across the green field, hidden from the creeping development by stands of tall trees.

She shared many memories of an earlier time, riding horses down the road to their nearest neighbors, milking cows in the morning and making ice cream in the summer.

Eventually, she moved away and began a life of her own, but ended up returning to help her parents manage the land in the 1990s. She lived in her own house on the property and maintained the remaining plants and livestock, which included chickens up to a few weeks before the move.

As families split and parents died, the original acreage was divided between the children, many of whom chose to sell their land. Only 12 acres remain of the original 660, but it still was enough to bring the family together often.

“This was the hub,” Busby said. “The birthdays, the Christmases — any celebration, we had it here.”


Population boom strikes a blow

Because of that, the farm left an impression on the family.

“My whole life, all I can remember here is gardens,” Otero said, casting an arm over the gravel driveway that leads from Southeast 48th Street to the main house.

Though his close family never lived on the farm for an extended period of time, he spent several years living there with his grandfather and grandmother Keegan in the 1970s.

“I can only think there was 4,000 people in Issaquah at that time,” he said.

Life there continued with relative stability until the population boom of the 1980s brought change.

“The farm just kind of petered out as the development began,” McBride said, referring to the build out of the Klahanie area in 1985.

Of course, the construction didn’t stop there. Residential neighborhoods sprang up to surround the farm, leading to complaints about noise from the animals and financial concerns.

“The property taxes became outrageous,” she said. “My dad got older, my mom got tired and now the land is going to be a development.”

Contributed Mahlon Eastlick and Abigail Vaughn were the first to settle on the land and raise a family, turning it into a self-sustaining farm. They bought the original 660 acres from the railroad in 1891.

Mahlon Eastlick and Abigail Vaughn were the first to settle on the land and raise a family, turning it into a self-sustaining farm. They bought the original 660 acres from the railroad in 1891.

A bittersweet change

No one in the family stepped up to take over the farm. McBride admitted it would not really be tenable with the amount of the property taxes.

“It’s hard,” Busby said of living the farm life. “Most people will tell you that if you grow up on a farm you want to go to work for someone else.”

McBride’s mother, one of the seven Keegan girls, died in February. That left McBride alone, caring for her aging father along with the farm. She then made the decision to sell off the property.

She said the area will turn into 37 houses, resulting in an almost complete development of the land.

“The wetlands get to stay because you can’t screw with the wetlands, thank goodness,” McBride said.

She will move to Carnation, and she greets the life change with bittersweet resignation.

“Nobody wanted to leave, but it’s not the home we had,” she said. “It’s kind of a fish out of water thing.”


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11 Responses to “Last harvest — Development ends four generations of Issaquah farmers”

  1. e money on July 8th, 2014 11:03 pm

    Wow great story! I’ve always wondered what the story was on that property.

  2. Don and Margaret (McBride) Dineen on July 9th, 2014 8:50 am

    The farm was the center of the earth for the extended family. Ralph and Noreen, the last grand parents in the old house, were rock steady. Noreen has passed, and Ralph is temporarily in Idaho with Margaret. He is as pleasant as ever, even if memories are not as clear as they once were.
    We hate to see all four families move away from home. It really was a landmark family.
    Don and Margaret

  3. Peter on July 9th, 2014 11:48 am

    As a new homeowner near or on the old property, what a great story on the history of the farrn and my admiration to the families who developed the land we now call home. Best wishes to the families of Mcbride farm!

  4. Russ Philip on July 9th, 2014 4:40 pm

    I’m confused about the reference to “skyrocketing property taxes”. If this is/was truly a ‘working farm’, which is stated in the article, wouldn’t the property tax liability have been determined independently from the surrounding development? My guess is that it hasn’t been a working farm for quite some time and, consequently, the property was taxed at drastically higher rates. Anyone have a clearer understanding?

  5. michael norquest on July 9th, 2014 8:26 pm

    I came to the area fifty years ago next year; I remember making trips over to the East side in the early 1970’s when Woodinville, Issaquah–most of the land was truck farms or dairy operations. I believe that Pickering Farms was the first of the large dairy and mixed farming operations to be sold off for development and now this inevitable march of progress.
    The loss of this farm acreage, like so many others across the United States; in the 21St Century it is amazing to return for a visit to the state where i grew up and see the growth of Columbus, stretching out along I-70; this is but the latest local example, even growth, carefully managed is still growth and development.

  6. Marie on July 10th, 2014 3:49 pm

    What a sad fate for Issaquah! Do people really believe that 37 development houses in place of open space is a good trade off for the community? Once the open space is gone, it cannot be replaced. Forward thinking communities have saved small farm space as demonstration farms for school children and as community educational spaces. I do not believe that 37 more developer built houses will enhance any neighbor’s property values, however open space and parks might have made your neighborhood more valuable. Enjoy the increased traffic and unimaginative landscape.

  7. David Beckenbaugh on July 13th, 2014 12:30 am

    Still another blow to the past. Issaquah has changed so much in the 46 years I have lived here. The ‘old timers’ are no longer welcome, along with their ideas. Sadler’s Country Store has been turned into a QFC shopping center. Pine Lake Park went from a resort, to a county park to a city park. Where we used to have a ‘quaint’ park with lots of miss mashed parking, now we have an ‘orderly’ park with hardly any parking at all. And the farms, dairy land, and horse pastures have all but disappeared. The trees on this farm are so beautiful. It will be a shame to see the ‘dozers push out the remaining stumps. Think I will just close my eyes and remember the Issaquah that used to be here. Go Indians! Wo-ha!

  8. hoboroadie on July 14th, 2014 8:59 am

    I think that folks have a lot of gall moving into a rural area and complaining about the animal noises coming from a farm that has been there for generations. I also think that if the property taxes “become outrageous” for a farm, then WE ARE DOING IT WRONG. YMMV, but I believe YOU ALL made yet another big mistake here.

  9. Norma 'Jenny' Eastlick (9/22/52) on August 5th, 2014 4:15 pm

    I am also a descendant of the Mahlon Eastlick line, he being my gr-grandfather. His son John Jacob was my paternal grandfather, and my dad was Howard Wayne Eastlick. Noreen Keegan McBride was Dad’s first cousin, daughter of his aunt Mary (JJ’s sister, whom we knew as Aunt May). As I child, I lived on the Vaughn homestead, which is near the site of the ‘new’ leg of the Issaquah-Fall City Road (last owned by the Paschal family, who bought it from my Aunt Marian Eastlick Matthews). Dad logged his land inherited from John Jacob, and milled the timber at the Vaughn Mill to build our house on Pine Lake about 1960. That land was behind the Woody property, east of the Issaquah-Pine Lake Road. I remember Ralph and Noreen living off 212th Ave S.E. before moving to the farm, about where Ebright Park is now. I was saddened to hear of this end of an era. My dad once said (for an article in the Press many years ago), “Only the hills are the same.” Amazing that holds true today, for those of us who remember how it was before the development of the past few decades. (Ugh! Makes me feel really old!) I myself could not afford to live in Sammamish after I retired from the USPS, and am now happy to call rural Shelton, WA my home.

  10. Norma 'Jenny' Eastlick (9/22/52) on August 5th, 2014 4:19 pm

    Oops! I apologize to the McBrides for getting their grandmother’s name incorrect! As stated in this article (which I hadn’t yet read, silly me), it was Helen who was Noreen’s mother, and she lived near the farmstead for many years as well. Aunt May married Roy Clark, and lived in Kent, WA, mother to Brenda and Ron.

  11. Norma 'Jenny' Eastlick (9/22/52) on August 5th, 2014 4:39 pm

    Okay, I’d better quit…Aunt May married RAY Clark…

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