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.
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.
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.”
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.”