Clock ticking for Coupeville’s Haller house

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Time is running out to save one of Whidbey Island’s most historic homes.

The nonprofit preservation group Historic Whidbey has only until May 19 to reach its goal of raising $50,000, which a Seattle philanthropist will match, to purchase the Haller House in Coupeville. That would provide enough money for the group to qualify for a matching grant from the state and purchase the property.

But the group has been trying to raise the money for more than three years and the property owners are ready to move on.

“We have an agreement with the property owners that if we couldn’t raise the money to secure a loan, we would step away,” said Lynn Hyde, president of Historic Whidbey.

The group has raised $18.000 so far, but needs the other $32,000 in order to get the matching grant from the Seattle man, who wishes to remain anonymous.

It is a heart breaking scenario for the group, which has high hopes of restoring the Haller House to its former glory and using it as an educational heritage center and small commercial space.

“We have a lot of support from a lot of people of humble means here in Coupeville,” said Hyde. “But the truth is, we could wallpaper the house in $100 bills and it still wouldn’t be enough to reach our goal. We need to find someone with deep pockets who can step in to make this happen.”

The house was built in 1866 by Col. Granville O. Haller. Because of an interesting trail of ownership, much of the house is unimproved, making it a very unique property.

“What I love about this house is that it’s sort of frozen in time,” said Hyde. “It’s never had hot water, it’s never had central heat.”

Occupied until about 10 years ago, the house has never been fully modernized. A toilet was installed in the front room under the stairs. A kitchen sink was installed in what is believed to be the original structure on the property – the Brunn house – that was moved to the lot and was then attached to the main house when it was built. A few lights have been installed, but the home is not completely wired.

The ceilings are high, the floors and windows are original and the home’s lath and plaster walls are mostly intact. There are gaping holes here and there and layers of old fashioned wallpaper are peeling in spots, having been covered long ago by paint. Water stains from a rotting roof are visible upstairs and down, making Hyde grimace when she sees new damage.

If Historic Whidbey can pull off the purchase, Hyde estimates it will take at least $4-5 hundred thousand to restore the home.

“It is not nearly as difficult to get money for restoration as it is to purchase property,” she said. “And there is infinitely more funding available for restoration with educational purposes. If we can get it bought, then the rest of it will feel like a piece of cake.”

The Haller House is but one piece of Whidbey Island’s rich cultural history. Col. Haller, originally from York, Pa., came to the Northwest in 1853 to protect settlers from Native American Indians and from the British-owned Hudson Bay Company, which controlled the trade. He was called back east at the start of the Civil War in 1861, but wound up on the wrong side of politics.

“Haller was good friends with Gen. George McClellan,” said Hyde. “But President Lincoln’s cabinet was afraid of a coup by McClellan and his supporters, so Haller was removed from his military post on a trumped up charge.”

That is when Haller and his wife, Henrietta, settled in Coupeville, building what was then a very grand house.
“I’d describe him as a 19th Century Forrest Gump,” said Hyde. “He was a major player in settling Coupeville. He was irascible. He was easy to hate. He was a complex character like so many of the people of that time. But these were the guys that made the West.”

There is a value in that history, believes Hyde. It is important to Historic Whidbey to preserve the Haller House as a way of teaching that history to residents and visitors alike.

“His house is like him,” she said. “It’s tough, sturdy. It’s not pretty, but it’s incredibly solid and stable.”
The Haller house is part of the Central Whidbey National Historic District, so there are a few protections in place should Historic Whidbey not be able to purchase the home.

“It’s not going to be easy to get it demolished,” said Hyde. “But the roof is fully compromised and what happens should it collapse? Then there’s nothing left to protect and anyone can come in and raze it.”

For now the home sits at the corner of Front and Main Streets, almost completely hidden from view by trees and bushes. Signs mark its location and a banner emblazoned with the word “endangered” counts off the days remaining until Historic Whidbey’s deadline.

Tours of the home will be given and the last open house will be held during the Penn Cove Water Festival on Saturday, May 14, leaving the group a mere five days to hope for a financial miracle.
“I definitely think this house has its own personality,” said Hyde, looking around at the tattered, crumbling walls. “It really is the Colonel’s house – it beats its chest. It wants to be saved.”
For information or to make a donation, visit www.historicwhidbey.org.

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