By Natasha Ashenhurst
The first time it happened, Kelly O’Sullivan didn’t think too much about it, but the second and third times she knew it was a pattern that was likely to continue and that fact didn’t bother her at all.
The interactions with strangers usually followed this pattern – she would be working in front of her house, weeding a flower bed or mowing the lawn, and a car would pull up. An older person would get out, make an introduction and then politely tell her a memory they had about her house.
For one woman, it was a childhood memory of visiting the stables behind the house for a weekly riding lesson. One of the original owners kept Arabian horses and gave riding lessons to other families in the area.
Another woman stopped by to describe growing up in the home as one of eight children. She was delighted to see that the house was very much the way as she remembered. On another day, a woman bereaved a tree, no longer on the property that had marked a beloved pet’s grave.
When the O’Sullivans purchased the home in 2006, they had never lived in the country before. The house is located on Oyster Bay Road, on the Steamboat Island peninsula in northwest Thurston County. Kelly had always dreamed that one day she would have the opportunity to own an older home. “My family thought we were nuts and that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” she said.
Seven years later, the O’Sullivans don’t regret buying the historic home for a minute. It is in excellent shape and surprisingly sound for a 111-year-old house. However, what the O’Sullivans didn’t realize was that they were buying a piece of Oyster Bay history, and that purchasing this home made them caretakers of a Thurston County jewel.
The Franks family built the house in 1902. The yellow house with black trim, located only several feet off the busy, narrow road, has a steep gabled roof, a beautiful brick chimney, and front porch with brick steps. On the south side, there is a small balcony with a wrought iron railing that looks out over the barn.
Inside, the wood floors are works of art, each painstakingly designed so the individual planks form a square pattern that end in the exact center of each room. In fact, the Franks house is one of the best architectural examples of an arts and crafts home in the area. According to the county’s historic property inventory the original property spanned anywhere from 400 to 500 acres, and was once a dairy farm.
“The house is in very good shape and many of the original fixtures are still working well. For example, we had a plumber work on the downstairs bathroom and he dated the toilet to 1915. The sink in that bathroom has the original faucet with cold on one side and hot on the other,” described O’Sullivan.
In the barn they found old saw blades. O’Sullivan discovered that the Franks cut trees from the property with handsaws to build the house. The original timbers are visible in the basement. The walls are smooth plaster, without a crack.
Eventually subsequent owners, including the Mason and Gosney families, parceled off and sold much of the vast acreage surrounding the Franks house. Many purchasers created smaller farms, especially apple orchards. Today, the Franks house occupies just over five acres.
The Oyster Bay area was an important shellfish harvesting location for local tribes. “The Squi-Ailt and T’Peeksin peoples inhabited the seven inlets of the southern Puget Sound and harvested shellfish in the area. Eventually major shellfish operations were located on Oyster Bay,” said Steve Lundin, area resident and de-facto historian.
People, like Donna Altman, continue to feel drawn to the area. In 1982 her family moved to Olympia from Southern California and she looked at over 40 different properties before falling in love with land in Oyster Bay. Over the years, the Altman family has lived on two different properties in the area, one located right across the street from the Franks house. When they built that house they gathered bricks from the Franks house which they used to build their fireplace.
“There were a lot of apple orchards in the area, so now if you walk around some of these old farms you’ll find ancient apple trees. In fact, our daughter was married under the apple trees on one of our farms,” she said. Eventually, as they transitioned into semi-retirement, they moved over to a smaller piece of waterfront property on Steamboat Island Road, but Altman misses her farm and Oyster Bay. She was nostalgic when she said, “It just gets in your blood. It is a way of living and a healing place that feeds your soul.”
O’Sullivan would agree. For her it is hard to imagine a time when she would ever have to leave the Franks house, especially the idea of anyone disrupting those details, all this time so lovingly preserved, which makes it the landmark that it is today.