Thirty years ago, when Shirley Gilbertson stepped into a 1918 house on the hill, it felt right.
“I knew in my heart, that this was for me,” she said.
She’s lived in this old-fashioned house with charm and style in east Stanwood ever since. Tucked out of the way on a quiet, dead-end road, this distinctive Craftsman-style house faces west on the hill overlooking Stanwood, Port Susan Bay and beyond to Camano and Whidbey islands, and on a clear day, the Olympic mountains.
Gilbertson grew up in Stanwood and cares about her connection to its history. James Lund, her maternal great-grandfather, homesteaded on Pioneer Highway.
“In those days, you knew most everybody in town. It’s not that way anymore,” she said. “Mom was related to Harry Lindbeck, a cousin. It’s nice to have that history in the family. That’s why it’s felt like home here for me.”
The fourth-generation Stanwood resident bought it from Don and Mary Schultz, who like to tell the story of how Gilbertson came to buy the house.
In 1989, the Schultzes contemplated selling the home that they had lived in and loved for 17 years. A Sequoia tree — 3 feet tall when planted — visibly ticked off the years as it grew. They’d invested a lot of sweat equity in home projects and homeschooled their two children there.
“I thought this house would be good to grow old in,” Mary Schultz said.
But their children got into horses, so the Schultzes considered buying property and moving.
It was a hard decision, Mary Schultz said, dreading all the work of putting the house up for sale and showing it to strangers. One day, she was praying on the matter and said, “Lord, if you want us to move, would you please bring a buyer to us?”
That afternoon, Shirley Gilbertson knocked on the door and said she loved the house and asked if they were interested in selling.
Mary Schultz invited Gilbertson back for a tour.
“When I came back the second day, I knew in my heart, that this was for me,” Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson traded her Camano Island property to the Schultzes, which brought the price down to what she could afford on her wages as a waitress at Helen’s Kitchen, where Ixtapa is now.
The Schultzes moved to Camano Island, but they later moved back to a nearby vintage house on the hill. They’ve been Gilbertson’s neighbors ever since.
A house with history
Don Schultz said that as he delved into the house’s history, he found that Otto Lien originally built the house on the hill, just south of where St. Cecilia’s Catholic church is now.
Otto and Martha Lien took a wedding trip to San Francisco in 1913 and moved in when they returned. Don Schultz got information from the previous owners at Assembly of God Church. The county assessor documents the house as being built in 1918.
Lien and his brothers owned Lien Brothers Packing Co., which later became Twin City Foods.
The Liens had big Fourth of July parties at the house. Otto Lien played trombone with his band, which set up in the curved section of the porch to entertain a crowd in the yard.
Around 1964, long after Otto and Martha Lien died, the house was earmarked for destruction to make way for Highway 532, which would cut through the hill where the house stood.
Someone wanted to salvage fixtures, but saved the whole house instead, moving it west across a field to its present location, which was called Carnation Heights back in the days of Carnation Creamery.
When the Shultzes bought the Lien house in 1972, it was a parsonage for the Assembly of God Church.
“They were building a new church downtown. We laugh and say we built the church,” Mary Schultz said.
Her husband added: “Because when we bought the house, they had the money to build the church.”
Through the years, Don and Mary Schultz made plenty of home improvements.
When insulating above the dining room, Don Schultz found a box with postcards from the Liens’ San Francisco honeymoon, a 1913 Redbook magazine, a celluloid collar, plus an instruction manual for the built-in vacuum system. The manual showed a huge machine, taller than the woman pictured next to it.
The machine was gone, but they found metal plates covering vacuum pipes in the walls. They also found gas lines by the fireplace when they installed electric light sconces.
They built the garage to match the house and even matched the siding and hand dug the foundation.
They spent six months stripping and refinishing woodwork in the living and dining rooms, parlor and stairway. Wood is everywhere. There are thick moldings around doors and windows, panels frame the fireplace, heavy beams line the ceilings and wood partitions separate parlor from living room.
Don Schultz said, “We were almost to the top of the stairs when Mary started crying, ‘I’m so sick of woodwork!’”
Gilbertson appreciates their effort, though.
“I was really glad Don and Mary refinished the woodwork because it makes it really authentic,” she said.
An oak-paneled den offers an eagle’s view of town and beyond. The living room and dining room have original hardwood white oak floors. Ceiling beams and wood around the fireplace are the original cross grain fir.
“It’s neat to live in an old house. There’s something about the past that grounds us,” Gilbertson said.