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JUNE 23, 1997


Old farm yields a slice of local history

Mary Boyd

Mary Boyd's husband was a lieutenant with King County Police Department when he was put in charge of the county work farm.
Photo by Oscar Roloff.

Oscar Roloff by Oscar Roloff
Over 25 years ago, I used to see an old rustic red barn, a silo, a leaning shed with a 100-year-old buggy inside, a milk house, and to one side, a huge stately old two-story farm house. It was a real humdinger example of the rural past, and passersby would slow down and smile.
   On weekends I'd drive by and stop to photograph the many Seattle artists who'd be stopping with easel and painting the old scene. I'd tell the artists they'd better hurry because it was already on the chopping block, and soon the bulldozer arrived. I photographed the bulldozer man when he came and lowered the blade.
   I knew the owner of the farm site, Mary Boyd. Often I'd sit at her kitchen table and have coffee, and she'd tell me fascinating tales about her past. Out in back, she had her clothesline and her wash tub. Further back was the outhouse. Her husband, then deceased, was Dave.
   Back in history to 1918 when King County officials got ahold of $120,000 and bought a large farm off Willows Road to serve as a rehabilitation place to dry out drunks, wife beaters, drunken drivers, deserters, and shiftless skid-road men. Mainly, though, it was to house the fathers who wouldn't support their families.
   The men lived together in a stockade, and for a while all went well. They were under the watchful eye of a character named "Me Too" Kris Knudson who was a friendly chap. Really, Dave Boyd ran the farm, but he wasn't too strict. The men lived in a huge stockade and Dave, as deputy sheriff, was expected to handle everything. Too much to handle.
   Prisoners were expected to work, and that bothered them. The farm spread clear across the valley to the Redmond side. The trustees weren't much better. Bloodhounds were on hand to run down those who shoved off. Many did.
   Harold Aries, an old friend of mine who died several years ago, had lived in the old Willows School which had been closed since 1917 and pupils bussed to Redmond. His Pa bought the closed school and converted it into a nice home. Then a kid, Harold recalled many details about the supposed work farm. A joke.
   "My brother Harry [I interviewed him, too] and I got to know many of the men. They were okay, only lazy. The drinkers sorely missed the liquor. They milked the cows, planted gardens. Harry and I used to go up there and have a former rum runner, now a barber, cut our hair, for free. Did a good job."

The moonshine caper
   Now we come to 1925 or thereabouts, when rumors began circulating that there was something fishy going on at the work farm. By now, the farm had been open for five years. Prisoners enjoyed staying there. When their time was up, they refused to leave. They liked their jobs and said the heck with going back home or anywhere else.
   When curious reporters asked why they didn't care to go home, the prisoners smiled; that's all. They were happy and asked to be left alone. They seemed to walk on Cloud Nine and seemed to stumble a lot and their speech was slurred.
   Then, the worried Seattle bosses swarmed out there. They found many stills on numerous streams. The stills had been running day and night. With sledge hammers, the officials smashed everything.
   The poor souls had to look elsewhere for firewater. There was a fellow up the hill who made his own stuff and would sell some to the guys. So drinking continued.
   Harold, who furnished much of this information, said the deputy sheriff, Dave Boyd, used to come down the hill with a bottle, and he and his dad would sit around the kitchen table drinking and eating his mom's spaghetti. Boy! What a combination to hit the stomach.
   Mary told me of this event: One morning, the men were sent out to the garden to hoe the weeds. They'd been drinking all night and in the morning they couldn't see well. And the sun poured down on them. Terrible. Consequently, they hoed everything in sight: weeds and vegetables. Nothing left. Boyd was angry.
   In 1932, the county decided the heck with the farm and sold it. It hadn't paid off. By now whiskey was sold in stores. Also, the farm assignment didn't pay its keep.
   In 1946, my friend Ralph James of Bellevue bought the farm and furnished me additional information. He, too, had found parts of stills.

Road work
   Often, Dave and several trusted (?) drunks were ordered to take crews here and there and do county road work. They had little or no experience, but it made no difference.
   What is now Norway Hill Road in Bothell had long been called The Lazy Husband's Road becase the drunk gang had carved it out of the woods on a hillside. It was particularly scary when going downhill. It was not unusual for parts of the road to slide away.
   On one stretch of road in the Norway section, the work gang spent more time drinking than making roads. They hid their bottles near a stump, stopping often for gulps of Old John Barleycorn. When they finished the job, they left the bottles there. Some hardly touched. A month later, the man who owned the land came out to clear it. He placed some dynamite around the stump and lit it.
   Wham! The bits of stump went high, along with broken bottles and booze.