September 14, 1998
Bell tolls for historic Wallace Farms
Left: An aerial view of Wallace Farms taken during the 1983 open house. Right: The new entrance into the former dairy farm.
by Lisa Allen
Valley View Editor
DUVALL--Dairy farms were once the heart and soul of the Snoqualmie Valley. But times change.
Recent depressed milk prices, higher operating costs and increasing regulation have hit the dairy industry hard. While dozens of operating dairies once dotted the landscape, only a handful are left.
At one time, Scott Wallace's dairy skirting the west edge of the river was probably one of the largest and most progressive in the Valley. Over 300 Holsteins and Jerseys were milked three times daily, producing hundreds of gallons of milk from 200 acres of lush Valley grass.
In 1983, the Wallace family was named King County Dairy Family of the Year. The farm was showcased at an open house that attracted hundreds of visitors. Also that year, Wallace's daughter, Marie, was Washington State Dairy Princess.
But it's hard to make a profit milking cows these days, so Wallace closed down the dairy in 1995. Over the last year, all the farm buildings, including five houses, the milking parlor, loafing sheds, a fairly new shop and several barns were razed and the land carved up into five parcels.
Although a new sign still says "Wallace Farms," for the first time since 1916 the property is not owned by the Wallace family. And, although Scott Wallace continues to take an active part in his old farm as an "on-site coordinator," a small group of investors actually owns the property which encompasses some of the most fertile floodplain soil anywhere.
But this land is too rich--no pun intended--for a farmer to buy. The sellers are targeting people who make their money in the city, who can afford to buy 30-40 acres with a house site, lots of privacy, river frontage and a terrific view.
So far the individual lots are not priced. The sellers instead are hoping for one buyer for the entire 225 acres with the five building lots.
The price tag for the whole works is a whopping $3.5 million.
Ernie Johnson, one of the property owners, said last week that the land south of NE 124th is considered to be Farm #1, which contains four building sites between 30-40 acres each. The land is zoned R-35 (one house per 35 acres).
"Some lots can have a smaller parcel if another has a larger parcel," Johnson said.
Farm #2 (just north of NE 124th) consists of one 60-acre building site. There are also three 20-acre parcels that can be allocated "anyway we choose," said Johnson.
In 1979, King County purchased the development rights to the land through the Farmland Preservation Program. Wallace spearheaded the highly successful county program before it included the Snoqualmie Valley. He was co-chairman of the Farmlands Preservation Committee with Jim Ellis and Marilyn Ward.
"I didn't take an active role in the second phase (which included the Snoqualmie Valley)," he said.
The sale of the development rights restricts the use of the land in perpetuity.
"The development rights go with the purchase," Wallace said. "It keeps the land in open space. But I retained five building sites. Dividing the land wasn't easy...it took a year, but we have all the permits."
He said the buildings that were torn down were obsolete "for this market."
He said the land could be used for beef cattle or horse pasture, raising specialty crops, plant nurseries or it could just be rented out.
"There are five new wells all ready to go, and septic test holes have been done," he said. Another selling point, he said, is the private lake just north of NE 124th. "It's full of bass," Wallace said.
Currently, Port Blakely, which is building a housing development on the top of the hill, is installing a dissipator on the Wallace Farms property to take care of drainage from the development. The dissipator will take the overflow from filtered retention ponds and drain it away into a ditch, Johnson said. It won't affect the farm property, he added.
Looking out over the Valley, Wallace remarked that his former farm is still "pretty as a postcard."
Although his emotional ties to the place run deep, Wallace, who lived there 65 years, said he is feeling good about its future.
"I tell my kids it looks nice and will be a good place for people to live," he said, adding that his mother Edna, who is 98, is also pleased with the outcome.
Wallace's grandparents, Jim and Ella, purchased the farm from the original homesteaders in 1916. Four generations of the family have grown up there. The farm has left a lasting imprint on them all.
John Ostrem, whose mother married Scott when John was a youngster, wrote a recent essay of his boyhood home. An excerpt follows.
"As the Snoqualmie River winds its way through the valley, dairy farms and fields are its villages and herds of Holsteins and Jerseys its villagers. Solemn and content, these animals are at peace in their surroundings and naturally at ease with their purpose here," he wrote.
Ostrem continued, "On the west side of the valley, nestled amongst towering cedars and plush evergreens, is a particularly special homestead. As children on the farm, the enormous amount of responsibilities that are required of them are sometimes overwhelming, perhaps even unimaginable to a child living in the city... "
"To gaze across the valley on a warm summer afternoon, and allow the rich fragrances of the country air to seep into you, and to feel the vast, open spaces in which you live and grow, gives you a sensation of what Heaven may just be like."
Ostrem noted with sadness the demise of the farm.
"Now that all is final, children turned adults, dreams turned reality, "Wallace Farms" has left us."
"Although the farm is no longer there, if you look fondly, and remember deeply as you pass by this special place, the white farmhouse, the towering cedar, the ivy-covered 'Red House,' the barnyard, and even the herd of Holsteins will appear to you in translucence, as 'Angels in the Valley'."