Adam Voelker (1863-1940) was a short, bow-legged man with crossed eyes and stained teeth according to Lorna Cherry. Small wonder that there’s no record of him marrying or having children. A childhood friend of Langley founder Jacob Anthes from Gros Gerau, Germany, he followed Anthes to South Whidbey in 1888 to become his “building boss,” superintending local projects.
Before collaborating with Anthes on Langley’s second dock at the foot of Wharf Street, Voelker erected a small, side-gabled house for himself at Third and DeBruyn in Langley that still stands today. Voelker’s periwinkle house exudes a quiet appeal. It faces Third Street squarely, in characteristic rural fashion, a pristine example of American folk architecture. Called “the Prairie Schooner” by Langley locals in the 1980s, the home reminds us of Midwest farmhouses that sit solidly on their oceans of plowed fields. Longtime Langley resident Fran Johnson remembers calling Voelker “Mr. Adams” in the 1930s. She says he wore a long coat that nearly swept the ground and that he had a special fondness for the daffodils that surrounded his house.
Voelker died intestate on October 18, 1940. In 1941 notary public R. A. Luhn auctioned his estate, which included Lots 1, 2, 19 and 20 of Block 1 in Langley. Les and Nellie Arnold purchased all four lots for $450. The Arnolds resold the lots a year later to Siegfried and Alice Stockholm, who had migrated from Nebraska via California to join their relatives, the Melsens, on South Whidbey. Like Voelker, Siegfried was a builder. He constructed the addition on the back of the Voelker house according to his niece, Kay Stockholm.
Brookhaven resident Arlene Chambers remembers that he also built the brick home at 202 Park Street in Langley that “…wasn’t off by more than an eighth of an inch in any dimension” according to its first owner. The Stockholms settled near Lone Lake, but Siegfried’s mother, Marie, and his sister, Louise, continued to occupy the Voelker house until 1974. In that year, Siegfried left the property to Lulu Anderson, who died less than a month after inheriting it. Her executor sold the lots to Brandt and Patricia Willson in June 1974 for $11,400. Brandt’s family was from North Seattle, but had vacation property on Whidbey’s Sunlight Beach. Langley’s Edgecliff Drive resident Louise Prewitt recalls “…there was a big clallam with the city because Brandt had pigs on the place to clean out the blackberry bushes.” Brandt verifies that his hogs, Roto and Rooter, did exceptional work at eliminating the blackberries, but that Mayor Manchester found them so offensive he passed a city ordinance banning pigs and swine. Since cows and horses grazed on his neighbors’ properties, Brandt believed his pigs were unfairly singled out. He sued the City and won. Brandt and Patricia, his brothers Kevin and Dennis, and his sister Mindy lived in the house. He remembers Richard Clyde’s surprise at learning they were all related. “We thought you were a commune,” Richard told him. They built the adjoining structure in 1976. Kevin lived upstairs, and all the siblings used the ground floor as a metal works studio. From 1972 to 1975, the Willsons owned a business called Artworks at 211 First Street, now occupied by The Heron clothing store and adjacent to the alley that separates it from Moonraker Books.
“It was a good party house,” Brandt remembers of the Third Street residence, but in 1979 the Willsons sold it and the studio to Harrison Jones and Deborah McDivitt for $50,000 to finance their move to the woods. A mixed media artist, Harrison taught art history and drawing at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. He met Deborah, a self-described “country girl from South Jersey,” on a summer trip to Colorado. After living in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood for two years, they relocated to Whidbey in 1980. Harrison loved holidays, especially Thanksgiving. Deborah remembers huge potlucks for 20-plus people spilling outdoors. They won the Langley Christmas decoration contest in 1986 by outlining the house, windows, and roof in white lights, the bushes with red lights, and the fence in green. “We started decorating in October,” Deborah said. When they decided the old home with its wood stove was going to be too difficult to cope with as they aged, Deborah and Harrison moved to Lone Lake in 1994. Harrison died in 2003. Deborah is a realtor with Coldwell-Banker in Freeland as this is written in 2007.
Kelley Choate, owner of downtown Langley’s Museo Gallery from 1996 through 2005, purchased the original Voelker house from Harrison and Deborah in 1996 for $122,500. Her friend, David Gignac, bought the adjacent shop a few months later from the Jones for $45,000. David crafted the metal gates that mark the entrances to the walkway adjoining Museo as well as Langley City Park’s focal point – its bronze prayer wheel. He continues to use the studio and rent the house today. Kelley sold Museo in 2005 when she returned to California, but retains ownership of the house with her husband, Peter Dekom. Adam Voelker’s house survives as a Langley landmark. An unbroken thread of craftsman/artist owners enriched its history. People with no attachment to the house are drawn by its simplicity. David Gignac relates that a Canadian couple returns every few years to rephotograph it. It is an icon of our idealized America.