From: Jennifer Jackson’s Port Townsend Neighbor Column, Peninsula Daily News
WHEN MARI PHILLIPS was 7 years old, it was a special treat to be invited to play at Ellen Worthington’s house in Quilcene.
After being dropped off at the front gate, Mari would walk down the path to the front door.
Admitted to the hall, she would step into the front parlor, where Ellen, a year older, received guests.
Used as a music room, the parlor had a white piano and the biggest doll house Mari had ever seen.
“At that age, it seemed to me that it was big enough to climb into,” she said.
Phillips is now head of the Quilcene Historical Museum board, which has started a campaign to buy the home and restore the grounds.
Built in 1890, Worthington House is considered to be the only example of a Victorian mansion of its scale in rural Jefferson County.
But until recently, most people didn’t even know it was there.
“You couldn’t see it, it was so overgrown,” Phillips said.
The museum has a two-year option to buy the house and 10-acre grounds for $300,000, Phillips said.
The owner, Eileen Worthington, has also given permission for the museum to build an amphitheater in the field next to the house.
Other groundwork has also begun by crews who have felled trees, pulled out ivy and whacked weeds, so the house is now visible from the street.
“It gives the yard a lot of light, and people inside can see out,” Phillips said.
It all began last March, when Phillips approached the owner about the future of the house.
Eileen Worthington is a charter member of the Quilcene Historical Museum and donated the land for it.
Interviewed in her home earlier this month, Eileen said the idea of the museum buying the property dovetails with her interest in education and ensures the future of the house, which might be torn down.
“Someone pointed out how sad it would be if the family sold it to someone who divided up the property and built little houses,” she said.
Eileen, 92, is the second wife of the late Robert Worthington, who was born in Quilcene in 1900. His parents, William and Grace Worthington, bought the house in 1907 from the partner of the original builder, M.F. Hamilton.
According to his obituary, Robert, a 1917 Quilcene High School graduate, graduated from the University of Washington, pursued a doctorate at Yale University and worked as a forester and surveyor.
He and his first wife, Janet Izett Worthington, moved back to Quilcene in 1944 with their children, James and Ellen.
Trees from Travels
“Robert brought a lot of these trees here from his travels,” Phillips said.
Robert, who was divorced, met Eileen in 1973 when they were hiking in Norway. She was from Coupeville.
They married in Worthington House in 1974.
Robert put a foundation under the house, but after his death in 1995, ivy started taking over the grounds, and moss built up on the roof, causing leaks.
A new roof was put on, but the grounds remained overgrown.
To start the clearing process, the museum brought in Richard Hefley, who assessed which trees needed to be removed.
Then volunteers spent weeks whacking the undergrowth, Phillips said, eventually revealing a sidewalk from the side door to the drive.
Electric wires made tree-felling dangerous on the other side, so the museum paid to put the wires underground, Phillips said.
What wasn’t cut up for firewood went to local woodcrafters and the Quilcene Masonic Lodge, which made a new gavel.
Cutting back the laurels in front revealed a flagpole held up by branches; the bottom section had rotted away.
Bob Prill of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post has volunteered to restore the flagpole, Phillips said.
A tattered flag with 49 stars was found hanging from the pole.
“We plan to dispose of it properly,” said Carol Christensen, project campaign coordinator, “but we hope to keep some of the stars to display.”
Worthington Park, as the house and grounds will be called, has the potential to be a venue for living-history exhibits and workshops as well as weddings and events, Phillips said.
The property also has 660 feet of Little Quilcene River frontage.
Viewing platforms to watch salmon, birds and other wildlife could be built along a river trail that would connect to a planned downriver trail, Phillips said.
Restoring the grounds is phase two of creating Worthington Park, phase one being to buy the property and winterize the house.
Phase three includes acquiring period furnishings.
The home’s original furnishings have long been dispersed, Eileen said, but the house has its original woodwork.
Most is vertical-grain fir, though two sets of pocket doors are figured maple veneer.
Ellen Worthington Jenner, a Brinnon resident, researched her former home and listed Hastings Manufacturing Co. of Port Townsend as the supplier.
Lura Mae Schafer, who lives across the street, also has memories of Worthington House. After her father died in 1927, her mother, Alice Morse, went to work for Robert’s parents. Her mother cleaned, cooked, baked and canned in the summer, storing the results on shelves in the basement. One year in the fall, rain flooded the basement. Schafer, who is 91, remembers seeing the jars floating around in the water.
Her daughter-in-law, Lynn Schafer, now works for Eileen.
When people ask if the house haunted, she says no, except by the cat.
“He ends up in the secret staircase, and I don’t know how he gets in there,” she said.
The winding staircase is accessed by a paneled door in the back wall of the second-floor landing.
The main staircase ascends from the entry hall to the second floor, then to the attic, which was created when the third story was removed in 1937 and a gable roof put on.
The house originally had 17 rooms, counting the ballroom on the third floor, but not the hallways and closets, original to the house, in the upstairs bedrooms.
Downstairs are two front parlors, a back parlor, a library, a dining room, a kitchen and an eating area.
Robert used one of the front parlors as his office, which was across the hall from the room where two girls used to play with dolls.
“The first thing I asked about was the doll house,” Phillips said. “It was gone, along with the white piano.”
Donations for Worthington Park can be sent to the Quilcene Historical Museum, P.O. Box 574, Quilcene, WA 98376.
Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.