I am asked by clients, “Who lives here? What do they do? Where do they come from?”
Today, the answer is long and involved. The answer was shorter in the 1960’s. One of my best friends, a third generation Islander, used to deliver oil for the local oil company, and he said there were a lot of potters here; I mean there were a whole lot of potters because there are still many artists (the art community is huge, holding biannual art tours where fifty to eighty studios are open for two weekends in the holiday season and spring), but in those days there were a hundred potters in a population of 6,000—some on communes “getting back to the land” (a phrase from my generation). Some of the potters’ studios were free form and the women went topless, which perked up the oil delivery day!
As was the case with my friend, many families homesteaded before 1900 and liked it so much they never left. Farming and all forms of agriculture have dominated Vashon’s economy. Fruit was big, partly because a local farmer named Mukai, patented the refrigerated truck, so strawberries and other fruit could be shipped from here to New York and beyond. Mukai’s cold storage is still a historical landmark in the center of Vashon. Vashon-Maury has been logged and farmed from the beginning by the first non-native residents, although sensitive area management prevents large-scale logging today. The Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA), has a substantial farmers’ market nearly every Saturday throughout the year.
The Island’s population is diverse. Many Boeing engineers and others affiliated with Boeing live here because reaching Boeing is easy from the Island. Many of the residents are smart…or at least have a lot of education because the median educational level is a year beyond a Bachelor’s degree, and we check out more books per capita than any other library in King County’s library system. Many retired people choose to be here because they can come and go at will, not having to pay much attention to the ferry. Most residents work off Vashon-Maury five days a week and are constantly in transit, which requires energy and organizational skill.
Many equestrians and their horses make their homes here. Becky Bergman, a friend and client, has an eighteen-acre equestrian center—fabulous place with a great covered arena and many professional staff to serve any needs of the horse community—all located a trot from the County horse park. The ratio of horses and dogs to people is favorable! The County’s Paradise Ridge Equestrian Park has riding rings, a jump/ event course, temporary stalls and the island has riding trails everywhere. Years ago, two islanders, Susan Sullivan and John Gerstel wrote a book, detailing the myriad trials that have been maintained for walkers, horses, and non-motorized traffic. (Aside: Susan Sullivan left Bainbridge to come to Vashon because she said Vashon looked and felt like Bainbridge did forty years ago, before too many people moved there, crossed the top of Bainbridge to get to the big ferry in cars and buses, and too many subdivisions were built!). Another more recent 250-page book has been authored by Bianca Perla—an island child, all grown up, with a doctorate of ecology and two small children of her own—entitled Family Walks on Vashon Island. Perla also serves as President of the Vashon Land Trust.
The average income of islanders is one of the highest in King County. In general Vashon-Maury is a pocket of affluence, but there is a significant minority of people who choose to live more simply (have less money and more time), joined by a strong middle to upper-middle class professional group, many of whom are on the foot passenger water taxi to downtown Seattle each morning. Of course, people have to be here to service the daily needs of the 11,000 permanent residents—doctors, teachers, dentists, attorneys, grocers, etc. Several thousand tourists visit Vashon each summer weekend. Many lower income residents choose to live here for the quality of life, or they have lived here all their lives and are now elderly. We have a superior assisted living/ nursing home—Vashon Island Community Care Center—built by local contributions and the help of the Sisters of Providence.
There are still hundreds of artists. One of these, who is over ninety and sings in the chorale, has donated more than $6 million for the construction of a new Vashon Allied Arts center for the arts, which will be at the second four-way stop on the Vashon Highway. The VAA is the most venerable art organization in the State. Also, a hundred-plus students come to Vashon daily to go to our schools, which are preferential to the schools they have in their communities on the other side of the water.
In short, the community is diverse, fascinating, active in community affairs, looking for peace and quiet, cannot be categorized easily, and if you are talking to someone who says only Hippies live here and everyone wears Birkenstocks, please know they do not have a clue! Yes, I still wear Mephistoes or Birkenstocks most of the time, and I do eat granola, but then, I am an old hippie, so there you are!
Beth de Groen
Designated Broker, Owner
206-463-9148 ext. 206