May 28, 2008

Empty Ridgefield Farm Named Endangered Historic Property

By Dean Baker, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

May 28--RIDGEFIELD -- The abandoned 120-year-old Kapus farmstead east of Interstate 5 was listed Tuesday as one of Washington's Most Endangered Historic Properties.

The listing, by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, has slowed Southwest Washington Medical Center's plans to build medical offices, a retail center and perhaps a hospital someday on the 76.5-acre farm site it purchased in 2007.

The delay appears to be temporary. Two couples have expressed interest in moving the farm buildings to some other nearby rural site. There's a farmhouse built in 1888, as well as a garage, an outhouse and a four-story wooden water tower that all were built some 40 years later.

The 2,500-gallon water tower is easily visible from I-5. It's an iconic structure that reminds those who pass by of a bygone era, when Clark County was mostly farming country.

The hospital is trying to do its part to preserve history, said Christine Wamsley, Southwest's director of expansion. "We seem to be on the right track, and I have my fingers crossed. What we are trying to do is work with the two potential end users who would be great owners for these buildings and treat them in accordance with how they should be used."

Most of the farm is already gone. The barn partially collapsed and has been demolished. A weathered granary was moved to Brush Prairie, where a farming couple is refurbishing it.

The farmstead was listed on the Clark County Heritage Registry 20 years ago, said Rob Freed, chairman of the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission. The commission would have to approve any plan to move or demolish the buildings, he said.

Tuesday's announcement underscores the historic significance of the buildings, which stand on 1.5 acres of a former 160-acre farm at 765 N. 65th Ave. The site is 500 yards northeast of the Ridgefield Interstate 5 junction, north of Pioneer Street. It's just south of the Clark County Fire District 12 station.

The hospital was unaware of the farm's listing on the historic register until after the purchase, Wamsley said.

The farm buildings don't fit Southwest's plans to build a retail center and medical offices in the near future and perhaps a hospital 20 years from now, she said. She said Southwest officials are willing to give the buildings to anyone who will move them.

In the meantime, Wamsley said Southwest officials have boarded up the house, garage and water tower to protect them after incidents of vandalism.

The buildings are freshly painted and in fairly good shape, she said.

From a historian's standpoint, however, the most desirable option would be for the buildings to remain where they are, preserving their historic relation to each other and the land, Freed said Tuesday.

"Historic properties, especially farmsteads, are becoming endangered properties," he said. "Just look at the Vancouver Lake lowlands, where farms are being moved to make room for industrialization."

"As an ensemble, the Kapus Farm evokes the feeling of an early-20th century farmstead and is unique as one of the last relatively intact complexes of farm buildings left in Clark County," said Chris Moore, the trust's field director.

One building from the farmstead is being rebuilt.

A farming couple from Brush Prairie stepped up three years ago to save the granary. Jim and Diane Hunter purchased the granary, partially dismantled it and moved it 12 miles to their farm. They paid $11.51 for the building and $12,000 to move it and reassemble it. They have continued to invest in it, using recycled materials.

"We probably have $25,000 in it," said Diane Hunter. "It's absolutely gorgeous. We're so excited."

She's been putting new windows in the building as they remodel it for farm and community use. The floor had rotted and was replaced with old rafters from the Kapus barn, she said. Bit by bit they've put the building together.

It was Diane Hunter who initiated the proposal to place the Kapus farm on the endangered list, with help from Jacqui Kamp, a Clark County planner.

"The most important parts are the house and the water tower," Hunter said. "This is the last vestige of a complete farm. It really was the whole gamut of farming before the turn of the century."

As for relocating the rest of the buildings, "it's looking very good," said Kamp. "There's been a lot of interest and people getting in touch with Southwest to see what it would take."

No hearing has been scheduled before the state commission, Kamp said. If the hospital elects either to move or tear down the buildings, the action would have to be approved by the historic preservation commission after a hearing, she said.

A farmer named Valentine Kapus established the farm in 1888. In 1929, a carpenter came to the farm and built the water tower, garage and outhouse and remodeled the house. The farm was diversified and remained in the Kapus family until 1963. Its yield included potatoes, grain, beef, dairy products, pigs, chickens and grapes.

The property was brought into Ridgefield's urban growth boundary in 1994 and then annexed to the city. The zoning was changed to planned commercial.

Southwest picked up on the opportunity. Any notion of a hospital on the site is just a possibility at this point, Wamsley said, but the business park and medical offices are near-term plans, once the historic hassle is worked out.

Dean Baker writes about agriculture. Reach him at 360-735-4511 or [email protected]


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