The History of Marty’s Place at Strawbridge Farm
From “Langley, The Village By The Sea” by Lorna Cherry
On a certain bleak day in the Spring of 1900, 57 year-old Elizabeth Strawbridge sat in the office of her doctor in Jacksonville, Illinois, and heard him make the chilling diagnosis that she was dying of tuberculosis. Was there any hope she asked. His response was that there was dim possibility that a change of climate might prolong her life.
Although her body might be ailing, Elizabeth Strawbridge was vigorous in mind and spirit and she found the prospect of premature death most distasteful. She had heard from friends that the climate in the Pacific Northwest was mild and invigorating so she packed up bag and baggage and set out for Seattle accompanied by 35 year-old Fred Schoel. They settled briefly in Seattle near Lake Union but she was not satisfied with the location.
Jacob Anthes had advertised for sale the cabin and land west of Langley where he had lived when he first came to the area, prior to building his new house next to his store in downtown Langley. The idea of a cabin in the woods surrounded by pure air and aromatic evergreens appealed greatly to Elizabeth Strawbridge who believed that in such a setting she could commute the death sentence which had been pronounced upon her.
In 1900 she purchased the large tract of land from Anthes which extended along Saratoga Road for about a quarter of a mile then north to the Saratoga Passage waterfront. With the help of Fred Schoel she cleared her land and furnished the cabin with hand-made items. As time passed, she reaped a double reward for her determination not to become a victim of ill health. She found that she not only had cured her tuberculosis but also had become quite prosperous.
In 1909 she relegated the cabin to a summer place and built an impressive house on the bank just above the beach on Saratoga Passage with a view that was breathtaking. She sent back to Illinois for the beautiful furniture from her former home and had it shipped by steamship around the Horn. Her neighbors were Helen Coe and the town’s banker, James Langley.
As Langley began to expand and push its borders westward along Saratoga Passage, Elizabeth Strawbridge donated 40 feet of her land for a county road. Unfortunately when the engineer for the county built the road, he did not follow precisely the survey of the land she had donated and as a result there has been confusion over the years about the property boundaries in the area where the present Tompkins Road intersects Saratoga Road. Claude and Carolyn Johnson owned the property on Saratoga Road across from the end of Tompkins Road.
Elizabeth participated in community affairs and, far from dying young as the Illinois doctor had predicted, this energetic woman lived to the ripe old age of 85. She is buried in Langley cemetery. She had no direct descendants and in her will she left her Whidbey property to a niece and nephew, Miss Frances Mellon and Jim Mellon of Jacksonville, Illinois.
Miss Mellon was a concert pianist of considerable stature, performing in concerts around the world including Paris, Vienna and Japan. She also taught piano lessons at a Salem, Oregon college. As a result, she spent little time at her Langley home but her brother, Jim Mellon, lived there and maintained the premises. The house was large for one person so he rented rooms and board. One of the roomers was a real estate salesman.
In 1945 Jim Mellon died at the age of 65 and his sister turned the property over to a cousin in Illinois, Elysabeth Dunbar Tompkins who, with her husband, Rexford Tompkins, came west immediately and took charge of funeral arrangements for Jim Mellon. However when they started to settle down in the house they discovered that it and several acres of the adjoining land had been sold to Vic and Ann Primavera by the real estate salesman who had roomed there. Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins moved into the original log house on the bluff overlooking Saratoga Passage which had been retained as a summer home along with property on both sides of the Tompkins Road.
The Primaveras made their home in the historic house for about 30 years before retiring to Ann’s present Third Street home in Langley. They sold the property to Max and Joye Bitts who have maintained the house in its original design and since 1985 have made it their permanent home. They have subdivided the acreage into an exclusive residential development.
In 1984 the Tompkins family still used the cabin as a summer home although over the years they built a new house on Tompkins Road. The Tompkins also platted the property on both sides of the road from Saratoga Passage bluff to Saratoga Road, selling 11 lots on one side of the Tompkins Road and retaining nine lots on the opposite side for their children and grandchildren.
Rexford and Elysabeth Tompkins remained in their Langley home on Tompkins Road until 1963 when they moved to California. Mr. Tompkins died in 1974 and the property was turned over to their sons, Fredrick Dunbar Tompkins and Rex Tompkins Jr. Elysabeth Tompkins who resides in Seal Beach, California, often vacations at her former home at the end of the road named for her family.
(Editor’s note: The above data was obtained from an interview with Elysabeth Tompkins June 21, 1981. The excerpt ends here.)
In 2004, the Tomberg family bought Strawbridge Farm from Todd Bitts, son of Max and Joye Bitts, and renamed it “Marty’s Place at Strawbridge Farm” in honor of their father, Martin William Tomberg. They undertook a complete remodeling and upgrading of the house, but even after the modifications, Marty’s Place retains much of its original rustic sensabilities. In 2005, Strawbridge Farm once again opened to guests as it was in Jim Mellon’s time. The walls of this house have been blessed with almost 100 years of laughter. Please help us build another 100 years with yours.