Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Mystery of the Haunted Mansion

There's something about an abandoned house that captures the imagination. No one's childhood is complete without a nearby haunted house to inspire scary stories, and offer the challenge of exploration.

We received an email asking about an abandoned house that once existed on the shores of Lake Sammamish, in what is now the South Cove neighborhood. It read:

“I was raised on Lake Sammamish and when I was in grade school, Jr. High,  and High school (1964-1970) there was a very strange mansion on Lake Sammamish, near the state park, that had fallen into ruins.  As kids we would play in it and make up scary stories as to its origin and history.  Now, as an adult I am very curious about its true origin, who built it, who lived there, and why did they leave it?  It was located on West Lake Sammamish Pkwy near the spot where there are many sunken trees and logs, not far from the shoreline.

We always called it the "Haunted Mansion" or "The Green Mansion."  You could not see it from the road but it was visible from Lake Sammamish if you were in a boat.  I believe it butted up beside the Lewis property on the southwest end of the lake, not far from Lake Sammamish State Park.  It was lake front property, completely covered in vines and blackberries, but we were always able to find our way to the house by following a small trail from the lake.  It was a mansion to us (3 stories, I think, plus a basement and an attic) a brick exterior, fireplaces, and I still remember the flocked wallpaper in the living room.”

We passed the message along to the folks on our mailing list. Many of our mailing list members, and the friends they forwarded our email along to, remembered the house and it's rough location. A few people also recalled the name of the people who owned the property -- Shaw.

Who were the Shaws?
John Nivett Shaw married Gertrude Fagan in 1896, and the couple settled in Seattle in 1899. Between 1899 and at least 1938, John Shaw was the president of the Commercial Importing Company, which imported and sold coffee and spices under the names Corona Coffee and Hollywood Spices. Passenger documents available at Ancestry.com show that the Shaws frequently traveled by boat to a variety of destinations, including New York City, Vancouver BC, Tokyo, and Honolulu. Obituaries for both John and Gertrude Shaw note a Seattle address (1226 22nd Avenue), suggesting that the mansion on Lake Sammamish was not their primary residence. According to the King County property records, the house at 1226 22nd Avenue E, on Seattle's Capitol Hill, is 7,000 square feet in size and was built in 1920.

The Shaws probably acquired their Lake Sammamish property sometime between the 1930s and late 1940s. However, it was never their primary place of residence. Dan Greenwood, whose family owned land adjacent to the Shaws, recalled that the property was "very elaborate, with ponds, tennis courts, a boat house and a saw mill for the construction. You can still see remnants of the mill in the shallows along the shore. There was also a fancy multi-car garage next to the caretaker's (Lars) residence."

The couple did not have any children. When John Shaw died in 1953, his wife was his sole inheritor. After Gertrudge Fagan Shaw died in 1957, settlement of her estate was delayed by one of the provisions of her will. A June 18, 1958 article in the Seattle Daily Times notes that Gertrude’s will specified a bequest for all employees of the Commercial Importing Company who had been there longer than 5 years. However, the company was purchased by Continental Importing after John Shaw’s death. This left some question as to whether Mrs. Shaw’s estate was legally obligated to pay the bequest, given that the company in question was not actually owned by Mrs. Shaw at the time of her death. 

Aside from charitable contributions and the questionable employee bequest, the estate was left to Gertrude Shaw's siblings, who ranged in age from 60 to 71 at the time of their sister's death. We don't know how many years it took to settle the Shaw estate, but Gertrude's siblings were of an age that anything they inherited was likely to end up as part of their own estate, leaving the ownership and use of the property potentially tied up for some years.

What about the ghost story?
The story of a maid who drowned in a pool on the estate is well known, but difficult to substantiate. I wasn't able to find any information to confirm the drowning, but there are several other stories of drowning accidents that may have become tangled up with the story of the Shaw family.  Gertrude Fagan Shaw’s brother, Edmund, worked for the Commercial Importing Company. He died by drowning while on a fishing trip in Allyn, Mason County, Washington in 1939. There have also been a number of drowning deaths on Lake Sammamish over the years, including incidents of multiple drownings in 1907 and 1916. There doesn't seem to be a clear answer to the question of what inspired the ghost story -- at least, not yet.

Drowning or no drowning, dozens of kids (maybe hundreds?) who grew up in Issaquah reinforced the story that the house was haunted. Even those who didn't necessarily believe the story of a haunting did enjoy capitalizing on the story for entertainment purposes. Chuck Olsen remembers, "My father told me about Shaw because he hauled coal for his house. My grandparents owned Alexander's Beach resort on the east side of the lake. Every summer people from all over the states would come and camp at the resort. The kids were then  our victims of the scary "Haunted House". We would load them in our boat and take them to the house. One of my cousins would run up to the house and hide and when the victims entered the house they would be scared to you know where! Just by what we could see it was a beautiful home and a beautiful piece of property."

The Shaw property was located roughly where 187th Street is today, in the Meadowbrook Point neighborhood. Among the many unknowns is when the grand old house might have been torn down. The property was subdivided into a number of lots, which seem to have been built on between 1977 and 1980. A visit to the Puget Sound Regional Archives could help us pin down the years when the Shaws purchased the property, and who owned it in between the Shaws and the time it was developed. But for now, we have a pretty good solution to this particular history mystery.

Thanks to everyone who shared memories, bits of information, or just enthusiasm for the search!

4 comments:

  1. How did I grow up next to Alexander's beach and never hear about this??? especially as much time as I spent at the park.

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  2. nice research! i love your history mysteries!

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  3. I Lived right next to this property for years on the lake and the story we were told was that the maid Hung herself in the attic, I also knew Lars,the caretaker who was an excellent carpenter and told stories about the property

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