MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Allan Osberg’s grandparents passed away before he was born, but he has always considered their 1914 farmhouse west of Mount Vernon to be part of his family heritage.
Today the refurbished historic house is taking on a new role in the agricultural heritage of Skagit County, thanks to Osberg’s generosity and the efforts of Skagitonians to Preserve Farmlands, the Skagit Valley Farm Bureau and Washington State University.
The Olson Heritage House was officially dedicated here Saturday (June 12) in ceremonies at WSU’s Northwest Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. The remodeled farmhouse will provide housing for research graduate students and visiting scientists at the agricultural research facility.
“This is part of a truly amazing community effort to support WSU’s research efforts which in turn will strengthen and support agriculture throughout Northwest Washington,” said Pete Jacoby, associate dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “Dedication of the Olson house also symbolizes the start of a major transformation and expansion of this important research facility over the next few years.”
In 1999 the Skagit Farm Bureau purchased the farmhouse, built in 1914 by Anders and Maria Olson, and the surrounding eight acres as part of a community effort to ensure the future of agricultural research at the WSU facility. Osberg, president of Osberg Construction Co. in Seattle, donated $100,000 to Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland to renovate his grandparents’ former house. In 2003 the property was transferred to WSU and the home was remodeled for use as graduate student and visitor housing.
Purchase of the former Olson property was a key piece in a major community-based effort to obtain properties bordering the research facility in order to preserve it, according to Bob Rose, executive director of Skagitonians to Preserve Farmlands.
“We knew that this was a critical property for the university,” Rose said. “The linkage between this house and local farming is significant.” Osberg read about the Farm Bureau’s purchase of the house and land, and called Rose to verify that the property was his grandparents’ former place.
“We verified it through the tax records and he came up to check out the place,” Rose said. “That day he made a $100,000 commitment to its renovation.”
Osberg said that he is pleased that a part of his family heritage will help advance agricultural research and preserve farmland in the area.
“I’m very proud, very pleased that we were able to make this happen,” he said. “Having the opportunity is one thing, but having the ability to act on it is something special. It’s very rewarding.”
Dedication of the Olson Heritage House is a significant step in WSU’s plans for a major renovation and expansion of its Mount Vernon agricultural research facility. It is being transformed into a stand-alone research center, rather than a unit reporting through another WSU research and extension center. WSU has committed to spend $6 million for a major upgrade and expansion of the facility to support agriculture throughout Northwest Washington.
Renovation plans for the 56-year old facility include replacing the current research and administration building with a new 16,400 square foot laboratory, office and multipurpose auditorium facility. An additional 2,800 square feet of new greenhouses are also planned, and the greenhouses and laboratories will use a modular design that will allow for future expansion.
The new facility will allow for the doubling of the current research staff to a total of eight, including a new horticulturist position. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in June 2005, with completion planned for a year later.