Seattle Now & Then: The Neely Mansion

(Click to Enlarge) The Neely family mansion - or big farmhouse - was built in the mid-1890s east of Auburn near a ferry crossing on the Green/White River. (Courtesy Neely Mansion Association.)
The restored big home is located at 12303 Auburn-Black Diamond Road, just east of the Highway 18 Auburn-Black Diamond Road Exist. For more information call (253) 833-9409. (Now photo by Karen Meador)

When I first visited the Neely Mansion with my friend Inger Anne Hage it was a mere 71 years old – my age now.  But now at 116 it looks considerably better than I.  This improvement is the work of the many volunteers who have gathered around it for the restoration and maintenance of this national landmark.

Aaron and Sarah Neely completed the ornate farmhouse east of Kent in 1894.  Aaron was seven when he crossed the Oregon Trail with his parents David and Irene Neely in 1853.  The family came directly to the future White/Green River valley and was thereby among its earliest settlers.

One of the Neely Mansion volunteers, Karen Meador, introduced me to the historical photograph of the mansion and also took the “repeat” during a visit by Neely descendants.  And this would be the proper place to name them.

First the visitors in the “now” photo, left to right. Left to right, Ken Beckman, Aaron Beckman, Grant Beckman, Howard Elliot Neely, and Jane Neely Beckman.  Howard is the 93-year-old grandson of the Aaron Neely who built it. Understanding the difficulty of “reading” the faces of the six figures posing in the “then” we will note two with reserved confidence.  The young boy, third from the left, is – or seems to be -Howard Elliot Neely’s father Aaron Neely Jr., and the woman, far right, his mother Sarah Graham Neely, Aaron Senior’s wife.

The photograph is almost as old as the house, for by 1900 the family missed the social excitements of town life and moved to nearby Auburn.  According to Meador “Through the next several decades the mansion and its 200 fertile acres were leased variously to Swiss, Japanese and Filipino tenant farmers.”  Sometime in the 1960’s it made a transition to disrepair.  That is how we found it while on our way to the Black Diamond bakery.  We peeked in a front window and found a mess.  Now thanks to the Neely Mansion Association this classic Victorian is open and operating.


Typically, I cannot find the negatives for that 60s trip to Black Diamond for a cinnamon roll when we also stumbled upon the Neely Mansion. This one example of the day's shoot was available because it was used in The Seattle Sun sometime in the mid-1970s. Susan Chadwick, then the editor, asked me if I had anything they could run for Halloween. I thought of - and found! - the Black Diamond trip photos and made this pre-photoshop collage of my distant snap of the mansion with a foreground copied from a TV Horror film (I once knew the name of this actress - David and Bill will know!). I also lifted a storm cloud from a slide that Fred Bauer sent to me in the early 1970s. That cloud is over Inverness, California (at least that is where Fred was then living) and not over Auburn. It was yet another hoax embraced by a tabloid with progressive instincts and at home on Capitol Hill for quite a long run.

Our Daily Sykes #45 – The Combine

While a combine reaps the wheat does the truck wait on the harvester or keep an eye out? Perhaps you, as I, find the simplicity of all this calming. There are seven parts. On top the sky and then descending, the cloud, the haze, the distant ridge, the combine, the truck and the golden wheat, and all of them given room - a peaceable kingdom. (For all but the gluten intolerant.)

Our Daily Sykes #43 – Another Roadside Attraction

We note that our correspondent Matt the Journeyman has remarked - with pebbles in his mouth - that it is a mild wonder that the desert monolith featured in Our Daily Sykes #38 has not been removed as a highway nuisance by some agency. In line with these concerns we bring up this bush of an extrusion and wonder if it's dark irregularity may not warrant some charge from the highway department's Design & Roadside Attractions Committee. We do not, however, know the state - in either case. Yet. (Is there any interest out there in an "Our Daily Victorian Lesson?" We are well stocked with them. Here's an example. From where? “In matters of grave importance style, not sincerity is the vital thing”)

Our Daily Sykes #42 – Swallow Rock, Clarkston on the Snake River

The surreal shape of Swallow Rock, looking north over the Snake River in the last miles before it joins the Clearwater River and takes a sharp turn to the west for its last mostly slackwater (there are three dams) progress onward to join the Columbia River. The big "C" written with white rocks on the hill beyond Swallow Rock is partnered with an outline of a "bantum" - the mascot of the Clarkston High School teams. (Click to Enlarge) It was the clue - for me - for figuring out the location for this scene. I then learned the name of Swallow Rock from the Lewiston Public Library which is on the right or east or Idaho side of Snake River.
Swallow Rock again, looking north again over the curve in the Snake River. The hill beyond the rock is also famous for the highway that descended to Lewiston from the Palouse through what for the car sick - like my Aunt Annie - was a dizzying sequence of hairpin curves. (I think some have been eliminated with a brave new and more direct route.) Dear old Aunt Annie Crabby was my first connection with a victim of phobias, some of which I later learned to share with her.
Horace Sykes was surely engaged with Swallow Rock and this section of outflow from the Snake River's Hells Canyon shows the by now familiar shape of the Rock in a valley haze.
I am reminded now of Jean Sherrard's description of this landscape shared over his mobile phone when he was gathering "nows" for our book "Washington Then and Now." A few miles short of Clarkston and driving east along the Snake he described it as "wonderful - beautiful." Here's one more "capture" of Swallow Rock by Horace Sykes from sometime in the first years following the Second World War. The rock's eastern face is hidden from the sunset and we have electronically "pushed" some light on it. Note how a slice of the setting sun hits the tops of a small section of trees standing beside the river and below the rock.