To some, it’s known as a haunted house. For others, it’s called the “owl house” because of an inanimate bird perpetually perched in one of the highest windows.
To owner Scott McKay, the home is a piece of family – and island – history. It’s been his summer home since the 1960s.
“I’m very emotional about this house,” McKay said.
Scott and his wife Cynthia, who live in Seattle, are the owners of the “Frederick Head House” at the east end of Crescent Beach. Anyone jogging or driving past the house can see its dilapidated front from the road.
But the interior tells a different story. Nearly every inch of the building has been untouched since it was built in 1889. And as Scott launches a major restoration project on the structure, he is determined to honor the originality of the house.
“And it would break my heart to put in modern windows,” he said.
The wall plaster (made from Crescent Beach sand and local lime) is peeling and the floor is warped in some spots, but the basic structure is sound.
The house was made with old growth island fir milled on the property, which means the beams are still standing strong today. The doors boast original hardware with intricate designs.
A new roof was put on earlier this year, and next up is gutting the inside.
Scott says their immediate goal is to return the house to the condition it was in when first constructed. Their long-term plans include a small private farm. Scott, a lawyer, spends as much time on Orcas as he can.
The house was built by Frederick and Beatrice Head, English Citizens who, along with Reverend Gray, were founding members of the Episcopalian Church in Eastsound.
The house was designed by Elmer Fisher, a noted architect of that era who designed important buildings in Seattle such as the Pioneer Building in Pioneer Square.
The home was sold to the Gautlett family in 1942, and Scott’s family purchased the house and land in 1962. His parents launched an organic farm in 1965, then tried sheep and goat farming and later started an oyster business, using their flatland rights on Crescent Beach.
Scott is now the sole owner of the property. He recently overcame kidney cancer and is now in a financial position to tackle restoration efforts. His daughter Sarah, who just graduated from college, is living in the house for the summer and helping her dad gut the interior.
“Sarah and I were overwhelmed at the outpouring of community support for our restoration efforts,” Scott said. “Everyone loves the old house and wants to see it preserved. We are delighted at how the community has responded.”
For the past few months, the McKays have been finding family treasures buried in the house’s cupboards and forgotten rooms. In mid-July, they cleared out an old barn and sold its contents in a lawn sale. All proceeds went to construction costs.
“Our focus right now is just getting it stable,” Scott said.
Because the house looks in major disrepair from the outside, trespassers have been a problem. One night at 2 a.m., Scott woke up to a pair of homeless men camping out. He hopes that ongoing repairs will make the house less inviting to vagrants.
During its heyday, the property was a working fruit farm that employed five workers. Some of those trees still stand today and many of the old farm implements and tools are still on the property. Those will be donated to the historical museum.
The McKays intend to keep the property privately owned but hope to allow public events once or twice a year on the expansive back lawns that overlook Ship Bay. They feel its historic features “must be managed and stewarded for the benefit of the entire community.”
Scott says it’s a complex issue that will require planning. But in the meantime, he loves giving tours of the house and property. If you are interested in scheduling a tour, email Sarah at email@example.com.
“As I believe everyone who has seen the property will attest, the house and grounds speak loudly for themselves. There are amazing opportunities,” Scott said.