In 1857 when Christian Madsen arrived in San Francisco after sailing his ship around The Horn from Denmark, he met John Curtis Farmer whose family and fortunes were to become intertwined with his for the rest of his life.
Farmer was an Englishman who had migrated to the United States, settling first in New York where he had married, later moving to Michigan where his son, Frank, was born in 1847. Still later he moved to San Francisco where he became acquainted with Christian Madsen.
The two men discovered that they had much in common. They were near the same age, both had business ability and both were well educated, Farmer having attended college in England, and Madsen having graduated from the University of Denmark. Soon Farmer started shipping out with Madsen on some of his periodic voyages up the coast north from San Francisco. Farmer wa« interested in establishing sawmills in strategic locations with the plan to mee’ the ever increasing demands for lumber and dock pilings in San Francisco.
The magnificent forests of the Olympic Peninsula and South Whidbey quickly attracted his interest and, using Port Ludlow as a base for his operations, he began setting up sawmills in several Peninsula communities. He would ship lumber from these mills on Madsen’s boat and sell it at a good profit in San Francisco where he maintained his family home.
Farmer continued this business for several years during which time his second son, John Carlton Farmer, was born in 1860. By then the older son, Frank, was in his teens and working with his father. Eventually Frank became so knowledgeable about mill operations that he invented a saw which he patented under the name Farmer’s Improved Gang Saw.
When Frank was in his twenties he returned to Michigan, the state where he was born. He married in 1873 and lived in Michigan for several years; a daughter, Marie, was born there in 1876. Sometime prior to 1900 he returned to South Whidbey. His wife had died and Marie, who was then married, kept house for him.
In 1880 when Madsen had decided to build a warehouse and cottage on the Willow Point property which he had acquired in the poker game, he had prevailed upon John Curtis Farmer and his son, John Carlton Farmer, then twenty years old, to move from San Francisco to South Whidbey and construct the buildings. The warehouse was designed as a triplex and was constructed on the beach with the center section being designed to pull boats out of the water and place them in dry storage. It was 24 x 36 feet with solid plank flooring and a windlass for hoisting the boats. On each side of the center section was an apartment. One apartment housed the Farmer family, and in the other Madsen and his family made their home while their cottage was being built.
During this period romance blossomed between young John Carlton Farmer and Minnie Low Madsen and they were married in 1883. Almost immediately Minnie decided that she and her husband should become property owners. There is a humorous family story which says that she marched her step-dad over to the courthouse, laid down $100 in gold coins and requested the deed for sixty-six and one half acres of the Willow Point property. Island County records show the following entry:
Page 520, Volume 7: Minnie Farmer purchased on December 24, 1884, for $100 gold coin, an undivided interest in lots 2 and 3, Section 6, Twp. 29, N. of Range 2, EWM, containing 66 and 55/100 acres in District of Lands, subject to sale at Olympia, Wn. land office.
Madsen must have approved of his step-daughter’s action because two years later Island County records show the following entry:
John Carlton Farmer: 1886, page 259, Book 8: Grantor: Christian Madsen. March 29, purchased from C. Madsen 66 55/100 acres, one half interest in and to lots 2 & 3, Twp. 29 N. of Range 2 E. in the District of Lands, subject to the land offices at Olympia, Wn. Paid $300 in gold coin. Paid in full July 6, 1888 at Coupeville. Acknowledged by C. Madsen.
That same year John Curtis Farmer must have felt that his two sons were both well established and had no further need of him because Madsen’s journal shows the following entry ’’Put Old Man Farmer on the boat for Frisco today”. He would have been about sixty years of age at that time.
John Carlton Farmer, and his wife, Minnie, turned their property into a thriving farm which became headquarters for many activities on the west shore of South Whidbey. They built a big barn, imported Holstein cows, set out a large orchard and vegetable garden. They also raised lots of chickens which did double duty as egg-laying machines and as tasty chicken dinners.
It was a natural course of events that, with all this produce, the Farmers would start a store which operated out of an 18 x 36 foot structure on the beach. They also constructed a 24 foot sailboat, christened The Egg Box, which they operated as a shuttle, carrying fresh eggs, milk, butter, fruits, vegetables and meats to the various passenger and freight ships which would anchor offshore. This was a thriving business for several years.
Farm products were not the only valuable articles John and Minnie produced. They also became the parents of Charles, born in July, 1884; Josephine, born in 1885; John, born in 1887 and Emily, born in 1892. In 1897 Minnie Farmer died and her two sons, then fifteen and twelve, became their father’s assistants in running the farm. Fourteen year old Josephine took over the duties of running the household and caring for her five year old sister, Emily.
The United States census for 1900 shows that there were several other people living under the Farmer roof as sort of an ‘’international’’ extended family. They included a nineteen year old cook, Robert Mayer, from California; a twenty-six year old watchman, Fordham Rhoder from Iowa; Dan Mathison who had arrived from Canada in 1885 at age thirteen; Andrew Warnoovitch who had arrived from Austria in 1883 at age seventeen; William Halering who had come from Sweden in 1879 at age twenty-three; Phillip Collins, Maine; Henry Harsh, Iowa; Lars T. Rasmussen, who was married and had come from Norway in 1898; John Bost, a local man, and Thomas Low, step-son of Christian Madsen.