The dignified lady, wearing a diamond tiara and holding the train of her ivory satin ball gown over one arm, was not standing in a ballroom surrounded by admiring gentlemen, as one would expect, judging from here attire. She was standing in a pig pen, up the road from Maxwelton, surrounded by squealing porkers. With her free hand she was casting grain on the ground around her to a flock of hens, darting in and out among the pigs while a bawdy rooster broadcast the news that he was lord of all he surveyed.
The dignified lady was crying, not great, gulping sobs, but a gentle rain of tears which trickled down her cheeks and onto the ivory ball-gown, leaving spots. A young man, driving a team and wagon, pulled into the barnyard and gaped in amazement at the lady in the ball-gown, weeping in the pig pen. Springing down from the wagon seat he rushed to her side. “Mother! what in blazes are you doing?”
The lady was Elizabeth Alderson Nourse, formerly mistress of a gracious home filled with servants in Norwich, England. Baked ham on her dinner table had been her closest association with pigs. Hens had been remote creatures who somehow provided coddled eggs for breakfast. The young man was her son, Sidney Nourse. He, and his brothers, Tom, Harry, Alfred, and Jack were indirectly the reasons she was crying in the barnyard in a ball-gown in the midst of the livestock. They were the reason that she and her husband, Thomas Gardner Nourse, had left their palatial home in England, in 1910 and come across an ocean and a continent to a half-finished house on a half logged off farm located about two miles up the road from the Mackie settlement of Maxwelton.
The reason she was crying was because when her sons wrote home that they had found an island paradise and were building a beautiful, big house for the family, she had assumed that she would have a maid and a gardener, and guests who would come for tea and leave their calling cards.
This undeveloped semi-wilderness where everyone had to do their own work and where the handful of neighbors scattered around in the woods were well-meaning but oblivious of the finer points of etiquette, was such a shock that she was overcome with nostalgia for England. The ball-gown in the pig-pen was her requiem to a lost way of life.
Although the beginning was inauspicious eventually some of the members of the Nourse family became leaders in the community. Their Whidbey story really begins in 1908 when Sidney and Jack Nourse purchased 40 acres of land at the intersection of the Ewing and Maxwelton roads from Roy Newell for $2,100.25 plus $25.35 for three year’s back taxes.
Capital for the purchase of the South Whidbey acreage, upon which was located a small house, was provided by Thomas and Elizabeth Nourse while they were still living in Norwich, England and their reason was somewhat unusual. They were in their 60’s and their five sons and two daughters were all grown and scattered from Australia and New Zealand to Canada and the United States. The senior Nourses wanted to find a suitable spot in the United States which would belong to the whole family equally and would be a haven of refuge for any, or all members of the family any time there was a need. Together with their five sons, they incorporated “The Nourse Brothers Ranch,” the rules called for each family member to contribute an equal sum of money and amount of work to maintain the home and farm.
Sidney and Jack, the two youngest sons, scarcely out of their teens, had set out for America from the family home in Norwich, England to find a suitable spot for the new family corporation headquarters. They ended up purchasing the 40-acre tract above Maxwelton and were soon joined by their oldest brother, Tom, who was an electrical engineer and had been working in the gold fields near Fremantle, Australia. He had married an Irish lass from county Cork, Mary Mae Josephine Murtha.
Sidney, Jack and Tom went at it with enthusiasm to log and clear their land. Their first act was to move the little 24×24 foot cabin from its location in the lowlands beside the creek up to the hilltop. This was no small chore, it was done with skid logs and a team of horses. The young men lived in tents while the move was in progress. Their next objective was to build the palatial home large enough to house the entire Nourse family which was what had been envisioned when the family corporation was formed.
In 1909 Tom brought his wife and their daughter, Bernice, from Australia to the new Maxwelton home and he and his family set up house¬keeping in the cabin while work progressed slowly on the big house. It had a kitchen, dining room, living room and six bedrooms on the main floor, besides a basement and an upstairs and in the course of time also had a tennis court in the back yard.
The fourth Nourse brother, Alfred, who had married Violet Smith and worked in Seattle as a heavy equipment operator, came to the island on week-ends and helped with the work. Harry, the second oldest of the Nourse brothers, had married Elizabeth Root and they were living in New Zealand, but in 1910 they packed up their belongings and moved to the new family headquarters near Maxwelton, purchasing ten acres of their own near the family compound.
By that time the big house, although not finished, was deemed habitable so the brothers sent for their parents who were still in Norwich, England. The background of Thomas G. Nourse is interesting. He had been a master sergeant in the British army as a young man and served in the Boer War in India where he had married a native woman. They became the parents of six children.
All six children and their mother died in a cholera epidemic. Thomas had been seriously ill but recovered. When he returned to England, after leaving the military service, he became superintendent of Constables at Norwich and married a school teacher, Elizabeth Alderson Nourse. This union produced 13 children, six of whom died. It is understandable that the remaining seven children were very dear to their parents who desired to be near them.
Thomas and Elizabeth Nourse left their established upper-class home and friends in England and set out on the perilous journey around Cape Horn, South America for a remote island in the northwest corner of the United States. When they debarked from the Fairhaven at Clinton they stayed for a few days at the Clinton Hotel owned by Jonathon Salisbury until their sons had trans-ported to Maxwelton their furniture and other treasured items which they had brought with them from England.
Although the new life which they faced was a far cry from the genteel security they had left in England, the senior Nourses managed to adjust and it was not too long before Elizabeth presided over her new domain with authority and distinction. In due time the big house was finished, beautifully furnished, and began to be a focal center for Nourse children and grandchildren. Their daughter Nell, recovering from the break-up of an unsuccessful marriage, came from England and lived with them for a time, matching her brothers in doing her share of the corporation work, even helping to build the barn. A tennis court was built in the back yard and this became a social center for the surrounding neighborhood.
The Nourse Brothers farm acquired distinction for another reason also. The oldest son, Tom found little work on the island for an electrical engineer so he started raising dahlia and gladiola bulbs commercially, distributing them all over the nation by mail. He also started raising specialized chickens for the commercial market. Tom and his wife, Mae, became leaders in the Maxwelton community. He was one of the organizers of the Woodland Community Club which met monthly for social and dramatic sessions. Tom wrote and directed several plays which were presented at the Woodland Hall by local actors. Also he was a member of the Woodland orchestra as well as the author of “Woodland Nuts,” a column published in the Whidbey Record.
Bernice, daughter of Tom and Mae Nourse, grew up and married Joseph Mackie, son of Peter and Ada Mackie who had helped establish Maxwelton. Joseph and Bernice became the parents of four children, Joan, Gary, Nick, and Marcia. Joseph died in 1983.
Tom and Mae Nourse had three more children besides Bernice, all born after they came to South Whidbey. Mavis died at the age of nine. Betty grew up and married Palmer G. Olson and they are living near Langley in 1985.
Pat, the only son of Tom and Mae Nourse, served a stint in the navy during the Second World War and after returning home, he became general foreman of transportation at the Oak Harbor Naval base. He also took over the management of the family farm commuting to Oak Harbor each day. He married the daughter of a Bayview pioneer family, Lucille Thompson, who served as secretary to the principal of South Whidbey high school for 19 years. Their children are Sandra, who, with her husband James Grimes and their children Kelly and Dana, lives on Sills Road near Maxwelton; Candice Nourse Hatch, who, with her husband, lives in Lynnwood, and Cynthia who married Gust Erikson, the son of another pioneer South Whidbey family. They have two children, Katie and Matthew. They live in the Clinton area.
Pat Nourse and his wife, Lucille Thompson Nourse, can each separately boast of being born locally and being part of a family whose members have called South Whidbey their home for five generations.
Tom Nourse died in 1943 and, after a time, his widow married his younger brother, Sidney, who had remained a bachelor until then. In 1926 Sidney took over the ownership of the Clinton Union Store which he moved up the hill from Brighton Beach to a new building. He also built the Midvale store, was a notary public, and a justice of the peace. After his brother, Tom’s death, he continued the “Whidbey Nuts” column for the Whidbey Record. Sidney was the pianist for the Woodland orchestra and the Woodland Sunday School. Mae died March 2, 1968 and Sidney died September 2, 1973.
Harry, the second son in the Nourse family corporation, joined the Canadian army and was killed in action in France in 1918 during the First World War. His widow, Lil, remained at the family ranch until her death in 1951.
Alfred Nourse, the third son of the family corporation, and his wife, Violet, lived in Seattle where he worked as a heavy equipment operator. He also was an accomplished artist. He and his wife were the parents of five children, Philip, Stanley, Audrey, Ardelle, and Anita. Ardelle married Conrad Orr, son of one of Clinton’s earliest residents, and they owned the Clinton Shell Oil service and other businesses in Clinton until their retirement. In 1985 they were living in their long-time home on Brighton Beach in Old Clinton near the original Orr dock.
Jack Nourse, the youngest brother in the family corporation, married Ida Arnold of Indiana and they were in the real estate business on Bainbridge Island for many years. Jack died in 1981.
Eventually the ranch was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Ed Evans and the house is still a land-mark in the area.