One morning in 1919, a little boy named John Patton was fairly bursting with anticipation as he raced back and forth on the Maxwelton shore watching the steamship Columbia making its way from Admiralty Inlet to the Maxwelton dock on the incoming tide. The boat was bringing supplies for the small mom-and-pop type general store at the corner of the Maxwelton and Sills road on a portion of the property owned by young John’s parents, John DeWitt and Martha Patton.
There would be flour and sugar and other grocery staples as well as bags of feed for livestock, but it was none of these that had the little boy dancing. He had five beautiful, copper pennies in his pocket which he had earned helping at the store. There would be candy among the supplies the boat was bringing—jaw-breakers, all-day suckers, peppermint and Wintergreen sticks, ropes of licorice, all economically feasible purchases at a penny each.
At last the steamer was nearing the dock. But wait—something was wrong—the boat was tipping over and its port side was awash. It had run aground in shallow water and tilted over on its side. All of its cargo was getting soaked and would be ruined. Young John sighed and, after watching the mishap for a time, turned and slowly walked the mile back to the store. Sometimes a guy just can’t win.
This is just one of the many recollections John Patton Jr., now grown and one of South Whidbey’s best known pioneers, has of his childhood. In connection with the store, he remembers that the family made a sizeable amount of money making and selling preserves from home-grown apples, prunes, quinces, cherries, and currants, as well as strawberries, which they also sold to the Langley barreling plant. The preserves went to the Seattle markets and were labeled “Edgecliff Farm,” which was their trade name. Young John used to make money hauling strawberries to the Langley plant for several neighboring farms, including those on Pebble-Dash Ridge, and Prosperity Ridge. The sun-heated rocks of the area caused the berries to ripen early and be among the first ready for market.
The Patton story begins when John DeWitt Patton, a 29-year-old draftsman from Indiana, was working in civil service for the City of Ballard and then for Seattle when Ballard was incorporated into Seattle. Previously, John had been a surveyor for the Copper River Alaska Railroad in 1905.
In 1906, John read a real estate advertisement in a Seattle newspaper for Whidbey property. After investigation, he bought a large tract in the Maxwelton area along Sills Road, from a man named Hammer. He sold off all but 20 acres which he cleared and on which he built a cabin and planted currants and fruit trees. A creek ran through the property and he set up a pump and pipes with a 10,000-gallon storage tank, and proceeded to irrigate his crops with his water system.
The big event in the northwest at that time was the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, and a young lady, Martha Fisher, formerly from the Patton’s home in Indiana, was teaching school in Seattle. She and John DeWitt attended the exposition together. Romance blossomed and they were married in 1912 and came immediately to Langley on the steamer Fairhaven. From there, they traveled to their Maxwelton home on Sills Road by horse and buggy. Their first home was of rough-hewn lumber with drinking water piped to the house from a spring out of the bluff above the bay. The water had to be pumped to run through the pipes, and emptied into a pail at the house. There was no inside plumbing.
The underground stream which provided the drinking water was believed to be rain water which seeped down into the ground until it struck a bed of “green coal” formed of compressed debris in the ice age. This coal and also peat are still to be found in the area, and have been known to cause dangerous underground fires. These fires start in dry stumps above ground, either by lightning or by burning as a result of land clearing. The fire burns downward from the stump into the roots underground where it encounters the coal—which ignites and burns for a long period of time, or until it is quenched by heavy rain seepage. This “green coal” is still dried and burned in stoves by some of the residents of the area.
Shortly after he brought his bride to their home on Sills Road, the senior John Patton opened a small store, about 12×16 feet in size on the corner of his property where the Sills Road joins Maxwelton Road. The store was in the back yard of their home. They sold a little bit of everything and young John remembers the jars of candy which included cinnamon bark. They also sold bags of feed for livestock and John still has the old platform scales on which items were weighed. The supplies for the store were brought into the dock at Maxwelton down the beach where the county road joins the present private road.
John DeWitt, who was adept at turning his hand to many skills, eventually closed out his own small store. He was hired by the Clinton Union Grocery then located on Brighton Beach in Old Clinton. He worked there for some time.
In 1926 he started his first poultry farm with what then seemed like a large flock of 200 Rhode Island Reds which were used for both egg production and meat. Later they also added Leghorn hens which ancestory dates back to the time of the Caesars in Rome where they were first known to have been developed for egg-laying. The Pattons helped establish the Washington Egg and Poultry Association and eventually their flocks numbered well over a thousand.
Martha and John DeWitt Patton had two sons, William who died in 1940, and John Jr., who was born in 1914 and has continued to make his home in the Maxwelton area to the present time.
When John Jr., was six years old he started school at the Old Intervale School on Quade Road (now demolished) and his mother became a teacher there, remaining for about eight years. When the South Whidbey schools merged into the consolidated school at Langley, John DeWitt drove a school bus for a time.
Although the Pattons lead a busy life there was time for fun, too, especially the monthly “birthday party.” The fun started out when a few friends met to hold a party for those of the group whose birthdays had occurred that month. At first the monthly parties were held in various homes but the plan snowballed until it became too big for individual homes and the monthly festivities were transferred to Woodland Hall.
All manner of indoor games, skits, and plays formed the entertainment with a program chairman in charge of developing the organized fun. Later the teen-agers felt they were too mature to be classed with the children and too young and frisky to associate with the “old folks” so they formed their own teen-age group between the ages of 14 and 19. The older group was an all-family affair for children and grown-ups alike. As many as 50 people usually attended. An orchestra was formed with piano, violins, saxophones, and flute (which John Jr. played). The group became so proficient that they were asked to perform at many social functions all up and down the Island from Oak Harbor and Coupeville to the Grange Hall at Lone Lake.
John Junior was active in his Sunday School at the American Sunday School Union (which dates back to Revolutionary War years). While he was growing up, and as an adult, he taught Sunday School and became superintendent. While serving in this capacity he helped to establish a branch Sunday School at Cultus Bay and also a vacation Bible School. Two young ladies from the Simpson Bible Institute in Seattle were brought to the Island as summer teachers. One of these young ladies was Dorothy Yates who lived temporarily with Mrs. Gallant at Cultus Bay while assisting with the summer school at Woodland Hall. It became John’s welcome task to be her chauffeur and romance blossomed into marriage in 1946. The other teacher from the Simpson Bible Institute was Betty Brill.
After his marriage John built a home on the 20 acres of land which his father had sold in 1908 for $850. John Jr. bought it back for $425. The depression had brought prices down. He and Dorothy continued to manage the family poultry and egg business while his father engaged in lumbering. He has been a leader in many community affairs besides running one of the largest poultry businesses in the state. Since 1974 he has also served on the Island County Planning Commission.