by RENEE MIZAR
Communications Coordinator, Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley
When heading north through the Sequim roundabout that separates Sequim-Dungeness Way from North Sequim Avenue, one passes by what was for generations of Sequimites one of the Dungeness Val-
ley’s most notable farmsteads and distinguishable directional landmarks.
The Jess Mantle farm at Mantle’s Corner, an informal designation given to the corner of Sequim-Dungeness Way and Port Williams Road, stood for decades as a navigational beacon marking the crossroads that linked Sequim, Dungeness, Port Williams and Port Angeles.
“There’s hardly any of the property on the south side of the house left and a lot of the property was taken off the front side, too,” said Roenah Mantle Blank, who was raised on her grandfather Jess’ farm from age 3 in 1940 through high school. “When I was growing up here, there was a fence line in front of the house and in front of that was kind of a crescent driveway so that you could put two or three cars in. We used that to hang our doll clothes on, it was a handy fence.”
While road construction and development has shaved away at the roadside perimeter of the Mantle’s original 60-acre farmstead, including considerably altering Mantle’s Corner itself, a few vestiges of the old farm remain in place. Perhaps most notable and distinctive is the 1880s-built, four-bedroom house that Jess Mantle had completely remodeled down to its oak floors in 1934 and which was home to several generations of Mantles.
Also still standing is a small, two-story building located east of the house that was built in the 1940s to house resident milkers and included a living room, kitchen, bathroom and stairway that lead to a bedroom loft. Blank recalls just two different men holding that important job on her grandfather’s farm while she was growing up, the longevity of their tenures being a testament to their value as employees.
“They just didn’t come and go. When you got a good milker, you kept that milker,” said Blank, noting both men raised large families in the small house. “When you’ve got people getting up at 3 and 4 in the morning and working late in the evenings and then having to work during the day, too, because of harvesting, you’ve got to hang onto those guys if they’re good workers.”
Other distinctive features of the Mantle farm, which was once peppered with numerous outbuildings of various size and function, have long since disappeared. Blank said such buildings included a vehicle maintenance garage, machine shop lean-to, parking garage, supply shed, storage for gas and oil, and one for butchering animals, among others.
The farm’s most distinguishing feature, and easily one of the most iconic such structures in the Dungeness Valley, was the Mantle barn. Reportedly built in 1930 and flanked by two 60-foot-tall cement silos on its northern side, the 50-by-100-foot dairy barn was adjoined by a 20-by-30-foot horse barn that housed Percheron horses used in the fields.
Blank said the only add-on to any buildings that she remembers growing up was when her uncle, Vernon Mantle, expanded the milking house in order to comply with new regulations regarding milking facilities.
Family and city history parallel
In as much as the Mantle name became synonymous with the farm, it also is rooted in the history of Sequim itself.
Described in recommendation letters written by co-workers in 1909 as an original and resourceful man “well equipped for any position for which he may make application” and possessing “ideas not borrowed from books,” Jess Mantle moved his family to Sequim upon being hired as principal of Sequim School in 1912. Little more than a year later, inaugural mayor Jilson White appointed him Sequim’s first city clerk on the heels of city incorporation in October 1913.
In the years that followed, Mantle saw Sequim High School’s first senior class graduate during his tenure as superintendent of Sequim schools, and was reappointed city clerk. He tendered his resignation from the latter in 1918 when he and his wife, Bess, purchased their 60-acre farmstead because it was outside city limits. Within a few years the Mantles had become full-time dairy farmers with award-winning purebred Jerseys and were slowly expanding their property holdings to some 215 acres.
Childhood at Mantle’s Corner
Although there always was work to be done on the farm, Blank recalls, there also was time to enjoy being a kid. She said while her chores primarily revolved around the home rather than farm work, such tasks didn’t preclude her and her sister Myrna from exploring the farm, be it fishing in a nearby irrigation ditch or in search of childhood mischief.
“It was fun to go out and swipe the strings that closed the grain bags. Those were just hanging right there by the horses,” she said, noting how the sisters would then braid the strings for a variety of purposes. “We could make halters and doll swings. We could braid anything.”
Blank also noted that when she was docked allowance money, it mainly stemmed from shenanigans involving her grandfather’s horses. One particularly harrowing experience involved some horses, some friends and an evening ride through the waters of Sequim Bay.
“I and some of my friends swam our horses across the opening to the bay. We were smart enough that we left our saddles there because we weren’t going to get them wet because we knew we’d get in trouble,” Blank said. “But without a saddle, the current was really strong and it would sweep us off and then the poor horse is trying to come up and we’re scrambling trying to get back on again. Nobody died. One girl got swept off her horse and kicked when he was swimming.”
“We got on the other side and one of the horses ran away with one of the girls, down the spit he’s going and here we are!” she continued with a laugh. “We had to go clear around the bay to get our stuff and get home, and of course it’s after dark and everybody in the county is looking for us. We were really in big trouble.”
Even with childhood hijinks aplenty, life on the farm was not without its trials and memorable close calls. Both sisters still clearly recall the time during their grade school years that hay caught fire in their grandfather’s barn, which thanks to quick response was not damaged.
“They would just load it on a truck and pull it out and they’d get it out into the air and it would just go whoosh!” Myrna Mantle recalled of the blazing hay. “What’s so neat is that farmers from all around would just come running to help when things like that happened.”
Blank also remembers from childhood when a loafing shed burned on North Fifth Avenue near the intersection at Old Olympic Highway, which she witnessed from a unique vantage point.
“I remember the fire on that, when the barn burnt up there, because I could see it from my bedroom window. It was pretty spectacular,” Blank recalls. “The loafing shed, that’s just something that said, ‘Sequim’ and when that went down, it just was disheartening.”
Also disheartening, said Blank, was watching the striking old Mantle barn slowly deteriorate over the years. Having been deemed an unsafe structure after age and the elements had taken their considerable toll, only rubble remained of it by January 2008 following a city-ordered demolition. The silos had been removed a few years earlier.
“I was noticing in this picture how much that barn looks like a cathedral. I don’t remember ever noticing that, mainly, I suppose, because the hay was always up to the sides and we’d be up there looking down on the cows that were being milked,” Blank noted while looking at an old aerial photo of the farmstead. “It was sad to see that come down. It was a really impressive looking barn in its day.”
After Jess Mantle died in 1947 and Bess in 1960, the Mantle family continued operating the dairy farm for many years until health issues eventually hastened its closure and the property was divided among family members.
The parcel that included the barn and farmhouse was sold in the mid-1990s to Roger Fell, owner of Peninsula Nurseries. Other pieces of the Jess Mantle farmstead remained in the Mantle family until about 10 years ago, Blank said, when she and sister Myrna sold two adjoining parcels, the last of what had been their grandfather’s property.
“All of us grandchildren got a share of the property, which was really tough because that broke it up and that was kind of heartbreaking,” she said.
Dennis Funston, who worked on several farms in the Dungeness Valley as a teenager in the early 1960s and lived east of the Mantle property on Port Williams Road, recalls time spent milking cows by hand at the neighboring dairy farm owned by Jess Harleman and a season spent cutting grass for Vernon Mantle. He said the intersection at Mantle’s Corner has changed quite a bit in the past few years and bears little resemblance to what he remembers growing up.
“There were dairy herds on both sides of the road. Where all those houses are now, there were cows grazing there,” said Funston, referring to the housing developments on the former Mantle and Harleman farms just north of the roundabout. “It was kind of a shock when the stores went in. It took me about a year to get used to Hardy’s (Market) being there, but you get used to it and then you don’t think about it.”