Karen Meador, Neely Mansion Association board member, contributed to this report.
It’s no small feat to reach your 125th birthday, and the Plateau’s Neely Mansion is getting ready to celebrate.
For those not in the know, Neely Mansion — located just outside Auburn city limits on Auburn-Black Diamond Road — was the home and farm of several families dating back to some of the first pioneers to come to the Plateau area.
By the 1970s, the well-lived-in home was in a state of massive disrepair, and its caretakers were unable to undertake the task of restoration.
That’s when the Neely Mansion Association stepped in, merging with the Auburn Arts Council in 1985 to take ownership of the building and start the years-long process of mending the mansion back to its former glory.
“It was a real wreck back in those days,” said Neely Mansion Association Treasurer Linda Van Nest, who was part of the organization when it was officially formed in 1983. “It took us about 15 years to restore it, and now we’re doing other things and sharing it with the public.”
It’s not just the house, the historical Japanese bathhouse, or the Acosta Tool Shed the Neely Mansion Association wants to showcase, but the stories of the families that lived there after the mansion was built in 1894.
“Most everyone in the United States today had someone in their family that was an immigrant, and that was probably a farmer,” Van Nest said. “Our birthday party is to celebrate everybody. It celebrates not only those particular people, but all of us who have immigrants in our families who came over and were able to make [their] way in the United States.”
The event is being held Saturday, June 22, with anniversary ceremonies slated to start at 11 a.m. and go until noon. Additional tours and festivities will continue until 4 p.m.
The Cascade Foothills Chorale, a group of local singers, will be in attendance singing period music along with the Washington State Square and Folk Dance Federation. For more information, visit www.neelymansion.org.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MANSION
Five-year old Aaron Neely crossed the Oregon Trail with his parents David and Irene in 1853 and settled in what is now Kent. The Neelys were among the earliest settlers in the area and played a major role in its development. By the early 1890s, Aaron was a prominent landowner in the process of designing and constructing a two-story Victorian Classic Revival farmhouse — now known as Neely Mansion — which was completed in 1894. The Neely farm consisted of over 200 surrounding acres on which he operated a dairy and planted an orchard, portions of which remain today.
The Neelys lived in the Mansion only a few years, missing the amenities of town life and finding it somewhat isolated, as gasoline buggies were rare novelties at the time. Thus began “The Immigrant Era” at Neely Mansion and the Green River Valley, with the Neelys leasing the farm to several families over the ensuing decades. The first of the tenant families were Ernst Galli from Switzerland and his wife, Hannah Simu Galli, in 1908. Two sons, Teddy and Arnie, were born in the mansion; the grandchildren of Ernst and Hannah, Arnie, Jr. and Larry serve as butlers at the Victorian Tea events now held at the Mansion.
By 1914 the Gallis had saved enough money to buy their own farm north of Auburn on the Green River. Matasuke Fukuda and Toki Nakamura Fukuda, both of Japanese descent, arrived in 1914, establishing a dairy and other farming operations. Five of their 11 children were born while living at the mansion.
The stock market crash in 1929 forced the Fukuda family to leave Washington State to find work in California. Later in 1929, Shigeichi and Shimano Hori leased the property, remaining there until 1936. Mr. Hori built a furoba, a Japanese style bathhouse, behind the Mansion; it has been restored to its original 1930 design and designated a King County landmark, as it is the only structure of its kind in existence in the county today. The children of Shigeichi and Shimano Hori have fond memories of farm life, such as fishing in the Green River. Family life has enjoyable memories as well; the bath was used to relax and socialize. Daughter Mary Hori Nakamura remembers, “The whole family took baths every night,” and Dr. Frank Hori recalls, “I liked the hot water.”
Various Neely family members returned to the property during World War II and leased part of the farm to Pete Acosta, a Filipino migrant worker. Pete, his wife June Johnston, and daughter, Julie, lived in a small house nearby. After a few years the last of the Neely clan moved out, and single Filipino farm workers occupied the Mansion. Pete Acosta farmed the land for decades, retiring from his successful farming venture in the late 1980s.
By the 1970s the house had deteriorated to the point where the Auburn Arts Council and concerned local citizens acted to save and restore the property, forming the Neely Mansion Association in 1983. Haunted house tours staffed by the Auburn High School and Green River College Drama Departments provided the seed money with which restoration began. Although still ongoing, the house has been largely restored to its former glory.
The Mansion has been recognized as a King County Landmark and is listed on the Washington State Register and National Register of Historic Places. According to the King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission, Neely Mansion remains a “prominent and impressive structure for a rural farming community” and is “one of the most ornate historic homes in unincorporated King County.”
Karen Meador is a local historian, author, and Neely Mansion Association board member.