Food

Willowbrook Manor

High tea and history

Attend

What: Tea and Tour

Where: Begins at Willowbrook Manor, Sedro-Woolley

More:

Sedro-Woolley

Cost: $95; includes high tea and a boxed lunch

Info: http://www.teaandtour.com

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

If you love history, get on I-5 and take the Sedro-Woolley exit. Your destination is the Northern State Hospital campus, a massive expanse of land that comprises woodlands, green lawns, hospital buildings and an old farm site, and is gradually being colonized to accommodate new businesses and offices. At the same time it remains home to a number of derelict Spanish Colonial buildings, ruins and a treasure chest of a rich, almost-forgotten past.

From 1910 to 1972, when budget cuts forced its closure, the Northern State Hospital was a psychiatric institution for more than 2,000 patients who were considered mentally incompetent. At the time folks could be sent to NSH for anything from depression to menopausal symptoms and everything in between.

But this was no ordinary mental asylum. There were no locked doors and patients were free to roam the property. NSH patients had none of the social stigma that pervades those with mental health issues today. Sometimes they would roam onto neighboring land and take a snooze in a farmer’s barn.

The hospital administrators at NSH believed patients who worked not only contributed to their environment, but also received important occupational training, self-esteem and a sense of purpose that could herald their complete recovery. So patients were put to work—some on the NSH farm, which produced voluminous quantities of vegetables and berries, others in the sewing room, cleaning the buildings, cooking food or clearing trees. These were smart, capable individuals who relished the opportunity to contribute, and work gave their lives focus, purpose and dignity.

While a few of the buildings have been destroyed, most are still standing—proud examples of majestic Spanish colonial architecture. We biked the circumference of the property with Elsa Miller, a local history buff who has researched the NSH era extensively and is thrilled to share the anecdotes she’s gleaned.

She pointed to one building that looked like a Spanish castle. “This is Travenin, built in 1938 as student nurses’ quarters. Those nurses had to follow strict rules,” she explained. “No married women were allowed, there was no cooking permitted in the rooms and 10:30pm was lights out. It was no surprise they created ingenious escape routes to socialize in town after dark.”

Terri Gifford, owner of Willowbrook Manor, is the force behind these outings. She negotiated with the city and the Port of Skagit to obtain permission to traverse this historic site. She invested in bicycles at Willowbrook and it’s her “Tea and Tour” excursion that makes all this possible.

Gifford believes NSH has an important lesson for visitors, and it’s why she organizes the tours and recruits bright, young historians like Miller to explain the relevance of the site. “There was reverence and appreciation for the humanity of these people at NSH,” she reflected. “The hospital did a lot of good for patients who needed good done to them.”

We biked silently past the medical building where procedures that are considered to be illegal today took place frequently in years past, when medical standards were…different. Depression was treated with electro-convulsive therapy, while patients whose minds were considered overactive were given insulin therapy, which put them in a forced coma to “give their minds a rest,” Miller explained. Lobotomies performed on others left them unable to perform even the most basic functions.

Still, on the whole, the Northern State Hospital was a remarkable institution that offered outings for its patients and created a healthy environment in which many of them flourished, and mortality rates were considerably lower than in other psychiatric institutions. In that sense it was far ahead of its time.

Our time at the NSH was enlightening and fascinating and Miller’s stories were rich with detail of those who lived here—the administrators, doctors, nurses and patients. Gifford packs her guests a boxed picnic lunch of salads and croissants, enjoyed on the banks of a creek near the old farm and canning building, before she bikes them back to the manor along the Cascade Trail, a bucolic, flat route that runs parallel to Highway 20.

Gifford’s “Tea and Tour” begins with a British-style high tea with fresh scones on her gorgeous nine-acre property, where she grows ingredients for her teas and a garden that overflows with beauty. She also offers “Saturday Morning Tea and Scones,” “Harvest Tea,” “Weeding and Tea,” and other bike tours leaving from Willowbrook Manor.

“I feel tea is a gentle thing, as is a garden,” she said with a smile. “We can all use a bit of ‘gentle’ in this world we live in.”

More Food...
Leader Block
Ferndale’s Little Italy

For a great Italian culinary experience, it’s not necessary to cross an ocean—or even leave Whatcom County.

Instead, head straight to Leader Block Wine Co. and Eatery. The moment you walk in, you’ll forget you’re in Ferndale, as owners Robert Pinkney, Amberleigh Brownson, and Brett…

more »
Skagit Picnic
Feed your summer adventures

It’s mid-August, that moment when it still feels like summer but foggy mornings and cooler nights are reminding us that fall is just around the corner.

Suddenly you realize you need to get out there and do everything on your summer to-do list. Maybe you thought you’d finally hike Oyster…

more »
Chill Out
Cool as a cucumber

At an overpriced tapas joint, I recently took a chance on charred cucumber salad. The dish sounded counterintuitive, to put it delicately. We keep cucumbers cool, so they can keep us cool.

I got $16 worth of sliced, blackened sogginess, plastered to chunks of goat cheese. Yet another…

more »
Events
Today
The Spitfire Grill

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Guided Adventures

12:00pm|Skyline Marina

An Iliad

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Seaside BBQ

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

The Phantom Tollbooth

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Dynamic Duos

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Fidalgo Bay Day

9:00am|Fidalgo Bay Resort

Lake Whatcom Park Trail Build

9:00am|Lake Whatcom Park

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Concrete Saturday Market

9:00am|Concrete Community Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market2333

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

The art of arrangement

10:00am

The Flower Festival

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am

Airfest

10:30am|Bellingham International Airport

Cemetery Tours

11:00am|Lynden Cemetery

Weavings Pop-Up Sale

11:00am|Vida Nueva Rugs

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Modern Quilts Final Weekend

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Sumi Fun for All Ages

1:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Summer Jazz Combo

2:00pm|Jansen Art Center

The Poetic Apothecary with Judith Adams

3:00pm|Upper Skagit Library

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Summer Fun in the Park

4:00pm|Blaine's Marine Park

Janie Cribbs and the T.Rust Band

5:30pm|Heart of Anacortes

Seaside BBQ

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Lummi Island Crabfest Dinner

6:00pm|Lummi Island Grange Hall

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Tomorrow
The Spitfire Grill

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Guided Adventures

12:00pm|Skyline Marina

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

The Phantom Tollbooth

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Weavings Pop-Up Sale

11:00am|Vida Nueva Rugs

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Modern Quilts Final Weekend

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Seaside BBQ

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Community Free Market

11:00am|Flora Street

Dog Days of Summer

11:00am|Whatcom Humane Society

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Big Band Bonanza

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Skagit History Cruise

1:00pm|La Conner Channel Lodge

Summerfest

1:00pm| Josh Vander Yacht Memorial Park

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Skagit History Cruise

1:00pm|La Conner Channel Lodge

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

International Concerts on the Border

2:00pm|Radost Folk Ensemble

Monday
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Bark Week

12:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Camp Korey Classic Golf Tournament

12:00pm|Eaglemont Golf Course

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »