Evidence exists that Native Americans visited the Marymoor site more than 6,000 years ago, and later occupied it around 1000 B.C. Based upon tools found in archaeological excavations, these inhabitants hunted, fished, and gathered berries along the river. The stones they used for tools were not native to the valley, indicating that these people may have had some connection to Eastern Washington.
When the first white settlers arrived in the valley in the 1860s, only a few small camps of Indians were present. These were made up of the Sammamish band of the Duwamish Indian tribe. No link has been established between these inhabitants and earlier prehistoric dwellers.
In 1876, John Tosh and his brother Adam, coal miners who had come to America from Ireland, homesteaded the Marymoor site. For the next 30 years, the Tosh brothers cleared and worked their land.
Enter James Clise
In the spring of 1904, James Clise purchased 78 acres of Adam Tosh’s property. Clise was a Seattle businessman who arrived in Seattle the day after the Great Fire of 1889 and made his fortune in real estate and other ventures, including the Washington Trust Company and Globe Navigation Company. He was married to Anna Herr Clise (1866-1936). After the couple’s five-year-old son Willis died of inflammatory rheumatism in 1898, Anna Clise became instrumental in founding the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital in 1907.
James Clise first constructed a hunting lodge on his new Sammamish Slough property. The original building was a 52 by 30 foot room, along with a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. His family, including daughter Ruth and sons Charles and James Jr., came to love the house and its rustic setting, and the Clise family ended up moving there from their mansion on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill.
Between 1904 and 1907, Clise bought surrounding property, increasing the size of his land -- now called Willowmoor -- to almost 400 acres. The hunting lodge soon became a mansion in its own right, modeled after European Arts and Crafts style buildings that the Clises had enjoyed on visits overseas. Architect Max Umbrecht was hired for its design.
By 1907, the building had grown to 28 rooms, including a billiard room, art gallery, library, and sun porch. James Clise transformed the rest of the property into a model farm, which included a horse barn, cow barn, bull barn, poultry house, greenhouse, dovecote, and various tool and machinery buildings. The most eye-catching structure on the site was a windmill along the slough, modeled after windmills James and Anna had enjoyed in Holland.
Life on the Farm
The Clise family loved Willowmoor. Guests of the children enjoyed the storybook setting, especially the massive treehouse the Clise children had built in one of the maples out back. Anna Clise held many fundraising parties there for Children’s Hospital. A four-horse tallyho would meet the guests at the Medina ferry dock and escort them in style to Willowmoor.
James Clise put most of his effort into the farm. Agricultural experts determined that Ayrshire cattle from Scotland would thrive best at Willowmoor. Clise went to Scotland and returned with 10 to 15 head. From these cattle came many award-winning Willowmoor Ayrshires, shown at both the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle and at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.
When Clise found that the United States Army preferred Morgan horses for the cavalry, he began breeding them to determine if they were the most durable labor animals. His stallion Troubadour was awarded the grand champion ribbon for all breeds at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Troubadour sired many colts, although, sadly, he died in 1911 from an infection.
Willowmoor farm proved to be successful for Clise, and he added more buildings, including a creamery, dog shelter, duck yard, and goose pond. A narrow-gauge railroad was built in the barnyard to haul grain and feed, and visitors both young and old had many a pleasant ride.
News of Clise’s progressive farming methods spread far and wide. When Henry Ford built Dearborn Hospital in Michigan, he insisted that all milk in the hospital be from Willowmoor Ayrshires or their descendants. In 1913, the Japanese government sent 40 Japanese businessmen to Willowmoor to learn more about dairy production. Headed by Baron Shibuwasa, the entourage spent several days enjoying the Clise family’s hospitality.
By 1917, Anna Clise had become blind due to glaucoma, and James Clise’s health began to fail also. By this time, their children had grown, and the couple began spending most of their time in California. Clise sold his Morgan horses to the army, and left the farm in the hands of hired help. The dairy operations continued, but in 1921, after selling the Ayrshire herd to a dairy farm in Massachusetts, Clise sold the estate to the Allen and Nelson Mill Company.
New Owners Bring Changes
The Mill Company's chief officer was John Bratnober. Mr. Bratnober suffered from asthma and left the dairy farm in the hands of a property manager until 1937 when his son took it over. They developed a herd of Guernseys and Shorthorns to replace the Ayrshires, and renamed the farm Northwood.
In 1941, Bratnober sold the farm to U. M. Dickey, who leased it to Walter Nettleton and Ralph and Dean Dodd. Nettleton renamed the farm Marymoor after his daughter Mary, who had died in a bicycle accident in 1918.
The house was divided into two living sections. This was easy to do, since the design of the building was U-shaped. Alterations were made, including demolition of the art gallery and the addition of another kitchen.
After Dickey’s death, his daughter and her husband, Dr. and Mrs. John McVay, occupied the north half of the mansion. Mrs. McVay added a porch and rhododendron plantings, as well as a swimming pool and tennis courts. Later, Kemper Freeman and his wife rented the south half of the building.
First King County Park
The Dodds continued to operate the farm until 1956, when they sold their herd to a dairy in Sedro Woolley. Three years later the investment firm of Allison and Lean purchased the farm with plans to develop it commercially.
By this time, so much growth had occurred outside of Seattle city limits, that county voters were concerned about the amount of open space being lost to development. In 1962, voters passed a special bond issue to purchase Marymoor from Allison and Lean. In doing so they created King County’s first park. The swimming pool and tennis courts were removed, and some of the farm buildings were bulldozed.
Around the same time, the Five Corners Community Club in Kirkland was working to create a museum of Eastside history. The Five Corners Club along with the Federated Eastside Clubs approached King County commissioners with the thought of turning the mansion into a museum. The plan worked, and in 1968 Marymoor Museum opened to the public.
The museum operated on a small budget, but it continued to grow. Now that the Eastside had a repository for historic artifacts, more people began donating items to Marymoor, including farm implements, photographs, furniture, items of clothing, and so on.
In 1970, after extensive archaeological excavations along the riverbank, the site was placed on the National Register as Marymoor Prehistoric Indian Site. Three years later, the mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1982 Willowmoor Farm was named a King County Landmark.
In 2002, Marymoor Museum merged with the Bellevue Historical Society to become the Eastside Heritage Center. Fundraising plans began for a new museum to house the collections of both organizations, as well as to showcase other local historical societies.
Unfortunately, a $52 million shortfall in King County’s budget led to the eviction of Marymoor Museum from the mansion to make room for more commercial ventures. As of this writing (2002) most of Marymoor’s historical collection is in storage.