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Jefferson County resolution officially establishes Egg and I Road in Center on February 3, 1981.

HistoryLink.org Essay 8273 : Printer-Friendly Format

On February 3, 1981, Jefferson County Board of Commissioners Resolution 14-81 officially establishes the name "Egg and I Road" for the portion of roadway that passes the farm site once owned by former Center resident Betty MacDonald (1908-1958), author of the 1945 best-selling book The Egg And I.  Resolution 14-81 makes official the name by which the road has gradually become commonly known since public tours of the farm were first offered in the fall of 1946.

The Book 

The Egg and I was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly in the summer of 1945 and published by J.B. Lippincott on October 3, 1945.  An immediate overwhelming success, the book topped nonfiction bestseller lists. Egg sold more than a million copies in its first year in print, generating copious publicity for its author and interest in her family and in the farm in Center in Jefferson County's Chimacum Valley area where MacDonald had lived with her first husband, Robert Heskett, from 1927 until 1931, roughly the years described in The Egg And I. 

The Egg And I, written in the bitingly humorous and somewhat self-deprecating style for which she would become famous, told the story of MacDonald's struggles to establish a commercial chicken ranching operation and forge a marriage at a young age on an isolated farm somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula.  She wrote the book, she later told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, not because she had lived in the area but "because it was the last untamed frontier" (February 21, 1951) and to debunk other books in which women purported to enjoy living far from civilization without plumbing or electricity. 

Fact vs. Fiction

MacDonald's real life in the Chimacum Valley differed from that of the Betty character she described in Egg in a number of ways: distances described in Egg do not tally with actual distances between places (ferry docks, towns, etc.) in Jefferson County; Egg's farm is located five miles from any neighbor whereas the Heskett's Center farm had neighbors, the Albert Bishop family, less than a mile away; and whereas Egg's Betty must move far from her Seattle home and pine longingly for her family of origin, the actual Betty Bard was living with her mother, Elsie/Sydney Bard, brother Cleve, sisters DeDe, Alison, and sometimes Mary, and paternal grandmother only a few miles from the chicken ranch where she moved after her marriage to Robert Heskett. 

According to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, Betty's family of origin continued to live nearby during most of her first marriage.  Her mother and siblings moved to Seattle in late 1930 or early 1931.  Taking their young daughters Anne and Joan, Betty left Robert Heskett shortly thereafter, moving in with her mother and siblings by July 1931.  The couple's divorce was finalized on March 8, 1935.

Testifying in her own defense in a libel trial filed against her in King County Superior Court in 1941 by members of the Albert Bishop family, who alleged they were the real-life counterparts to Egg's Ma and Pa Kettle family, MacDonald said,
"I was writing about an imaginary place in an imaginary country" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 7, 1951).

Famous Author Lived Here

Nevertheless, from the time the book appeared in print a curious public descended upon Center to see the farm where the real-life Betty and Bob had lived.  At the time the book was published, Alfred and Anita Larson and their children had been living on the property for about five years. 

An article about the farm in the October 1946 issue of The West Coast stated that the Larson family lived in a newer house on the property, not the hand-hewn log structure where Betty and Bob had lived, but, it went on:

"... the cabin, ancient and weather-beaten, still remains.  Appropriately enough, it is filled at present with chickens, cheeping and clucking away with great ambition and pride.  Proud, perhaps, of their now-illustrious ancestors who, eighteen years ago, inhabited MacDonald's farm? ... The Larsons are now opening the farm to public exhibition and have erected signs along the road directing visitors to the place.  The many who were deluging them with visits made the opening a necessity, people even coming from other states to view what is popularly called 'The Egg And I' farm.  They are now charging a modest price of fifty cents admission ... . There are ferries every few hours running from Edmonds, just outside of Seattle, which carry passengers to Port Ludlow.  Port Ludlow is the Dock-town of the book.  From there eager citizens will direct the way to the famed 'Egg and I' ranch" ("Where The Egg And I Was Hatched").

During the 1951 libel case Edward Bishop, the oldest son of Albert Bishop, testified that during this period the Larson's farm received so many visitors that nearby residents were forced to post No Trespassing signs on their property.

That the name Egg and I Road continued to be used during and after the $975,000 libel trial (in which the jury verdict was against the Bishop family) to describe the road that passed not only MacDonald's former property but the homestead of the Bishop family appears in retrospect somewhat surprising.  Betty MacDonald's books have been translated into many languages and their continued popularity both in the United States and abroad has steadily drawn visitors from around the world.  Possibly the persistence of the name Egg and I Road even through periods when Betty MacDonald was persona non grata in her former neighborhood was merely an efficient way to direct Egg tourists.  Although all structures described in Egg have long since disappeared, Betty MacDonald fans continue to seek out the property at 2021 Egg and I Road.

The Road To Egg And I

The road that became Egg and I was originally established on November 6, 1886 as part of the Port Ludlow-Port Discovery Road, and designated Road No. 16.  A 1964 Jefferson County Board of Commissioners Resolution calls the road "County Road 90, known variously as Bishop, Bangston, or Egg and I Road" (Resolution C-594).  On July 15, 1980, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners appropriated $15,000 for County Road Project 485, described as "Install street name signs -- all roads between: Port Ludlow West, Egg & I Road North, Cape George East and Port Townsend City Limits South" (Resolution No. 81-80). 

The February 3, 1981, Jefferson County Board of Commissioner's Resolution that established Egg and I Road as an official Jefferson County road name read:

"Whereas, over the years a number of dedicated public streets have been listed for construction on the Six Year and Annual Road Programs, subsequently built, and opened to traffic, and whereas many of these roads were not formally established, and whereas there is now some question as to status of roads on the county inventory of county roads, now therefore, the county roads on the attached nine page list (Exhibit A) of the Jefferson County Road Log, revised December 18, 1980, are hereby established or re-established as County Roads" (Resolution No. 14-81). 

Egg and I Road is listed on page 6. 

Sources:
Jefferson County Board of Commissioners Resolution 14-81, "Establishment of County Roads," February 3, 1981; Jefferson County Board of Commissioners Resolution 81-80, "County Road Project No. 485," July 15, 1980; Jefferson County Board of Commissioners Resolution No. C-594,  June 1, 1946; Betty MacDonald, The Egg And I (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1945); "The Egg And I," Atlantic Monthly, June 1945, p. 97-106; "The Egg And I," Ibid., July 1945, p. 91-100; "The Egg And I," Ibid., August 1945, p. 97-106; Lucile Cohen, "'Egg' Author Says Book Imaginary," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 17, 1951, p. 1; "'Egg' Author Relaxes After Suit Verdict," Ibid., February 21, 1951, p. 3; Lucille Cohne, "'The Egg And I' Libel Case In Hands Of Jury," Ibid., February 20, 1951, p. 1; Lucille Cohen, "Witness Says He's Crowbar In 'Egg' Trial,"Ibid., February 14, 1951, p. 1; "Betty MacDonald Flees Courtroom While Under Cross-Examination," The Seattle Times, September 16, 1951; 1930 U.S. Census Washington, Jefferson, Center: Roll:T626_2487, p. 1-A, Ed: 3, Image: 0950, and 1930 U.S. Census Washington, Jefferson, Center: Roll: T626_2487, p. 2-A, Ed: 3, Image: 0948, Ancestry Library Edition website accessed August 18, 2007  (http://ancestrylibrary.proquest.com/); Jean Foster, "Where The Egg And I Was Hatched," The West Coast, October 1946, p. 12; Elizabeth B. Heskett v. Robert E. Heskett No. 246858, Final Decree of Divorce, March 8, 1935," filed in King County Clerk's office March 8, 1935; Kelli Larson, Jefferson Department of Public Works, email to Paula Becker August 22, 2007, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington.


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Egg and I Road, Center, August 28, 2007
HistoryLink.org photo by Paula Becker


Anita Larson's sign directing fans to farm immortalized by Betty MacDonald in The Egg And I, Center, September 1946
Photo by Dick McCurdy, Courtesy The West Coast


Anita Larson and child at farm immortalized by Betty MacDonald in The Egg And I, Center, September 1946
Photo by Dick McCurdy, Courtesy The West Coast


House where Betty MacDonald (then Heskett) lived 1927-1931, Center, September 1946
Photo by Dick McCurdy, Courtesy The West Coast


Barn on property where Betty MacDonald (then Heskett) lived 1927-1931, Center, September 1946
Photo by Dick McCurdy, Courtesy The West Coast


Egg and I Road, Center, August 28, 2007
HistoryLink.org photo by Paula Becker


 
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