FOR LYDIA WILLIAMS, THE PARK THAT BEARS HER FAMILY NAME is suffused with memories that span the generations: A first romantic picnic under the carport with her future husband, Carl Hitchcock Williams. Crossing the seasonal stream via land-bridge for sourdough waffles at “Grammy’s house.” The handed-down lore of great-grandfather John Olson, who it’s said would row from Manzanita to Seattle to deliver fresh eggs to market.
Today, as the community looks to Williams-Olson Park and new amenities are planned, those memories and more can be shared and carried forward.
“I’m really feeling good about this,” says Lydia, visiting the park on a sunny, bracing winter afternoon. “It’s just a magical place.”
THE WILLIAMS-OLSEN FAMILY TIES to the land date to 1890, when John Olson (1863-1949) and Karin Persson Olson (1865-1930) first arrived on Bainbridge from Sweden. They had lived in Minnesota, returned to the old country for a time, then came back to the U.S. and settled on 30 gently sloping acresÂ overlooking Manzanita Bay off today’s Koura Road.
They planned to farm but found the property poorly suited, so they turned to raising chickens and eggs. A mosquito-fleet boat would dip into Manzanita Bay to pick up the eggs for delivery to Seattle; when it didn’t, John Olson would launch his skiff and row his goods around the north end of the island, and all the way across the sound to market.
Their daughter Walborg Amelia Olson (1887-1978) was age 3 when they settled the land. Another daughter, Olga Olson soon followed and lived into her 40s. It was the sisters who gathered stones for the river rock fireplace at what came to be known within the family as “Grammy’s house” on the north slope overlooking the bay.
SUCCESSIVE GENERATIONS STAYED on the homestead, adding more homes and deepening their ties to the land and island history.
Olga Olson grew up to teach at the Manzanita School, and ran the Hillcrest Lending Library out of her home. Walborg Amelia (“Grammy”) married Urban Williams (1888-1961) in 1915, adding a new surname to the clan.
John Olson’s sister Mary and Karin’s brother, John Persson, married and built a red Victorian farmhouse around 1893; it still stands outside today’s park boundary. They had four daughters, and later sold their property to J. Vernon Williams, Carl Williams’ father. Only John Persson left the fold; he headed north for the Alaska gold rush and never came back.
Vernon Williams met Malvina Hitchcock “back East” in 1947; they married there but were drawn back to the family land on Bainbridge, building it up to 60 acres. Vernon worked as an attorney in the historic Smith Tower, and founded the still-current firm Riddell Williams.
In 1958, they built a Pan-Abode, a Lincoln log-like kit cabin then popular on recreational lakefronts and wilderness vacation lots. The Pan-Abode too lives on, albeit across the island. The Park District recently disassembled the house and used the pieces to construct two cabins at Fay Bainbridge Park, with a third one on the way.
“One’s our living room, one’s our bedroom,” Lydia says. “In the spring they’re going to build a two-bedroom cabin out of the bunkhouse.”
LYDIA’S INTRODUCTION CAME IN 1970, when she met and five years later married Carl Williams, born 68 years ago this week. They raised a family there and enjoyed 34 years of marriage.
A beloved educator who taught in Seattle and abroad, Carl passed away in June 2009 at age 59 while he and Lydia were living in Ecuador. Carl was eulogized as generous, fun loving, warm of spirit, a good athlete, a music lover, and a reliable soul. Daughter Heidi (Brendan) McGill honored her father’s memory in taking his middle name for the popular Winslow delicatessen, Hitchcock and Hitchcock Restaurant.
Lydia resettled in Winslow. The Manzanita homestead was parceled out, and the waterfront was preserved for public use through the island’s Open Space program.
A new Friends of Williams-Olson Park group will guide enhancements that could include a picnic shelter and a resurfaced pickleball court. Lydia hopes to see the upper woodland around the land-bridge cleared of ivy, and the native ecology restored.
“I’d like to see little pathways through it, and little sitting areas, maybe some organic art,” she says, “a real nice, quiet place.”
FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS have stepped up with generous contributions to the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation, to support the work in Carl Williams’ memory.
Lydia still recalls visiting for the first time just as she and Carl began dating. It was a rainy autumn day, and Carl was excited to show her the historic family homestead; they couldn’t afford ferry fare, so they drove all the way around from Seattle.
They arrived to find the Pan-Abode locked up, and Carl didn’t have a key. So they picnicked under the carport and enjoyed the view of peaceful Manzanita Bay below.
“I was 19 or 20 and this was one of our first dates,” Lydia recalls. “Honestly, I don’t remember having much thoughts about the place, because I was trying to decide if I would date this goofy guy again.”