Finding a home for a permanent farmer’s market located in Friday Harbor’s downtown core has been a goal for local producers for many years. As Coho opened its doors in the spring of 2008, the farming community turned its attention to our neighbor to the left, a dilapidated building used for construction storage.
This eyesore of a building dating back to 1921 was constructed by the Friday Harbor Brick and Tile Company founded by T.T. Paxson. This concrete block or ‘cast stone’ building was a popular, quick and inexpensive building technique used during the time. As you walk around the building, the front and rear façade display samples of the company’s concrete block products. This building was later known as the Boede Cement Plant, who was one of Paxson’s later partners. If you walk around town you will see other buildings with a similar construction technique still in use today including Friday Harbor Town Hall, the Little Store, Vinnies Restaurant and Sunshine Cleaners.
The San Juan Agricultural Guild spearheaded the project and it was quickly dubbed Brickworks. Many residents and government officials could see the vision and wisdom of a downtown commons and gathering place, but were skeptical about this massive financial undertaking. Some advocated tearing the building down as a less expensive alternative. Taking on this rundown building project during a recession seemed untenable.
I had to admit I was also of two minds. Wearing my Friday Harbor Town Council Member hat, I saw the economic benefits to our community. Wearing my Coho Restaurant hat, I wanted nothing more to see our neighborhood spruced up. As an owner and steward of three other historical buildings, I knew all too well the job at hand. The Harrison House and Tucker House were not even close to that state of disrepair when we acquired them and the investment to bring them back to their former glory has been significant.
This community never ceases to amaze me. The San Juan Agricultural Guild believed in this project and stayed the cost defying many early financial setbacks. They amassed a significant volunteer effort that invested sweat equity to support all aspects of the building’s renovation. Many work parties were held when crews were needed for specific projects. The community came together and took an ownership interest in this important project. The Ag Guild is proud they are “doing it all locally,” using local expertise for the fabrication of the windows, siding, painting, landscaping and lighting. Peter Kilpatrick of Ravenhill Construction, the General Contractor, is donating his time.
The Ag Guild started a capital campaign beginning their fundraising with small events held at local farms to raise seed money. That money was successfully leveraged to keep the project moving forward. Recently they have secured significant grants and donations and are on track to meet their goal of opening the facility in time for the summer farmer’s market, art market and other community events this season. Last summer, Brickworks used the outdoor plaza for the farmer’s market and art festival.
So from the initial idea of finding a home for the permanent farmer’s market, Brickworks has grown to be much more. They are a neighbor that is preserving history, creating a community gathering place, and bringing economic vitality to a previously underdeveloped and neglected part of downtown. If you want to get involved with the project by donating time or money, contact the Ag Guild or stop by the job site. They are selling pavers for the next phase of the brick courtyard – a great way to memorialize your family or loved one.