Last summer, our family of five had the unbelievable opportunity to make a renovated 92 year old cabin our new home. It was a decision we made knowing our kids were able to have space, adventure and history – everything my husband & I craved too. As soon as the keys were in our hands, I wanted to know everything about our new home. With the craving to know it all, this (whenever I had a spare moment) archeological-inspired project began. I dug every avenue I could think of; from conversations with our new neighbors whose own families have been here for generations, to hundreds of state archives, even our local police department. My hope was to be able to tell a story to our kids about where they were going to be raised. I wanted them to know that they were living in a place that had special meaning and that we were lucky enough to add our own family memories and history to it’s already vast narrative.
Because I can’t seem to do anything just halfway, I obsessively dove into the research. And let me just say, it has not been an easy task. Coming from a generation that are quite used to having information about anything or anyone readily at our fingertips – researching individuals born in the late 1800’s with no substantial records was honestly, really frustrating at times. At every dead end, I felt defeated. How could I possibly tell a story that I didn’t feel I had a clear picture of? It felt like I was trying to sell a sleazy unauthorized biography of someone born a hundred years before my time. I would vent to my husband who, at the very least, humored me when I asked question after question aloud or voiced my (probably insane) theories. Of course, he couldn’t give me any definite answers or tell me I was insane (he knows better), but he listened and I love him for that. I’d sit early in the mornings or real late at night (usually with a baby snuggled on me) with a silent keyboard and that was hard for me.
So I let it go. I let go the notion that I had to have every detail and legible record in my hands or I could not do it justice. I decided to celebrate the small finds as if they were big finds because any part of the story I got, was still better than not knowing a thing. Like the time I may have let out a squeal and did a tiny victory dance once I located a hard-to-find cemetery plot (I know, completely inappropriate time and place to joyous but it was still a big win for me). With our seven year old in hand, semi-confused as to what we were doing in a graveyard and the correct headstone below our feet, I felt I was ready to tell what I had found about the cabin’s origin story – whether it was complete or not.
I’ll start at the beginning. In November of 1927, Mayme Koepkey, a woman from local small town Bucoda, WA, purchased a six acre lot in Boston Harbor territory for a total of $10 from a man named Alfred Radburn. Mayme had been married to Fred C. Koepkey, a former officer with Olympia Police Department, for nearly 14 years at the time but he is questionably absent from every single legal record of the property. Even years later when the county did an illustrated survey of the area, only an M. Koepkey is listed. A question that has plagued me for months – Why did a married woman (especially in the twenties) purchase land, and eventually build a cabin in only her name? Here is where one of my theories involving Prohibition era, a maybe not so straight-laced officer and the idea of hiding assets comes in – but since I can’t back that up with any real proof, it remains just what it is – a crazy theory.
The cabin itself took months to complete. There is evidence in a few places around the property of former foundations. One neighbor has told me that the Koepkey’s resided in a shed out back until the cabin was ready to move in. I’m hoping to learn more about the logs that were used and who actually helped with the construction but that will have to wait for another day.
So who was Mayme Koepkey? Born Mayme Haefer to John and Mary Haefer in a very small town in Thurston County, called Bucoda known mostly for lumber mills and at one time, coal. John was an immigrant from Germany and Mary having been born in Wisconsin had German immigrant parents. Mayme had one sibling, Emma, who was two years younger than her. Thanks to the 1910 census, we know that sixteen year old Mayme, before her marriage, worked to help support her family while her father bartended and her mother was a homemaker. During the same year, Mayme and Emma found their way to the Olympia area. They worked together at the Olympia Knitting Mills until it eventually closed down in the thirties. The 1940 census says that Mayme got into government work as a supervisor for WPA projects under Roosevelt’s New Deal program. Whether it was out of necessity or because she enjoyed working outside of her farm, Mayme held a variety of jobs over the years supporting her family.
Fred was born in Indiana, both parents immigrated from Germany. Fred was a policeman, later worked at the Olympia Brewing Mill, and a farmer. I’m hoping to find some official record as to what Fred and Mayme grew on their six acres. Today we are surrounded by blueberry farms dating back to the early 1920’s, so my guess is blueberries. The Olympia Police Department does not keep records dating back that far so we don’t know how long he was on the force. Fred’s younger brother, Frank followed his brother to the Pacific Northwest and eventually became a boxer making headlines in the Tacoma Times. In a draft registration card, Fred listed himself as retired having no place of employment. The Olympia Post Office created rural route #7 in 1941, thus the address of the cabin became Rt. 7, box 105 (source: Postmarked Washington: Thurston County by Guy Reed Ramsey)
So what do we know about the Koepkey’s? Mayme and Fred were married on January 9, 1913. Fred was 26 at the time, Mayme just 16. Mayme’s parents John and Mary acted as their witnesses. I wish I knew more about how they met or their relationship in general but I don’t at this point. I do know that Mayme and Fred remained married until Fred’s passing in 1958 and according to neighbors – Mayme refused to leave the cabin, the home they built together, even though it was difficult for her to get up to the cabin’s loft. She stayed dedicated to their cabin and land until her own passing just a few years later in August of 1960. They are buried together in the Masonic Memorial Park, close to the rest of Mayme’s family.
Our cabin has had a total of four families live inside it’s walls since it’s creation in 1927 – the Koepkey’s, the Watkins, the Seagoes and now, us the Brettmanns. I plan on telling it’s history in four chapters to coincide with each family. The next phase of my hunt will explore the years of the Watkins, early 1960’s era. Continuing the research, I’m sure will be both frustrating and rewarding but it’s important enough to me to be able to shed light on the history that we now get to be apart of.