By Karen Meador, Neely Mansion Association
Five-year old Aaron Neely crossed the Oregon Trail with his parents, David and Irene, in 1853 and settled in what is now Kent.
The Neelys were among the earliest settlers in the area and played a major role in its development. By the early 1890s, Aaron was a prominent landowner in the process of designing and constructing the two-story Victorian classic revival farmhouse now known as Neely Mansion, completing the project in 1894. The Neely farm consisted of more than 200 surrounding acres on which he operated a dairy and planted an orchard, portions of which remain today.
The Neelys lived in the mansion only a few years, missing the amenities of town life and finding it somewhat isolated, as gasoline buggies were rare novelties at the time. Thus began The Immigrant Era at Neely Mansion and the Green River Valley, with the Neelys leasing the farm to several families over the ensuing decades. The first of the tenant families were Ernst Galli from Switzerland and his Swedish wife, Hannah Simu Galli, arriving in 1908. Two Galli sons, Teddy and Arnie, were born in the mansion; the grandchildren of Ernst and Hannah, Arnie, Jr. and Larry serve as butlers at the Victorian Tea events now held at the Mansion.
By 1914 the Galli’s had saved enough money to buy their own farm north of Auburn on the Green River. Matasuke Fukuda and Toki Nakamura Fukuda, both of Japanese descent, arrived in 1914, establishing a dairy and other farming operations. Five of their 11 children were born while living at the mansion.
The stock market crash in 1929 forced the Fukuda family to leave Washington state to find work in California. Later in 1929, Shigeichi and Shimano Hori leased the property, remaining there until 1936. Mr. Hori built a furoba, a Japanese style bathhouse, behind the mansion; it has been restored to its original 1930 design and designated a King County landmark, as it is the only structure of its kind in existence in the County today.
The children of Shigeichi and Shimano Hori have fond memories of farm life, such as fishing in the Green River. Family life has enjoyable memories as well; the bath was used to relax and socialize. Daughter Mary Hori Nakamura remembers, “The whole family took baths every night,” and Dr. Frank Hori recalls, “I liked the hot water.”
Various Neely family members returned to the property during World War II and leased part of the farm to Pete Acosta, a Filipino migrant worker. Pete, his wife June Johnston, and daughter, Julie, lived in a small house nearby. After a few years the last of the Neely clan moved out, and single Filipino farm workers occupied the mansion. Pete Acosta farmed the land for decades, retiring from his successful farming venture in the late 1980’s.
By the 1970s the house had deteriorated to the point where the Auburn Arts Council and concerned local citizens acted to save and restore the property, forming the Neely Mansion Association in 1983. Haunted house tours staffed by the Auburn High School and Green River College drama departments provided the seed money with which restoration began. Although still ongoing, the house has been largely restored to its former glory.
The mansion has been recognized as a King County Landmark and is listed on the Washington State Register and National Register of Historic Places. According to the King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission, Neely Mansion remains a “prominent and impressive structure for a rural farming community” and is “one of the most ornate historic homes in unincorporated King County.”
Neely Mansion celebrates its 125th anniversary on Saturday, June 22. It is a free event and open to the public.
Ceremonies honoring the five diverse families who lived at the National Historic Site from the Victorian Era through the 1980s will begin at 11 a.m. The Cascade Foothills Chorale will perform period music, along with performances by the Washington State Square and Folk Dance Federation.
Refreshments and tours of the mansion, gardens, vintage farm equipment and 1930s Japanese bathhouse follow the ceremonies until 4 p.m.
For more information, visit neelymansion.org