Our craftsman's style house was built in 1908 by W.N. and Ellen Bailey. During the depression it was a rooming house. From 1936 - 1988 the Wisniewski Family filled it with life until Josephine died.
Written by Diane Pettit, Josephine Wisniewski's daughter on June 24, 1998:
My parents, Bill and Josephine Wisniewski, moved to 311 East 9th Avenue in 1936 with their three growing children. Significant remodeling took place when they added the dinette and basement stairway to the exterior of the east side of the house. Remodeling was done to the kitchen counters in the early 40s. Eventually the large back porch was filled in to make a handy sewing room, and the wooden stairway in back was added.
Before Bill and Josephine bought the house, it had been an apartment house, with three apartments upstairs. This must have happened during the depression.
Many summertime activities took place in the backyard i.e., circuses, hammock swinging, kick the can, sand pile. Every summer a large vegetable garden was hand spaded by Bill and lovingly planted and tended by Josephine and her four children.
During harvest the children were expected to help string the beans, pick and pickle the cucumbers, cut the rhubarb, and cultivate all the crops. There wasn't much time to get into trouble.
A large gravenstein apple tree stood in the comer of the large garden, and for many years there was a plum tree where the large walnut tree stands. The English walnut tree was planted in the yard by Josephine's father and mother on a visit to Olympia. Josephine's parents, Joseph and Victoria Kosmalski, were on the first train to the Oregon Territory in 1876.
The grape arbor supplied sweet table grapes. The cherry tree next to the garage was easy picking from the roof, and supplied the Wisniewskis with canned cherries.
Nothing edible was ever wasted.
The front yard had a pansy bed, where Josephine planted the colorful flowers. The slope was a huge flower garden with delphiniums, dahlias, carnations, snapdragons, calendulas, roses, callas, gladiolas, anemones, chrysanthemums and many other varieties. Josephine raised beautiful sweet peas along the side of the garage on chicken wire. What a beautiful display of color and fragrance.
The house always had fragrant flowers to beautify the home during the summer. Bill would always bring Josephine a bouquet of flowers when he had been working in the gardens. Gardening was his form of relaxation.
Bill and his family (mother, father, and sisters) owned and operated the Liberty Cafe on Fourth Street. It was a flourishing restaurant during World War II, and was open 7 days a week. Josephine helped out by working as cashier on the busy weekends. The Liberty Cafe was sold in the late 40s to Boswell. Other names I recall were Boswell's and King Solomon's.
Bill bought his own restaurant in 1952, and operated Bill's Kitchen at 406 East 4th. Josephine baked pies and cakes, kept the books and helped during busy times. On Friday, March 13, 1959, just 10 years after a major earthquake, 900 tons of runaway equipment of the Union Pacific ripped through Olympia, through the depot, killing one man and injuring 20 others. Fifteen cars loaded with lumber and 3 empty cars left the siding at Tumwater near the Olympia Brewery. The brakes had not been set in a switching operation and the cars started rolling down the grade to Olympia, 2V2 miles away, gaining momentum as they rolled along carrying its heavy load. The lead car crossed the street and plunged into Bill's Kitchen and several other businesses. The railroad took care of the damage. Bill's Kitchen was sold in 1962.
Bill and Josephine worked together at the famous St. Michael's Harvest Festival to raise money for school and church. Bill roasted numerous stuffed turkeys and carved them for the multitudes of people attending this event. Along with other church women, Josephine would bake 20 to 30 pies for the dessert. With her reputation for pie baking, the pies went fast.
Bill died suddenly September 17, 1967, at the age of 62. Josephine lived in the same house until she died on March 5, 1988, at the age of 90. The summer before she died, she canned vegetables and fruit raised in her garden that her daughter Rosella helped with. Her home was her castle. She drove a small white Valiant (push button operation) until 1980. Josephine was crippled by an unsuccessful hip surgery in 1964. She was a loving and charming little lady who didn't let her disability keep her from enjoying family and living life with strong faith and determination.
Karen Nelson and Stanley Stahl bought the house in August of 1988 and eventually got it listed on the historic register. Karen named the house "Grandma's" and rented it to students for the next ten years. Many locals still lovingly refer to our site as "Grandma's."
In 1998, Karen and Gail moved in, remodeled again and in 2000 opened Fertile Ground Guesthouse. Karen's quiet classic reserve expresses itself in her simple yet elegant interior design. Her ability to create a sense of beauty and flow stems from her interest in Feng Shui and her experiences as a homemaker and artist. Gail's outgoing warmth and friendliness made hospitality seem easy. The business closed in September 2018 and the friendship of guests will always be missed. So will the "museum" of beauty it once was.
The space will always be beautiful, but now it's opening up to new expressions as K & G make their final leap with this lovely old house. Karen has wanted to put the land into a trust for the community since she bought it in 1988. Because of her desire, Gail help to found and serves on the board of the Thurston Housing Land Trust. In 2020 the property will be donated to the land trust and will be held as affordable housing for generations to come. The house will be owned by a collective called Fertile Ground Housing Cooperative. Five co-owners will share the house and collaborate with the Thurston Housing Land Trust through a ground lease. In this way, the property will be protected from the speculative market and rising costs in perpetuity.