The Gaches Mansion

I love Victorian houses, with their elegant porches, dormers, scrollwork, and spindles. I particularly love the Queen Anne style, because towers and turrets make my imagination run wild. I can see myself living in one of these magical manses, wearing high-collared, full-length dresses. I just can’t picture me paying the heating bill.

One of my favorites is the Gaches Mansion (rhymes with “mashes”). It’s in La Conner, Washington, and it was built in 1891. It’s 4700 square feet with 11 foot ceilings, which is why I wouldn’t want to heat it, but oh, is it ever gorgeous. Its Douglas fir floors and trim, and its fireplaces with original Italian tile make you almost forget that there are no built in closets, which was typical of this type of architecture.

The Gaches Mansion La Conner

My favorite room, of all the rooms on earth, is the 3rd floor tower room. It’s circular, has windows on all sides, and the pointed roof is covered with a gorgeous turquoise blue mural which sets off the woodwork nicely. Whenever I enter that room, I never want to leave.

Tower Room

Over the years, this house has been many things, from a private residence to the first hospital in Skagit County to an apartment building. Unfortunately a resident carelessly set it ablaze in 1973 with his cigarette. (Damned renters!) What a heartbreaking event that must have been.

Gaches Manion ablaze

The good news is that a bunch of citizens got together and purchased and restored the building a year later. That couldn’t have been easy. It then became an art gallery. But the reason I particularly love this mansion is because of what it houses now.

Intrigued? Watch this space tomorrow.


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Greetings from a Former Brothel

During my recent visit to Port Townsend, Washington, I explored a gorgeously restored Victorian edifice called the Palace Hotel. This brick building was built in 1889, and has housed many things throughout its history, including a billiard room, a saloon, a newspaper, a theater, a grocery store and several restaurants. But, most famously, for 8 years it was a brothel.

The restoration, which started in 1976, centered on the brothel era. All the rooms are named after the women who plied their trade here. You can stay in the Miss Abigail or the Miss Sara, for example. And there’s an intriguing lampshade on the second floor that was made from a corset.


One of the most delightful traditions of this place is that even if you aren’t staying there, you can look in the rooms that are not currently occupied. And they will take your breath away. Each room is different, but they all have 14 foot ceilings and gorgeously quilted beds. Many have stunning views and luxurious bathrooms, some with clawfoot tubs. I really want to stay there at some point.

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While the restoration is faithful to the time period, with exquisite antiques as far as the eye can see, I’m sort of glad they weren’t as successful at bringing back the brothel atmosphere. Oddly enough, I’ve been in several hotels that were former brothels, and they would all like to romanticize the profession. They’d like to make you feel that these places were elegant, and employed nothing but whores with hearts of gold who were happy to be there and content with their lives.

I suspect that this is far from the truth. These women were servicing the loggers and seafaring men of the region. They were in an isolated community that must have been even harder to get into and out of than it is now. I’m quite sure there was absolutely nothing to do during their free time, if they had any. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the house madam, Marie, was as tough as nails.

If the restoration had actually been able to evoke the ghosts of the past, this would probably be a sad and tense place to be. But as much as they were on my mind, I could not feel any spiritual residue of these unfortunate women as I wandered the halls of this hotel. I wonder if they’d be amused to know that people are still profiting off of them 80 years after the brothel was shut down.

Today, the Palace Hotel is open and airy and a feast for the eyes. I can’t imagine a better spot for a romantic getaway. Check it out!

Too Perfect

If you’ve seen the movie The Truman Show, you have experienced Seaside, Florida in all its creepy perfection. I have never been there myself, but I have been to Celebration, Florida, which is another perfectly planned little hamlet. These places are cool to visit, but they kind of give me the willies.

Seaside, Florida [Image credit:]
Seaside, Florida [Image credit:]

These communities are regulated in the extreme. Individuality is very discouraged. The houses can only be a certain style and a certain range of colors. Your white picket fence must be of a particular design. And forget about unique landscaping. Seaside and Celebration are the Stepford Wives of communities, even more so than your typical neighborhoods with homeowners associations.

I am thinking of these places because recently I drove through Port Gamble, Washington. Port Gamble was established in 1853, and looks as if it has been frozen in time. The Victorian houses, many of them identical, are in pristine condition, and there’s one continuous white picket fence along the length of the main street. There are also some touristy shops, but we didn’t stop.

The reason we didn’t stop is that I got the shivers just driving through the place. Yes, it’s charming, and each building, if by itself, would be a delight. But as you drive through there, you start to notice that there’s a distinct absence of humans. And all the blinds are drawn. I could easily imagine an FLDS polygamist cult occupying the town, or an extended family of zombies. It’s downright disturbing. I wouldn’t want to be caught there after dark. It felt like an extremely sanitized ghost town.

Port Gamble's perfect little church.
Port Gamble’s perfect little church.
Port Gamble's perfect little picket fence. Taken from the safety of my car. With the window rolled up.
Port Gamble’s perfect little picket fence. Taken from the safety of my car. With the window rolled up.

I genuinely think that there’s such a thing as too much perfection. Humanity lies in the flaws; in the peeling paint and the tacky lawn flamingoes. When people start marching in lockstep, they seem robotic. When they force their surroundings to do the same, it feels otherworldly. I would definitely not thrive in that environment. It’s too much about appearances and what the neighbors think.

Exploring Washington State – Port Townsend

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, I had the privilege of tagging along with a friend to visit her parents in Port Townsend, Washington, and it was a fantastic two days indeed. Port Townsend is a charming, artsy, quirky, historic Victorian Seaport that is best reached by ferry. Whenever I ride a ferry I always feel as if I’m going on a grand adventure, and that was the perfect mindset to have.


The town itself is divided into two parts: Uptown and Downtown. Uptown, as you might expect, is higher up, and sits atop a crumbling bluff, along with a bunch of amazing Victorian houses that I’m sure enjoy a stunning view of the water in exchange for their precarious perches. Downtown is the more touristy area, with amazing brick buildings, delightful restaurants, and quirky shops.

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It’s the home of the beautiful Palace Hotel, a former brothel, which merits a blog entry in and of itself, so stay tuned. And Port Townsend is also where the movie An Officer and a Gentleman was filmed. That kept me wondering if Richard Gere had touched the very same bit of pavement I was walking upon.

[Image credit:]
[Image credit:]

But this lovely town has some amazing natural beauty, too. There are rocky, seaweed-strewn beaches that are sprinkled with sea glass. I only found a handful myself, but my hosts generously provided me with a gallon sized bag of the stuff, and it’s beautiful. And there’s a lighthouse, and everywhere you go you see deer.


With a population of a little over 9000, mostly retirees, it’s a quiet, sleepy, romantic little mecca. If you every get a chance to check it out, I highly recommend it.

The Weaker Sex

In the Victorian era exercise became all the rage for women, but if you look at instructions from the time, you’ll see that all the exercises were above the waist, because people believed that rigorous movement in the nether regions could cause women to damage their reproductive organs. They believed they weren’t firmly fixed to one area of the body. That seems silly to us now, but at the time it was a serious concern. If we were so fragile, then all our organs would probably exit our system the first time we experienced childbirth, but that never occurred to them back then.

Crazy beliefs about women’s health can be found throughout history. Some were sincere misunderstandings about the functioning of the body, and some were simply blatant attempts to keep women in their place.

The whole “hysteria” concept appears to have been a little bit of both. At certain points in history it referred to female emotional excess, and at other times it referred to sexual dysfunction, but it was thought to be caused by a “wandering womb”. The cure was genital massage by the physician. That must have made for some very strange doctor’s visits.

The whole concept of females being out of control has never quite left our culture to this day. I’ve actually heard it, quite recently, being used as a reason that women should not become president. Sigh. But one good thing came out of the whole hysteria concept. It was the reason for the invention of the vibrator. Hallelujah! Does that mean that my insurance company will pay for my batteries?

It was quite gratifying to see that women were finally allowed to participate in the ski jump competition in the most recent Winter Olympics. They had been prevented from doing so in the past due to absurd notions about health risks. So that was one step toward reality in a competition that had otherwise set human rights back at least a century. Much about Sochi did not show humanity at its best, but hey, at least we’re allowed to ski jump now.

And then there’s this, from a recent article in the Huffington Post: “You can thank Dr. Edward Clark, a physician and Harvard professor for this charming theory. In the 1870s, Clark published a book asserting that women who read and threw themselves into their studies were at risk for atrophy of the uterus and ovaries, as well as sterility.” Apparently knowledge isn’t power after all.

Lest you think all of this absurdity is a thing of the past, take a moment to contemplate that the medical world still understands almost nothing about the G spot or female ejaculation. That inspires confidence. Not.

Some people used to believe that if a woman were raped, her body would somehow flip some sort of internal switch and automatically prevent pregnancy. That belief is still held by some people to this day. The reason Republican Todd Akin got laughed out of office in a recent election was that he said “Legitimate rape rarely, if ever, results in pregnancy.”

I have been thinking about all this foolishness today because a friend of mine sent me a link to a recent CNN article entitled Saudi cleric warns driving could damage women’s ovaries. Well, then the future of mankind is doomed because it’s a rare country that doesn’t allow women to drive in this day and age.

The ironic thing about these absurd concepts about women’s health is they say less about women’s health than they do about the ignorance and and insecurity of Man.


[A montage of women’s hysteria via Wikipedia]