Historic Vaughn Library Hall Damaged by Car Crash

Despite the setback, the last standing 19th century meeting place on the KP is coming back to life thanks to the community it was built to serve.


The 1893 Vaughn Library Hall located at the corner of Hall and Van Slyke Road NW sustained substantial damage the night of Nov. 30 when a car smashed into a corner of the building. The driver fled, leaving behind a half empty bottle of liquor, an undriveable vehicle, and thousands of dollars of more work to be done to the only surviving building of its kind on the Key Peninsula.

When contacted the next day by Pierce County deputies, the car owner said it must have been taken from her residence while she was absent.

The hall is the last remaining of many such structures that once dotted the KP, built by volunteer community members for meetings, dances, celebrations and church services. The hall was donated to the KP Historical Society & Museum in 2016 and has been under restoration since 2019.

“It’s the biggest artifact in our collection,” said society board member Judy Mills. “The history out here is deep.”

“You can see what happened: When the guy came down the road, he hit the curb and that lifted him up, and that’s why he sailed up and planted himself into the wall,” said board member and project manager Bart Wolfe, a retired forensic architect with expertise in historic restoration.

“Of course, the driver had to hit the corner we’ve been working on the hardest,” he said. “Just hours before we got hit, we finished the outside. Now we have to replace all the siding again. This is all new, but it’s an exact match to the original with compound mitered outside corners.”

The affected room was a 1926 addition built to house the growing library, which had previously occupied just a corner of the multifaceted hall.

The restoration has been a largely volunteer effort, but the more difficult work is done by general contractor Chuck West Construction.

“I do what the volunteers can’t,” West said. “Anything structural that has to be inspected.”

The damage is reparable but will take time and $4,000 to $10,000 in labor and materials, according to Wolfe and West. The building was not insured since the county considers it “unoccupied” under construction. “We could have contractor’s insurance during construction, but we simply can’t afford it,” Wolfe said.

West and his crew have been working on the project from the beginning.

“I’d done a couple of other restoration projects in the area, including the Glencove Hotel and a couple of older homes,” West said.

“We work together with the historic landmark group to make sure the things we do meet their requirements. We tend to have to try to recreate some of the woodwork to match, so there’s a lot of running wood through the planer, the router, trying to match the face of the board that’s already there, because you can’t buy that anymore. All of the windows are exact replicas.”

The hall began as a dance floor built by Vaughn residents on land owned by Alfred and Mary Jeanette Van Slyke to celebrate the Fourth of July in 1889, a few months before Washington became a state. The land was later deeded for $1 to the new Vaughn Bay Public Library Association after walls and a roof were added in 1893.

The iconic tower is part of the original structure, but its purpose remains a mystery.

“The tower had a pole sticking out the top,” Wolfe said. “We know it wasn’t a flag pole and the tower didn’t have a bell in it or anything. We think it was a landmark because people in the early days all came in by boat. If you hadn’t been here before, you’d need a landmark.”

“The tower was open to the weather originally,” said Paul Michaels, Wolfe’s co-project manager. “We found a metal pan in the bottom that would drain out the front.”

In 1956, the library housed in the 1926 extension became part of the Pierce County Library System and was moved to the Vaughn Union High School, which later became the KP Civic Center, in the same space now occupied by the historical society museum.

In 1957, the hall was sold by the Vaughn Bay Library Public Association for $600 to Harmon Van Slyke, Sr., a descendant of the early settler, and was a private home until the death of its last occupant, Jerry Wolniewicz, Alfred Van Slyke’s grandson, in 2012.

In 2016, Wolniewicz’s sister, Donna Docken, donated the building to the historical society.

Harmon had divided the main meeting room into living spaces with a lowered ceiling, and all the windows were resized and replaced.

“But luckily, they just covered the original (interior) siding with quarter-inch Masonite,” Wolfe said. “As we peeled all that back, here we have the original colors on the original tongue and groove bead board. The original light fixtures were still there above the artificial ceiling, so we’re going to be able to reuse those fixtures.”

As volunteers cleared out the residential interior walls and detritus of decades, they made a discovery among the remains of another addition and stage built in 1910 on the southeast side of the building.

“Behind the stage were the original dressing rooms, and in the dressing rooms there is graffiti,” Wolfe said. “Things that say ‘the class of 1937 presents’ with the name of the play, who the people were to play those characters, and for a lot of our old timers those names mean something. We even have a photo of some kids standing on the stage. All that will be displayed.”

One of the last major challenges will be restoring the floor, which will mean replacing or repairing pieces in a pine sea of interconnecting geometric patterns installed over an older subfloor likely added when the library addition and kitchen were added in 1926.

“I found a reference to a similar floor calling it a ‘picture frame pattern,’ ” Michaels said. “The flooring is 1×3 tongue and groove Douglas fir, probably milled by a local company.”

“We have a wonderful local contractor who can match these unusual-sized planks and patterns in the floor,” Wolfe said. “When I talked to him, I said, ‘I want you to be able to remove the dirt but not the history,’ and he said, ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about,’ so I think that’s going to work.

“What I love about this is that these (builders) were not architects and engineers. These were farmers, but the quality of the work they did was really lovely. They were building it for themselves; what I call vernacular architecture. You could see they really cared about the way it looked, the way it came out, and that’s what we love too.”

The KP Historical Society plans to reopen the hall to the community, the inheritors of the residents who built it, for events of up to 200 people within the next two years, Wolfe said.

“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” said Cathy Williams, the society president, whether to work on the hall, on other projects or in the museum. “We’re always interviewing older residents, preserving family stories, scanning and archiving photos.”

For more information on the Vaughn Library Hall restoration, go to www.keypeninsulamuseum.org.

Joseph Pentheroudakis contributed to this report.