Historic cabin set to reopen this weekend

Yeomalt cabin has undergone extensive renovation over the past five years, and the finished product is ready to be unveiled Saturday.  - Kathryn Keve | Courtesy Photo
Yeomalt cabin has undergone extensive renovation over the past five years, and the finished product is ready to be unveiled Saturday.
— image credit: Kathryn Keve | Courtesy Photo

It took more than $280,000 and thousands of man hours from professionals and volunteers on the island, but one of the island’s most historically significant buildings will soon be reopened to the public.

Saturday, the Bainbridge Metro Park and Recreation District will celebrate the renovation of the depression-era Yeomalt cabin, which has undergone extensive reconstruction in the last five years.

“Over a couple of years, the site regained significance and has been nurtured through the efforts of local giving,” said Park District Senior Planner Perry Barrett. “They saw it as a community opportunity and legacy and really stuck with it over the long haul.”

The park district originally took over the camp from the Boy Scouts of America in 1987, and at the time, the cabin was in dire need of repairs.

“It came to us in a condition as such that the district didn’t believe it was safe to run programs from,” Barrett said. “It’s never been used as a public facility.”

The district has used parts of the camp, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for art classes, but the cabin has not been used for public consumption since.

The structure received a face lift before the park district took it over when several islanders improved the grounds in the 1980s, using the proceeds of a piece of real estate provided by Paul Sakai to finance the repairs. Their effort paved the way for Team Yeomalt, a group of islanders that invested time, energy and money into saving the structure, and preserving a unique facet of the Bainbridge community.

“It’s really all about progress, not about product” said island historian Gerald Elfendahl, a member of Team Yeomalt. “We saved a building, but the real product is community.”

Finished in 1935, the building represents the sole structure on the island built by the New Deal-born Works Progress Administration.

The camp was originally named Camp Major Hopkins for Major M.J. Hopkins, a former engineer, linguist, geologist and Bainbridge resident who founded the island’s first Boy Scout troop in 1922.

During World War II, the local Boy Scout troop gave up the grounds, and the camp was converted to a base for the U.S. Army 202nd Coast Artillery. The division used the camp as an anti-aircraft defense site.

As the war wound down, the camp was used to house a troop of Soviet merchant marines while their ship was docked for repairs at the Winslow shipyard.

The Boy Scouts continued to use the camp and cabin following World War II, but as time went on, the elements and years had their way with the historic building. By the time the restoration work began, it was clear the building needed a lot of help.

Elfendahl said the cabin was slowly sinking into the ground as rainwater seeped into the foundation and eroded it. Over time, a portion of the roof was damaged and one of the corners jeopardized. The park district and Team Yeomalt were up against a big task, but the community as a whole stepped up.

“We really encompassed so many people with so many different areas of expertise,” Elfendahl said. “Whenever you have public property, it’s important to have everybody on the team.”

The process involved finding the correct timber, most of which came from the island, and physically lifting the cabin out of the ever-expanding sink hole it created, among many other tasks.

Naturally, this effort didn’t come cheap.

Barrett said the total cost of the project was in excess of $280,000. Park district funds, state grants and donations from the public and local institutions made the difference. The cost continued to rise as the project progressed, Barrett said, because the historic nature and traditional materials used for construction tend to inflate budgets as a result of the special skill and attention they require. But that didn’t deter any of the parties involved, he said.

“There was a commitment of the community and individuals through local institutions to see this cabin restored,” he said.

Once the cabin reopens, it will be used for meetings and other activities, similar to Island Center, Barrett said.

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