Neighborhood of the week
Wilburton: Old logging camp becomes a suburban oasis
The Wilburton neighborhood, close to downtown Bellevue, has maintained its woodsy feeling by having much of its land set aside as parks.
Special to The Seattle Times
WilburtonPopulation: 8,491 (2009 estimate)
Distance to downtown Seattle: About 12 miles.
Schools: The Wilburton neighborhood is served by the Bellevue School District.
Recreation: Bellevue Botanical Garden, 12001 Main St. Open daily from dawn to dusk. Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Garden and Visitor Center are open until 9:30 p.m. during the Garden d'Lights, a free holiday-light display staged every December.
Fun fact: Wilburton is named for Manley Wilbur, president of Wilbur Logging Co. and part-owner of the original town site established in 1895.
— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf
There are the big parks and even a farm. You can find century-old houses, new condos and midcentury ramblers. And even a historic, towering train trestle.
Welcome to Wilburton, one of the oldest and most unique neighborhoods on the Eastside, a former logging camp turned suburban oasis.
Minutes from Interstate 405 and downtown Bellevue, the Wilburton neighborhood seems to have balanced the best of both urban and rural lifestyles.
A peaceful walk in the woods or a trip to the demonstration farm — complete with horses, chickens, rabbits and sheep — are opportunities right outside Wilburton residents' doorsteps. Yet retailers such as Whole Foods, Home Depot, Starbucks and the new upscale shops at The Bravern are a short walk or drive, too.
"We are in a location where we can look through a window at one end of our home and see a great view of the buildings in downtown Bellevue, and then look out to a scenic forest view in our back yard," says Wilburton resident Joann Yasui.
Home to three major Bellevue parks that together offer 303 acres of open space within the Wilburton neighborhood, a rural escape is always just a few steps away.
A total of 21 single-family houses and 27 condos in Wilburton were sold this year, through November, according to figures compiled by Windermere Real Estate. Prices for the single-family houses that were sold ranged from $400,000 to $1.23 million, with a median price of $510,000, Windermere figures show.
"We are seeing a rejuvenation of a lot more families with smaller children in the neighborhood again. People who were raised here tend to want to come back and raise their kids here," says Pearl Nardella, a Windermere agent who has lived in Wilburton for nearly 25 years.
A parklike feeling
Most houses in Wilburton were built during the 1950s and '60s, but some have been torn down and replaced with newer homes, while a number of other houses have been updated.
What really sets this neighborhood apart from others is the parklike feeling. It's home to three parks — Kelsey Creek Park and Farm, Wilburton Hill Park and Bellevue Botanical Gardens. The neighborhood also is bordered by the 148-acre Glendale Country Club, which adds to the sylvan nature of the neighborhood.
Iris Jewett, who has lived in Wilburton for 30 years, gives credit to the Bellevue Parks Department for its "forward thinking" in preserving such a large amount of prime real estate for parks.
"They could have made a fortune selling that land, and instead they made the whole thing parkland," Jewett says.
Jewett and her husband, Bob, deserve some credit, too, having been called the "masterminds behind the Bellevue Botanical Gardens."
The Jewetts enjoyed visiting the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, B.C., so much they wanted to create something similar in Bellevue.
Their neighbors, Cal and Harriet Short, had 7 acres of land they wanted to donate for parkland, and this generosity, combined with the vision and hard work of the Jewetts and many volunteers (who actually did much of the landscaping work), led to the formation of the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1992.
Now 53 acres, the gardens are best known for the Garden d'Lights, a free holiday-lights display open to the public every December when the garden is decorated by intricate holiday-lights displays. The Bellevue Botanical Gardens also is a popular year-round place to walk, jog or enjoy a picnic.
A century of change
The serene, woodsy feel of the neighborhood is quite different from what it was like a century ago when Wilburton was a booming logging camp with a population of about 400.
Remnants of those days are still visible in the wooden Wilburton railroad trestle, built in 1904, and four houses built in the same year, according to Bob Shay, longtime resident and local historian. Two of the homes are staunch holdouts surrounded by a new condominium project. The trestle was originally built completely of wood and reinforced four times over the years.
The Mercer Slough, wetlands that are now part of a large nature park in Bellevue, used to stretch wider and deeper, creating a waterway from Lake Washington all the way to Wilburton. When the Ballard Locks began operating in 1916, it dropped the level of Lake Washington by 9 feet and drained much of the water in the slough.
And the Twin Valley Dairy with its huge barns thrived on the current Kelsey Creek Farm site, where the barns, built in the 1930s and 1940s, are now a part of the farm.
The history of Wilburton is echoed in other ways throughout the neighborhood. The children's play area at Wilburton Hill Park has play structures with names to reflect the original logging town at the base of the hill. The structures include a "Cook House," a "Town Hall" and a "Northern Pacific Railroad Express" office.
Walking the Lake to Lake Trail in Wilburton Hill Park (from Lake Washington to Lake Sammamish), fast-growing fir trees wave in the wind where a former old-growth forest once stood.
Three of Bellevue's historic cabins are preserved in Wilburton, too.
The Fraser Cabin erected in 1888, is at Kelsey Creek Park, and kids can sign up for classes to learn how to churn butter, grind wheat and learn about pioneer life. The McDowell House, built in 1918, is now home to the Eastside Heritage Center and houses over 30,000 artifacts and photographs. The third, the Sharp's cabin built in the 1920s is located in the Bellevue Botanical Gardens.
Shay says neighbors occasionally dig up remnants of the logging days such as pieces of steel cable.
The neighborhood's rich history is just another thing Wilburton residents rave about.
"We love everything about it," says Marcie Orcutt, who has lived in Wilburton for almost 20 years. She summarizes all the amenities of her neighborhood by saying, "as the Mastercard commercial says, 'it is priceless.' "