With 17 rooms, suites and cottages in historic wooden buildings, we have to pick and choose which accommodations will get a “face lift” each winter. This year it’s our rugged little Log Cabin. By the time we’re finished, it will be wearing a new roof, walls, shower, wainscoting, paint, and a new name, Lizzie’s Cottage.
Lizzie Lawson was a pioneering farm woman on the island, and though this of course is not her original cottage, it was built in the same era. Born August 1, 1879, Lizzie was the second youngest in a large family who farmed the land on False Bay Road near Eagle Point. If you tour the island and see that distinctive barn, you’re viewing the handiwork of Lizzie’s father, Peter, who was told “that barn will never stand” when he built it in 1876. It appears Lizzie inherited her father’s smart, stubborn, and independent traits, as well as land, because though she never married, she had an aptitude for farming and continued to manage the farm operation on the family land after her father passed away and her brothers moved to establish other homesteads on the island.
The main products on Lizzie’s farm were hay, potatoes and sheep, which were sheared for off-island wool buyers or sold to buyers who came to the island to buy lambs “on the hoof” to take to the mainland for processing. In addition, the lower portion of the farm, at a small bay just north of Eagle Point, was rented out as Fish Camps, creating virtual tent cities where fishermen and their families lived in the summer months to take advantage of the bounteous catch.
Neat and tidy – both in personal appearance and the way she kept her home – she always wore a dress and apron, even when working the fields. It was common for neighbors to see her up on a ladder washing windows and painting her house well into her eighties. Lizzie was a fun-living, independent spirit who was known as a good cook and enjoyed entertaining, but she especially loved going to the County Fair each year. She usually would bring three or four sheep to show, transporting them in her car, a Liberty convertible! Can’t you just image that sight?
Lizzie’s family was one of the few with a brand new contraption – a Brownie camera – and they apparently loved to take pictures. The San Juan Historical Museum is fortunate to have over 4,000 images in their collection of families and island life, many of them captured by the Lawsons with their Brownie. Through those images, we see Lizzie as a beautiful young woman – tall, slender, and proud; we see her hard at work – strong and commanding; and we see her as a happy, aging aunt with her niece, Etta Egeland, the woman who became an island legend and founded the San Juan Historical Museum. In her later years, Lizzie moved to Argyle Street, just a few blocks up from the Inns, and finally passed away at the age of 88 in February of 1968.
For a simple, strong life, we dedicate our sturdy little centenarian cabin to Lizzie.
Our thanks to Kevin Loftus, Director of the San Juan Historical Museum for his contributions to this article.