CATHLAMET, Wash. – In the next few years, visitors to a valley of dairies and ranches just north of here could be asked to keep their cellphones out of sight and ditch their 21st-century clothes for something a little more medieval.
California natives J.D. Honore and Shira Rauh plan to turn 40 acres in the Elochoman Valley into the “Town of Taylor” – a living history museum, set in 16th-century Europe. Though it could be 20 years before their vision is complete, the couple already knows its major elements, including a two-story inn and a completely closed ecosystem for farming. Merchants, farmers and craftspeople would sell their wares at a year-round Renaissance fair.
Honore and Rauh are complying with county ordinances for such a development, said Wahkiakum County Commissioner Blair Brady, but some of their neighbors still aren’t happy about the possibility of living next to a living history town and what it could do to the quiet, secluded settling. Vicki and Mike Willette have lived in the valley for 18 years. Vicki said she feels heartbroken – after growing up in the area, she said she never planned on living next to an attraction like the Town of Taylor, which will be about three miles north of Cathlamet.
“None of us want partying going on for a month long with people dressed up and having sword fights and whatever else they do,” Willette told the Daily News.
Willette also said her neighbors are concerned about decreased property value and extra traffic on the two-lane country road leading to their neighborhood. Willette and her husband have already considered that they might eventually sell their home if the Town of Taylor brings in enough visitors.
Willette said she and nine of her neighbors have brought their concerns to county commissioners, but the county doesn’t have zoning laws, meaning that Rauh and Honore can use their property as they’d like provided they follow county and environmental codes.
Brady said the couple is doing just that, and he feels “quite certain” they will stick to guidelines, and they’ve completed an environmental review to give them a better idea of what their farm land could be used for.
“As long as they’re following the rules, I have no problem with it,” Brady said. “They have a beautiful farm. They want to raise stock and create an atmosphere of an earlier time. It sounds rather exciting.”
Brady acknowledged traffic might increase, but he sees that as solvable by creating extra parking or using a shuttle system. He also said Rauh and Honore have been working with the county’s planning department to property permit their land for farming, residences and merchants.
“These folks are looking to create something which I think can be a benefit to the community,” Brady said. “There are a lot of ways to work with it. It does not have to be an inconvenience to the folks that are already there.”
Honore and Rauh moved to Washington from California two years ago, looking for a place they could afford with enough land to build the Town of Taylor.
They spend between 15 and 20 weekends each year attending Renaissance fairs, and they say they’re inspired to create a “total immersion” Renaissance experience in the Elochoman Valley.
The couple said they’re aware of neighbors’ concerns and that natural barriers on their property could keep a lot of the “Town of Taylor” from view. Twenty-three of their 40 acres are covered with timber that block the west end of their property from view. The timber is owned by the former land owners – Dale and Margaret Strueby – and will be there for at least 25 more years.
“Ideally, the inside world doesn’t know the outside world exists, and vice versa,” Honore said.
He also said they want neighbors to know there won’t be crowds of people or large fairs starting up for at least a few years. Honore said, from his experience, similar fairs are “slow to grow, are slow to die.”
Rauh said their goal is to give tourists a reason to see the scenic valley, stimulate local business and enhance vacations in Southwest Washington.
“There’s not a lot of reason to come out (to Elochoman Valley), but they need a reason to stay,” Rauh said.
Their vision is to create a year-round Renaissance fair that is completely self-sustained. They said they don’t want to rely on out-of-town visitors to keep the Town of Taylor open. Instead, they plan to hire 30 workers to run the farm and will eventually open the Belladonna Inn, which could host 15 guests and a restaurant – the idea being that the shops and farm will still be open to serve those who live there, even when there aren’t many guests.
The apartments and rooms in the inn will have an authentic, 16th-century aesthetic, but TVs, Wi-Fi and other modern electronics would be allowed inside the rooms.
Farm workers and merchants would live in apartments above shops and bakeries, providing authentic food and supplies to guests. Honore said he is optimistic construction will be well underway between 2020 and 2022, but Rauh said she thinks it will be more like 20 years before the tiny town is complete.
Honore and Rauh will require everyone inside to dress in clothes from the 16th century – which guests could rent or buy – and keep electronics and other modern gadgets out of sight, but they won’t require anyone to act.
“We want this to be a historical, `living history’ town,” Honore said. “The whole point is to be fully immersed in the 16th century.”
For insurance purposes, Rauh and Honore will be required to have their own security, meaning the county wouldn’t have to take deputies off the road to supervise events. Rauh said there are guidelines from the Department of Health and Sanitation for the apartments and restaurant, and all the buildings will be permitted by the county.
“We want it to be as historically accurate as legally possible,” Honore said, adding that the couple knows merchants, such as blacksmiths and musicians, in the area who are eager to work for something like the Town of Taylor.
“We don’t want to compromise on our vision.”