At the beginning of April, Aviation executive and Mercer Island resident Mike Stowell got a letter bearing sad tidings from the Stevensons about the passing of the family's patriarch, Lewis. But the letter wasn't about funeral services or a memorial — instead, it could prove to be the final chapter for many Mercer Island equestrians.
“Due to the passing of our dad, Lewis Stevenson, (on March 15, 2011) it is now necessary to close down his horse boarding operation. We are asking that you find other "lodging" for your horse as soon as possible, but no later than May 15, 2011,” signed by Jim Stevenson, one of Lewis’s four children who were raised on Mercer Island.
For years, one of Mercer Island's best kept secrets for local equestrians was the Stevenson Stables located behind the family home on 6053 Island Crest Way in a clearing near the . Most traveling on Island Crest Way would never know a stable was nearby if it wasn't for the horse-crossing marked by symbols on the side of the roadway near the Stevenson home. The family says they have all but decided to sell the property, but aren't sure when.
“It was a long time coming, but it’s still a huge loss,” said Stowell, “Because Mr. Stevenson was in his 90s, those of us who kept horses on his property knew we’d have to face this, but we are also extremely grateful to his family for keeping it going this long—it’s the end of an era (on Mercer Island).”
Stowell noted because the is full and has a waiting list, he is working with the Stevenson family to gain an extension on the May moving date. “The longer term solution is that everyone who has their horses stabled there will have to move them off-Island,” he said. “I have four horses there that my competition partner and I use to compete in team cattle pinning, a rodeo event. Unfortunately, moving horses isn’t like moving an RV into a new parking lot, it takes time.”
Passing away at the age of 95, Lewis Stevenson was—according to his daughter-in-law Sue Stevenson, “A classic tough old cuss,” who seemed to have stepped straight out of a rags-to-riches Horatio Alger story.
“He came from a tough upbringing in Nebraska, with five siblings and an alcoholic father and a mother who left them to fend for themselves,” she said. “He was on his own from age 10, riding the rails; a family would only take him in if he’d work for them.”
Stevenson worked in the Bremerton Shipyards during World War II, and picked up enough useful skills there to teach himself the electrician's trade. In 1941 he married Marge, whose family owned a vacation home on Mercer Island.
“When they were looking for a larger space to raise a family, they bought 5 acres and built a home (in 1951) right there off Island Crest Way, back when it was just a gravel road,” Sue said.
According to his daughter-in-law, Stevenson was determined to provide his children with the opportunities he never had by starting his own business, Stevenson Electric, and saving up enough money to buy his daughters horses to ride all over the Island.
“(The Stevenson home) was an awesome place to grow up, because there was always something to do,” said Sue Stevenson. “He built lean-tos and sheds for their horses, and then long after my husband and his siblings grew up—because the Saddle Club was full—it evolved into a stable for what they called 'The Horse Girls,' a group of junior high and high school girls who liked to ride.”
Stevenson charged $200 a month for a simple stable that horse owners were required to fix and maintain themselves. Marge Stevenson died in 2007, but still lived long enough, like her husband, to get to know her 11 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
“We’re sad to see the population of horses diminish on Mercer Island,” said Connie Clark-Redmond, president of the Saddle Club on Mercer Island. “There used to be over 80 horses on the Island, 20 of them stabled at the Stevensons. Now there are only 10 there.”
Clark-Redmond said that three years ago, the Saddle Club, which rests on two acres on the South end, had 125 members paying $300 a month to their non-profit co-op for food, water and shelter for their horses, but the recession reduced that number to 75 family memberships, most with children under the age of 18 learning to ride dressage or ride for pleasure in Pioneer Park. That's not counting the $125 in membership dues per quarter.
“We are in a position now to provide the only place for Islanders to practice equestrianism,” Clark-Redmond said.
The Stevenson heirs haven’t decided yet when they’re going to sell their 1,800-square-foot home and the 5 acres surrounding it, but they do know that they hope to sell it in one piece.
“We need to shut it down because it’s irresponsible to run a horse boarding operation with no one living on the property to manage it,” Sue Stevenson said. “It could be a real attraction to the Island if someone builds it up in one piece with stables so the horses could stay … we hope the community feels strongly enough about the place to make that happen. We’ve got a strong attachment to it, but our lives have taken us away from here, our children are grown and we’re thinking about retirement.”