Bonnie Hollingsworth’s Great Northern Railway substation replica is on display at the Great Northern & Cascade Railway depot museum.
Bonnie Hollingsworth’s Great Northern Railway substation replica is on display at the Great Northern & Cascade Railway depot museum.
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Bonnie Hollingsworth’s historical replicas are scattered throughout the Sky Valley. Myriad hours and personal sentiments were poured into each model.

The current Camano Island resident and Skykomish Historical Society charter member first tackled the craft in 2009. She started out with a reproduction of Skykomish’s original 1902 schoolhouse that was demolished in 1936. She said old photographs and her mother’s love of the building served as a catalyst for the project.

“I knew the only way I would get to see that building is if I built it myself,” Hollingsworth said.

She already had the right skills; her father was a woodworker. He taught Hollingsworth to whittle. Early on she learned a love of creating dollhouses. Only later in life did she target structures that were no longer around.

The schoolhouse replica is 1/48th the size of the original. Hollingsworth had to guess on the true colors, but the construction is spot on; the windows and their wood frames, the trim, the entry and the roof were all meticulously constructed to fit their specific architectural details. Taking apart the assemblage and piecing it back together is also an inherent part of the procedure, she said.

Hollingsworth only had pictures and vague memories to go on. Finding the right materials and tools for such work was its own challenge; she had to cut tiny glass windowpanes that weren’t of the substance, and design elements of the wooden structure that could not be fashioned with real timber.

Skykomish resident and friend of Hollingsworth’s mother and grandmother, Rosemarie Koch Williams, 88, attended first grade at the original school the year before it was torn down. She said she remembers her teachers and the classrooms, but beyond that her memory of the building is minimal.

Hollingsworth said there is really nobody alive who could remember too much detail.

“There are a few other people in town who knew the building, but they were children at the time, so nobody really had great details to remember it by,” she said. “But the historical society had good pictures.”

Williams said she remembers growing up in Skykomish, a town that only ever cropped up because of the Great Northern Railway. She and her friends had many more freedoms as children, and she recalls seeing less conflict around the country as a whole. She said she has seen the replica that sits inside a Plexiglas case at the Skykomish Museum.

“It can’t be touched because it is not a play thing,” she said. “It was a very, very good likeness.”

The original school was replaced the year it was torn down, and on the same site. The population of students in kindergarten through the 12th grades grew just enough to require a larger facility with more amenities. The successor structure was three stories and made of concrete, according to the Skykomish Historical Society. It has a modern design with Art Deco ornament.

“Although utilitarian in appearance, it was considered at the forefront of school design when constructed,” according to the society. “Through careful stewardship, the Skykomish School building retains its historic integrity both inside and out and has been in continual use serving grades kindergarten through twelve for over 60 years.”

The original teachers cottage still stands however. Hollingsworth stayed in the house — built in roughly 1915 — when she taught in Skykomish for the 2011-12 school year. She said her mother moved to Skykomish in 1918, and attended class at the 1902 schoolhouse. Hollingsworth’s grandmother had wanted to become a local educator, but never had the chance because of bad vision; the recent stint was very much in respect of her grandmother’s own aspirations.

“I always felt like I was part of Skykomish — my blood runs real deep there,” Hollingsworth said. “My mom grew up there, and I was up there a lot as a kid. I never really lost touch. I grew to love it on a different level when we lived there and I got to know the school kids. I got to know them all, and their families, and I still keep in touch with lots of the kids and what is going on at the school.”

Hollingsworth, like many of the town’s historical society members, no longer lives in the area year round, said president Pat Carlson, who resides in Olympia. Most, such as herself, were born and raised there, then left after high school. They live throughout the country, but still stay in touch, and many still make the long trip down U.S. Highway 2 to the quarterly meetings. Hollingsworth said anyone is invited and encouraged to become a member.

“It seems as though anyone who’s lived here tries to come back as often as they can,” Carlson said.

Few members have ever put as much sweat and heart into related projects as Hollingsworth has in her replicas, Carlson said.

“The models make the community and its visitors more aware of the town’s rich history, and Skykomish is lucky to have a person of such dedication and who works in such exquisite detail, capturing and presenting these historic buildings of the town,” she said.

There is always more to learn.

Hollingsworth found out later some of the materials from the 1902 school were used in the construction of Skykomish’s town hall, including the front doors. After the reproduction was complete, the teacher was asked by Kevin Weiderstrom, president of the Great Northern & Cascade Railway nonprofit, to build the original substation.

The electrical, transmission and distribution system was built at the location of the current GN&C Railway depot museum, Hollingsworth said. It was put there to make energy available to run the new electric locomotive trains through the Old Cascade Tunnel that was completed in 1929.

Hollingsworth’s father worked on that tunnel. The channel was eight miles long. The live steam coal- and crude oil-fired engines could not run through that tunnel because of exhaust fumes that put passengers at risk of asphyxiation.

Building the substation was a quite a shift, to move from such an aesthetically pleasing project to building something that was just downright unattractive, Hollingsworth said.

“It wasn’t beautiful architecture, let me put it that way,” she said.

The work was also very technical. Hollingsworth said she is often asked how much time it takes to complete the copies. She said, in the case of the schoolhouse, “My kids can tell you I didn’t do anything else — nothing.”

“Everybody knew that mom wasn’t available, because she was always trying to rush and get that building done,” she said. “There was always a big mess out in the kitchen table. It was pretty interesting. I didn’t have anywhere else to build it. I didn’t have a separate shop. So it took over the whole house.”

Williams said she is also fond of Hollingsworth’s replica of the Whistling Post tavern. The original was destroyed in a 2012 arson fire. A few days after the fire, a few residents asked her to remake the historical structure in miniature form. Carlson said after the tavern was rebuilt, attendees shed a few tears as Hollingsworth handed off her model to the owners at that year’s annual Old Timers Picnic; the event is held on the third Saturday in July.

For that project, volunteers were able to scrape some money together for the parts.

The funds have always been a struggle for Hollingsworth. Basically, if the replicas were about money, she probably wouldn’t be doing it. The historical society gave her $350 for the schoolhouse, but many models end up costing close to several thousand dollars just for materials, she said.

Hollingsworth has also worked on other structures that are still upright. She made a miniature of the Startup Gym, which is being restored by the Sky Valley Arts Council. She had about in five months to create the new model. The rigid time frame and size limitations led to her only making the facade of the gym.

Hollingsworth uses the O Gauge to measure out her replicas. The scale is commonly used for toy train models. One quarter-inch represents one foot of the full-size structure.

“It’s hard to give them up, and it’s hard to say a project is finished, because there is always something you can do extra,” she said. “One thing that helps is a deadline, and if somebody is counting on you.”

The Startup Gym model was presented at the project’s first fundraiser, The Sock Hop, held at the gym on Feb. 14, 2016. It currently sits in the Sky Valley Visitors Center.

Hollingsworth is now working on a model of the Skykomish Hotel, which is undergoing a much-needed renovation.  No installation location has been secured yet. She said she has mixed emotions on the models that only represent the front of their originals.

“It is kind of a hollow feeling not to do the whole building, but you realize how much space it takes up,” she said. “Doing the front of it, that is what most people remember. It is kind of the memories I try to stir up with the building.”

The compromise allows her to put more work into making the face more detailed and authentic.

“Anything you can visualize with your eyes and actually feel and touch is so much more than a photograph,” she said.