Joseph Burt was born in 1852 near Dunfermline, Scotland, north of Edinburgh. He came to the US with his parents and three siblings in 1854. His father was a mining engineer who worked in the coal fields of Pennsylvania and Ohio before becoming a blacksmith in Boone County, Iowa.
Joseph farmed near Estherville, Iowa before moving to Lopez in 1902. His sister, Ellen, was already here with her husband, John Cousins. (James Cousins’ older brother, John came to Lopez in 1871 and homesteaded 464 acres in “Center Valley”.) Joe Burt apparently bought them out when they moved to Bellingham.
In addition to farming, Joe was a talented finish carpenter who often worked with his brother, John, who was a master builder and contractor. The “House of the Seven Gables” was apparently designed by John Burt. A rendering of it was used on his letterhead as early as 1904, well prior to the home’s construction in 1908.
The house is a showcase of the Burt brothers’ talents. (The family believes that brother Peter Burt and his son Robert came out to Lopez from Iowa to help with the construction.) In its original configuration, it included a library, a large reception hall, four bedrooms, one bathroom, and a pantry. The Burts also included numerous features to reduce housekeeping, such as a laundry chute between floors. The corner fireplaces were described by the Everett Morning Tribune as, “so ornamental in character that to each room they give a finishing touch.”
Joe Burt also worked with his brothers to build Center School (now the Lopez Grange) and the Mud Bay School. Joe lined up the jobs, then helped John complete them. The brothers’ woodworking skills were not limited to carpentry. Joe, John, and Peter were all skilled violin builders, a talent they inherited from their father and passed on to several of their own children.
Still farming at nearly 90 years of age, Joseph Burt died in 1941 while shocking hay. After the death of his wife, Adella, in 1944, the property passed to Otto Kjargaard. The house was moved by David McKinley to its current location in 1979.