Turtlehead Farm is located on Orcas Island, one of the most rugged of Washington State’s San Juan Islands. The farm is nestled within pristine forestland bordered by the Turtleback Mountain Preserve and the coastline of Puget Sound. Rising above the property is the “head” of Turtleback Mountain, a vista featuring magnificent views of the Canadian Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, Olympic Mountains, and beyond to the Pacific Ocean.
The farm’s original homestead, built by Swedish settlers in 1860, still stands in a grassy field by a rushing stream and old apple orchard. Hugging the shore are the remains of lime quarries and kilns once worked by Serbo-Croatians and Austrians at the turn of the century. Remnants of logging camps and skid roads on the land are visible reminders of early pioneer life in the San Juans.
A Gift of Land by the Sea
Ruth Brown, owner and director of Four Winds Camp, gifted Turtlehead Farm to the Helsell family in the mid 1950s. Jack and Jan Helsell first developed the property in 1970, beginning with the construction of a circular blade sawmill. Timber from the land was harvested and milled to build the new hewn log homestead, which sits on the site of an old turkey farm.
Jack loved to collect horse-drawn farm equipment, and in those early days, the Helsell family used draft horses to plow, disc, harrow, and clear the fields. As the years went by, the farm grew to include a hewn log guest cabin, gambrel-roofed barn, machine shop, blacksmith shop, woodworking shop, greenhouse, and large organic garden.
Jack and Jan continue to call Turtlehead Farm home and live in the main house on the property. They were former owners and directors of Camp Nor’Wester on Lopez Island. Both are active members of the Orcas Island community and own and operate Westsound Lumber Company.
Their daughter Ellen Helsell moved back to the farm in 2007, after successfully co-founding The Harbor School on Vashon Island, where she resided with her family for 25 years. As one of the next generation stewards of the property, she returned to start a business that combined her love of horses and the land.
Now as owner and manager of Turtlehead Farm, LLC, Ellen spends her summers sharing the abundance of joy life offers on the farm.