Someone’s Building a Year-Round Renaissance Faire Near the Columbia River

Some neighbors are... displeased.

By Ramona DeNies April 23, 2019 Published in the May 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

For Shira Rauh and J.D. Honoré, the dream came about six months after they first met by the Porta-Potties at a 2013 Renaissance Faire in Escondido.

“J.D. said, ‘I just want to live in my woods, society is way too much for me,’” says Rauh. “I said, ‘Why not build our own Renaissance village? That way it’s our own society.’”   

Six years later, their plan for the Town of Taylor—a year-round hamlet ripped from the pages of Elizabethan history—is mapped and platted. It includes a gatehouse-adjacent clothier (Tudor garb will be required) and a hotel and tavern offering such fare as “roast pheasant with sage” and “grilled hare with onions in honey.” Period-appropriate shops (with apartments above) will be leased by fellow Renaissance Faire fans. Out of sight, behind an orchard, a cooperative farm, an apiary, and aquaponic greenhouses will feed villagers and visitors alike.

Rauh, a nurse, and Honoré, a disabled vet who’s done everything from graphic design to military intelligence, aim to bring the Town of Taylor to life on the outskirts of Cathlamet, Washington, a burg of around 500 some 70 miles northwest of Portland, overlooking the Columbia River. The location fits their criteria—it’s rural, temperate, and close enough to a major airport to make it easy for fellow self-proclaimed geeks to come for an immersive experience in living history.

But there’s another reason the California couple sited their dream here. Outside of federal or state regulations, sleepy Wahkiakum County, they found, has no private property zoning laws.

According to Cathlamet resident Cathy LaBerge, Wahkiakum’s refusal to wade into land use issues—an outlier in the Pacific Northwest—helps draw folk to a place that’s seen its logging and fishing industries decline.

“One of the things that brings people here is you can do what you want with your land,” says LaBerge, who’s lived in the town since 1979. “And that’s OK with people when it’s what they want to do.”

In September 2018, Rauh and Honoré moved in to a pastoral 40-acre former dairy farm just north of town and started phase one: transitioning the tall red barn into temporary housing for future co-op members, building greenhouses, incubating a husbandry program with pigs, goats, rabbits, and a custom-built chick brooder. (The couple are fans of permaculturist Justin Rhodes and self-described “lunatic farmer” Joel Salatin.)

Their arrival, as befitting a town with a sign on Highway 4 that promises “a unique welcome,” was noticed.

Ensuing stories in the Wahkiakum County Eagle and the Longview Daily News described “a stir with neighbors.” Community Facebook groups flared with concern over potential obstructed views, traffic, even sword fights. The couple scheduled an October meet-and-greet to reassure residents that their village would be small and discreet, tucked away from main roads behind hedgerows. The reaction—arguments, insults, even threats of gun violence—surprised them.

“They’d ask questions, we’d give reasonable answers, and they’d ask the same question again five minutes later,” says Rauh. “Like, ‘Where are people going to poop?’ or ‘Have you thought about security?’” (The Town of Taylor, Honoré says, will be only “as close to 16th century as code will allow,” with amenities including running water, modern loos, and even a commercial kitchen tucked just out of view.)

Fear, uncertainty, and grumbling: both the newcomers and locals say these are inevitable symptoms of change. Since that fall meeting, Honoré and Rauh report that their immediate neighbors are warming to the idea. Meanwhile, the village proper is still years away: plenty of time for fence-mending (or billhook-forging).

“I feel really bad about what happened with the couple,” says LaBerge, who once ran a bookshop downtown and smiles at the memory of a medieval-themed family wedding. “But what I see is people getting to know each other and losing the fear. I think it’s kind of fun. I’d go.”

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