In 2011, I co-curated a show at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum titled Main Street Vashon, I was fascinated with the history of the town of Vashon and frustrated by the lack of written information. Starting around 2013, I began a systematic search through old Island newspapers to find all the information I could about town. Source material on the history of the town of Vashon is limited, many of the dates and facts in this history are taken from the Vashon Island News-Record. Other sources include oral histories and memoirs by past Island residents and include, The Past Remembered series, Fred Eernisse’s memoir, Arie Eernisse and His Time, Bill Rendall’s Memoirs of Maury Island and Marjorie Stanley’s Search for Laughter series. The main source for early town and Island history was O.S. Van Olinda’s History of Vashon-MauryIslands. I have used a liberal amount of quotes from these sources as they bring the voice of those who were involved with events to the story and give a feel and sense of the times. The following pages do not cover some aspects related to the town of Vashon due to limited sources. Some businesses came and went leaving no record of dates of business or of those involved.
For many years the most common term used for Vashon-Maury Islands by those who live there is “The Island”and they call themselves “Islander’s”these two terms will be used throughout to refer to both Vashon-Maury Islands and the people who live there.
The photographs of town I found document the changes, people and businesses in it. The Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum photo archive was an important resource, I thank the museum for allowing me to use many of their photos. O.S. Van Olinda took many photos of Vashon in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I thank the University of Washington for allowing me to use photos from their archive. King County began photographing homes and buildings for their records in 1938 many of the photos used here come from the King County Archive.
Special thank you to Tara Brenno for putting up with my obsession, Bob Brenno and Betty Lewis for sharing family stories and photos. My son Owen Brenno, a graduate of the Pacific Lutheran University history department, for his help with structure and editing. Gene Sherman for his personal stories and fact checking. Bruce Haulman for sharing his Vashon history research online at vashonhistory.com. Mike Sudduth whose summaries of Vashon Island News-Record articles from 1920 through 1942 on the vashonhistory.com site made it much easier to search the complete digital catalog of Island papers 1920-1960, that Mike kindly shared with me, saving me countless hours fighting the library’s microfiche machine.
I do not have permission to post the over 100 photos that go with these pages on the internet, so I am posting the text and a few maps only. To see the full text with photos you can order my self published book for, $14.99, or pdf, $9.99, at Blurb Books, web address to ordering page, http://www.blurb.com/b/9232370-town-of-vashon-1890-1960
Vashon-Maury Islands, are located in central Puget Sound. The Sxwobabc peoples inhabited the Islands for thousands of years. A 1838-39 Hudson’s Bay census of the Sxwobabc population counted 315, with villages sites identified, most located on the southern ends of Vashon and Maury and inside Quartermaster Harbor.1 The Sxwobabc did not have a name for Vashon or Maury Islands, villages, hunting and gathering sites, fishing sites and specific places on the Islands had names but not the whole. Sxwobabc culture and sustenance were based on the marine environment. Fishing, clam gathering, living in villages near the water and transportation by canoe were part of their way of life.
In 1792, British explorer Captain George Vancouver explored and named Admiralty Inlet, Vancouver named other prominent places including an Island he named Vashon’s Island. In 1841 American explorer Charles Wilkes sailed into Admiralty Inlet and the southern portion he called Puget’s Sound, along the way naming Maury Island, Quartermaster Harbor and nearly all of Vashon-Maury Island points for the Quartermasters on the voyage. After European contact disease decimated the native population in the Puget Sound region and by the mid 1800s when loggers and settlers began arriving the native population on Vashon was estimated to be between thirty-three and forty people.2 By the early 1900’s Sxwobabc presence was virtually gone from Vashon and white settlers had begun to recreate on Vashon the towns and communities they had left behind.
The settlement and subsequent development on Vashon follows a pattern outlined by historian Frederick J. Turner in, The Frontier in American History. First pioneers come, depending on the natural vegetation and wild life to survive, they build shelter, create gardens for staples, hunt, and clear land. The next wave purchases land, adds fields, clears out roads, puts up lumber houses, plants orchards, build mills, schools and post offices, then villages and towns begin to grow.
Vashon is unique among Puget Sound islands and islands in general, most islands have a seaside town or port as the main town, Vashon-Maury has a landlocked main town. Bainbridge Island, for example, has the town of Winslow, adjacent to the ferry landing in Eagle Harbor. San Juan Island has the town of Friday Harbor also adjacent to the ferry landing. Why did Vashon-Maury’s main town develop in the middle of the island? A growing population of settlers created the need for goods and services in the central Vashon area, a store was built and later a bank, the development of business properties followed. Changes in transportation patterns and a sometimes vitriolic competition between the north and south ends of the Island helped cement the town of Vashon as the prominent business center. Later modernization in the retail and grocery industry helped draw customers Island-wide to town. The following pages cover the forces that created the town and the people and businesses in it.
The first white people on Vashon where loggers who logged near the shore, allowing them to drag logs to the water where they would be rafted and towed to a mill. In 1862, the Homestead Act offered up to 160 acres of public land to any head of a family who paid a registration fee, lived on the land for five years, and cultivated it or built on it. Pope and Talbot, principles in the Port Gamble Mill, claimed 80 acres for logging under the Donation Land Act, on the west side of Vashon in 1863. In 1864, Arthur Phinney made Donation Land Act claims totalling 592 acres, one section of the property went north from the present day Ober Park, along the east side of present day Vashon Hwy for one mile and east to the water. Mathew Bridges came in 1865 and established a logging operation near the south end of the Island. Difficulty transporting logs over land confined logging to within a mile or two of the waters edge, well suited for Vashon where logging could be done in-land a mile or two from each side of the Island and steep hills and ravines made it possible to skid the logs to water. In those days logging camps were temporary and portable, as Roland Carey describes in his book Isle of the Sea Breezers,
The mill companies operated from the beaches…Tugboats brought barges and such things as oxen, lumber, and hay, as well as food and equipment for the loggers. At each new location, the barges were run ashore. The oxen were then unloaded. Bunk-houses and a cook shack were erected…Work then started on a skid road, over which the oxen would drag logs to the beach. When enough logs were formed into a log boom, a tug would tow them to the mill.3
In 1878 the Seattle Daily Intelligencer reported,
There are now and have been during the winter, five logging camps on the Island (Vashon), in active operation. Those have an average force of about eight men each. It is estimated 200,000,000 feet of good logs yet to be cut. At the present rate of cutting it should take about seven years to clear them all off.4
When timber was cut in one area, the camps relocated to a new area. The camps lacked any semblance of family life, most workers were single men who migrated from camp to camp, rather than settling in one place, so it is a surprise that the first marriage on Vashon was between Islander, Nettie Cassler and J.A. LeBallister, a foreman of the Phinney Logging Company, in 1886, Cassler lived just south of the Phinney logging claim.
In the 1870s, settlers started to claim property on the Island, in 1875 Alex McLeod brought a herd of 1,000 sheep to the Island and drove them to the area around what now is called Mukai Pond (west of the present town of Vashon). Island historian O.S. Van Olinda wrote of the area,
A great wind storm had at some time blown down a swath of trees through that section and fire, in a later dry period had cleared it almost entirely of any vestige, of timber. McLeod’s venture was apparently unsuccessful and the flocks were for the most part removed.5
Considered to be the first permanent settlers, the Sherman family settled along present day Quartermaster Drive in 1877, the family took shelter in an abandoned logger’s shack which they nicknamed “Fort Necessity.” O.S. Van Olinda’s description of early settler life shows the rigors of pioneer life,
The Smith family homesteaded on the shores of Quartermaster Harbor in 1878. The family, father, mother, a boy and two girls, lived in a tent while the men, father and son, cleared a little patch of ground, planted a garden and then built a log cabin…There were plenty of deer and grouse on the Island and Bill, the son, kept the family well supplied in meat…but when “store grub” got low a trip to Tacoma was required. After rowing a flat bottomed boat to Old Town in Tacoma the family bought, Bill recalled, a lot of beans, sacks of flour, a chunk of sowbelly, some stuff mother needed to make clothes for the girls, some other little things and a little package of sugar.6
As the land was cleared settlers started to claim land in the area around the Phinney timber tract. In 1880, W.L. Livesley filed a homestead claim of 160 acres, directly to the west of the Phinney tract, covering a portion of the west side of the present day town of Vashon. N.B. Ward bought property south of the Livesley tract in 1881, and later donated two acres to the Methodist Church (present day Methodist church property).
In 1883, M.H. Snow homesteaded 160 acres in the area now know as Glen Acres. James A. Pruitt claimed a 160 acre homestead to the north of Livesley in 1884, and J.S. Markham homesteaded 160 acres to the west of Pruitt and J.A. Blackburn bought the southwest quarter of the Phinney tract. Noted pioneer, Reverend R.B. Dilworth came and settled at Point Beals (commonly known as Dilworth Point). The same year Lizzie Markham taught the first school in a log cabin one half mile east of the present town of Vashon on the Ward property, there were seventeen students.
James Thompson, Charles Deppman and Mathue Johnson all settled in the area around the current town of Vashon and have typical settler stories. James Thompson sold his farm and left Nebraska looking for a better place to farm, he came west to Puget Sound and after scouting several places he was about to return home when he bumped into an acquaintance from Nebraska while standing on the street in Seattle. The man was on his way to Vashon Island on a tugboat that was going over for a boom of logs, he said he was going to look at property and invited Thompson along. They landed at Lisabeula and walked across the Island to the Blackburn place near the present town of Vashon. Thompson decided then and there that his search for a home-place had ended. The next day he purchased eighty acres, later turning them to strawberry fields. Charles Deppman Sr. moved to the Island in 1889. His granddaughter described the early years,
Times were hard and the money they needed to start farming was scarce. Their first venture was picking the wild huckleberries that grew in great protrusion in the surrounding woods. They spent as much time as they could stripping the little blue berries into baskets during the daylight hours and cleaning the berries in the cabin after dark, sometimes working almost all night so they could take them to the Seattle market to sell.7
Deppman started a strawberry plot a short time later and by 1900 had over a thousand acres planted. Mathue Johnson recalled his early days on Vashon,
My grandparents brought me to Vashon Island with them when I was six years old. We come from my birthplace in Iowa to join Andy Mathieson who had a homestead and built a little log cabin which measured 10 feet by 14 feet. A little boat called the Glide brought us to the Island where we went ashore at Cedarhurst in a rowboat. There were no docks at that time-just a little float where we unloaded our things. After landing on the beach we followed the narrow winding trail that led up to the Mathieson place…I was a first-grader at the old Vermontville School which stood on the very edge of a swamp, where pathways laced and interlaced across the boggy wilderness. Sometimes there were as many as 10 pupils sometimes less.8
The Vashon post office was established by Samuel Heriott in 1883, at what became known as the Vashon Landing, a mile east of the present day town of Vashon. The Landing was located just south of where the Phinney logging operation had their base camp. It was here that early settlers would flag down passing steamboats and catch rides on boats coming and going from the Phinney operation. Marjorie Stanley wrote of the Vashon Landing,
The dock was the water entrance to the central Vashon area in the early days, in the very early days it was only a float connected to the shore by the usual narrow walkway lying along floating logs, a lot better than having to wait for a rowboat to come out and pluck them from a pitching float, or having to drop direct from the steamer deck into a plunging rowboat that came out to meet the steamer, as they had done before that.9
Fred Eernisse’s description of his brother’s commute to work from their home (on the present day Island Lumber property), to where he worked (a half mile south of the Heights ferry dock), illustrates transportation from the 1880s until the mid 1900s.
He had to get up early in the morning in order to catch the boat at the Vashon Landing, a good mile walk. After a five mile boat ride he would get off at the north-end dock and walk a half of a mile to the West family home where he worked. The journey had to be reversed to get home at night. Climbing that long hill was no fun after a hard days work. There was no road to the north end at that time (circa 1910), only a trail.10
At their peak there were thousands of steamboats plying Puget Sound resembling a swarm of mosquitoes, earning them the nickname “Mosquito Fleet.” Eventually at the height of the Mosquito Fleet there were over 30 steamboat docks around the Island. Although a permit program for dock construction was started by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1890 there is no record of when many of the Island’s first docks were built, the first piling dock at Vashon Landing was built in 1890.
Along with the Weber brick yard at the Vashon Landing, there were eight or more brick yards around the Island. Vashon bricks were shipped to Seattle and Tacoma for use in the two growing cities. Vashon bricks were used to rebuild Seattle after the Great Seattle fire, in 1889, by the mid 1900’s the brick yards were gone. In the early days logging and brick making were the base of the Island’s economy.
The strawberry industry was established as small family plots began earning settlers revenue, most growing the soft and sour Magoon strawberry, tree fruit orchards were also developed, as both crops did not require irrigation and were well suited for growing on the Island. As farming grew there arose a need for roads to deliver the crops to market. In the early days deer trails, cleared areas, government section lines, and abutting homestead property lines were used to get around the interior of the Island. Before formal county roads were built settlers used what they called “Go Devils.” Marjorie Stanley wrote,
It was a flat heavy wooden sled with wide runners shaped up at the front end. It was used for moving boulders or big pieces of roots.They could be rolled onto the sled when they couldn’t be lifted onto a wagon, and they could go where a wagon couldn’t.11
The earliest roads led to steamer docks where settlers could find transportation to Seattle and Tacoma. Vashon Island residents submitted petitions for three roads on June 28, 1883, the county approved all three road petitions on August 7, 1883. The petitions laid out the general course of the roads. T.D. Soper and others petitioned a road leading from the center of the Island to the brick yard and post office at Vashon Landing, designated Road #117, known today as Bank and Soper Roads. Mason Holmes and others petitioned a road that ran from Road #117 south, designated Road #118, today known as Vashon HWY SW.Edwin Broadway and others petitioned for a road from the center of the Island to the Ellisport dock, today know as Cemetery Road and Vashon Ave. In his memoir of Maury Island pioneer Bill Rendall wrote of the road established on Maury Island in 1885, that led to the lighthouse reserve,
Though called a county road, this for many years afterwards hardly justified the name, as the greater part of it was only a little wider than a wagon and it took careful driving to clear them all with the wheels, the Salal brush hid many of the logs ends to make it worse.12
Karl Steen recalled, “During these years Vashon Island was a busy place. There were six mills, a gravel bunker, a brick-yard, a cannery, a creamery and anyone could get a job on the road by asking for it. The road boss would say: ‘Have you got a shovel?’ And if you said ‘yes’ then you got the job!”13 Van Olinda wrote, “Farmers in every section were slashing, grubbing and burning, literally hewing their homes out of solid wood, as the timber was very dense…all clearing was done by elbow grease.”14
In 1884 J. McLean and B. Anway opened the first store on Vashon near the center of the island. The same year G.H. Fuller started a store at Elliston (Ellisport), later moving directly across from the McLean Anway store. This early business district became known as Center.
In 1885, a schoolhouse was built on property J.A. Blackburn donated to the school district (present day Ober Park property), it was the first “lumber” schoolhouse on the Island, built from 1×12 inch boards and sealed inside, earlier schools had been built from logs. The cornerstone of the Vashon Methodist Church, on the Ward property was laid in 1885, it was built from hand-hewn logs.
Washington became a state in 1889 and J.T. Blackburn was elected to the first Washington State Legislature. Settlers were coming to the Quartermaster, Burton, Dockton, Lisabeula, Chautauqua, Glen Acres, Cove and Colvos areas and communities were developing, all connected by steamboats. At this point the Island was south facing the Quartermaster area had the largest population on the Island and was the transportation hub for off Island travel with daily service to Tacoma. In this era, before a town at Vashon, logging had cleared land which brought homesteaders and settlers north to the area. The steamboats that stopped at Vashon Landing at the time were based out of Seattle. The town of Vashon would soon develop at crossroads to and from the Vashon Landing. The south end of the Island was connected to Tacoma trade and the north end of the Island was connected to Seattle trade, this set up a dynamic of comp-etition and rivalry between the north and south ends of the Island, creating in the minds of Island residents an imaginary line, referred to as the Mason Dixon Line. The line gen-erally ran parallel to what is now called Cemetery Road east-west across the Island. As improvements were made in each community a feeling of what O.S. Van Olinda called “a hateful rivalry” arose between the north and south ends of the Island.
TOWN BEGINNINGS 1890-1900
In 1890, a pioneer whose family settled on Quartermaster Harbor in 1878 wrote about the changes he had seen in his time:
The pioneer days are surely behind us. The past ten years have brought a host of settlers, we have a post office here at Quartermaster and another at Vashon, up near the center of the Island, a daily boat to Tacoma and the Iola is making regular stops every other day on the east side and alternate days on the west-side, we have several miles of wagon road and many of the farmers have teams and wagons and several buckboards. Some difference from the old days!15
In 1935, Van Olinda wrote about his arrival in 1891, “I marveled at the folly of man in thinking he could ever convert such material into a farm, garden, or even a home. It was truly a stupendous task to contemplate. It has been done.”16 During the settler era the Island’s economy was based on the “Big 4”, agriculture, mining, logging and fishing. This dependence on extractive natural resources would endure for over sixty years.
In this era a steamboat landing was integral to the development of the Island’s communities. As strawberry and tree fruit crops were developed, the need for roads to take crops to market began a shift to land based transportation leading to the develop-ment of an in-land community at Vashon.
Away from the many ravines and bluffs that lead to the water the central part of the Island, roughly four miles from Center north to Heights, is generally flat and well suited for farming. Farmers found the soil and climate good for strawberries and fruit trees without irrigation. Portions of the Phinney logging tract were sold to settlers like W.L. Livesley and J.T. Blackburn. Livesley and Blackburn subsequently sold portions of their property to other settlers.
Overland travel on the Island had yet to develop past primitive wagon roads and trails. Water transportation by steamboat was the common way to get from one isolated Island community to another and to travel to the mainland. The Vashon Landing, one mile east of the Livesley property, was the shipping center for local farmer’s produce. Two of the roads petitioned in 1883, the north-south Road #118 and the east-west Road #117 went through the Livesley, Blackburn and Ward properties creating a crossroads of the Island’s northern farm roads to Vashon Landing. In 1885, John Gorsuch bought a portion of the Phinney logging tract, Gorsuch was one of the early strawberry farmers who bought logged land then cleared the stumps to create fields. Gorsuch’s son, Frank Gorsuch bought property to the south of the Livesley tract and in 1890 he opened the first store at Vashon. Farmers from the north and south would come by the store on Road #118, farmers from the west would come by on Road #117. Island pioneer Ira Thompson recalled, “Although overland travel was tough and the mud deep, Gorsuch was soon doing business with people throughout the Island.”17 Agnes Huffman recalled. “If it hadn’t been for the late Frank Gorsuch who had a store at Vashon and who let us have groceries on credit, I don’t know what we would have done. Frank Gorsuch was one of the finest of all the fine men we knew on Vashon Island.”18
The Gorsuch store had everything a general store of the era carried, spices, coffee, tobacco, oils, feed, hardware, kerosene, groceries, cloth and sewing supplies, clothing and all the needs of the day. Unlike modern stores, the stores in the late 1800s were not self serve, a customer would give a grocery clerk a list and the clerk would collect the items. The Gorsuch store was more than just a store, as R.W.F. Martin recalled, “the Gorsuch store, besides supplying the needs of the community, also served as a meeting place where friends and neighbors met to gossip and to discuss various topics of interest”19, astatement that would be true of Vashon’s Thriftway grocery store today, nearly one hundred and thirty years later. The Harrington brothers started a greenhouse operation southeast of the Gorsuch store in 1890 that endured for nearly a hundred years. The greenhouse began by growing vegetables for the Seattle market and later the Alaska gold rush. The growth of the greenhouse business and its employees helped the growth of the town of Vashon. In 1892, E.E. Van Olinda began publication of a monthly magazine called Island Home out of his building west of the Gorsuch store, it was the first publication on the Island and only lasted one year. The same year Dr. Lovering opened the first doctor’s office on the Island, south of the Gorsuch store. The first telephone line was an acoustic tin-can-and-string type, between the homes of of Mr. Weber and B.J. Jacobs. The only telegraph line was short lived and ran a half mile line between the Island Home office and the J.T.Thompson home, west of Vashon, in 1892. To Van Olinda 1892 was an important year in the Island’s development, he wrote in 1935.
It is my belief that more was accomplished on the Islands during this year of 1892, CONSIDERING PHYSICAL CONDITIONS, THE POPULATION AND THE PER-CAPITA FINANCES, than has been done in any ten consecutive years before or since. It was the high spot in the march of progress for the Islands.20
The Vashon Island Press, the first weekly newspaper on the Island was started in 1895, by O.S. Van Olinda and A. Linton Gilmore, published from E.E. Van Olinda’s building west of the Gorsuch store. Gilmore left after a short time and O.S. Van Olinda left in 1897 to work at a publication in Stanwood WA. The Skagit Chief, a larger stern-wheeler began daily service to the east side and Vashon Landing in 1895. The McDowell Steamship Company’s boat Defiance started daily service on the east side of Vashon in 1896.
Island farmers produced 6,595 crates of strawberries, 1,787 crates of raspberries, 324 crates of currants, 17,800 pounds of gooseberries, 300 pounds of cherries in 1895.21 By 1896 strawberry farming was becoming a major economic factor in the Island’s economy. That year J.C. Gorsuch grew 6,120 lbs of strawberries on 3 acres, the average price was $140 per crate (24 lbs), equaling about $357 per acre return.
According to Vashon Island Press there were 1400 residents on the Island in 1897. The Alaska gold rush lured a number of men in 1897, all returned within three years, some returned with gold but most did back breaking work on the gold trails. O.S. Van Olinda reported that in 1898 there was, “almost a wholesale exodus from the island due to hard times. Even so, Vashon did not suffer from this depression as did the greater country.”22
After land had been logged settlers began clearing the land in the area around the Vashon Landing and Center. Stumps were removed with dynamite and horses, a portion of trunk and root was dug out and enough dynamite was placed underneath to split the trunk and expose some roots. Horses, stump pullers and steam donkey engines were used to pull the debris into plies to burn. There were horses and mules on every berry farm and orchard, road work was done by manual labor and horses. There was a lot of hauling done, feed, groceries, hardware, kerosene and explosives all needed to be brought up from the Vashon Landing and produce was hauled to the Landing. The new Gorsuch store was the starting point of the town of Vashon, the store building still stands one hundred and twenty eight years later in the center of the town that grew up around it. At the same time there were other stores and settlements developing around the island. Starting in 1882, S.D. Sherman had the thirty-two foot steamboat Swan on twice weekly service from Quartermaster Harbor to Tacoma. By 1886 the Quartermaster area had twice daily service to Tacoma on the steamboat Sophia run by Frank Bibbins. A community began north of Portage in 1888 when the Chautauqua Assembly chose the area as it’s permanent home, one hundred and fifteen acres were donated to the Chautauqua Assembly and a town was laid out in blocks, lots and streets. A post office was started and a floating dock installed. A post office was established at the Quartermaster dock (located along present day Quartermaster Drive), in 1890. The Hatch sawmill and Bleeker brick yard were in operation on the harbor and the Dockton dry dock was established in 1890. The brickyard, sawmill and dry dock brought considerable business and people to the area. The steamboat Iola was running between Seattle and Tacoma, stopping at Island landings up and down the east and west side of the Island on alternate days. On the west side a post office was established at Lisabula in 1890, a short time later a store was built. In 1892 Miles Hatch built a two-story store building at the west end of the peninsula in Quartermaster Harbor. Mrs. Hatch gave the area it’s name, Burton, after her birthplace in England. The same year Hatch conceived building a college in Burton, a mass meeting was held and pledges of land and financial assistance were made. A location on the hill west of the Hatch store was chosen and the first building built. Across the harbor at Dockton the dry dock had three major overhaul jobs the first year, employing eighty men (many of them commuted to work by steamboat from Tacoma), in 1891 a three-story hotel and store were built. Center was the most established in-land community at the time with the Fuller store, J. Therkelsen’s blacksmith shop, a church and school.
BECOMING THE MAIN TOWN 1900-1910
Like all communities on the Island at the time, the developing community at Vashon, while not on the water, was dependent on a steamboat dock, in this case the Vashon Landing. The dynamic growth of strawberry farms, brick yards and mills around the central Island had the area bustling with activity and a town was growing up around the Gorsuch store.
By the end of the 1800s, Burton had an edge over the other communities, it had the college on its hill, the Burton dock with daily steamer service to Tacoma and was near the oldest, most populated community at Quartermaster. To the north a growing population of farmers around the central Vashon area and the Gorsuch store created the need for businesses to serve their needs. Vashon Landing became the steamer transportation hub for the north-central Vashon area after daily steamer service to Seattle was started in 1895.
The Island was made up of small isolated communities, each with it’s own identity and allegiances. At this point Burton and Vashon were the hubs of transportation and economic activity. Both would continue to grow and compete, each fighting for advantages in access to transportation and businesses to grow their communities, furthering the Mason Dixon Line rivalry. Burton prospered because of Miles Hatch’s boosterism and investment in property and businesses. In the coming ten years growth in the town of Vashon would exceed growth in Burton.
Strawberry farming was fueling the new town’s economy, 5,000 crates equaling 36,000 pounds of strawberries were shipped from Vashon Landing in 1901.
The Town’s first fair, in 1901, was reportedly a huge success. The fair was managed by J.T. Blackburn and sponsored by the Horticultural Society, ribbons were awarded for fruit, flowers, canning, cooking and baking. The fair was held on the property Blackburn donated to the school (present day Ober Park property). The original school house built on the property in 1886 was too small so a new two room schoolhouse was built on the property the same year as the fair.
Like auto repair shops of today blacksmith shops were important for settlers. A blacksmith could do many things, from repairing broken farm and logging equipment, to shoeing farm animals. Fred Eernisse recalled a town blacksmith,
There were bright glowing coal fires where the horse shoes were heated red-hot in order to shape them for the horse’s and oxen’s hooves. Tires for buggies and wagons were made and tightened to the wheels, brakes were shod, and various repairs were made on conveyances and farm equipment, particularly, plows, cultivators, spring tooth harrows, scrapers and drags. Stump pullers, sawmill and logging machinery were also repaired.23
Settler Stephen Harmeling came to the Island for a visit in 1903 and heard stories that ten tons of strawberries could be grown per acre, and that there was a good demand for all cherry and orchard fruits. Harmeling was convinced, he bought the Blackburn property and moved to Vashon, less than a month later Arie Eernisse visited Harmeling and after seeing the orchards and berry fields, all grown without irrigation, he was convinced that Vashon was the place to make his home and moved his family to the Island in 1905.
Farmer’s Mutual was granted a telephone license for serve Vashon in 1903, “there were no telephone poles at this time, the lines were strung on trees,” the first lineman, Billy Scales recalled,”only customers close to the exchange office had service. There were not very many roads that were more than just trails and most were in rough condition.“24
Sara Eernisse sold a forty five foot frontage lot to the Young Men’s Christian Association on October 19, 1904 and a large building was built soon after. C.W. Jacobs, L.C. Beall, T.N. Thompson C.L. Tjomsland and L.C. Beall Jr. were on the YMCA committee. Francis Blekikink recalled the building,
A large YMCA building was built in 1904 to house Presbyterian services and community functions… The ‘Y’ was a local group, not part of the national organization, oddly enough, it was seldom – if ever- used for ‘Y’ activities, though many other Island activities, including PresbyterianChurch services were held there.25
In 1905-06, Island growers formed an association that shipped berries to eastern markets, railroad cars were loaded onto barges and towed to Vashon Landing and the berries were loaded onto the cars and taken to Seattle to be processed. In 1905, Stephen Steffenson built a new two story store building, across the street and to the east of the Gorsuch store, just to the north of the telephone office. Steffenson ran his shoe saddle and harness store from half the building and the post office moved into the other half.
Sara Eernisse sold a 210 foot lot to the Presbyterian Church in 1906 for $800 dollars. The church listed the price as $1200, so they could have some valuation for borrowing money from the church board that controlled the building fund in Seattle. The church was completed in 1909 and stands in the same spot in 2017. In 1906, W.D. Garvin, his wife Maude and their three children moved into the first home built in the town of Vashon, a cabin built by W.L. Livesley in 1880, as a temporary home while his permanent home was built (the house still stands, see photo on page 103), Garvin added two rooms before the family moved in. In a 1945 memoir Garvin recalled the family coming to Vashon in 1905,
We arrived at Vashon Landing and walked across the fields to the Deppman place where we hit a dirt road that mostly ran in and out among the stumps. At Vashon there was the Gorsuch General Store and home, the Blekikink home and the Livesley home, on the west side of the street and a blacksmith shop. On the east side of the street, S.J. Steffenson had a shoe shop and post office. Then there was the telephone office and LonPruitt’s small house and gas plant from which he furnished gas for some of the buildings.26
In 1907, a group of Island men including H. Harrington, Frank Gorsuch, Hilmer Steen, R.W.F. Martin, and T. Hansen formed the Vashon Island Telephone Company because the telephone service at that time was spotty and inferior. Several years later the company sold out to Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. The same year Nels Peterson built a store building on the southeast corner of Vashon Hwy and Bank Road and opened a meat market, directly east, across the street from the Gorsuch store.
The present day Methodist church was dedicated in 1908 and the log church was moved to the back of the lot for a Sunday school and social hall. The Masonic lodge built a two-story brick building, the first brick building on the Island, in 1908. On March 28, 1909 three men, L.W. Lewis, president, W.B. Shoemaker, vice-president and T. Hansen, cashier, started the Vashon State Bank, located in the ground floor of the Masonic Hall building. Deposits on the first day totaled $2,248 and at the end of the first year of operation deposits were $29,871.78 and total assets $40,932.99. A five ton safe was shipped over from Seattle and unloaded at Vashon Landing. Moving the safe required a team composed of sixteen horses hitched to one of H. Steen’s logging wagons. The road up from Vashon Landing at the time was steep, and not much more than a rutted wagon trial, it took two days of hard pulling to reach the town of Vashon one mile to the west.
R.W.F. Martin came to Vashon in 1906, and in 1908 he bought three lots and built a two-story building. The building held Martin’s real-estate office, another office space, a dinning room on the ground floor and a six room hotel on the top floor, the building was commonly know as the Martin Block.
Big change came to the Island when the first automobiles came in 1907, L.C. Beall and H. Steen were the owners. The automobiles were strapped to the deck of a steamboat and delivered to the Vashon Landing, Fred Eernisse wrote,
I well remember when E.E. Van Olinda took delivery, on the Vashon Dock, of his little Brush. The car rolled along nicely on the dock, and climbed the up the first gentle slopes, but when it hit a steeper grade, it would stall, then roar a few more feet then slip back as it ran out of momentum. There were a number of youngsters around to watch the proceedings. He got us to help by blocking the back wheels with chunks of wood, as the car gained a few feet. It took quite awhile to reach town.27
ENTERING THE MODERN ERA 1910-1921
The introduction of electricity and better telephone service in this era brought the town into the modern age. In her series Search for Laughter noted Island historian and long time town librarian Marjorie Stanley described a photo (top photo page 31), of the town of Vashon as it looked in 1910,
The bank, located in a large brick building a block south of it’s present location, was started in 1909 by Terkel Hansen. Capitol was $10,000. The newspaper office is shown across the street on the south side of the big building, Martin Block and Hotel lettered on it. The building belonged to R.W.F. Martin, who had a real estate office there. Other buildings on this side of the street included Peterson’s Meat Market on the corner, and the post office in Steffenson’s Saddle Shop and grocery store.28
1910 saw the Vashon Landing buzzing with industry, a two-story store and residence stood on the north side of the dock and the Northwest Canning Company built a large plant to the north of that in 1910, employing thirty five to forty men. Strawberries had become the predominant crop on the Island, O.S. Van Olinda wrote, “the industry probably reached its high point during 1909-1910, the crop for 1910 was estimated at 165,000 crates.”29
B.D. Mukai moved to Vashon in 1910 and began farming strawberries, in 1911, D.B. and his wife Sato had a son Masahiro, in the future D.B. and his son Masa (short for Masahiro), would play a pivotal role in Vashon’s strawberry industry.
In 1912, the Vashon State Bank moved to a new modern concrete building on the northwest corner of the main intersection in town, across the street, north of the Gorsuch store and a new schoolhouse was built a mile north of town. The same year the main building of the Vashon College burned down, the building was a complete loss, leading to the eventual closing of the college. The closing of the college, changes in transportation modes, with the advent of automobiles, and the soon to come auto ferries had a negative effect on growth in Burton.
The end of an era came in 1913, when the Weiss Brothers took over the Gorsuch store. In 1914, John Reid sold the Vashon Island Newsto Ira Case who moved the paper to Burton. The Deppman brothers started a bus service in 1915, hauling people and freight. The brothers had been hauling huge loads of goods for their father, strawberry farmer Charles Deppman, from a tender age. Deppman’s granddaughter wrote, “they could drive huge loads of goods for their father when they were still to small to get up or down from the wagons by themselves, so they had to be lifted off at the end of the run,”30 W.D. Garvin built a store building north of the Vashon State Bank building, in 1915 an ad in the Vashon Island News advertised W.D. Gavin Undertaker, he also sold furniture, drugs and stationery from the store building.
1916 was a turning point year when the Island entered the modern era. A power and light franchise was granted to Glenville Collins who then started Vashon Power and Light, work began immediately on a steam generator plant at Elisport, lines were put in and by September the town of Vashon left the kerosene age and became electrified. In November the Vashon Island News-Recordreported, “a building 30×40 now used as an automobile repair shop, by Williams and Thompson was built during the summer by N. Peterson on the lot adjoining his meat market.”31 Calling the business the Vashon Garage, Williams and Thompson advertised a full line of Ford parts, automobile accessories, pipe cutting and fitting, gasoline and oil. This is the first record of a automobile repair garage in the town of Vashon. As automobile use became more widespread the importance of auto ferry dock locations to future growth was forefront in the minds of those north and south of the Mason Dixon Line. Howard W. Lynn wrote of the deep divide at the time in his book Lieutenant Maury’s Island and Quartermaster’s Harbor,
Anyone north of this line, the area which has the agricultural land, the largest town and the bulk of industry, in history, is a total stranger to anyone living south of the line…North of the line the trade was with Seattle, south of the line trade was with Tacoma… People north of the line know nothing at all of the pioneer events south of the line, the reverse is also true.32
By 1916, there was auto ferry service on Lake Washington and between West Seattle and Seattle, but no cross sound route on Puget Sound. The first cross sound auto ferry route was established between Portage and Des Monies in 1916, the ferry Vashon Island was built specially for the run. The dock at Portage was very beneficial to Maury Island farmers and those south of the Mason Dixon Line. In his memoir, Island pioneer Bill Rendall wrote about the establishment of the Portage Des Moines ferry route, recalling the men from north of the Mason Dixon Line pushed to have the ferry route established close to the town of Vashon,
These men had determined in their own minds there was only two possible routes that would be accepted by them, both having their Island terminal at Vashon Landing and had fought the establishment of the ferry route from Portage to Des Moines even though at elections held twice the Portage route had won out each time.33
Those north of the line saw the benefits an auto ferry could bring to a community and boosters in the town of Vashon continued to agitate for ferry service north of the line. Auto ferries led to the end of the Mosquito Fleet, as people, automobiles and freight could be transported off Island more efficiently and at a lower cost on ferries.
Another manifestation of the Mason Dixon Line can be seen in the two telephone companies in operation on the Island, the Sunset Telephone Company, owned by Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, located in the town of Vashon, and the West Coast Company, located in Burton. The population on the Island was near 1200 people, with 200 telephone subscribers. The two phone exchanges were not interconnected. Gene Sherman recalled that his father, Francis Sherman had both companies serve his lumber mill in Paradise Valley in order for the business to be able to get calls from the whole Island. A caller from the Sunset exchange was not able to call a phone on the West Coast exchange, creating a situation that allowed customers to call long distance off Island, but not call a friend at the other end of the Island.
In 1917, Washington Coast Utilities bought and consolidated both Island phone systems and took over Vashon Light and Power which included the steam power plant at Elisport. C.L. Garner was the trouble shooter and made his rounds with a horse and buckboard. A two man crew set poles by horse, replacing the lines that were mostly strung on trees. Robert Gerry, a Seattle businessman took over the Weiss store in 1917, the store stocked, hay, dry goods, clothing, lace and every kind of food. In 1919 Garner Kimmel went to work for Gerry. After three years Gerry sold the store back to Weiss who took Ole Thorsen on as partner, previously Thorsen ran the Vashon Landing store.
In 1918, the Northwest Canning Company financial report showed $25,000 paid out for fruit and over $12,000 for labor. This period was the height of activity at Vashon Landing, which was the principal shipping point for the east and central portions of the Island.34 Later in 1918, Dave Gammel took over the Seffenson store, the next year Gammel bought the Martin Block building, the property to the north of the Martin Block building and the building to the south.
John Reid sold the Vashon Island Record in 1919 to Robert Jones, Jones also bought the subscription list of Vashon Island News, published in Burton, from Ira Case and consolidated the two papers as the Vashon Island News-Record, published in the town of Vashon.
After years of agitating for auto ferry service to Seattle by those north of the Mason Dixon Line and interests in Seattle, King County established a ferry route between Vashon Heights, Harper (north of Southworth) and downtown Seattle in 1919, this was the forerunner to today’s Washington State Ferries triangle route. The ferry Washington was built for the run and began service August 16, 1919.
In 1920, the Portage-Des Moines route was eliminated, this had a negative impact on development and businesses south of the Mason Dixon Line. Maury Island, where logging, milling, mining and boat building industries had developed, was hit hardest, a fledgling dairy industry doing business with the Carnation Dairy in Kent was wiped out. The same year ferry service was started between Tahlequah and Tacoma, putting Burton on the road to the Tacoma ferry. As it had been in the past, north of the Mason Dixon Line had the town of Vashon, which was on the road to a dock with transportation to the mainland, south of the line had the town of Burton which while no longer had direct transportation to the mainland was on the road to a new ferry dock.
P. Monroe Smock took over the Vashon Island News-Recordin 1920 and announced in November,
We are building a new home for the News-Record, just north of the residence of the editor. The building will be 20 x 50 feet, furnishing us with 900 feet of floorspace. It will be electric lighted, the machinery will be propelled by electric motors, and the lino-type will be heated electrically. There will be running water, an abundance of light, ample store room, all will be modern and convenient.35
Smock began to add more in-depth reporting on Island news. In his first editorial he wrote, “The News-Record will not be a mere organ while under the present management, but will at all times be a fearless and independent medium…and we will do our bit toward making every Vashon-Maury Islander prosper.”36
In 1920, Axel Peterson took over Dave Gammel’s store, E.J. Mace took over the Vashon Garage, Malloch & Menzner bought the old Masonic-Vashon State Bank building then remodeled it for a garage, and Gerry sold his store back to Weiss.
With ferry service established at Heights the residents of central Vashon from Center to Heights used the Donahue Act, a law that allowed adjacent property owners split the cost of building a road with the state, to pave the road from Center to the Heights ferry dock. In 1921, the road was paved with cement by Kaiser Corporation, it was the first paved road on a Puget Sound island. Harold Brenno’s family moved to the section of the highway that is now Old Highway SW in 1918, he remembered playing on the paving equipment, “Kaiser paved the road from Heights dock to Center, boy what an improvement! We would go play on the equipment when they were not there, it was fun.”37In 1921, a new building project in the town of Vashon was reported in the Vashon Island News-Record.
Charles Deppman is one of the many Vashon-Maury Islanders who laughs at the wail coming from 4 points of the compass about ‘hard times’ being on. At least Mr Deppman’s works support his faith in the future of the town of Vashon in particular and the Island in general. He has a bevy of of men at work this week putting in the foundation walls for a concrete garage and storage building located just north of the hotel. The building will be 30×60 with concrete walls and will be practically fire proof. A big skylight will let in the sun’s rays by day and convenient electric lights will dispel the darkness by night.38
There was a short recession after the end of WWI, caused by an influx of returning veterans and the resumption of a peace-time economy. During this time the Island’s population decreased and business development slowed in the town of Vashon.
1. Bruce Haulman, A Brief History of Vashon Island,
3. Roland Carey, Isle of the Sea Breezers, p. 28
4. Seattle Daily Intelligencer, April 20, 1878
5. O.S. Van Olinda, History of Vashon-Maury Islands, p. 4
6. O.S. Van Olinda, History of Vashon-Maury Islands, p. 77
7. My Grandparents, Charlie and Christine Deppman, The Past Remembered II, p. 151
8. Mathue Johnson, Vashon Island News-Record, March 9, 1939
9. Marjorie Stanley, Search for Laughter
11. Marjorie Stanley, Search for Laughter
12. Bill Rendall, Memoirs of Maury Island
13. Vashon Island News-Record, August 25, 1938, p.1
14. O.S. Van Olinda, History of Vashon Maury Islands, p. 30
15. Ibid, p. 79
17. Ira Thompson, Vashon Island News Record
19. R.W.F.Martin, Vashon Island News-Record, October 19, 1939, p. 1
20. O.S. Van Olinda, History of Vashon Maury Islands, p. 30
21. Ibid, p. 33
23. Fred Eernisse, Arie Eernisseand His Time
24. Marjorie Stanley, Search for Laughter
25. You Can Bank on Aunt Francis, The Past Remembered II, p. 18
26. W.D. Garvin, Vashon Island News-Record, November 1, 1945, p. 1
27. Fred Eernisse, Arie Eernisse and His Time
28. Marjorie Stanley, Search for Laughter
29. O.S. Van Olinda, History of Vashon Maury Islands, p. 40
30. Charlie and Christine Deppman, The Past Remembered II, p. 151
31. Vashon Island News-Record, November 16, 1916
32. Howard W. Lynn, Maury’s Island and Quartermaster’s Harbor, p. 11
33. Bill Rendall, Memoirs of Maury Island
34. O.S. Van Olinda, History of Vashon Maury Islands, p. 44
35. Vashon Island News-Record, November 5, 1920, p. 1