Friday, April 6, 2012

Talking to Dick Brynestad of Gig Harbor

Dick Brynestad is a happy man. Wouldn't you be happy to live in the place which you always loved, to have five great kids, fourteen grandkids and ten greatgrandkids plus a loving wife of 60 years and lots of things to do? I would.

As a salmon returns to the place where it was born, Dick made a circle and returned to the area where his grandparents settled down back in 1910.
And not only he and his wife, Rosemary, live here, but also four of his children. He loves Gig Harbor and Wollochet Bay full circle from Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Fox Island, Longbranch and back to Gig Harbor - 82 years in this area and occasional trips, 11 to be exact, to the country of his ancestors' origin, Norway.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them
Dick Brynestad, March 2012

Have you ever been to Norway? They say it looks a lot like the Pacific Northwest. This is what the first settlers wrote to their relatives and friends back to Norway: It looks like home! Come over and get some land! And they came. Dick's grandparents, Jens and Maria, made a stop in Minnesota for several years on their way from Norway and then arrived in Cromwell where they bought 5 acres of land and started a farm in 1910.

Timber was heavily harvested by the first settlers on the Kitsap Peninsula such that the land actually became covered by huge stumps.
To remove them, dynamite was used, and what's left was pulled by horses, taken away and burned. Eventually, the land was improved for planting and harvesting tomatoes for the Tacoma market.

Tomatoes grew well on the sunny hills and were a big part of Brynestad family's income. Dick's Dad, Melvin, used to water them carrying a yoke with buckets for hours. He would finish the watering job, tell his father and often hear a reply: 'Well, now do it again!' Tomatoes were placed in wooden boxes nailed together by Melvin and then loaded on a steamboat. The steamboat delivered them to Tacoma where they were sold. Things did not always went as planned. Weather and currents sometimes changed a steamboat's schedule. Consequently, tomatoes were spoiled, and losses occurred.
On the right - home of Jens and Maria Brynestad.
On the left - Hales Passage Scandinavian Lutheran Church

Dick's Grandfather, Jens, passed away on the front porch of his home on the farm playing violin for his family and group of neighbors.
Melvin Brynestad, with his brother and five sisters, grew up on that farm and after his father died, moved with his mother, Maria, to Tacoma.
He used to come back and spend all of his spare time in Cromwell hanging around with other kids, fishing, having bonfires, swimming, etc.
Here, in Cromwell, he met his future wife, Palma. She also lived in Tacoma and used to come over to Cromwell to visit her family friends. The friends' family had a 20-acre farmstead next to Brynestad's.
How did they travel from Tacoma before the bridge was built? By a boat of course. Not a sailboat, but a steamboat and a rowboat!
Daughters to Jens and Maria Brynestad seated in rowboat from left to right:
Julia, Ruth, Cora, Anna with niece Amanda Muri. 
Location: Cromwell beach in front of Hales Passage Scandinavian Lutheran Church

Melvin Brynestad and his wife lived in Tacoma, but he always wanted to build a family cabin for them in Cromwell, the Wollochet Bay area.
He was out of work, as many others, during the Great Depression and couldn't afford to buy all the necessary building materials for the cabin. Fortunately, a work opportunity helped. He had been hired to tear down a house in Tacoma. There were some materials he could use for the construction.

But how to move them from Tacoma to Wollochet Bay? By ferry! What if you can't afford to pay the ferry fare? He loaded the materials on the top of his car, drove it to Tiltow beach, reloaded it there to the rowboat and rowed the materials to their building site at Wollochet Bay.
As you can guess, it wasn't an easy trip. Currents and tides could take boats past Tiltow beach to as far as Point Defiance.
Finally, the cabin was built - originally, on Melvin's brother-in-law's land and then later moved to the adjacent property after Melvin was able to buy it.

Dick Brynestad was born in 1929. From the time he was 18 months old, he has been visiting the Wollochet Bay cabin, which became a part of his life.
All summers and many weekends were spent there the same way as his father did many years ago - playing with local kids, helping grandparents and enjoying the great outdoors.
Four houses on Wollochet Bay belonged to Squally Indians, who were fishermen, and Dick remembers how he and his sister used to play with the Indian kids every summer.
Later, the little cabin was replaced by a house. Melvin Brynestad was a carpenter by trade.

There are many memories about living on Wollochet Bay in Dick and Rosemary's family. All their kids are also attached to this place. The kids of the kids are attached to this place too. There are 6 generations of Brynestad's who have enjoyed and still enjoy the Wollochet Bay scenery, fresh air, majestic sunsets and other pleasures of life in the Wollochet Bay area.
When asked what his favorite thing about Gig Harbor was, Dick replied "I like the slower pace of life and the old Gig Harbor waterfront." He also said his favorite place to eat is the Tides Tavern. "A bowl of clam chowder and a plate of sweet potato fries are our usual meal there."
 Tatyana Searcy


  1. Carolina N. of VashonApril 6, 2012 at 9:58 PM

    What a wonderful history! Thanks for sharing! Alot of old Vashon people share the same types of histories. It would be interesting to compare them.

    1. Carolina, thank you!

  2. There is nothing so moving as memories of our past. Thanks to the Byrnestad Family and to Ms. Searcy for sharing. I lived in the Arletta area of Gig Harbor for a while and met several families with generations of history there. It is those family stories that ground us all and remind us of who we truly are.

    1. Liz, you are so right! Thank you!

  3. Carol and Kelly HaughtonApril 7, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    Dick and Rosemary are our neighbors. We have loved hearing some of their stories and especially enjoy knowing that they courted on our beach some 60+ years ago!

    1. Carol, I am so glad that you introduced me to your wonderful neighbors! Thank you!

  4. I enjoyed reading their story - thanks for sharing it!

    1. Laura, thanks for your time!

  5. Very interesting! I love envisioning what Kitsap Peninsula looked like way back when. Thanks for this great story.

  6. What a wonderful story! Felt like I was right there listening to Dick share his memories!

    1. Cathy, thank you! Mr.Brynestad is a great storyteller!

  7. My name is Rita. I am Rosy Brynestad's cousin. I have known Dick and Rosy just about all my life when I was adopted by Rosy's aunt and uncle. My adopted mother is Rosy's father's sister. It is very befitting that you should do this story. It is wonderful. Dick and Rosy are very special to me. I have shared many things with them throughout my life including the history of the Brynestad and Martenson families. Memories of families are special and Dick and Rosy and special to me. Loved it.

    1. Rita, thank you for writing! I'm so glad I've become acquainted with Dick and Rosemary and was able to listen to their story! History comes alive when you talk to such people. Dick was kind enough to give me a driving tour of the places he described in his story. The places have special meaning when you know the history behind them. I was happy to share what I've learned with my family, friends and Harbor History Museum blog's readers. Thanks again!