Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Little Norway (Cromwell)

Postcard of Cromwell

Many early Scandinavian settlers chose to settle on land located at Hales Pass. Some of the families in 1850 included John Evans, Russell Calvert, William Ellison and John Chandler. Later they were joined by the families of Goodman, Carlot, Bliss, Rasmussen and Peterson. These early homesteaders decided to name their settlement Little Norway. It wasn't long before they were joined by more families, whose names included Samuelson, Carlson, Berntsen, Sundberg, Ellingson, Smaby, Evje, Erickson, Must, Brynestad, Kellogg, Siglem, Fosness, Andestall and Grytten. The majority of these families became ranchers and farmers with crops fruit, berries, produce and dairy products.

In an earlier blog, you had the opportunity to read Dick Brynstad’s recollection of growing up in Little Norway and about his family and neighbors.

The F. W. Samuelson family was a typical family with 14 children. At first, when they arrived it was necessary to clear the land which was heavily timbered. They cleared many stumps with horse-power and with dynamite, but it took years before all the stumps were removed. Mr. Samuelson planted 5 acres of fruit trees, berries and vegetables. At times, they produced as many as 100 crates of strawberries in one day. They named their farm “Sunny Hill Fruit Farm.”

Despite growing the vegetables and fruit, family members still needed to row to Tacoma for staples. Can you imagine going through a 50 pound sack of flour every week to bake bread for the family?

A creek was discovered on the Samuelson property which was later named Muri’s Creek. The creek ran through Samuelson’s land and emptied into the Sound. Several of the families used gas pumps to pump the water through pipes into large wooden storage tanks. Later concrete tanks were built; one tank was used for irrigation and in the summer as a community swimming pool.

In the beginning, Cromwell’s mail was delivered to the Artondale post office and Claud Elms would pick it up and deliver it to the families in Cromwell. Finally in about 1902 the various families petitioned Tacoma for direct delivery. John Cromwell came over from Tacoma to check out the settlement and was so impressed by the community that he secured an official post office for them. Calvert was the name of the first unofficial post office with John Goodman acting as postmaster. Mrs. Calvert asked Mr. Cromwell to change the community’s name and so Little Norway became Cromwell.

The families built a school in 1900 on land donated by Mrs. Calvert. However, she placed a stipulation on her donation that stated the land was never to be sold. The school had an enrollment of about 15 students when it first opened. Miss Blanche Seagent was the first school mistress and she received a salary of $30 per month. By 1912, the student body had grown to 50 students and a second school was built. It had two rooms and a cloak room.

In 1898 the community banded together to form the Immanuel Scandinavian Lutheran Church at Hales Pass.  Before the church was built, services were held in various homes until the school was built, when services were moved to the schoolhouse. Sermons were delivered in Swedish and Norwegian; salaries of the visiting ministers paid by donations collected from the church members.

G. M. Evje became the first Sunday School Superintendent with 15 children in the Norwegian speaking class.  Later Mrs. Smaby started an English speaking Sunday school class. The first baptisms in the church were for Flora Samuelson and Lillian Bloom in May, 1910. The first wedding was not until 1925 when Ernest Luckenotte married Freida Grytten.

Because the community was based on common ethnic backgrounds, there was much enthusiasm and involvement by everyone leading to a socially active community group. There were informal wiener roasts, taffy pulls (when was the last time you pulled taffy and where...? Santa Cruz, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Coney Island or on the coast of Oregon?). Beach bonfires were common in the summer, ice skating in the winter, musicals and other similar activities. Arthur Kellogg’s home had a large living room and Mrs. Kellogg was an excellent pianist. Anton Berntsen family members were well-known for their skill with stringed instruments, John Grytten for his violin and the Samuelsons for their singing both as quartets and double quartets. By early 1900, Advancement Hall was built and it became the social center.    

Cromwell organized its first baseball team in 1913 with ball players Alfred and Arthur Berntsen, Manfred, Oscar and Victor Samuelson, Ole Olson, and Bill and Benny Bloom. Knute Sande and Edward and Carl Carlson also joined the team although they lived in Wollochet.

The first telephone was installed in the Samuelson home in 1908 and one 32-volt electric Delco system was installed in six homes in 1919 -- but most families still relied on kerosene lamps.

Transportation brought an increase to the population of Cromwell but the Depression was extremely hard on the farms. Gradually, the community evolved into a summer retreat for families from Tacoma and elsewhere with many of those new families eventually becoming permanent residents.  

As you can tell, this is but a brief overview of the amazing history of one of our earliest settlements.


© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

June 27, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Beautiful day sometime.  Loafed around till afternoon then strolled indirectly home.  Found everything promising well for the 4th."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Town of Gig Harbor Incorporated

First City Hall occupied the back rooms of Pioneer Electric Co., now Kit Kuhn's Jewelry store.
Mayor Ryan, dentist, was conveniently next door.  
After World War II, the needs of the community had risen to point that Gig Harbor needed a mayor and town council.  However, just like today, there were many opinions and much discussion about the subject.

CE Shaw, local sign painter and Gig Harbor promoter, was definitely against it.  He felt the taxes would be too high.  However, Judge H R Thurston was definitely for it.  Letters were published in the Peninsula Gateway newspaper supporting each side.

The first vote was held September 1945.  It failed by thirteen votes.  The reason given was that the fishermen were still out of town fishing and thus many supporters were gone.  

A second vote was held June 26, 1946.  It passed 141 to 114.  Ballots were easily available as they were printed in the newspaper. There were no polling booths. 

Also on the ballot were the mayor and the town council.  Harold Ryan, dentist, beat C O Austin, local mill owner, for mayor.  Leander Finholm, local telephone company owner, was named Treasurer with grocers Keith Uddenberg, Tony Stanich, and John Finholm,  and fisherman Emmett Ross forming the Town Council.  

First Gig Harbor Police Car, (l to r) Mayor Ryan, Tony Stanich, Judge H R Thurston,
Marshal Chet Jones, Keith Uddenberg and Fred Perkins, undertaker
The first police car was a big purchase for the new town in 1948.  Bert Uddenberg, local Ford dealer supplied the vehicle.  In March that year, after months of laying pipe throughout the harbor, Mayor Harold Ryan established a town water system.  Sewers would have to wait another 30 years to be installed.

Linda McCowen, Historic Photo Editor

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nick Bez (Nikola Bezmalinovic)

This limited biography of is about one of Gig Harbor’s early, successful businessmen who needs to be better known in our community.

Nick was born on August 25, 1895 in a stone house overlooking the Adriatic on the outskirts of the town of Selca, located on the eastern tip of the island of Brac.  He was the first of six children.  The family owned a small vineyard, a few olive and fig trees, a catch basin to save enough rainwater to last through all but the very driest summer.  They also had a small rowboat in which Nick, and later his brothers could fish in the Adriatic for sardine, eel and squid.

At age fifteen, he borrowed fifty dollars from his father and booked passage to the United States on an Italian ship.  He arrived in New York alone in 1910 and went to work in a restaurant to earn enough money to buy a train ticket to come west.  Nick had heard stories about the fishing and Gold Rush in Alaska, and he was also aware of several other Dalmatians living in Tacoma.  On a wintery day in 1911 Nick emerged from the train at Union Station in Tacoma with only fifty-cents remaining in his pocket.  Nick found work in an Old Tacoma sawmills and shortly thereafter a job as a deckhand on a towboat headed to Southeastern Alaska.

It took him six years of hard work and persistence to buy his own purse seiner.  This did not end his struggles for survival but instead started a new phase in his life.  In 1915, at age of 20, 6 foot 2 inches and 225 pounds, and as a boat owner Nick led the purse seiners against the beach seiners who used horses to drag flat nets on the shore in a no-holds-barred fight for the control of the lucrative Alaska salmon industry.  It was a long-drawn out, bloody conflict but in the end the purse seiners claimed victory.  

In 1919 at age 24, Nick americanized his name and became an American citizen as well as an established fisherman, and he owned 3 purse seiners.  Nick decided to branch out and in 1931 he got into the airline business buying Alaska Southern Airways.  Before another decade had passed his fishing boats had become canneries and with the airline he was flying men and supplies from the mainland to Southeastern Alaska.  He later sold the airline to Pan American making a large profit.  By 1946 he owned West Coast Airlines.  This was also the year he began canning fish on board a large converted freighter belonging to the United States (something he had been doing on his own ships on a limited scale for a number of years), supported by the government in Washington and financed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The avowed purpose of this undertaking was to prove 'that American fishermen could replace the Japanese’, who, in the years preceding World War II, caught and processed 66 per cent of the world's tuna in their floating canneries and virtually monopolized the multimillion dollar-a-year catch of the Bering Sea's huge king crabs. The experiment ended in 1948, deemed a complete success, and Bez returned to using his own floating canneries.

Nick Bez was one of the wealthiest and most influential of the Croatian Americans. He owned or controlled a string of fishing boats, four of the biggest salmon canneries in the Pacific Northwest, two gold mines, and an airline. His airline, Air West, an offspring of West Coast Airlines, was later sold to Howard Hughes for 100 million dollars.

He married (to the former Magdalene Dorotich, an American-born Croatian) and they had two boys. They settled in Gig Harbor and for around twenty years he would commute daily to Seattle to oversee his growing empire.  Eventually the family moved to Seattle where they established their permanent home.

Nick became a member of the Transportation Council of the United States Department of Commerce, the National Democratic Club, at one time serving as national treasurer, and many other organizations.  His influence was felt in Washington State politics as well.  His achievements were numerous.  His friends ranged from fishermen to bush pilots to presidents of the United States.

Because of his generous contributions to the Democratic party and his friendship with high government officials, including presidents, Bez has been accused of using his political connections to the detriment of small fishermen. This hurt the big fellow. He confessed that processors, including himself, "cotch too damn many feesh" to maintain an adequate supply. He favored a stabilization of the industry by developing new grounds and methods.

When Nick died in 1969 he had proved himself an industrious pioneer.  His rugged, adventuresome spirit led him to gamble against many odds, to come out the winner, and acquire financial independence and respect of his fellow men. His family still owns two houses and a lot in Millville.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

June 20, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Good weather.  Spent the day in ... talking, singing, strawberrying, etc and returned at 6:00 PM."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Corner of Dorotich Street and Harborview Drive

This corner has supported businesses since the turn of the last century.  In last Wednesday’s blog when we were discussing A. N. “Nick” Novakovich we mentioned that he moved across the street in 1924 after Martin Stanich purchased the property and rebuilt the building at the corner of Dorotich Street and Harborview Drive.

Harborview Drive with Stanich Store at right.  
What follows is a brief history of this property in the Town of Millville.

Joseph and Fred St. Peter purchased the land around 1906.  They built a wooden structure facing Dorotich Street and opened their grocery and mercantile store inside.

They didn’t remain in business very long because S. P. Strout bought the property and building around 1909.  Strout also bought a small barn behind the store building.  The store was stocked with groceries, bulk items, cookware, oil lamps, derby hats and common garden tools, seeds and the like.  His ads stated “Hay, Feed, Flour and General Family Supplies”.

Strout’s largest customer base was of course the fishermen who purchased their supplies before leaving for their long summers away from home.  He had a practice of “carrying” his customers until they could pay their bills after the fishing season which was then rewarded when the fishermen and their families paid.  The reward was a sack of something and this system lasted until 1917 when the economic downturn caused by World War I compelled him to change.  He called his new system “The McCaskey System”.  This system meant that he provided the customer with duplicate sales slips including their balance and a wall holder to store the debited slips in until they could pay.

Strout owned a beautiful team of horses that he used to make deliveries.  In a recollection by Nellie Austin Erickson, she told of the teams' frequent runaways.  Another resident at that time, Ethel Gayle Abel, remembered that when they went to Tacoma, they could leave their horses in Mr. Strout’s care where he kept horses and feed.

Anthony A. Rabasa lived in a small apartment above the barn.  He rented the store from Mr. Strout sometime in the teens.  Anthony’s brother, John Rabasa, owned a grocery store in Old Tacoma.  Anthony continued the trade built up with the Gig Harbor fisherman.  It was during Anthony’s time running the store that it caught fire and burned to the ground in 1924.

Following the fire, Martin Stanich, a lifelong fisherman, bought the property with his brother, Tony, from Mr. Strout.  They rebuilt the store but with the store facing Harborview Drive as the building does today.  The store prospered under their ownership until they retired in 1971.  During the final 12 years in business, Tony recalled that they included the Washington State Liquor Agency in their store for their customers’ convenience.  The Stanich brothers, like their predecessors, handled business on credit until the fishing season was over. 

Today the building houses Susanne’s Bakery & Deli and New York Nails Salon.
 Building in recent years

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 13, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Another good day so went over to Mr. G's.  Found a hugh crowd and had a good time.  Left at 6:30."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pt. Fosdick Ferry Landing Opens, June 8, 1928

Ferry City of Tacoma approaches the Pt. Fosdick Landing
On June 8, 1928, ferry traffic began between Point Fosdick and the end of Sixth Avenue in Tacoma.  Gig Harbor had begun ferry service in 1917 at the head of Gig Harbor,  west Gig Harbor in 1926 [now the Tides Tavern] and outside the mouth of Gig Harbor on February 24, 1928.

Pt. Fosdick was used until the first Narrows Bridge was opened in July 1940.  Deconstruction began a few months later with the expectation that it was unneeded.  But, with Galloping Gertie collapsing on November 7, 1940, Washington Navigation Co, who ran the ferries, had to scramble. Owner Bill Skansie told his wife, "We're back in business again!" Ferries began to run the next morning, November 8.

Unfortunately, the ferry landing at Point Fosdick was unusable, so the service was only between Gig Harbor and Pt. Defiance for a few weeks while crews rebuilt the Pt. Fosdick Landing.  Then all service shifted between Pt. Fosdick, Fox Island and Titlow Beach, Tacoma.  The landing outside the harbor was closed forever.

With the opening of the 1950 bridge, Pt. Fosdick was permanently closed and dismantled.  Today there is little trace of the landings or pilings beneath the beautiful homes that grace the hillside.

Linda McCowen, Historic Photo Editor
© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Novakovich Meat Market

A. N. “Nick” Novakovich was married to Joseph Dorotich’s daughter Clementina.  They built a house on one of the new plats in the Town of Millville which was platted by Clementina’s mother and father, John and Josephine Novak and Samuel Jerisich in the June, 1888.  The house is still standing and is a private residence located at 3422 Harborview Drive.
Nick and Clementina Novakovich with unnamed daughter
You can see a picture of them standing on the porch.  The only change in the fa├žade now is an upper balcony in place of the two windows.

Unlike John Novak and his family, Nick did not Americanize his surname, keeping with Novakovich.

Nick was a butcher, and at first he built the meat market on the north side of the house setback slightly from Harborview Drive (formerly Front Street).  It was a very busy shop during the time that he did business there. The building survived until 2000 when the house was renovated and a driveway was put in its place. However,  a sign from the shop hangs in the Harbor History Museum.

Clementina Dorotich was born December 25, 1889 and died September 5, 1920 and is buried at Artondale Cemetery.  Nick later married Antica who was born February 15, 1885 and died April 7, 1957.  Nick himself was born December 7, 1874, and died February 26, 1942.  Both he and Antica are buried at Calvary Cemetery in Tacoma, a Catholic cemetery established in 1905.  

In 1924 the St. Peter Bros'/S. P. Strout General Merchandise building caught fire and burned to the ground.  Martin Stanich bought the property with his brother Tony, rebuilt the building, and Nick, the butcher, moved his shop across the street into the new store on December 12, 1924.

There were several other butchers operating in and around Gig Harbor at the turn of the century including one in John Novak’s General Merchandise store a little further down Harborview where you now find The Harbor Peddler.  [We talk more about the Novak’s in a future blog.]  W. M. Munden's Choice Meats and Desmore’s Meat Market (formerly Mosher’s Old Stand Meat Market) were two others at the corner of Pioneer Way and Front Street.   Mosher reopened both a grocery and a meat market in the Novak Building (later the Harbor Inn) in 1925.  

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 6, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Nice day.  Robert and wife going West on a visit to went along and had a fine time.  Went strawberrying towards eve."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.