Thursday, May 23, 2013

Early Days of Arletta - on Hales Passage

Sometimes when you are doing research on a subject you think might renew interest in the history of our community, you come across a document written several years ago by someone who explains it better than you ever could. That was my feeling when I ran across Aura May Mitchell's paper recounting the history of the early days in Arletta. Mrs. Mitchell was raised by the Powell family, early residents of Arletta.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Due to the length, this "written memory" will be publish in two parts. Sort of like the old time radio programs.


"The Powell family came from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada. They crossed the United States living in various states until they reached Tacoma, Washington.  After living there for a while, they homesteaded a beautiful piece of waterfront property at the head of Hales Passage and directly across the mile and a half channel from the northern end of Fox Island.  I do not know they year.

Powell Farm

"In the year 1893 when I, a small child, came to live with them, many acres were under cultivation in pasture, orchard and garden tract and they had built a large home. The family consisted of Mother and Father Powell, four grown sons and one daughter named Arla.  They named the area Arletta.  It was combined from the name Arla and Lucetta. Lucetta Castle lived with her parents in what was later known as the Perkins place. Mr. Samuel Perkins was a newspaper publisher in Tacoma.  The next owner, as I remember, was Mr. Dobson and thus it was known as the Dobson place as long as I lived at Arletta.

"Logging, fishing, and trapping were among the occupations from which many derived their living. The forests teemed with wild life, deer, bear, rabbits and skunks. Several varieties of clams were plentiful. Wild huckleberries were picked in the fall and sold commercially.

Digging for geoducks at Arletta
"Mother Powell had been a singing teacher and she formed an excellent quartet with her four sons. Entertainment was home made in those days. Sometimes during the winter the Powell family would put on a show of short plays, musical numbers and recitations. Neighbors would come from miles distant. It was a break in the monotony of the long winter evenings. Often the young people would gather at Powell's on Sunday evening (mostly boys - few girls in the neighborhood). We would make Welsh rarebit (I had a chafing dish) candy, have popcorn and apples and play games. 
The first post office in Arletta was in the Powell house.
Arla Powell is in the foreground, holding a parrot.

"Neighborhood dances were held in homes and attended by young and old. Later, community halls were built. Going to a dance was a family affair. The older people would bring food, set up a long table and at midnight a hearty supper was served in what we now call "smorgasbord" style. When we had box lunch dances to raise money for some project, girls often told boys what her box was like so she could get a laugh out of watching them bid against each other. It was quite usual to dance until day break - cows had to be milked. Our music consisted of one, sometimes two fiddles or one fiddle and a wheezy organ. I am sure we had as much fun as present day youth have with their high priced orchestras.

"In my late teenage years, the older people began to stay home except a few kind workers who came to provide supper.  The young folks began to pair off and often a group would rent a launch and go to a dance at Lake Bay, Glen Cove, Purdy, Minter or some other nearby small community. We always went as a crowd, never a couple alone, for a couple to leave the hall during the dance was frowned upon and was food for gossip. During the summer evenings, when weather and tide would permit, beach bonfires were a source of much enjoyment. Driftwood was plentiful, no one had thought of using it for decorative purposes. A huge bonfire was a beacon neighbors could see and would gather around. We would sit and sing for hours such old songs as: Juanita, Annie Laurie, My Old Kentucky Home, Carry Me Back to Old Virginia, Row, Row the Boat, and on and on. Bonfires could be seen for miles along the beaches as different groups gathered.

"Transportation: Mail, freight and passengers were brought to and from Tacoma (the nearest town) by steamboat owned and manned by the Lorenzo brothers whose home and headquarters were at Lake Bay. The boat made daily round trip runs through the week to Tacoma then on Sunday reversed the run so visitors from the city could come to the country in the morning and return at night. The fare was twenty-five cents one way and many rode free. The trip took about two and one-half hours each way as the boat went back and forth from landings on Fox Island to landings on the mainland.

Arletta dock and early steamboat
"In the early days, passengers were taken by rowboat to a float anchored out far beyond low tide. It took a very efficient captain to maneuver his boat alongside a bobbing, tossing float not more than twelve or fifteen feet square, especially in stormy weather. It also took an intrepid passenger to clamber out of a tippy, wallowing row boat onto the slippery, moving float and from there up to the steamboat."The float would often swing away just as one made to step aboard. Watchful, quick moving deck hands saved many a one from a ducking.  Later, community docks were built, usually at the terminals of county needs.
The steamboat Arcadia at the Arletta dock
"One of the interesting boat stops was at Wollochet Bay. There a small Indian village spread out. The head man was Dave Squally. He and his sons and neighbors obtained a precarious living by fishing. I have watched them "pull seine" in front of the Powell place. They would often bring in a ton of smelt, herring or a couple of hundred gorgeous, huge salmon. Sharks and dog fish were also plentiful and were used for fertilizer. A big catch like that would be worth a great deal in the year 1906, but meant little then. Salmon was smoked and a large keg was salted down for winter.

Sunday outing; possibly old steamboat landing
in background
"One time a huge sperm whale was harpooned off Fox Island. Evidently, the men didn't know how to kill it for it swam around for days towing rowboats. People would row out and catch hold of the fishing boat. It was a cruel thing to do. I didn't realize it at the time. It eventually died and a horrible stench as it decayed. I don't remember how it was gotten rid of."


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