Thursday, May 9, 2013

Theresa Catherine Cambridge Sweeney

Theresa Sweeney

The next time you go to Anthony's Homeport on North Harborview take a moment to walk just a few steps further and spend a couple of minutes reading the historical marker devoted to Theresa Sweeney and the Sweeney Building. Theresa, along with many other women who immigrated to the Gig Harbor peninsula, made a lasting contribution to the history and growth of our community.

Theresa was born in Antrim County, Ireland in 1873 into a large Catholic family. She attended public schools and completed her education at Sister's College in Blackburn, England.  At age 19 she decided to visit an uncle living in Chicago and to visit the World's Fair to be held in October 1893.  While visiting she met James Sweeney, and they were married the following June.

James and Theresa had six children, though a baby girl was stillborn and Daniel, born 1907, lived only two days. The other children were James J., born 1897, Patrick F., born 1900, John E., born 1903, and Henry Leo, born 1904.

In 1908, Theresa, James, and their children moved to Washington, and liking the Gig Harbor peninsula, bought forty acres of land in Rosedale near the Sandin family farm. The Sweeney's cleared the land, built a large house, and operated a general farm and dairy until 1915, They later sold 10 acres, following a fire which destroyed the house. Although the barn was transformed into living quarters, Theresa moved into Gig Harbor and her husband, James, remained at the farm. Theresa bought property at the head of the harbor where she built a new home.  She operated a small store and real estate office out of the house and when she was appointed postmistress added the post office as well. Theresa served as postmistress for eight years.

Sweeney's Gig Harbor house on today's North Harborview Drive
(current site of Anthony's Restaurant parking lot)

Finding her business improving and wishing to expand, in 1922 Theresa built the Sweeney Building across the street to house her mercantile business, which grew into a well-stocked department store -- according to the publicity at the time.  However, she did not occupy the entire building. Always the best business person, she rented part of the building to the new post office, a restaurant, to the first dentist (and first mayor) Dr. Harold Ryan, and a pharmacy.

Sweeney Building
(current site: empty lot beside Anthony's Restaurant)

Theresa had a keen interest in the development of the community and as well as buying and selling a good deal of property, she was actively engaged in community affairs. Unfortunately, the Sweeney Building was destroyed by fire in the late 1920s; replaced and then in the late 1940s the second building was demolished. Nothing replaced Sweeney's buildings. Even today, it is an empty lot.

In 1923, Theresa was appointed the first woman Justice of the Peace for Gig Harbor and she served for four years in this new position. Other activities included trustee of the Gig Harbor Fair Association, trustee of St. Nicholas Church where she was actively engaged in fundraising for the building of the new church. She also belonged to the Brotherhood of American Yeomen, the Women's Voters' League, Parent-Teacher Association and a member of the Pierce County Democratic Club.  In fact, in 1926 Theresa was a candidate for legislature and despite running a good race, she lost...understandable since Pierce County was a Republican stronghold.

By 1927 her son, James, had married and was living in Tacoma with his wife and two sons. Patrick Francis and John E. were living at home. Henry Leo was attending theological college
 in eastern Washington, where he was ordained as a Jesuit priest in June 1936.

Theresa Sweeney died unexpectedly, at age 68, in St. Joseph's Hospital. She was survived by her husband, James, her four sons, a brother and sister in Ireland, and ten grandchildren. Her son, Rev. Leo Sweeney, SJ, was the celebrant of the funeral Mass held at St.Leo's Catholic Church in Tacoma, and the Rev. Fr. Hoen of St.  Nicholas Catholic Church in Gig Harbor delivered the sermon.

NOTE:  I was advised yesterday that the following information appeared in The Peninsula Gateway on November 2, 1967:

Nov 2, 1967:  Merle Crum objected to the Rock Shop “Building” [Sweeney] plans to remodel.  He objected to the permit because all toilets drained directly onto the beach.  County Health Dept. said to tear down the building.  Erosion has caused damage to the docks.  Permit was given, but no action.  

There was only one fire at the head of the bay and that was January 4, 1945 when the gasoline station burned down and burned George Keeney's Cabinet shop, as far as the cement block building today holding the Harbor Homes, etc.  The high school boys were let go from Union HS to help save Dr. Darling's offices in one of the buildings now known as Marketplace Grill.  The fireboat from Tacoma wouldn't come.  The Sweeney Block was to the left of that, where the sign is.  

She died in 1942 from the effects of a broken hip after several months in the hospital, but yes, it was unexpected as she was such a strong woman, and definitely a great lady.  

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. On all the family trees I looked at, as well as other documents, Theresa was spelled with an “h”. Including the one administered by Donald Sweeney. So I did attempt to find her birth certificate which shows Ireland, Civil Registration Births Index, 1864-1958 it is spelled without the “h”.