Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gig Harbor’s Heritage

I happened upon an old essay entitled “History of Gig Harbor” in the Research Room at the Harbor History Museum, but it bears no date nor author’s name.  However I found it rather interesting and thought perhaps you might as well.  You can tell it is older as it is on mimeograph paper - you know the kind with one side slick, the other not.  And, of course the print has a habit of rubbing off it handled roughly.  But here is what the paper reveals about the history of Gig Harbor.

Nearly everyone is curious to know how a place derives its names, so the following explanation will make it clear the reason Gig Harbor was named as it is. 

When the United States Government sent Captain Charles Wilkes to explore Puget Sound in 1841, some of his men were cruising around in rowboats belonging to the flagship of the expedition which was anchored in the narrows, when suddenly a storm arose and they had to rush to a place of safety.  It so happened that the smallest boat, called the captain’s gig, sighted the entrance to a harbor and rowed through to see what he could find.  It proved to be the smallest bay or harbor they had ever seen, so they named it after the captain’s gig.

“Gig Harbor is a natural landlocked bay, with a sandpit reaching out from the east side that leaves for entrance to the narrows a channel only wide enough for an ordinary steamer at low tide.  It is one and a fourth miles long and a mile wide at the north end, called the “head of the bay”.

“It is no easy matter for us to picture the spot in 1867 when the first settlers, Samuel Jerisich, a Dalmatian, John Farragut, a Spaniard, and Peter Goldsmith, a Dalmatian who had changed his name, partners in the fishing industry, came to make their homes on the east side, just inside the entrance.  Imagine, if you can, thick forests surrounding the harbor —no paths, no roads, no clearings, not even a skid road.  Tacoma was unknown and trips to Steilacoom or Olympia, the nearest markets, for mail and supplies, were made in rowboats.

“Their first homes were log houses, intended to be permanent, with fireplaces for heating and cooking, and with a few small windows, bought with money from the sale of fish.  But soon the government gave orders to evacuate the reservation which the settlers knew nothing about, and they moved to the west side which was open to settlement.  Here they bought small tracts of waterfront land just inside the entrance and built small houses of lumber, brought from Olympia in their big fishing boat.

“Fish were very plentiful, but the market was limited, as the Indians controlled the market at Steilacoom, Olympia and Nisqually.

“Jerisich was the only one of the three men who was married.  He brought with him a full-blooded Indian wife and child from Vancouver, B. C. (British Columbia - his wife was a member of the First Nation Tribe) and they reared a family of five girls and three boys, six of whom lived to take important places in the business and community life of their home town as it grew.

Samuel and Annie Willets Jerisich

“Mrs. Jerisich was a wonderful woman; capable, resourceful, industrious, brave and independent; sawing and splitting wood, drawing and carrying water from the sprains; making and tending the garden; making and mending the fishing nets by hands.  She picked wild berries for table use, drying the surplus, as canning processes were unknown; stood on the beach and dipped a pail down to get herring, smelt or trout for supper; frightened wildcats and bears away by beating on a tin pan; made candles of bear’s grease or beef or mutton tallow from the flocks and herds of the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Nisqually.  Bear and deer were easy to procure and she dressed them, cooking over an open fire and a Dutch oven, to break the monotony of a too frequent fish diet.
Annie Willets Jerisich and daughter Julia and granddaughter

“She had all the arts of the Indian women and readily learned all those of the white women whom she contacted; learning to spin, weave, knit and crochet after seeing other women do these things; sewing by hand and cutting out children’s clothing, women’s dresses and men’s suits without a pattern.  She acted as mid-wife and nurse for the neighbors as they multiplied and she took her place in society and community affairs and expanded with the community.

“After a few years came Joe Dorotich, John Novakovich and John Jurich, to swell the colony of Dalmatian fishermen.  Dorotich married the oldest Jerisich girl and John Novakovich changed his name to Novak and married a Puyallup Indian woman.

“The first white settlers in Gig Harbor were Samuel Jerisich, a native of Yugoslavia, Peter Goldsmith, and John Farragut, a Spaniard, who found the harbor in 1867 while seeking refuge from a gale.  Making an adventurous journey from British Colombia, the three fishing partners rowing their flat-bottom skiff, followed the course through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and into Puget Sound charted 26 years earlier by the Willkes’ Expedition.

“They were quick to see the advantages of the harbor and each took up a homestead.  The first cabin was built by Jerisich on the east side of the harbor near the sandpit.  Disliking the location, he moved across the bay to the west side where he built a 7-room house and later erected several cottages on the beach.  (Actually his first location was part of the US Government Military Reservation)

“Jerisich was a fisherman.  In those early days Tacoma was unknown and he had to row to Steilacoom or Olympia to sell the fish.  On the first dock built in Gig Harbor he erected a rendering plant for the extraction of dogfish oil, which at that time brought $1 a gallon.  He also had a smokehouse and warehouse for the storage of smoked and salted fish.

Born in Yugoslavia:  Born in Kotor, Yugoslavia in 1833, Jerisich, at an early age, shipped before the mast in a sailing vessel and rounded the Horn three times before he left the sea and located in San Francisco.  Later, he came to British Columbia where he married Annie Willet.  They had 8 children, 3 boys and 5 girls.  Jerisich died Dec, 23, 1905, and his wife died in 1926.

“No other settlers came to the harbor for a period of 16 years when in July, 1883, Joseph Goodman brought his family from Tacoma by steamboat—-the “Zephyr” which with another steamboat, the “Messinger” then plied between Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia.  AT Goodman’s request, the captain of the “Zephyr” stopped the boat at the entrance to the harbor and the family and household goods were put ashore on the sandpit.  For a time the Goodmans lived in the cabin built by Jerisich, later moving over the skid road to what is now Crescent Valley.
Joseph and Rose Richt Goodman, July 29, 1897

“In January, 1886, Anna Goodman, at 17, began teaching in the first school in Gig Harbor.  She received $30 a month for the 4-month term.  The schoolhouse was a shanty donated by the Indians for the use of the white man and stood on the site now owned by Harold Roby across from the Peninsula Light Company’s office (Harbor History Museum)  There were no desks—only a bench built against the wall.
Lucy Goodman replaced her sister as teacher, and this is her 1924 class

“The first pupils who attended the school were John, Mike, Sam, Melissa and Katherine Jerisich, also Pete St. Louis, Lee and Cora Goodman and William Peterson whose parents lived on Vashon Island.

“Splendid Moorage:  Since Jerisich pioneered the industry, the fish business has always been mainly in the hands of the Yugoslavian people.  Other early fishermen of this nationality who found Gig Harbor a hospitable moorage for their boats were Skansie brothers; Peter, who came to the harbor in 1889, and Andrew, Mitchell and Joe, who came a little later, John Ross, Lucca Ross, John Novak, Lee Makovich, Pasco Dorotich, Nicholas Castelan, John Cosuich and many others.”    

There are many other recollections and histories of Gig Harbor through the ages, which can be found in Little Histories Gig Harbor, Washington by Jack R. Evans, 1988; Along the Waterfront, a History of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Area, Complied and written by Students of 1974-75 Goodman Middle School, Gig Harbor, Washington; and An Excellent Little Bay, A history of the Gig Harbor Peninsula, by J. A. Eckrom to name just a few.  But it is always interesting to look back through the eyes of those who made and wrote about the history at their time.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Emmett Hunt's diary entry Wednesday, October 3, 1883

Fair day with clouds.  Wooded & watered again in PM ran to Nisqually with Hartman's scow. Staid all night on the mudflats.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Granges and The Washington State Fair

On July 31, 2014 the Harbor History Museum posted a blog on the Gig Harbor Grange #445, and it talked about the successes it had at the Valley Fair. The Valley Fair was started in 1900 in Puyallup, and for years has been referred to as the Puyallup Fair. In 1913, the "Valley Fair" was changed to, or renamed, Western Washington Fair Association, although informally Puyallup Fair because of the town in which is was, and is, held. In 2013, the name was changed to the "Washington State Fair". Fairs are called "state fairs" when they are the largest fair in the state; and in 1975 Washington State Fair was ranked as the tenth largest fair in the USA.

Every September I spend my time in Puyallup, as do many others, working at the Fair. The attraction of fairs is that they provide an outlet for many in agriculture to show off their animals and their crops. Of course, there also is the pie contest, although today, it has evolved into much more than just pies.

While the adults gather and talk about their successes or failures, they also have an opportunity to socialize. This is where the Granges play an important part too. Everyone has a day off for the back-bending hard work and long hours involved in farming and raising animals. Even the children get a day off as their participate in showing their animal, or produce, or arts. And of course, there are always a few games or rides to take advantage of during their stay at the fair.

Washington State Fair is an official state host of both the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and the 4-H (head,heart, hands and health = 4 H). The participation of these two groups of young people is what really captures me and is the highlight of my vision of the fair.

The young people show everything from dogs, cats, rabbits, cavies, poultry, beef, pigs and goats, llamas, horses, and more. The Pig Palace attracts everyone, old and young, who spend time watching the baby piglets and seeing how much they grow in so a short time - it is noticeable in 17 days. Or waiting for the pregnant sow to give birth to her litter, drove, or drift.
Some of the 14 4-week old piglets

But don't overlook the 4 H Home Arts, High Arts, Education and Campfire exhibits. These young people are extremely talented in so many ways.

Back to the Granges! I thought if you saw a few of the 2014 Grange displays, you might better understand the sense of pride and bragging rights the men, women and children of the Granges have earned. This year there are only eleven Granges represented at the Fair (so many are closing due to lack of members) but their displays are fantastic. The Agricultural exhibit includes individual displays as well. Below are the individual Granges entries.
  1. Ford's Prairie Humptulips

  2. OHOP
  3. Thurston County Pomona
  4. Lewis
  5. East Hill
  6. Waller Road
  7. Skagit County Pomona
  8. Collins
  9. McMillan

    10. Mason County Pomona 

    11. Meridian
Pumpkin Squash Showcase

Right now, as of Wednesday evening, the People's choice voting is 8 for Waller Road, 3 for Skagit County Pomona and 1 for Collins. Only two more days for votes.
I've included some other random photos just to provide a better understanding of this aspect of the Washington State Fair.
But never overlook the Carnival which today plays an important part as well, and of course there are the three days of rodeo which starts the fair off.
Mark your calendars to come join us in 2015 as we "DO THE PUYALLUP" 

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Emmett Hunt's diary entry Wednesday, September 19, 1883

Fine day with strong N. wind.  At 2:10 steamed out to Olympia.  Stayed there till 11:30 then came home against wind & tide but made a good trip.  I never went below & McFee & I played for a 10 o'clock dance.

It was immense, especially for me, tired & sleepy to a great degree but such there are & they must be satisfied.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society

I know you have been hearing a lot about the 50 year anniversary of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society celebration on October 4, 2014 celebration.  So I thought sharing a little bit of the history would whet your appetite for the History Rocks event.

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society presently located in the basement of the Old St. Nicholas Catholic Church, Gig Harbor, began in late 1963.  Three member of the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, Gail Reed, Jewel Holsinger and Esther Snowden met as a study group to gather local Gig Harbor Peninsula history.  Their enthusiasm for this project led them to decide to form a history club open to all.  Each invited several others and the first meeting was held at Holsinger’s with Bruce LeRoy, Director of the Washington State Historical Society as speaker.  This was February 18, 1964.  Of this group, Esther Snowden and Barbara Pearson are still members.

At the March 10th meeting the group decided to call themselves the Peninsula Study Club with monthly Tuesday morning meetings during the school year.  Field trips to include the children were planned during the summer.

Older long-time residents were invited to the meetings to share early memories and experiences with the group, and categories of local history began to develop.  The first study was of the fishing industry and its history here.  Next was the history and data about the numerous small cemeteries followed by churches, schools and old freight and passenger boats.  Papers on these topics were written and presented at meetings and thus began manuscript files.  Jean Lyle and Gwen Ash complied a questionnaire to send out or include in interviews to begin a biography collection.

Some artifacts along with files of information began to accumulate and members did the best they could to store them in their homes.  In 1968 club members began to discuss the need for a museum.  It wasn’t until July 1974, that they found a small room in the rear of the Empire Building, and rented it from Ken Hore for $12 a month.  We furnished it with used office furniture and two display cases.  During this time, Vicki Tart assigned her eighth grade Goodman Middle School class a project on local  history with the publication of a book as the goal.  This resulted in the first volume of local history being printed when these eighth graders were seniors.  Most of the photographs are from the GHPHS collection.  It is still available in its third printing.

Incorporation of the Peninsula Historical Society took place on June 3, 1970.  The area of interest includes that part of Pierce County on the Gig Harbor Peninsula.  Membership expanded and projects of all sorts were undertaken to earn funds to finance a museum and build a photograph and slide collection.  The society provides lectures, slide shows and exhibits for the community and schools.  Class visits to the museum are frequently scheduled.

In 1976 a bicentennial quilt was made by members.  Marilyn Arnold did the design, and a successful raffle was held.  The society published a calendar for eleven years with local artists drawing from our old photographs.

In April 1977 the society moved into a room in the basement of the new Gig Harbor City Hall, and regular hours were established.  When that space was no longer available, we rented a small log cabin on Harborview Drive until April 1982.  By this time, a committee from St. Nicholas Catholic Church became active to save and restore the old church rather than allowing it to be razed.  Clara McCabe spearheaded the committee, and arrangements were worked out that the society might lease the basement of this historic structure.

The summer of 1982 was spent renovating the basement with much community cooperation headed by Barbara Pearson and Joan Bassett, and on October 3 we moved in.  We have a collection of manuscripts, clippings and photographs for public research Wednesdays through Saturday afternoons.  Arveida Livingston is office manager and Ruth Ann Smith heads a staff of volunteers.

Gladys Para, June Doherty and the late Smith Snyder were instrumental in producing the present exhibits with a focus on our fishing heritage.  Joe Hoots mounted the Jack Reed collection of hand boat-building tools.

Our last museum director, Gladys Para, edited the book Bridging the Narrows  by Joe Gotchy, a history of both Narrows Bridges.  Mr. Gotchy worked on both bridges, and provided a colorful and knowledgable  account of their construction.

At the annual membership meeting in October of 1994, our name was officially changed to include the words “Gig Harbor” to more clearly define our location.  The need was apparent when representatives attended regional or state-wide meetings and found Peninsula Historical Society prompted further inquiry.

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society has grown to around 150 menbers.  Conferences and workshops are attended so that the society can continue to grow and serve our community.  The society is governed by nine officers and trustees.  Museum hours are from 1 to 4 pm Wednesday through Saturdays, staffed by 31 volunteers under the direction of Jean Olson.

6/3/92 ba. for A History of Pierce County, Washington, Vol. III, Heritage League of Pierce County

1/23/96 ba. Revised & 
© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Emmett Hunt's diary entry Wednesday, September 12, 1883

Some misty but a good day.  Spent my time chiefly in wooding & watering Babe for a big towing trip tomorrow.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Spadoni Sisters, by Gladys Para

Photo reproduced by iPad from Gladys Para's Old Town article
"The three oldest children of Mike and Anita Spadoni pose with a cousin at their Grandmother Seghieri's home in Lucca, Italy 1913.  Clara, left, an active child, was expected always to fidget before a camera.  In a photo taken when she was younger, she had been given a watch to hold to her ear so she would stand still.  For this one, she concentrates on standing on only one foot.  In center is infant Lola, Nelda on right.

We are so lucky to have in the Harbor History Museum Research Room several articles written in 1986 by Gladys Para.  In fact, Gladys was also President of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society.  In 1997 she was replaced when Chris Fiala Erlich assumed the President/Executive Director position and the society became known as the Harbor History Museum.

Gladys wrote a column for The Peninsula Gateway titled “Old Town” and through this column she introduced many people to the greater Gig Harbor community history: the articles included businesses, families and other people that made the community what it was, and remains today.

I ran across the following column and thought you too would enjoy it.

The Spadoni sisters visited Italian cousins during 1912 (Old Town, Gladys Para)

Clara and Nelda Spadoni, born in Pierce County, were dressed in their finest one day for a picture with their new baby sister, a native of Italy.

Their mom, Anita Seghieri Spadoni, had yearned to see her own mother again during her third pregnancy in a small workers’ cabin in Clay City.  Her husband Michele Spadoni accordingly bought a ticket and she journeyed back, across the nation and the ocean to Lucca, where she had a good long family visit.

Traveling alone with two youngsters in 1912 during the voyage over, the following year she made the return trip alone with three, when Lola was 10 months old.

Anita had made her first trip to America as a new bride, after Mike, a career vegetable farmer in Italy, had returned home to marry her.  He had found a man could buy land in America, something nearly impossible in his native region because of inheritance laws that divided property into ever-smaller portions among the families holding it.  It seemed never for sale.

After securing a job at the smelter plant in Ruston Mike discovered Gig Harbor.  He purchased seven acres near the Shore Acres dock, directly across the Narrows from Point Defiance, in 1914.

‘Nothing there but woods and bears,’ Clara recalls.  But father Spadoni had gardening on his mind, and began clearing immediately  for the rows of vegetables and flowers he tended all his life.  Mother Anita, all of whose children were born at home, was as resourceful as other early local settler women.  When she needed a doctor, she used a prearranged signal of rifle shots front the front yard of her home, so close to Gig Harbor’s present daily commerce.

The family increased to include four boys, and the seven Spadoni children grew up to attend school, marry and remain in Gig Harbor.  Eldest child Nelda met her husband James Langhelm when they attended Gig Harbor (Union) High.  They married in 1937 when both were working at the Gig Harbor branch of Washington Co-op.  Clara and her future husband, Harvey McCabe, both were employed for Washington Co-op as well, in its Tacoma office.  They married in 1943.  Lola was busy growing up and didn’t remember she needed citizenship papers until she got a job at the Bremerton Navy Yrad, long after her mother had become a voting citizen.  Lola met Ed Elford in Bremerton, and they married in 1944.

The little girls, after their childhood overseas experience, were joined by brothers Julius, Roy, Claude (called Mike for his father), and Rudolph.  Two of the family are no longer living.  Eldest daughter Nelda Langhelm died in 1968, eldest son Julius in 1984.”

The article was written in 1986, the month and date not shown.

The other members:

  • Anita M. Seghieri Spadoni, Born 12/12/1883; Died 4/18/41
  • Michele Spadoni, Born 10/8/1876; Died 9/15/59
  • Roy Peter Spadoni, Born 2/11/16; died 7/16/94
  • Claude Michael Spadoni, Born 2/27/18; Died 11/8/97
  • Rudolph Michele Spadoni, Born 5/18/21; Died 1/4/91
  • Clara May Spadoni McCabe, Born 2/22/11; Died 6/24/96
  • Lola Ines Spadoni, Born 1912/1913

Note:  Clay City was a small town near Eatonville, and if you click on the link, you can read a history of the town, written by Paul Spadoni.  I believe it is, in its own way, part of the story.  Or, as Paul Harvey used to say “The rest of the Story”.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Emmett Hunt's diary entry Wednesday, September 5, 1883

More fog but not so thick as of yore.  Today put in a little time on the house then piled brush & burned the same.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.