Thursday, December 18, 2014

Memories of Mary Carlson Ambrose

Every once in a while, you run across a self-written memoir that it just waiting to be seen by a new audience.  I hope you feel this is one of those.  This document was donated to the Harbor History Museum by Millicent E. Hall although it does not contain the date donated nor the date written.  (However, on the Find-a-Grave site for Millicent E. Hall it states that on the 1930 census Millicent was a nurse living/working with Samuel and Mary J. (Carlson) Ambrose at a Sanitarium in Lake View, Pierce County, Washington).  Mary J. Carlson Ambrose died in 1986 and Millicent E. Hall died in 1994.)

Golden Memories of Gig Harbor

In the spring of 1894 my parents, tired of city life in Tacoma, decided to take advantage of land being offered in Gig Harbor by the government.  The land was in 10 acre tracts, available to those interested in settling there, building and making a permanent home site.  This area, on the East side of the Harbor, at one time was a government reservation.  It was strategically located so the waters of the Sound could be easily scanned from all directions for strange vessels.  Pt. Defiance had a similar lookout point. 

Those desiring to take advantage of this offer were to live on the land clearing and improving it and making a permanent home site.  After meeting these requirement, the land could then be bought over a period of time from the government.

At that early time there were no ferries or a Narrows Bridge.  My parents with two small daughters, myself at 2 1/2 years and the year old baby, arrived by steamboat with our belongings to start our new life in Gig Harbor.

The West side of the Harbor where the stores and businesses now abound, had been settled for some time prior to our arrival on the East side, by families with boats and fishing more to their liking and (as a) way of life.  There was a small lumber mill there, too.

My parents chose a lovely spot on a gentle slope from where the quiet waters of the sparkling Harbor were plainly visible a short distance below.  Their first home was an abandoned one room cedar shake cabin on the edge of their new property.  There was plenty of timber including cedar and fir trees.

The land was cleared and our new home began.  My father’s knowledge of carpentry learned in his native Sweden was a great asset.

Martin Carlson's home built 1894

Eventually a very livable homesite evolved after much hard work, struggles and many disappointments.  The house was built by stages, and when the first room was finished we moved into our new home.  We girls slept in two beds, the wooden frames made by our father.  Across these frames clean seed or gunny sacks were stretched taut and securely nailed.  A blanket formed the mattress.  Several years later we had such a memorable day when father brought home two iron beds with real straw mattresses!

Other homes and families had strung up around us, as people took advantage of the land offer.  During the years that followed these neighbors became steadfast friends and willingly shared each others joys and sorrows.  Always ready to extend a helping hand.  These friendships have lasted a lifetime.

Farther in back of the house, father had built a large barn to house the four cows, calves and later, a horse.  Another building was for the chickens, and nearby were rabbit hutches and a pig sty.  The roof and outside walls of the barn were made completely of cedar shakes handmade by father.  When clearing the land, the cedar trees had provided strong timber for the foundation of the house and buildings.  The fir and cedar were a never ending source of firewood for the big kitchen stove.

In making the shakes for the barn, the cedar bark was first stripped from a selected log with a draw knife, then a Fro knife cut the shakes themselves.  After being placed in position on the log, the top of the knife blade was struck a sharp blow with a wooden mallet, and with a deft flip of the blade a shake was quickly produced.  All father’s tools were kept razor sharp by a hand operated grindstone.  Sometimes we helped, laboriously turning the handle with our small hands and asking plaintively, “Isn’t it sharp yet, papa?”  With a twinkle in his eye he would reply, “Oh a couple more turns should do it!”

People had to be self-sufficient in those days.  It was a task going to town by steamer and was only done thru necessity.  Much later, the ferries brought the city closer to us.

In time, we had our apple and cherry trees producing.  Some fruit was canned, apples were sliced and dried outdoors, covered so wasps couldn’t get at them.  Vegetables were plentiful and could be canned for winter.  Corn was delicious cut from the cob and dried in a sack over the stove.  Someone going by would occasionally reach up and punch the bottom of the sack to distribute the kernels around.  This corn was like fresh when soaked and cooked.  Delicious!

There were staples to be bought.  Four 50 lb. sacks of flour at a time that didn’t last long.  Mother baked 8 or more delicious loaves of bread a week.  Still, when someone on a rare occasion, brought a loaf of bakery bread from town, we thought it was a treat!  We also bought sugar, coffee, tea, and salt and cheese.  Milk & butter were plentiful.

When we butchered an animal it was always in the dark of the moon, so the meat would be firm and tender in the winter.  A pig produced such a variety of products.  In winter when a pig was butchered snow was always hoped for.  The butchering was done in the morning, the pig scalded & bristles scraped off.  It was covered with a sheet and hung for several days before cutting up.  In the meantime, mother would clean the casings preparing for sausage making.  This is how it was done outdoors.  She tied a dishtowel around her head against the cold North wind.  Taking a bucket of casings she had turned inside out, she started at the edge of the field and swished a long string of casings thru the snow, back and forth across a 2 1/2 foot swath.  Always bending over she went back and forth until all the casings were white as the snow.  Her hands would be purple and stiff with cold, but gloves if worn would be wet and stiff in no time.  Later, casings were washed and cleaned throughly in water, and turned right side out.  When sausage was made, the pork was ground up and spiced.  Then one end of the casing was tied securely and the seasoned meat gently pressed thru a funnel placed in the open end of the casing.  Care was taken not to break the casing as the sausage was gently eased along it.  Then string was tied at intervals along the filled casing to form the sausages.  Some were hung to dry on a line above the kitchen wood range, others put in a crock of brine water to be fried or boiled later.  Nothing was wasted.  Blood was spiced and thickened with rye flour for blood sausage.  Headcheese was made and put in brine in crocks with a well washed rock on top of the cover.  Pickled pigs feet were also put up to be enjoyed later.  Our own lard was rendered from the pork fat.  Anyone butchering would share with a neighbor, bringing a roast, “here’s something for your Sunday dinner.”

School days were happy days.  We walked quite a way to school carrying our lunch in “Red Rose Lard Pails”, as did most children.  They were placed side by side on a long shelf and I wonder now how each child knew his or her lunch pail.  One teacher taught 4 classes of 4 to 10 pupils in each class in a large room.  In winter her day began at 7:30 A.M.  She started a fire in the heater, sometimes carrying large chunks of firewood herself if one of the big boys forgot his chore.  A bucket of water and a dipper slackened the children’s thrust.  Sometimes coming in from recess, someone would be thirsty.  Then there was an epidemic of thrust so the bucket was carried up and around the aisles, each pupil drinking from the same dented, rusty dipper!  One roller towel was used all week by the pupils.  This begrimed towel was taken home and washed by the teacher at the end of the week and brought back on Monday.  Tiring of this she finally had each child in turn take it home for the mother to wash and return.  The teacher swept out the school room at the days end, and finally left, locking the door.
The Martin Carlson sisters: Mary (29), Elvera (28), Emma (27), Hulda (26)

Notes added by Mrs. S. A. Ambrose (Mary J.)
“Martin Carlson Family”  
Mary J. and Samuel Ambrose House built by Martin Carlson 1914
  • Martin and Amanda Carlson with daughters Mary J. 22 months and Elvera H. 3 months moved from Tacoma, Wash. to Gig Harbor in Spring of 1893, on the east side of bay called “Union Dock” named for the boat wharf, plying to Tacoma onto a 10 acre tract; was the abandoned Military Reservation having homestead rights.  
  • Finally purchased the land in Sept. 24, 1908.  
  • Daughters Emma A. and Hulda M. were born in Gig Harbor.  
  • The four girls all attended the two room schoolhouse at “Head of Bay”.  
  • Mary J. married in 1910 and built home on two acres of original ten acres.  
  • Samuel Ambrose and Mary J. had a son, Samuel Gordon, born at Gig Harbor in 1917 Dec. 4.

  • Martin Carlson was a cabinet maker and carpenter by trade, also a shoe salesman.  His work as carpenter at Gig Harbor, among a few were: First Methodist Church, Community Hall and at Skansie’s shipyard. 
  • He lived on original place ’tip his demise April 15, 1922 age 62 years.  
  • Amanda lived in house ’tip fall of 1936.  Sold to Mr. and Mrs. Nelson who now occupy property.  Passed away Jan 2, 1955 age 85 1/2 years in Tacoma.
  • Ambrose sold also in 1938.
  • Carlson and Ambrose home still are seen from many points of Harbor a precious memory to family.
  • Mary and Elvera live now in Tacoma.  Emma in Olympia 6 mo. and Yuciapa, Cal. 6 months of the year. Hulda lives in Puyallup.  
  • There are three grandchildren and one great, great grandson.

Again, a reminder that Mrs. Samuel (Mary J.) Ambrose Memoir and Notes are undated I have included the following found on

Martin Carlson - Oct. 27, 1861-Apr. 15, 1922
Amanda H. Carlson - May 14, 1864-Jan 2, 1950
Mary J. Carlson Ambrose - Jan. 13, 1891-Jan. 4, 1986
Elvera Hildegard Carlson Burdine - Jan. 1, 1893-Jan. 14, 1989
Emma A. Carlson Anderson - Aug. 2, 1894-Feb. 3, 1983
Hulda M. Carlson Goodell - Jan 30, 1896-Jan. 18, 1988

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1 comment:

  1. A most excellent blog entry this week. If only more people would write down their memories before they're lost!