Thursday, April 9, 2015

Frederick Eugene Austin (1/10/1912-12/30/1994)

Today whenever the name of Austin is mentioned as one of our pioneers, the man that immediately comes up is Charles Osgood Austin and his connection to the lumber industry, and of course, Austin Estuary at the mouth of monkey Creek.

But there was another Austin family who arrived on the Gig Harbor peninsula around 1902 and settled in Gig Harbor and that was Frederick Eugene Austin (9/10/1861-11/27/1940).  He and his first wife, Mary Rose Sackett Austin (7/12/1866-10/7/1908) moved west because Mary Rose had relatives, George and Ida Sackett  who were living in Tacoma and the St. Peters living in Gig Harbor.  These two families had been writing home to Scio, New York enthusiastically about life in Washington.  He found some land about 10 1/2 miles south of the bay and bought out the interest of thief a man who had filed title but made no improvements.  Its about, as I understand the intersection of Stinson Avenue and SR16; SR 16 cutting the property in half.

I happened to run across two different articles about Fred in the Harbor History Museum Research Room and became curious.  I also found the name “Austin” on the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society’s list of recommended street names.

The first article was a Peninsula Gateway piece by Andy James regarding a book signing at Mostly Books by Fred, the son, when he was 82 years old entitled “Bringing old days back’.  I don’t want to spoil the book review by Andy James, but it is very detailed and very good.

The story of the family is delightfully recounted in a charming memoir written by one of Frederick Eugene Austin’s sons entitled “Tales from the Woodshed”  published in 1992 by Red Apple Publishing and published by Gorham Printing in Rochester, WA.  The book reads as though you and Fred were sitting together and talking about the old days.

Fred spent his working life as a logger until age 68.  Then he, and with his sons assistance, he opened a Christmas tree farm.  Two of those sons are also named Frederick Eugene just to confuse you when researching the name.  So there are four Frederick Eugene Austins total in the articles, though there may be more now. His age though had caught up with him and even running the tree farm known as Artondale Sincere Tree Farm on a full-time basis became too much work after 10 years.  So his daughter, Mary Young Zawlocki, encouraged him to keep busy by writing down all his memories of the family, its life, and Gig Harbor as it evolved over his lifetime.

I discovered when trying to find copies of “Tales from the Woodshed” it is very difficult, and when you do they are expensive some copies up to $500.  Surprising I believe for a self-published book written by an unknown author.  However, No Dearth of Books has a copy.  One of the reasons the book is so difficult to find is that its initial run was only 100 copies published.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could come up with a way to have a few more copies published?

It was the second article was also in the Peninsula Gateway entitled “A Pioneer’s Plaza” that really grabbed my attention and confused me to no end.  The Pioneer Plaza referred to is the Kimball Plaza just off Pioneer Way.  

The property referred to was, before it became Kimball Plaza, Albert Simerson’s rye field  As the article when talking about the property says “Then it was a field of rye and Frederick Eugene (Dad) helped his son Albert Simerson harvest the grain with an immense grain cradle, according to Austin’s son, Fred Austin of Gig Harbor.  

Following the death of his first wife, Mary Rose Sackett Austin, in 1908 from cancer Fred Austin’s father returned to New York with his daughter Rhoda went back to New York.  He sold his 2 lots  located near Stinson Avenue and Wollochet where an Assembly of God Church was located for one thousand dollars in gold and once back in New York  and winter over, he headed for the farming country.  While attending a town picnic he met and fell in love with Marie Huxel Austin.  By fall, they married and pulled up stakes tp return to the west although Marie would much rather stay in New York where her family, friends, and life had been up to that time.  Marie, her two sons, John (+/- 1903) and Albert (1894) and Frederick (Dad) came to Gig Harbor, but when they arrived it was no longer the boom time it had been when he left in early 1909.  Europe was gearing up for war, and it affected the United States as well with the panic of 1910-11 following the enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Once back, Dad worked as a common laborer for others, and bartering and trading for food.  But he also located 20 acres of ‘wild land’ that he was able to buy no money down and $10 a month.  This property was “about 2 miles south of the first place.  Address: 6001 Wollochet Drive NW.  I was born on the north half of the property and guess what?  The south end, now in 1989, sports a new and much larger Assembly of God Church.  Just a little oddity I thought interesting, that the only two pieces of property Dad owned in the West would have Assembly of God churches on them.  Neither church was built during Dad’s time.”  (Tales from the Woodshed)

So let’s jump from 1912 when Fred was born to 1924 when he was 12 and got his first job picking loganberries.  Then the following year he saved up enough to buy his first 5 foot saw and started cutting wood.  But 1930, Fred graduated in a class of 25; he was in the senior class play, a four-letter man in baseball and 2-letter in football.

Following graduation, in the midst of the Great Depression, work was hard to come by so Fred earned money through a variety of different jobs.  Things like picking hops in Eastern Washington, helping plant crops and apple trees as well as picking the apples, and working in an apiary on the Yakima Indian Reservation.  Oh yes, he even trapped skunks for money so he could get a marriage license.  

And, on May 28, 1934, he and Marie Bridget McDonough were married.  In the fall of 1935 the C.M.C. Timber Company started logging the last stand of old timber on the Gig Harbor Peninsula.  It covered 10,240 acres and Fred got a job with them falling (as he puts it in his book “not felling, HA!)

Fred’s last job was logging eighty acres of timber that he had gotten.  It took him 3 years, but when he finished he hung up his saw.

Fred’s book is 142 pages and divided into 5 parts with titles such as:  Merging Paths; Chat with Family; Happenings during My Section of Time; Bits & Pieces and And Now the Tales.  So, as you see, I’ve barely touched the surface.

Let’s end with Fred’s Senior Class Poem, which appeared in Perclawam (Gig Harbor Union High School Annual)

Oh, Union High School,
We’ll soon be leaving you,
For we have other places to go
And other things to do

Four years you have been our home,
Four happy years were they, 
But now the time has come for us
To leave you and be on our way.

We’ll be homesick each and every one
But we will forget that after awhile,
And we’ll think of our high school days
With many a happy smile.

We have all looked forward to the time
When we would bid you good-bye,
But now that the time is here
We leave you with a sigh.

As dear to our heart as other places grow,
I know we each and all
Will be wishing we could return to you
When school begins next fall.

Others will take our places
And our duties will perform,
Until they, like us, will be turned out
To face the withering storm.

Of all the things you gave us
The greatest were wisdom and happiness,
And now we have more to thank you for
Than we ever can express.

But even the best of friends must part
And the time for us is here,
But as we leave you, Old High School,
In every eye there shines a tear.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

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