Thursday, July 14, 2016

July, 2016 70th Anniversary of Incorporation of Gig Harbor.

The newly incorporated Town of Gig Harbor
Held their first meetings in Judge H. R. Thurston Building 
July, 2016 70th Anniversary of Incorporation of Gig Harbor.

Seventy-nine years after Samuel Jerisich discovered the bay of Gig Harbor on a fishing trip and decided to move his family here, the growing settlement decided the best way to govern was to join forces and file for incorporation.  Not everyone agreed, but eventually the majority voted for incorporation.  (It is true that the bay of Gig Harbor was discovered and named on July 3, 1841, but none of Captain Wilkes' crew members remained behind to start a settlement.)

This blog was originally published as you see, on October 10, 2013.  However as we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the incorporation this July, 2016, I thought it appropriate to republish. 

But before you continue reading this perhaps you should also read an earlier blog about the incorporation of the Town of Gig Harbor published June 26, 2012.  

Politics and Gig Harbor

It's Fall and politics are in the air…  It is a good time to practice and put into use those debating skills you learned back in school, or if you are young, will learn.  Several examples, good and bad, follow.

I was reminded of this when I picked up a newspaper article date 1906.  Unfortunately the actual date in 1906 and the name of the paper was missing, but the section was entitled "Gig Harbor and Vicinity, The Choicest Suburb of Tacoma" and the article or, if you prefer, editorial was captioned "Let Us Organize".  

It is a very short piece but one that started in play a lot of changes within this village know as Gig Harbor.  So, here it is:  "LET US ORGANIZE  The time is now at hand when the residents of Gig Harbor should awake from their lethargy and by a concerted action do something for the advancement and upbuilding of this community.  Heretofore there has been some excuse for inactivity in this direction, owing to the unsettled condition of the titles of much of the land within the village.  This obstacle is now practically removed and there is no further excuse for delay.  Gig Harbor is beautifully and conveniently situated, and has tributary to it a country of large and varied resources, which is being rapidly settled by intelligent and thrifty people.  These natural advantages must be utilized in a business-like manner if we would reap the harvest which naturally flows therefrom.  We suggest that our people get together and organized a commercial club for the purpose of pushing to the front a uniform and systematic scheme of development and progress.  Let us act at once.  Delay is dangerous." 

Although I didn't find anything about the Peninsula Community Club until 1917 as explained in the next paragraph, I think it is important to give some very active members of Gig Harbor, mainly the women, credit for their part in growing the community.  The Ladies' Fortnightly Club, founded in 1907, explained in their mission statement that they intent was to serve social and economical needs of its members.  However, this mission soon grew to include things such as the social welfare of the entire community.  You can read in more detail the history of this woman's club in a blog publish October 25, 2012.

The next news I saw regarding the founding of a commercial club was in the Bay Island News, Issue #1, May 10, 1917.  This article was announcing the list of the charter members of the newly founded Peninsula Community Club.  The list of charter members includes almost every man's name of those who lived around Gig Harbor bay.  They proposed to hold meetings at different points on the Peninsula to make certain the club lived up to the name.  The article goes on to state "Unity with a solid community front will accomplish results; and there is no other way in which results may be obtained."

In 1922, a business owner found her business increasing and decided to expand from a small mercantile business, which eventually grew into a well-stocked department store.  Theresa Sweeney, being an experienced and knowledgeable business person, rented space in her new building to for a new post office, a restaurant, a pharmacy and the first mayor of Gig Harbor, at that time dentist  Dr. Harold Ryan.  (Dr. Ryan did not become mayor until 1946 when the Town of Gig Harbor platted by Dr. Burnham and the Town of Millville platted by Joseph Dorotich and John Novak joined forces and became a fourth class incorporated city.  Mrs. Sweeney wasn't only active in managing her building, but was actively involved in real estate and promoting the charm and benefits of Gig Harbor.

By February 1924 the community leaders organized the Peninsula Federation of Good Roads and Improvement Clubs.  Their idea was to provide strong efforts to better and improve conditions on the peninsula and to avoid the "rocks of discord".  Unfortunately those rocks of discord appeared to block some of the road work by April 1924 when a "Mr. Ball" refused to give the new district their tractor.  He claimed that he had spend considerable funds in maintaining and repairing the tractor, and he wouldn't give it to them until they provided him with concrete plans of work to be performed. 

By June 1924 the club was in negotiation with the State of Washington to finish the construction of the Port Orchard-Gig Harbor state highway; they did not have enough money for the last mile and a half of the road in the Federated Club of the Peninsula bank account.  (The road was originally intended to run from Port Orchard to the Pierce County line.)  

It was in 1925 that Leander Finholm, a very active leader in the Gig Harbor community, and his son, Hugo, invested in a telephone service bringing telephone and telegraph services to our community.  We found this out back in February, 2013 when The Finholms blog published.  

Jumping ahead to November 6, 1925, and the Peninsula Gateway publishes a lengthy impassioned  letter from H. R. Thurston regarding the incorporation of the Peninsula Light Company because the welfare of the people depend on electrical power and light, and the power also means water.  In this letter he is basically outlining how the company would work, the costs and benefits,and how it could be supported by bonds.  He also explains that each member would have stock in the company and one vote per one share.  His argument for the Peninsula Electric Company is promoted by a Mr. F. M. Hunt who explains, obviously in answer to questions brought out during the debate as to whether or not the Peninsula Light Company should obtain formal status as a rural electric company, that no  one member could gain full control of the company.   

The area grew by leaps and bounds during the 1920s with the introduction of gasoline, used in both boats and automobiles.  And boatbuilding was the major industry in town, followed by the agriculture community.  This period of growth came to an end with the Depression Era, the collapse of the stock market and people losing their jobs.  The folks in town were hard hit, as were the farmers.  But the farmers had the advantage of producing food, not only for their families but also for others to buy or trade various items for.   In 1931 the Lions Club was founded (the second oldest on the western shores of the Puget Sound).  The club became an informal ad hoc committee dealing with some of the governmental needs of the area.  Many of those founding members listed in the May 10, 1917 article in the Peninsula Gateway as charter members of the Peninsula Community Club were also founding members of the Lions.

Following the end of the Second World War, the community leaders in North Gig Harbor, the original area platted with the name "Gig Harbor" filed a petition to formally incorporate as a town.  It was not received with open arms.  The residents on the west side of the bay where the bulk of the community businesses were located voiced loud objection should the new corporation take the name Gig Harbor.  H. R. Thurston spoke saying no one objected to the head of the bay incorporating, but they did object to their taking the name Gig Harbor.  The Pierce County Commissioners sent everyone home with instructions that the two groups needed to come together, file a new petition for the incorporation of the entire community "and have a real town."

So the residents followed the advise, but when the election was held in September, 1945, the petition was defeated.  "A total of 188 votes were cast, but one voter expressed complete confidence in the candidates for municipal offices, but failed to vote for or against the incorporation."

So in April, 1946 a new petition was filed and when the election was held in July 1946, it passed.  Mr. C. E. Trombley, Editor of The Peninsula Gateway wrote an editorial  entitled "Gig Harbor Incorporated"  He explains his belief that it was a good thing for the community.  He went on to say "For some time our town has been like a large over-grown family without proper parental control.  We are living in an ever changing world, and Gig Harbor is a part of that world.  We have local problems on our hands today that we had no thought of five years ago and the immediate years will bring more."  And he ends with "Gig Harbor has finally taken a step that was positively necessary for its proper growth and development, and in our opinion it is now on the threshold of a brighter and better day."

Early Dentist and First Mayor of the Town of Gig Harbor, Harold Ryan
And many additional benefits came to the community such as a police department, making the volunteer fire department into a formal organization, and establishing the governing body of the village with the Incorporation of the Town of Gig Harbor 

First Town of Gig Harbor Police Car
L to r: Mayor Ryan, Tony Stanch, Judge H. R. Thurston

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.


  1. The telephone system started by the Finholms in 1925 did not bring the first telephones to Gig Harbor. Gig Harbor was connected to Tacoma by telephone at least as far back as 1910. Information concerning the pre-Finholm phone service is very difficult to come by, but it's probably likely that there wasn't more than a handful of phones in the greater Gig Harbor area. The Finholm system probably made telephones more affordable on this side of the Narrows, which led to their increase in popularity.

  2. Referring to John & Edward Finholm: "His uncle Leander Finholm and his cousin Hugo had moved to Gig Harbor from Olalla when Leander purchased 80% of the stock in the Inland Island Telephone & Telegraph Company in 1926."

    "t was in 1925 that Leander Finholm, a very active leader in the Gig Harbor community, and his son, Hugo, invested in a telephone service bringing telephone and telegraph services to our community. We found this out back in February, 2013 when The Finholms blog published."