Government - or Lack of it…that is the Question. (1867-1946)
Have you every wondered about how early Gig Harbor was governed from its start in 1867 until the community was incorporated as a fourth class town in 1946? I have so I thought a clarification might be interesting. But remember, this is no a history lesson, just a very simplified explanation.
At first Washington’s nearest government offices were in what was then called Oregon County from 1843; its name changed to Portland in 1845 and was incorporated. In 1852, the US government created Thurston County and set up limited governmental offices there. Later that same year when the federal governmental offices in Oregon Territory decided that Thurston County was too large since it stretched from Olympia to the Canadian border. As a result Pierce County, King County and Jefferson County were all formed from the Thurston County land mass. Now, settlers in and on the Gig Harbor Peninsula could transact property filings in Tacoma, WA.
The US Homestead Act, established May 20, 1862 was specifically for this purpose, and remained in effect until the final claim for 80 acres in southeastern Alaska was approved in 1988.
The Act provided that any adult citizen (or person intending to become a citizen) who headed a family could qualify for a grant of 160 acres of public land by paying a small registration fee and living on the land continuously for five years. If the settler was willing to pay $1.25 an acre, he could obtain the land after only six months’ residence.
As stated above, by December 1852, Pierce County became responsible for land filings, roads, waterways, property sales, licensing of vessels , establishing of post offices, business firm incorporations, and similar governmental oversight.
The settlement of Gig Harbor started in 1867 when Samuel Jerisich moved to the area. When he was convinced that it would be a perfect place to set down roots, raise his family and earn a living. Jerisich brought his wife, Anna Willits and their children here from British Columbia where they had previously been living although Samuel fished up and down the Pacific Coast.
Jerisich met many people during his travels and told them about Gig Harbor and his enthusiasm for this new place. It was most likely discussed with his friends still living in his country of birth, and each friend told his friends…and you know how news spreads.
Gradually those friends and other families joined him both from the Old Country but also from east of the Rocky Mountains as they sought a better life. Not all the new settlers however were Croatian; there was a large influx of settlers from the Scandinavian countries. Then too there were those families who had been caught up in the Civil War and suffering from the various recessions or depressions which occurred during the latter part of the 19th century and into the first part of the 20th century.
The settlers started social clubs to meet their neighbors and join in community activities beyond their churches. Gradually the social clubs expanded to joined similar ones so more voices were heard. Organizations such as The Grange, The Lions Clubs, and other fraternal organization. In addition to these clubs, the settlers wanted to improve the limited services available. For example streets, electricity, transportation, fire protection, policing and schools just to name a few of the needed services.
The Gig Harbor Improvement Club (covering primarily north Gig Harbor and Crescent Valley areas) and the West Side Improvement Club (covering what later became know as the South Side or Downtown area) were formed. Both joined the Federated Clubs organization as did the women’s social clubs.
It is possible that an article appearing in an unnamed paper section entitled “Gig Harbor and Vicinity, the Choicest Suburb of Tacoma” dated 1906 was the major incentive to start the improvement clubs. Why do I think that? There was an editorial or article was captioned “Let Us Organize” published in the local paper, although we don’t know which paper. The first such club was formed in 1917 and was named ‘Peninsula Community Club’ that I found. I think that the two local Gig Harbor clubs separated from the original club to concentrate on immediate concerns to their community. But the Peninsula Community Club and the two improvement clubs joined forces when needed, along with other clubs. The South Side Improvement Club operated from 1925 until 1946 when both areas joined together to be incorporated as a fourth Class Town of Gig Harbor.
The idea behind the improvement club philosophy was to improve living conditions in the communities and to lobby the government for help as well as for new and improved services the communities needed. I found it interesting that the two Improvement Clubs operated basically as de facto town governments for their individual areas or districts. And to give you a better idea of what they did, I’ll share a few of the various activities of the South Side Improvement Club, starting in 1925 until 1946.
The first recorded order of business for the South Side Improvement Club was gathering subscriptions for the park fund. The park in question was the Grandview Park, property formerly owned by Neil Shyleen, Chair of the new club.) The fund raising appears successful given the times; WWI ended a short 7 years earlier and the country was just coming out of the 1920-21 depression. Nine Gig Harbor business and individuals, 10 Tacoma firms and professionals and one Seattle business all bought subscriptions. The total raised was $565 or, by 2016 dollars, $7,724.66.
The members also wanted to be certain that the club was known as the “South” not “West” Side Improvement Club.
Next item taken up by the club was a plea made by Mr. Makovich for a vote to get the community pass an extra 10 mill levy for the school district.
In April 1926 the members were having meetings with the County Commissioners regarding traffic regulation as well as extending Harborview Drive (at that time name “Front Street”) to the ferry dock at the mouth of the harbor. Remember Harborview Drive was the main highway to travel to Port Orchard and Bremerton. But this specific traffic and road work had just transfer the responsibility to the State Highway Commission.
Other highlights of their work for the community included but not limited to were:
- Puget Sound Electric Company offered to supply electric current to Gig Harbor and Shore acres: house lighting 8 1/2 cent per KW, heat, power chicken houses, etc $1.50 plus 3 cents per KW for 1st 150 KW, then 2 cents per KW. Industrial trial rates by special agreement.
- Purchase into Peninsula Light Company
- Improving the poor telephone service between Port Orchard and Gig Harbor
- Discussion with County Commissioners for shorter ferry route from Pt. Defiance to Gig Harbor
- Discussion with County Commissioners to have regular paid resident sheriff.
- Special levy to buy a badly needed furnace for school
- 1928 working with Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce regarding the pros and cons of incorporation into an actual town.
- Pros included reduction of insurance rates; city lighting; sewers; fire protection. Joseph Dorotich was one of the mens supporting incorporation.
- Cons included heavier tax burden as current tax revenue could not support the community.
- 1929 found the club participating with the 6th Avenue Improvement Club as respects the bridge movement between Tacoma and the Peninsula communities. The meeting was attended by all clubs in Pierce County and City of Tacoma, Governor Hatly and the Tacoma mayor.
- Club paid their income tax and requested that they be exempt from the income tax.
- Naming some of the roads in and around the community: Malony Lake, Wollochet Northern and Park Avenue.
- 1931 had Lee Makovich discussing and explaining the fishermen’s stand on the proposal treaty between Canada and the United States.
- 1932 found the club working with the State Highway Commission to eliminate the curve at Austin Mill.
- Also for lower taxes
- For street lighting from Pearl Street to Ferry Landing at Point Defiance in Tacoma
- Still working to build the bridge to and from Tacoma possible.
- 1933 found Neil Shyleen Chair of the Local Project Committee to fix and surface some roads in Home Colony as well as the Gig Harbor Ferry Landing road and to finish a part of the Point Fosdick road either with cement or gravely black top.
- Working with the CWA (Civil Works Administration) to obtain funds to clear grounds and finish the Boy Scouts cabin at the Auto Park.
- 1934 Neil Shyleen reported that the CWA refused to advance any funds for the improvement of the Parking Ground, road and buildings because the South Side Improvement Club was a corporation.
- Question of whether or not to pay taxes on the ground at Grandview Park was delayed until fall. In December it was decided that the Club would request the PTA to help pay the taxes and to keep the land until such time as the Town is incorporated and then the land be turned over to the Town for a Town Park.
- Letter from Tacoma Chamber of Commerce in regard to donating some money to help defray expenses in connection with the Narrows Bridge. The Club instructed the Secretary to explain the financial standing of the Club and the inability to contribute to the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce.
- The Treasure Department notified the Club that they needed to appear at the Collectors Office in Tacoma and explain that the Club has no income from any source.
- 1936 the Secretary was instructed to write to the President of the United States and ask for help in securing funds to construction the Narrows Bridge.
- 1938 there was much discussion about the State taking over the ferry system and the need to keep close eye on it so that Gig Harbor did not suffer due to lack of ferry service.
- Resolution to go on record covering our late President’s passing and same to be published in local Paper. (Mr. Neil Parsons Shyleen died October 24, 1937)
- “In memory of the late president, members present caused to be read upon the minutes, most sincere regrets because of the passing of a man who for so many years had served his community, state and country with a devotion that was sublime, and an inspiration to all good citizens. May we always cherish and hold close to our hearts the memory of this good man who gave so much to others.”
- Discussion of the Fishermens Dock to be taken up with project committee
- Promote the Library move
These are just a very few of the activities engaged in by the South Side Improvement Club and its members. So I believe it helps you understand why I called it a quasi governmental body.
And now for a listing of the various members’ names mentioned in the South Side Improvement Club Minutes. I’ve tried to identified their occupation for a better understand of the various viewpoints expressed in their activities.
- Adams, Frank H. - Boat Builder
- Atkinson, Mrs. - Possibly Sam L.’s wife
- Austin, C. O. - Manufacter of lumber, shingles, boxes, etc.
- Batchelor, Harold. H. - Berry Farmer
- Bone, Mr. - I could not identify
- Burkhiemer, R. H. - owner The Hardware Store
- Cinema, G. - Tacoma Businessman owner of Iron & Metal Co. and what is now known as the J. B. Stevens Building in 2100 Block of Pacific Avenue
- Commerce, Jim - I could not identify
- Commers, R. James -
- Cook, Mrs. - Several Cooks in GH; most Civil War veterans or was it Mrs. Anna Cook, owner of a vineyard on Fox Island in 1922-1944?
- Cruver, Lewis Crosier - Cruver Service Station
- Dorotich, Mr. Joseph
- Easterday, Mr. (Joseph H. ?)
- Eckton, Edgar J. (his name was also spelled Eskton)
- Erickson, Mrs. Alfred
- Floyis, Mrs.
- Frost, Charles David
- Gillie, Mr. - Sales Manager of Puget Sound Electric Co., Bremerton
- Guell, Mr.
- Hopping, Wm. P. - Tacoma Businessman
- House, Mr. H. A. - owner/manager West Side Mercantile Co.
- Hunt, Floyd - Member of the Miles Hunt family - Ship Building/Operations
- Hylean, Mr.
- Jacobs, C. V.
- Jacobs, Mrs
- Kimball, Lewis - Farmer
- Krewer, Mr.
- Lawroff, S. - Tacoma Resident
- Lowry, J. F.
- Makovich, Lee - Fishing Industry - President of Fisherman’s Packing Corporation
- McCouaghy, Jack
- McIntyre, Art. W.
- Mojean, Mrs.
- Mojean, Louis (Spelled Mojian) - Real Estate & Insurance
- Mosher, W. Y. - Owned grocery “Staple & Fancy Groceries; Fresh & Smoked Meats; Mother Meat Market
- Mosher, Mrs.
- Nelson, Chris M.
- Noithy, J.
- Paul, Mr. (E. V. D. ?)
- Peyran, Mr. P. H. or Ross J. - Holly Farmer
- Rawlins, Jack
- Rehn, Mr. Harold - Owner Rehn Motor Co.
- Rowlings, J. S.
- Ryan, Dr. Harold H. - Dentist - First Mayor of Gig Harbor
- Shaffer, Fred
- Shyleen, N. P. - Farmer/Property Owner
- Simerson, Mr. Alfred
- Skansie, Andrew - Skansie Ship Building
- Skansie, Mitchell - Skansie Ship Building/WA Navigation Co./Ferry Service
- Skansi, Peter - Fisherman
- Skansi, Mrs. Peter
- Smith, Earl
- Steele, Mr. George H. - District Manager Puget Sound Electric Co., Bremerton
- Stowe, Mr.
- Swanson, Mr. Nels O. ?
- Sweet, William. J. - Life Insurance Agent
- Theis, George A. - Salesman General Store; wife owned The Peninsula Cafe
- Thurston, Judge H. R. - Also Owner of Pioneer Electric Co/electrical contractor/property owner
- Tinkanelli, Peter
- Trombley, C. E. - owner/Publisher/Editor The Peninsula Gateway
- Turner, Mary J. - Pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church
- Uddenberg, Mrs.
- Van Osterhout, Mr.
- Wallis, Mr.
- Wallis, Mrs.
- Welch, R. E.
- Welch, Mrs.
- Minutes of The South Side Improvement Club, Gig Harbor, Washington 1925through 1945 transcribed by Maureen Della Maggiora
- Ancestry.com 1930 & 1940 US Census
- Harbor History Museum Resource Room