This People's History tells the story of August (1859-1928) and Carolina (d. 1930) Holmquist, a couple who, perhaps more than any others, had an impact on the community of Monroe (Snohomish County) in its early years. Not only did they, as shingle-mill owners, provide employment for many, but their acts of charity, quietly performed, were legendary. From their native Sweden to the banks of the Skykomish River in Monroe, the lives of August and Carolina epitomized the true pioneer spirit.
August Holmquist was born in northern Sweden on April 5, 1859. Frank Johan Holmquist, his father, was a carpenter and cabinet pattern-maker who, soon after his marriage to Christina Carlson, became a ship’s carpenter and went to sea for three years, traveling to China and Asia.
The young Holmquist learned the cabinetmaking trade, following in his father’s footsteps and making furniture on the farms around where he lived. At the age of 15 he abandoned furniture making and worked as a ship loader. His varied work career led him to a helper's job in a blacksmith's shop, and there he became a machinist.
In 1878, August Holmquist enrolled in navigation school, one of the youngest ever to attend. He received his papers as a second engineer and sailed the seas until 1882, when he immigrated to the United States. He arrived without money or friends. He worked in the mill yards at Cloque, Minnesota, for a few months, and when the mill owners experienced trouble with their engine, Holmquist brought his engineering experience to bear and solved the problem.
His career took another turn when he was hired as hoisting engineer on a construction job. He also ran a machine shop for a short time. After spending time in Duluth, he returned to Cloque, where he was hired as the man in charge of a lumber company machine shop. There he found the love of his life, Swedish-born Carolina Larson Cloque. They were married in 1886.
Building a Life in the West
A trip to the Pacific Coast landed him in Tacoma, then Seattle, and finally Edmonds, where he ran a mill for Nels Owens and, with several other men, built a shingle mill.
All of these work experiences contributed to his success as a Monroe mill owner. He sold his interest in the Edmonds operation and moved first to Sultan, where he built another shingle mill and operated it until 1897. Then he bought a site in Monroe, and in 1898 he built his shingle mill on the east side of Wood’s Creek, just upstream from its confluence with the Skykomish River, near a loading spur from the Great Northern Railway main line.
The mill filed incorporation papers in 1908 as the Wood’s Creek Mill Company, with Holmquist as president and manager. However, all the local residents referred to it as Holmquist’s mill. Carolina, known as Lena, became the secretary-treasurer of the operation, and she cooked for the single men who lived in company housing.
Shingles by the Millions
One cord of single bolts produced 5,000 shingles. The bolts floated down Woods Creek from the forests around Lake Roesiger, northwest of Monroe, where they were gathered into a boom awaiting the saw that produced the shingles. In 1900, three sawmills and four shingle mills in the area employed nearly 300 men. Shingle mills paid $1.50 to $4.50 a day, while the railroad offered $2 a day. In March 1902 the Holmquist mill cut nearly three million shingles.
The Holmquists added a new kiln in 1903, installed a hot water pump, and lighted the mill and company houses with electricity. By then, the mill averaged 133,000 shingles a day. In 1904, the two mills located on Woods Creek cleared and straightened the waterway to improve its use as a cedar-bolt carrier.
In September 1907, the output of Washington’s lumber industry was valued at $90 million, far more than wheat, coal, and fisheries combined. Statistics show that 101,000 men were employed in the industy and that they earned a total of $70 million. Holmquist had raised his wages earlier in the year to conform to the union scale, adding nine cents per day for packing, 17 cents for sawing, and 25 cents for day workers.
An appalling tragedy for Monroe residents occurred in mid-May 1904, when two youngsters tampered with the main Great Northern Railway switch from the main line to the Holmquist spur. The train went through the switch at 30 miles per hour. The heavy engine crashed into two box cars being loaded with shingles.
The loading crew had left just minutes before the impact, which saved their lives. The boxcars were splintered completely, and two railroad men died at the scene. The two young boys were arrested.
Supporting the Community
The mill operated into the 1930s, although the Holmquists' active participation ended in 1918. During its years of operation, the mill provided substantial employment and gave a boost to Monroe’s economy.
The Homquists helped the economy in other ways, too. In 1916, the Thedinga Hardware Company, local agents for the Ford Motor Company, received a shipment of eight cars and set a record by selling them all within a few days. August Holmquist was one of the new owners.
In addition to providing employment and supporting local businesses, the Holmquists shared their bounty with fellow citizens, and their charitable acts were unequaled in early Monroe. They helped friends and strangers alike.
The Holmquists had other interests besides the mill. August became a director of the new Monroe National Bank that was formed in early 1909. Soon it became the First National Bank and, in the 1940s, a branch of the First National Bank of Everett, which merged with Seattle First National Bank in 1969.
Lives Well Lived
August Holmquist was infected in the 1918 influenza epidemic and never fully recovered. His rugged constitution gradually faded and he became susceptible to other ills. In 1920 he suffered his first stroke. He passed away at his Monroe home in early April 1928, just three days after he reached the age of 69.
His front-page obituary in the Monroe Monitor extolled his virtues.
"His life was a useful one and an example for the coming generation of American manhood. Coming to this country with no money or friends by hard work, honesty, the natural ability of his race, he has left a name that will long be associated with that which is good, clean, and generous of this life. His fortune in this worlds goods is conservatively estimated at a half million dollars accumulated by hard work and honesty. His donations to charity organized and private totaled thousands of dollars yearly.”
Carolina Holmquist survived her husband by only two years. An illness of several months drained her, and she was sent to a Seattle hospital, where she died in March 1930. She had spent a lifetime caring for others. As it had with her husband, the Monroe Monitor wrote about her life as a benefactor of the needy and suffering.
An editorial published the same day as her obituary said:
“No news of the passing of a resident of this community was ever received with a more profound sense of great and overwhelming loss than the announcement that on Monday last, Mrs. Carolina Holmquist had rendered up her final account. For 33 years, Mrs. Holmquist had been a resident of this community, and it is doubtful if another had earned a higher regard in the hearts of the people. Her bequests to charity while continuous were ever given in the spirit that it is more blessed to give than to receive. In dispensing her charity, she took no cognizance of creed, nationality or whether the particular subject had a greater deservingness than some other supplicant. She gave with a true spirit of charity.”
Carolina’s will disbursed her assets to family members in the United States and Sweden.
A Lasting Legacy
The Holmquist's descendants are still found in Monroe. They had no natural children but adopted a daughter, born Mary G. Plato, when she was a little over 1 year old. Mary, who was born in Kirkland on June 26, 1891, married Edward White in 1908, and they had a son, Norman, and a daughter, Luciel. Luciel was united in marriage to Robert Shuler in 1927, and their only daughter, Carolyn, was born in Monroe in 1928. She married Mervin Boyes in November 1946, and they continue to live in Monroe (2009).
Although she was too young to remember them, Carolyn Boyes recalls family stories about her great-grandparents. “He was nearly six feet tall and she barely topped five feet,” she said. “I was told she was a strict person despite her size.