Edgewood -- Thumbnail History

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 2/27/2019
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20253
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The City of Edgewood (informally known as North Hill) is located 30 miles south of Seattle in north Pierce County, just north of Puyallup. It borders Puyallup and unincorporated Pierce County to the south, the cities of Milton and Fife to the west, unincorporated King County to the north, the city of Pacific to the northeast, and Sumner to the east. Edgewood is known for its landmark Nyholm Windmill. The community developed from homesteaders who settled there beginning in the 1860s through the 1890s. The first known homesteader in the area that became Edgewood was William Benston. The local post office was established in 1894. The Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway began service in 1902, bringing significant growth and development to the area. Edgewood incorporated on February 28, 1996. By 2018, the population had risen to more than 11,000.

Military Road and Homesteaders on the Hill

On December 22, 1852, the Oregon Territorial Legislature created Pierce and King counties. The county line between them was drawn through the area that would become Edgewood. On March 2, 1853, Washington Territory was formed from the northern section of Oregon Territory. Today, the county line runs along Edgewood's northern boundary at S 384th Street between Meridian (SR 161) and West Valley Highway S.

Construction of what would become Military Road through the area was approved and funded the same year that Washington Territory came into existence. Five years later in 1858 construction of Military Road began; it was completed in October 1860. It was the first road built through what would later become Edgewood. Two years later, the Homestead Act of 1862 passed, allowing settlers to claim land. The first telegraph line in the area was built parallel to the road, reaching Seattle on October 25, 1864.

The earliest documented homestead settlers in and around what would become the city of Edgewood (sections 2-3, 10-11, 14-15, and 21-23, Township 20 North, Range 4 East, Willamette Meridian) began claiming land in the 1860s and homesteading continued through early 1890s. More than two dozen people filed for homestead claims: From the north side of the Puyallup River (North Puyallup) all the way up to the King/Pierce county line 18 filed claims of 100 or more acres and 10 filed for less than 100 acres. The first to file a land claim in the North Puyallup area was Adam Benston (1847-1941), who made a claim of 319.46 acres on March 11, 1867, in sections 21 and 22. The first to file land claim close to present-day Edgewood was William Benston, who on March 27, 1873, filed for 100.61 acres in sections 16 and 21. Additional land that became available was claimed by the Northern Pacific Railroad.

The early Edgewood-area residents were a melting pot of European immigrants and migrants from the East Coast and nearby territories, all drawn to having a better life and living on their own land. Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Scottish, German, Italian, and Canadian families came with high hopes and dreams to farm a rural area of three square miles on a plateau at the edge of the woods, long before it was named Edgewood.

Roads were not paved, and in the rainy season they became quagmires, hub-deep in mud. Family farms were far apart and most of each early family's needs were met by farming their land. The families that settled on the hill were mostly young and children participated along with their parents as they milked cows, raised chickens, and cultivated fruits (raspberries and strawberries) and vegetables. The early years meant working hard to survive.

Among the early farming families were the Messicks. William Robert Messick (1861-1931), a pillar of the community and respected farmer, came from Missouri in 1883 to Tacoma with his wife Mary Wells Messick (1862-1919) and baby son John Lewis Messick (1883-1937). A farmer until 1885, he homesteaded north of Sumner (Southeast Edgewood), clearing 25 acres and building a small house. The Messicks lived in Southeast Edgewood for six years before moving to Sumner in 1891. William Messick purchased a livery, sale, and feed stable, conducting the business until 1894.

After selling the business Messick moved to Alaska, mining at Cook Inlet for one season. In 1895, he returned to Sumner and tried his hand at commercial fishing for a couple of years, then worked as a butcher, operating a local meat market for 10 years. Messick bought an apple orchard in Wenatchee and operated the business for two years then sold it. In 1920, he purchased land again in Southeast Edgewood and lived there until 1925. He sold the property and purchased 30 more, acres engaging in truck gardening. He married a second time in 1921 to Hattie M. Callar (1878-1966).

Early Edgewood-area settlers also included six brothers a large family of 12 (eight brothers and four sisters) raised in Shelby, Indiana. The brothers James Edward Stevenson (1859-1929), Robert N. (Bob) Stevenson (1861-1923), George Wallace Stevenson (1862-1933), Franklin V. Stevenson (1867-1943), and John R. Stevenson (1871-1943) arrived in the area sometime after 1880 and purchased a saw mill, named Lumber Manufacturers and Dealers, located on Surprise Lake. Teenaged Charles Wallace Stevenson (1876-1966) joined his brothers in 1889 to assist in the family business. The Stevensons moved the business to South Hill in Puyallup and logged off 160 acres using donkey engines before selling the business.

What would become the City of Edgewood was essentially a combination of several communities: Jovita, named for Jovita Vallejo (1894-1948), the granddaughter of Claborn Albert Stokes, one of the largest property owners between Tacoma and Seattle, who platted the Jovita town site in 1907; Mountain View; Milton, originally called "Mill Town" for a mill overlooking the Puyallup Valley; and the North Hill of Puyallup. Depending on where one was coming from or going to, the future Edgewood area was known by many names -- from Tacoma, "the Hill;" from Puyallup, "North Hill;" and from Sumner, "Sumner Heights," to name a few. The first plat of Edgewood, filed by J. J. and Annie McBride, was recorded on October 10, 1883.

Early Schools on North Hill

Established on November 8, 1884, North Edgewood School District No. 42 was the first state-recognized school district in what is now Federal Way. Its two-room schoolhouse was located near what are now 360th Street and 16th Avenue South, slightly west of I-5. The first school actually located on North Hill was formed south of school district No. 42 on the homestead of William G. Morse (1858-1924) and his family, who filed a land claim on March 29, 1890, for 160 acres of section 4, Township 20 North, Range 4 East. The claim included a lake, which the family named Morse Lake (it later became known as Surprise Lake). On January 12, 1891, school district No. 27 was formed and operated in a one-room log schoolhouse on the Morse claim. Mrs. Morse educated her children and neighborhood kids in her home and taught at school district No. 27. Inar W. Nyholm (1894-1985), son of another early Edgewood homesteader, credited her with naming Edgewood for her hometown of Edgewood, Maryland.

By 1901, students attended school district No. 42 from rural areas in South King County and from Pierce County as far as Puyallup and Tacoma. A resident with a team of horses transported children by wagon from Mountain View to attend school in Edgewood. Several other school districts also formed on the hill, including Mountain View School and Jovita, which both consolidated for a time with the North Edgewood School District before becoming separate again.

A Post Office and a Windmill

Niels Jepsen (or Jessen) (1853-1926), who was appointed by Wilson Shannon Bissell (1847-1903), Postmaster General under President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), established the Edgewood post office on June 30, 1894. Jepsen had emigrated from Denmark in 1883 to the United States. Peter Nessen Nyholm (1861-1930), a fellow Dane and longtime friend of Niels Jepsen, later followed his friend as town postmaster on November 28, 1906.

By then Peter Nyholm had become one of the leading citizens in the Edgewood area because of his success in business and actively participating in matters that benefited the community, such as playing a central role in bringing the first telephone line to serve Edgewood area residents from Tacoma in 1900. Nyholm left his native Denmark in 1888 at the age of 27 and immigrated to the United States. He moved to Iowa where he met and married 24-year-old Anna Maria (or Marie) Hansen (1864-1947) on February 15, 1888 in the town of Clinton. The couple had two daughters, Annie and Alma Marie. By 1890, the family had moved to Washington and settled in Tacoma. Peter worked as a stone mason at the new Pierce County Courthouse; by trade he was a cabinetmaker and carpenter. By 1893, the couple had lost their daughters to diphtheria epidemic of the 1890s.

The Nyholms had two more children: Inar William Nyholm and Albert V. Nyholm (1900-1929). They moved onto 40 acres of land four miles north of Puyallup on a hill in the Edgewood area. There were no roads to the land.

Peter Nyholm cleared the heavily timbered land near present-day Jovita Boulevard and Meridian Avenue and in 1902 built a four-story mechanical windmill there. On the top floor was a several-hundred-gallon water tank serving homes in the area. The second floor had a workshop where Nyholm made wood carvings. The Nyholm Windmill would continue pumping water until July 1980, and it remains an Edgewood landmark more than a century after it was built.

The windmill was moved on Saturday morning, August 24, 1980, to a new location a short distance south, next to the Edgewood Fire Department at 2284 Meridian Avenue E, where it became Edgewood's first historical symbol. The same year, the family's home was moved to Jovita Boulevard. In 2016, Donald A. Nelson, president of the Edgewood-Nyholm Windmill Association and a longtime Edgewood resident and former volunteer fire chief, said it was believed that "Nyholm purchased the windmill from a catalog and built it on his own" (Nelson interview).

Ranching Success and the Grange Hall

In 1900 the Fillies family contributed a half acre of property for building Edgewood Grange Hall No. 266 at 1806 Meridian Avenue E. The Grange Hall became the heart and central point of the community, hosting fairs, plays, meetings, social affairs, and other events. Over the years the building would undergo restructuring and repairs, but in 2019 it still stood in the spot where it was constructed more than a century earlier.

The family provided the property for the Grange Hall soon after arriving in the area. Fred H. Fillies (1862-1945), an early and successful rancher, emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1882. He met and married Anna M. Carbiner (1862-1912) in 1888 in Iowa. The family later lived in Minnesota, and around 1900 moved from Minnesota to Washington. At that time, Fred and Anna had six children -- Fred E. (1888-?), Minnie Anna (1889-1918), William G. (1893-?), Earnest Adolph (1894-1950), Bertha Caroline Christina (1896-1985), and George Henry (1900-1975.). Family members grew and harvested produce, selling it in Tacoma. They cultivated raspberries and strawberries in a u-pick farm for youth in the area to enjoy. Fred would take his youngest daughter by horse and buggy to Tacoma, taking a full day or sometimes more to sell their produce. In addition to being a charter member of Edgewood Grange Hall No. 266, Fred H. Fillies was an active member of the school board.

Fred and Anna's daughter Minnie Fillies married Fred G. Sievert (1860-1930) in 1916. She died two years later during the Spanish flu epidemic. The following year, Sievert married Minnie's sister Bertha. The couple owned of Sievert's Resort on Surprise Lake. Fred Sievert passed died in a car accident in 1930. Bertha Fillies Sievert married James R. Gilbreath (1912-1981) in 1937, and they lived at Surprise Lake until the mid 1950s. The Gilbreaths sold the resort to the Johnson family. It was renamed Surprise Lake Resort and operated until 1975.

Like Fred H. Fillies, Hermann Reincke (1857-1941) was a German immigrant and successful rancher involved with the local Grange and school board. One of five children of Hermann Christian Reincke and Augusta Reincke, he left his native Germany in 1879, settling first in Kansas where he worked as a farmer for several years. He left Kansas and came to Tacoma, where he worked first in a furniture factory, followed by a sawmill, and then for the City of Tacoma.

In 1890, Reincke met and married Amelia (Emilie) Elske (1867-1954). By 1899, the couple had three sons; Paul A. (1891-1963), Edward Harry (1893-1972), and Arthur C. (1899-1977). Reincke leased a ranch in Edgewood for one year and then, in 1900, he bought 20 acres of land and built a small house. Clearing the land, he planted fruit and berries and began dairy farming with six cows. Reincke was a strong advocate of road improvements and good schools, an active member of the school board, and a member of the Edgewood Grange Hall.

The Interurban

The Puget Sound Electric Railway (Seattle-Tacoma Interurban) ran 38 miles between Seattle and Tacoma. Service began on September 25, 1902, sparking significant growth and development for Seattle, Tacoma, and rural communities lying between them. The rail line through Edgewood was exceptional in itself. The section in Edgewood included steep hills, and unstable canyon slopes through which a tunnel was carved at Stewarts Point and Jovita Canyon, connecting two historical roads (Old Military Road and Old Pacific Highway). This presented significant challenges during construction. The timber-structured-and-lined tunnel at Stewarts Point/Jovita Canyon was estimated to be at least 175 to 200 feet long, although the actual length is unknown, with various figures given in different sources.

Contractors Hale & Smith of Portland, Oregon, were responsible for this unpredictable work, perhaps the heaviest of the entire construction of the railway. Areas were set up for the development of the railway as groups of men worked on the Stewarts Point/Jovita Canyon tunnel. Three Interurban stations were developed in the area: Edgewood, located at Military Road near Meridian; Jovita, where the Interurban intersected Jovita Boulevard; and Bluffs, located in Pacific at the beginning of the grade up over the hogback of the Edgewood plateau. Edgewood and Jovita stations brought easier access, promoting the growth of services, innovation, and quality of life. According to a 2005 community history of the Interurban:

"These stations and rail line became the community and commercial 'front porch' of the 'North Hill' or what is now the plateau area of Edgewood, Milton and Jovita/Southwest King County" (A Community History of Edgewood, 11).

The Interurban served the communities between Seattle and Tacoma for 26 years until December 30, 1928. The Stewarts Point/Jovita Canyon tunnel was demolished in the 1980s.

Churches and Summer Camp

The Mountain View Lutheran Church congregation organized in December 1904. The first church was built in 1909 at 3505 122nd Avenue E. A bell tower was added in 1912. The tower was later saved from demolition and was added to the new chapel in 1926. The present sanctuary was built in 1965 next to the chapel.

Edgewood Sunday School began in 1910 at the old North Edgewood School, where it operated until 1929 when it moved to the Edgewood Grange Hall. In 1944, the Edgewood Community Church was built next to the Grange Hall at 1720 Meridian Avenue E. Reverend William Atwell Moore (1869-1974) became the church pastor. On December 7, 2008, the church merged with Valley Bible Church and was renamed Edgewood Bible Church.

On September 12, 1903, the State Spiritualist Association (an organization of churches devoted to healing and contact with those who have passed on, which was formed in September 1893) purchased 10 acres of section 4, Township 20 North, Range 4 East, from Earnest C. Oberteuffer (1876-1934) for $800 in cash. On the site at Surprise Lake the association built the State Spiritualist Camp, a recreational summer camp called Camp Edgewood. In those days, travelers heading to Surprise Lake would get off the Interurban at the Jovita Station and board a wagon pulled by horses heading to the summer camp. A hotel was constructed in 1927-1928 at the campground, and was nearly destroyed by fire in January 1948. An auditorium was built where meetings were held three times on Sundays.

The Spiritualists over the decades held numerous activities there, including retreats, readings, and levitation sessions, never turning anyone away from the camp who wanted to use the facility. With the lake privately owned, there is no public access to the camp as of 2019. The lake is within the city limits of Milton, just west of Edgewood, and in 2011, due to challenges with water quality, the City of Milton developed a cumulative impact analysis for Surprise Lake, with plans to stabilize the shoreline and protect wildlife habitat. Within five years, monitoring of the lake by volunteers resulted in healthier lake conditions.

Consolidating Schools

In 1915, Wade Hampton Calavan (1893-1947) and Anna Campbell Calavan (1893-1993) started teaching at the North Edgewood School. For a time the Calavans were the entire staff for teaching, administration, and janitorial duties. Gertrude R. Tenzler (1898-1977), Mamie Rosalie Breidenback Gallert (1896-1970), Helen Johnson, and Ruth Bethel (1890-1967) were some of the other teachers who taught at the North Edgewood School over the years. Some teachers lived in Tacoma and commuted to the North Edgewood School via the Interurban Railway.

In 1918, it was determined by the community that the school building was no longer meeting the needs of the district and would require extensive remodeling. The school district purchased land and in 1920 a new school was designed and built in the Colonial Revival style at 35905 16th Avenue S. Two years later the school was renamed Harding School in honor of President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923).

In 1929, five small school districts were consolidated into a new school district No. 210 and the Harding School closed. The same year, Pierce County Superintendent of Schools Louise Taylor (1901-1982) convinced the community the value of consolidating the local school districts, except Milton, into one. On December 7, 1935, residents of Harding (North Edgewood), Mountain View, and Jovita school districts voted to consolidate. On January 13, 1936, the Edgemont School District was formed.

Local Businesses on the Hill

From the 1930s through the 1980s, Edgewood kept its rural small-town feel. Nearly all farms had cows, chickens, pigs, horses, and fruit trees. Most of the businesses in Edgewood were relatively small. The first service station was located on Milton Avenue (later Milton Way). In the 1930s, Hugo W. Bonn (1887-?) purchased a farmhouse and converted it into Bonn's Poultry Supply Store. Henry J. Hanson (1898-1981) owned Leghorn City, selling chickens and eggs. Charles (Slim) Benedict (1916-1997) and Bonnie B. Faherty (b. 1920) owned a Richfield service station that was built in 1939 and opened for operation in 1940 on Meridian East and Milton Way where a 7-Eleven store was later opened.

In 1940, Vernon Oren (1924-2016) opened and operated a Chevron station. Martin S. Lelli (1901-1962), who since 1922 owned a store named Lelli's Grocery on the Northwest corner of 24th and Meridian, moved it in 1945 across Meridian (SR 161). James J. O'Ravez (1905-2002) and Dorothy M. O'Ravez (1913-2004) owned the Edgewood Flower Farm at 2017 Meridian E. In 1954, the same year, the couple established the Edgewood Berry Farm at 5219 Meridian N. In 1963, the Edgewood Square Shopping Center was built. One of the original occupants of the shopping center was a Piggly Wiggly grocery.

Famous Names with Edgewood Connections

Bradford Kempton Daniels (1871-1955) was born in Nova Scotia and immigrated to the U.S. in 1896. He moved to Edgewood and worked as a farmer. Daniels wrote a book called The Outer Edge about his life in Edgewood between 1912 and 1943 but, with one exception, the word "Edgewood" is not mentioned anywhere in the book. However, it does describe the town based on his experiences.

Murray Cromwell Morgan (1916-2000), born in Tacoma, was a prominent journalist and historian, authoring 23 books, many on Northwest history, notably Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle and Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound. The 11th Street Bridge in Tacoma was named for Morgan in October 1997. Murray and his wife Rosa moved to Trout Lake in Jovita, just north of Edgewood across the King/Pierce county line in 1947, and he lived there for the rest of his life.

Paula Tutmarc-Johnson (1950-2013) born in Seattle, was the daughter of Paul Tutmarc and Bonnie "Guitar" Tutmarc, two well-known Seattle musicians. She launched her singing career, under the stage name "Alexys," with the 1966 regional top-10 hit "Freedom's Child." She toured with her band and recorded for record labels including Paramount Records. In 1995, Paula and her husband Jerry began producing musicians at David Lange Studios at 8514 25th Street E in Edgewood.

Robert Shaver (b. 1927), grandson of Peter Nyholm and son of Inar Nyholm, performed his first record, "Our Love Story," with saxophonist, singer, and bandleader Tex Beneke (1914-2000) and his band in 1950, and then toured with them. He left the band to sing solo. In 1949, Shaver's manager got him a job in New York singing in a quartet called the Three Beaus and a Peep on the Arthur Godfrey TV series (1949-1959).

Incorporating Edgewood

In the late 1980s, the Edgewood area was facing land-use issues due to the rapid growth Pierce County and the entire Puget Sound region were experiencing. In the early 1990s, the Pierce County Council and Edgewood residents together developed a community plan. Area residents decided to formally incorporate as a city in 1993 and the next year filed a petition requesting incorporation.

On March 14, 1995, a special election was held in the area of Pierce County proposed to become the City of Edgewood. Residents of the area voted 1,898 for incorporation and 1,691 against. Edgewood city council members were elected and Terrill "Terry" Dion Faherty (b. 1943) became the first mayor on September 19, 1995. On February 28, 1996, the city of Edgewood was officially incorporated.

Looking to the Future

Ten years later in 2006 the city council proposed building a new city hall and civic center and developed a comprehensive plan. The rural heritage of the city has always been a priority for its community. Planning for the new town center and the Meridian/161 corridor that is the heart of Edgewood was approved in September 2011 to embrace new ideas and development.

Edgewood continued to face the same challenges as many other small Washington towns in attempting to preserve its character while embracing new growth and development. As of 2019, Edgewood was the ninth-largest city in Pierce County, with an area of more than eight square miles, and a population of more than 11,000.


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