Hartley, Roland Hill (1864-1952)

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 11/12/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8008
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A powerful lumberman and politician, Roland Hill Hartley served as mayor of Everett from 1910 to 1911, as a member of the Washington State House of Representatives in 1915-1916, and as Washington's 10th governor from 1925 to 1933. Small in physical stature, he was a political showman and a flamboyant speaker whose colorful phrases were often purged from the official record. He was a conservative Republican whose political career was marked by his battles to eliminate what he termed waste and extravagance in government. He hated taxes, government spending, and unions, and frequently used his veto power to enforce his political agenda. During his two stormy terms as governor he battled with most of his elected colleagues over labor, education, and the lumber industry. A recall movement was initiated against him in 1926 for his role in the dismissal of University of Washington president Henry Suzzallo (1875-1933), but the recall petition failed to gain enough signatures. Achievements during Hartley’s term as governor included the creation of a centralized state highway department and stronger state timber laws. Roland Hartley’s political career ended in the 1930s as the country entered the Great Depression.

Young Roland Hartley

One of the oldest of 12 children, Roland Hill Hartley was born on June 26, 1864, on a farm in Shogomoc, York County, New Brunswick, to Rebecca Barker (Whitehead) Hartley and Baptist minister Edward William Hartley. Edward Hartley divided his time between his family, his ministry, the farm, and logging. At 13 years of age, Roland left home with two of his brothers to seek better prospects for the family.

Their father died a year later, and the family settled in Brainerd, Minnesota. Roland took various jobs including hotel clerk. He eventually sought more lucrative jobs in the Minnesota woods, working as axman, logger, teamster, and river driver on the upper Mississippi River. Roland earned enough money to take business courses at Minneapolis Academy. This led to a bookkeeper’s job with the Clough Brothers Lumber Company and then to work as personal secretary for Minnesota Governor David Marston Clough (1846-1924).

In 1888 Roland Hartley married Clough’s daughter Nina (1869-1953). Hartley purchased the town site of Cass Lake, Minnesota, in 1899, and served for three years as the company’s vice president and manager.

The Colonel

Hartley’s title of colonel was honorary, bestowed upon him by Governor Clough when Roland served as the governor’s representative and staff aide in the Minnesota National Guard from 1897 to 1902. Hartley was in the Minnesota Guard in 1898 when a Chippewa uprising at Leech Lake was suppressed.

Hartley enlisted as a private in the Washington National Guard during World War I. He advanced to the office of corporal in the Third Infantry, which became federalized in 1918, and then moved to the forestry branch of the Twentieth Engineers where he was commissioned as a captain. Sons Edward and David served as lieutenants in the regular army. Following the war, Hartley continued in the United States Army Reserves.

New Prospects in the Pacific Northwest

Clough’s connections with James J. Hill (1838-1916) drew him to Everett, Washington, the town built in speculation of the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad. In 1900 Clough scouted prospects in Everett, arriving in one of Hill’s private rail cars. The enticement of free mill sites and cheap timber land was an offer Clough could not refuse. He decided to stay.

Roland, Nina, and their sons, David and Edward, followed in 1902. (Daughter Mary was born in Everett.) The Hartleys and the Cloughs organized and invested in the logging and lumbering operations of Hartley & Lovejoy Logging Company, the Clark-Nickerson Lumber Company, the Everett Logging Company and the Clough-Hartley Mill, and had a share in Everett City Tug Boat Company.

The Clough and Hartley families built homes overlooking their mills on the Everett waterfront. Two of these residences are currently in Everett’s Rucker-Grand Historic District.

The extended family of Cloughs and Hartleys soon became an influential part of the region’s lumber elite. The Clark-Nickerson Lumber Company and the Clough-Hartley Mill were their leading enterprises, the latter becoming the world's largest producer of red cedar shingles. Hartley supervised logging operations and worked as a timber cruiser.

Rather than competing with each other, Everett’s large-mill owners held combined power in town. Clark-Nickerson owned land that Hartley-Lovejoy Logging Company logged, and the timber was sold to Clark-Nickerson. “The Everett Logging Company and the Irving-Hartley Logging Company bought timber rights from -- and sold to -- Clough-Hartley, Clark-Nickerson, and the Hartley Shingle Company.” (Clark) This baronial hold included a few companies outside strict family ties, such as Ferry-Baker Lumber Company, the Hulbert Lumber Company, Sultan Railway and Timber, and the Eclipse Mill. In a familial way, one company supplied the timber for another mill to cut and another company then converted the lumber into products.

Hartley in Politics

Hartley left corporate management decisions to Clough. Roland’s interest was in politics, a career he had pursued in Minnesota with little success. By 1910 a Progressive movement was on the rise, and the Republican Party was beginning to split over Taft and Roosevelt allegiances. Roland Hartley was an ambitious spokesman for management, particularly the lumber trust.

He had a plain-speaking style and a simple message: there was too much extravagance in government and he was the man to change things. He did not hesitate to use colorful invectives against his opponents whom he often branded as “jackasses” and “pusillanimous blatherskites” (Gunns). One old time logger recalled hearing Hartley lecture workers in Everett to economize by eating liver instead of steak.

Mayor of Everett

When the 1906 Japanese earthquake and the resultant demand for lumber sent lumber prices soaring, a wealthy Roland Hartley became even wealthier. In November 1909, Hartley ran for mayor of Everett and won. The same election turned out a strong Prohibition vote which succeeded in closing down Everett’s 41 saloons, and the city lost a substantial amount of revenue that previously had come from license fees.

Hartley had campaigned on a promise to restore Everett to a sound financial basis but found himself struggling instead to keep city departments afloat. He quickly responded by laying off a third of the police force and the city’s street cleaners, and by turning off municipal lighting. Desperate citizens voluntarily contributed $40,000 to make up for the city’s lost revenue. Hartley’s one term as mayor, 1910-1911, was characterized by continual bickering with his city council over many issues, including city improvements, enforcing the saloon issue, and taxation. Despite the lack of revenue, Hartley supported the building of a public playground for children and sanitary comfort stations that he felt would alleviate problems caused by the saloon closures.

Hartley did not seek another term as mayor. Instead he set his hopes on the state capitol, and in 1914 was elected state legislator from the 48th district. He held this office from 1915 to 1916, authoring bills to defeat labor and a work-hour bill as well as keeping the social sciences out of school curriculums.

In 1916 Hartley’s “open shop” policies put him at odds with both the Everett trade unions and the radical workers union known as the Industrial Workers of the World. When the "Wobblies," as the latter were called, came to Everett on November 5, 1916, to support striking shingle weavers and to make a stand for free speech, Hartley, as spokesman for Everett’s industrial elite, claimed that they had come to burn the town.

Governor Hartley and Henry Suzzallo

In 1916 and 1920, Roland Hartley unsuccessfully ran for governor. Newsreel footage taken of Everett’s 1916 Labor Day parade shows Shingle Weavers’ Union No. 2 marching behind an anti-Hartley float in the shape of a telescope that carried a sign reading “Look Hardly at Hartley.” Hartley ran again in 1924 and won, since the incumbent, Governor Louis F. Hart (1862-1929), did not run due to poor health, and Shelton lumberman and house representative Mark Reed (1866-1933), the most logical successor to Hart, chose not to enter the race. In the years that followed, Hartley and Reed clashed frequently.

Hartley had strong Republican support, giving him an easy victory over a token Democratic candidate. Hartley’s inaugural address left few in doubt about his direction. Stating that “We are too much governed,” he warned against expanding highway development too rapidly; suggested the money to public education be cut; and went on record against a popular child-labor bill, stating that all individuals had the “inalienable right to work for a living” (Senate Journal, 1925). By the end of his first year in office, Hartley had vetoed numerous bills and was at odds with many in his own party and the legislature.

Hartley moved to control the state’s higher educational system. Four of the state-funded institutions of higher learning buckled under Hartley’s threats, but University of Washington president Henry Suzzallo opposed the governor’s cost-cutting plans. Suzzallo’s support of an eight-hour work day for lumber workers previously had put him at odds with the governor, and Suzzallo’s public stature possibly made him a political rival as well. When two seats on the University of Washington’s board of regents were vacated in March 1926, Hartley appointed his own representatives. He then dismissed three other board members, accusing them of “misconduct in office” (Seattle Times, May 5, 1926) and replaced them with his own appointees. And on October 4, 1926, the new board announced Suzzallo's "leave of absence." A petition to recall the governor -- the first in Washington state -- was begun, but failed to reach the ballot for lack of signatures.

Hartley’s strong-handed tactics helped divide the state Republican Party, and attempts at reconciliation failed. The recall petition and party battles did create a more subdued Hartley whose campaign temporarily took on a moderate tone. Hartley endorsed and campaigned for his Republican supporters in the following elections. In 1928 Hartley ran for a second term. Traveling across the state accompanied by a barbershop quartet and a large brass cuspidor (a spittoon) that he used to represent extravagance in government spending, he won the votes of a tax-hating populace, and Hartley returned to Olympia for a second term. Two of Hartley’s major accomplishments during his terms as governor were the creation of a centralized state highway department and new state timber laws.

Hartley’s Later Years

Hartley’s rise to political power began when lumbermen were barons yet opposition to their power was on the rise. His politics of minimal government spending became increasing unpopular during the economic depression of the 1930s, when his political support vanished. In 1932 Roland Hartley ran for a third term as governor but, despite being the incumbent, he lost in the Republican primary to Lieutenant Governor John A. Gellatly, who in turn lost to Democratic businessman Clarence D. Martin (1884-1955). Hartley tried once again in 1936, this time winning the Republican primary but losing to Governor Martin in the general election.

Now fully retired from politics, Roland Hartley returned to Everett and lived the last decade of his life in declining health. He died on September 21, 1952, at the age of 88 and was buried in Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery. The family home at 2320 Rucker Avenue, built in 1911, is currently on the National Register of Historic Places.


Albert Francis Gunns, Roland Hill Hartley and the Politics of Washington State, master's thesis, (Seattle, University of Washington, 1963); Norman Clark, Mill Town, (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1970), Robert Ficken, Lumber and Politics: The Career of Mark E. Reed (Santa Cruz: Forest History Society and Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979); Thomas Gaskin, “Roland H. Hartley”, Snohomish County: An Illustrated History (Index, WA: Kelcema Books, LLC, 2005), pp.207-208; William Whitfield, The History of Snohomish County, Washington, Vol. II (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), Gordon Newell, Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen (Seattle, Superior Publishing Company, 1975); Washington Biographical Dictionary: People of All Times and Places who have been Important to the History and Life of the State (New York: Somerset Publishers, Inc., 1996),pp. 146-47; William H. Mason, Snohomish County in the War (Everett, Washington: The Mason Publishing Co. Inc., 1926), p. 416; Bartlett Arkell, Grocery Clerks Who Have Become Successful, (Canajoharie NY, 1925), p.69-70; Washington State Senate Journal, 1925; Washington State Senate Journal, 1925; George Wardell, oral history interview by David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle, recorded at the Everett Public Library on February 4, 1975, Side One of tape, Northwest Room Collection, Everett Public Library; "Election Results and Voters Pamphlets," Washington Secretary of State website accessed November 25, 2018 (https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/research/election-results-and-voters-pamphlets.aspx).
Note: This article was corrected and revised on November 25, 2018.

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