Algona -- Thumbnail History

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 11/06/2015
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11140

The City of Algona (earlier called Valley City) is located in King County 28 miles south of Seattle, nestled between Auburn to the north and Pacific to the south. Algona is known for its wetlands, herons, and other wildlife. The community developed from homestead settlers in the 1870s and 1880s. The first known homesteaders were William H. Wood and L. S. Rogers. Completion of the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway in 1902 brought growth to the community. The area was platted in 1906. The post office was established in 1909 with Claude Googe (1882-1964) as postmaster. Businesses opened serving the community, while crops -- vegetables, fruits, and dairy products -- were cultivated in large part by Japanese American and Filipino American farmers. Algona was incorporated in 1955. Improvements were made and by the 1980s new businesses flourished. The blue heron was chosen as the city's logo. By 2015, the population had increased to more than 3,000. Throughout its history, Algona has maintained its strong sense of community in a small-town setting.

Homestead Settlers

The Homestead Act was signed by Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. It superseded the 1850 Donation Land Claim Act (which applied only in Oregon Territory, then including Washington), and provided settlers throughout the West with public land as long as the required guidelines and rules were followed. The first documented homestead settlers in and around the White River Valley area that would become Algona (Township 21N, Range 4E, Section 26) began claiming land in the 1870s:

  • William H. Wood purchased 80 acres on August 10, 1874 (in the area from current 1st Avenue to 4th Avenue N)
  • L. S. Rogers purchased 80 acres on March 1, 1875 (4th Avenue N to Broadway)
  • Lynus J. Burr purchased 80 acres on October 20, 1882 (Ellingson Road to 4th Avenue S)
  • Thomas J. Lenover purchased 80 acres on October 20, 1882 (Algona Boulevard S. crossing West to 58th Place S.)
  • Gideon A. Weed purchased 160 acres on May 25, 1883 (mostly on the west side of SR 167)
  • Lieutenant William Guthrie Latimer (1833-1898) purchased 160 acres on May 25, 1883 (mostly on the west side of SR 167 up to Military Rd S)

David Hart (1841-1918) purchased 160 areas on January 20, 1882 (the property included land where a shopping center first called the Supermall and renamed the Outlet Collection opened 11 decades later, and extended south and east to the subsequent locations of Boundary Boulevard, 10th Ave N, and the Auburn Valley YMCA). His son William Hart (1879-1973) provided one of the earliest descriptions of the land in that area: "it was all tall timber then and lots of bears" ("Algona History"). In the 1920s William owned 18 acres and farmed 17 to 18 tons of raspberries annually.

A River Runs Through It -- Stuck

After the arrival of settlers in the mid-1800s, the White, Green, and Stuck Rivers regularly flooded communities including Kent, Auburn, Valley City (Algona), Sumner, and Puyallup. Each year, disastrous floods occurred in both King and Pierce counties. The White and Green rivers would overflow into the Stuck River which flowed into Puyallup River.

Beginning on November 14, 1906, the largest flood to date swept away bridges, ruined farmland, interrupted logging, and redirected the White River into the Stuck River, sending its waters on into the Puyallup River. The disastrous flood forever changed the flow and landscape of the rivers. Many years later, construction of the Howard Hanson Dam and the Mud Mountain Dam provided management of the rivers and dramatically minimizing flooding.

What's in a Name?

The area that became Algona was originally recognized as Valley City as early as 1907, when classified ads in The Seattle Times referred to "Valley City, the new place on Tacoma Interurban" (April 23, 1907, p. 21). In 1906 Clarence Dayton (C. D.) Hillman (1870-1935), a real-estate developer, and his wife Bessie Olive Hillman purchased land that L. S. Rogers had acquired in the 1870s and platted it into 40-by-200-foot lots that were offered for sale. By 1907, there were two grocery stores on Main Street near First Avenue. Albert H. Hicks (1868-1926) owned one of the stores and the Valley City Mercantile Company was owned by a Mr. Shrader. Later, in 1908, Claude E. Googe purchased the Valley City Mercantile Company. The first known physician was Dr. Arthur E. Southward (1873-1936), who later moved to Auburn.

The name Valley City was changed after a post office was opened in 1909, to avoid confusion with a similarly named post office in eastern Washington. Sources, while disagreeing on details, generally agree that community members proposed the name "Algoma," said be an Indian word meaning "valley of flowers" and the name of a town in Wisconsin, but the name as approved was spelled "Algona."

Claude Googe was appointed by President William Howard Taft on March 15, 1909, as the postmaster. Googe served until he retired on October 31, 1950. Nina Googe assisted her husband during the length of his appointment and continued under his successor, Richard B. Dahlager, retiring on May 29, 1958, shortly before the office was closed. The post office was discontinued on June 30, 1958, with the community receiving mail service from Auburn.

Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway -- All Aboard!

Permission had been granted in 1899 to build a railway between Seattle and Tacoma connecting rural communities in between. In the river-valley communities at the time the main form of transportation was still horses and wagons. The railway would bring the promise of growth and development.

On September 25, 1902, the Puget Sound Electric Railway began service between Seattle and Tacoma. Thirty-eight miles of track with stops at Renton, Orilla, Kent, and Auburn, passing Valley City (Algona) and Pacific through a tunnel and up a steep grade (now Jovita Boulevard near Federal Way), then Edgewood and Milton. The vast valleys between Seattle and Tacoma began to prosper and the interurban became their lifeline.

Historian Warren Wing wrote:

"Early in 1909, Valley City (Algona) residents had an energetic meeting at Milligan's Hall to secure a 'Macadamized' highway from Seattle. At the same meeting they also demanded a passenger and freight depot be built by the Interurban and the new Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. By April the interurban company began construction of the new depot ..." (To Tacoma by Trolley, 64).

The Interurban Freight was also known as the "Spud Local." It would arrive at 1 p.m. to meet farmers and merchants shipping goods to Seattle. There were casualties on the Interurban that impacted Algona residents. In 1921, four people were killed when an automobile driver did not stop for a warning signal and drove right into the fast-moving limited train. The Interurban would serve the valley for nearly three decades before shutting down on December 30, 1928. Algona was one of many valley communities that were devastated when the service ended.

Small Town in a Big Valley

As the Interurban began to allow valley residents to have access to other cities and towns, more people came into the tiny newly named town and more stores opened in Algona. The streets were dirt roads and on rainy days, horses wore bog shoes in the mud. Nelson Thomas Groceries (later Ellestad Groceries) opened next to the Valley City Land Office and Susan E. Felt (1862-1945) operated a small grocery store. Across the street was Wright's Drug Store, operated by pharmacist Thomas J. Wright (1866-1942) and his wife Della M. Wright (1880-1962), who became Algona's first woman pharmacist after her husband's death. These early businesses were built near the Interurban to receive goods.

The first school in Algona was held temporarily at the Milligan Hall on First Avenue, owned by Samuel E. Milligan. Meetings and dances were held there weekly. A secondhand store occupied the second floor along with the library and the real-estate office managed by Catherine Jennings. The hall became the center for many community activities. Maurice Marlow purchased the building and converted it into the Marlow Apartments. Later renamed the Ha-Do Apartments, the building was in 2015 one of the oldest surviving buildings in Algona.

Presbyterians held services in the First Avenue home of Thomas S. Moses (1848-1926), where chimes could be heard. Later the Milligan Hall was used as the church membership began to grow. A Presbyterian church was built on First Avenue and dedicated in 1909.

By 1910 Main Street was covered with wood planks and the sidewalks on First Avenue were also wooden. West Valley Highway was a brick road. Over the next decade the population increased and the community was beginning to thrive. The valley was fertile and farmers were gaining some profits from their crops. The wide flat area was rich with soil opened up to dairying, growing berries (raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries), cultivating flowers, and raising all types of produce.

Algona was becoming a busy community and full of excitement. Two nights a week there were dances, picture shows were offered three nights a week, and there were ice cream socials and many festivals. Visitors from nearby towns in the river valley attended the festivities.

The Sound Department Store, Art Simon's Bakery, Waddell Feed and Grocery, a tailor, a barber, shoe repair, a dress and hat shop, City Meat Market (Algona Butcher Shop), a real estate office, Lundland Lumber & Shingle Mill, and a hotel owned by a Mr. Fuller were all in operation. A Methodist church on Warde Street was completed in 1913. The church was later extended on the west side of the building.

Roaring Twenties in the Small Town

After many years a school building was built on Warde Street (where the city police department was located as of 2015). By 1925, the population of Algona had grown to 1,000. The Community Club formed in the early 1920s. It was among the advertisers in the town's only newspaper, the Algona Community News. The first issue was distributed October 26, 1926. Only one copy of that issue exists. The Community Club supported the fire department and library, arranged dances, and raised money for various festivities.

The town had its prominent citizens who were active in the community, and many owned their own businesses on Main Street and First Avenue. Claude Googe, Jas Howard, Walter Hart, Michael Mervick, Albert Hicks, Susan Felt, Herbert Yandell, and Thomas and Della Wright were among their number.

Agriculture also grew, and by this time many farms in the area were operated by Japanese American and Filipino American farmers.

Japanese Pioneers in Algona

Immigrants from Japan began arriving in Washington in the late nineteenth century, and by 1900 there were more than 5,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in the state, with some settling in the White River Valley area beginning around 1892. Many worked as laborers on railroads, sawmills, and canneries and as farmers. The immigrants worked hard and faced challenges such as prejudice, discrimination, not being eligible for citizenship, and being barred from owning property by alien land laws. With diligence, courage, and strength, they persevered, married, and started families.

The first known Japanese to settle in Algona were Toichi (1879-1940) and Mitsuno (1884-1950) Okura, who moved there in 1907. Toichi immigrated to Seattle in 1898 from Japan, and later lived and worked in the Yakima area. His wife Mitsuno immigrated to Seattle in 1907, and the couple soon moved to Algona, where they raised 12 children (a 13th died in infancy): Minoru (1908), Saico (1910), Tadashi (1914), Hagime (1917), Haruco (1920), George (1922), Paul (1925), Betty (1926), Fred (1928), Rose (1929), Clara (1930), and Robert (1935).

Tomota Namba (1873-1951) immigrated to Seattle from Japan in 1900 at the age of 27. In 1908, his wife Jho (Jo) Namba (1875-1935) also immigrated to Seattle. By 1909 the Namba family settled in Algona. Tomota and Jho had 4 children: Chiyako (1910), Sakae (1915), Harry (1917), and Franki (1920).

Fukutaro Norikane (1878-?) immigrated to Seattle in 1902. His wife Toku Norikane came to Seattle in 1911. By 1930 Fukutaro was farming in Algona. The couple had 6 children: Koji (1915), Kiyoko (1913), Hisaki (1918), Masaichi (1920), Toyoko (1921), and Fumiko (1922).

Filipino Pioneers in Algona

The 1910 census recorded 17 Filipinos in all of Washington. But in the early decades of the twentieth century growing numbers of people from the Philippines, which had become a U.S. territory following the 1898 Spanish American War, came to the United States to continue their education or look for work. Filipinos began moving to the White River Valley area in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The first known Filipinos in Algona, working as farmers according to the 1930 census, were Eulalia M. Augustus (1906-?), Fidel Askacio (1909-?), Y. De La Cruz (1909-?), Alyandro Glava (1911-?), F. Raquarin (1907-?) and Thomas P. Respicio (1908-?). By the 1940s Algona had its first known Filipino family: Jesus (1901-?) and Lena (1908-?) Masion and their six children: Delorea (1930), Ruth (1934), Laverne (1936), Grace (1937), Margaret (1938), and Paul (1939).

In a 1976 interview, Dionicio (Denny) J. Cristobal (1906-1987) described being the first Filipino to have bought land in the community, doing so in 1943 and farming it during World War II. Cristobal paid in installments to own his 18 acres of land. Cristobal went on to serve on the Algona City Council in 1965 and 1966, one of the first Filipino Americans to hold such a position in Washington.

After World War II began Japanese Americans, including those from Algona, were sent to detention camps and the attitudes toward Filipinos changed. This changed Algona and other river-valley communities.

Incorporated City

Algona incorporated as a city of the third class on August 1, 1955. Ward Joseph Thomas (1882-1957) served as the new city's first mayor until the general election of 1956, when he lost by three votes to Durrell McAbee, who held the office from 1956 to 1960 and again from 1964 to 1966. In 1959, a water district was formed.

The Boeing Company opened a fabrication plant in Auburn in 1965, which created some traffic problems for Algona residents. A new water-supply system replaced the water district and sewer system. Algona Boulevard was developed and State Route 167, the state highway traversing Algona, was extended to Tacoma. John Matchett served as mayor three times from 1968 to 1981, the longest tenure in the office on record as of 2015.

The 1970s brought the closure of the Algona Elementary School; a new school was built on Milwaukee Boulevard. It was renamed AlPac Elementary in 1973. In 1975, the old Algona Elementary School building was renovated and Algona City Hall, the police department, and the library moved in. The Algona City Park was renamed John Matchett Memorial Park in honor of the long-time mayor.

New Businesses, Growing Population

The population increased to 1,467 in 1980 and major businesses were opening. They included the Tharco Manufacturing Plant, making packaging products for shipping, display, and in-plant-handling applications; Dyna Craft, a manufacturer of medium and heavy-duty trucks; and AccuDuct, manufacturing duct systems and sheet metal components.

William Larson, who served as mayor in the early 1980s, faced some trying times. Larson replaced police chief Dave Norton with Al Lee, who became the city's first African American police chief. But Larson did not involve the city council in selecting the police chief, and the King County Superior Court ordered Larson to re-instate Norton. Larson was recalled as mayor and Hardin Hailey was chosen to complete the term.

Tim Kennedy and his family began Tim's Cascade Style Potato Chips in 1986 in Auburn. According to the company history, the product was deemed "the best potato chip in Seattle" in 1988 ("Tim's Story"). Tim's, which was acquired by Pinnacle Foods, Inc., developed a facility in Algona that in 2015 produced chips and snacks sold in stores nationwide and internationally.

In 1987 Algona participated in Seattle's Seafair festivities by entering a float in the Seafair Parade. Keith Phillips, a truck driver, carved a monument to former mayor John Matchett. The carved rock, donated by Valley Top Soil Inc., featured a blue heron on the left side; it was dedicated at John Matchett Memorial Park.

Algona's estimated population in 2015 was 3,105, according to the state Office of Financial Management. Like many small towns in America, Algona has seen many changes. The charm of the town is increasing its popularity and at the same time it has retained a strong sense of community.


Sources:

Dorothy Laigo Cordova, Filipinos in Puget Sound (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2009); Koji Norikane, A Pictorial Album of the History of the Japanese of the White River Valley (Auburn: White River Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, 1986), 7, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, 44-45; Warren W. Wing, To Tacoma by Trolley: The Puget Sound Electric Railway (Edmonds: Pacific Fast Mail, 1995), 59, 64, 95, 102, 136; Stan Flewelling, Shirakawa: Stories from a Pacific Northwest Japanese American Community (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 78, 86, 108, 110-111; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "White River Valley (King County)" (by Alan J. 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