This portrait of Marjorie Bacon Brown and of Cathlamet in the 1930s was written by Crystal J. Ortmann.
Cathlamet in the 1930s
Marjorie Bacon Brown was born over 70 years ago to a lumber inspector named Bacon and his wife. With a last name like Bacon, she endured a lot of teasing growing up.
Her father was never out of a job, even during the depression because his skills as lumber inspector were needed. She can’t remember feeling deprived, even during those tough years.
In 1936, Marge and her family moved to Cathlamet, a tiny village of 750 inhabitants, on the lower Columbia River in southwest Washington. It was The Depression and her father in his capacity as lumber inspector was transferred to the mill there. Her dad was also a pastor of the Assemblies of God church. First thing, he noticed there wasn’t an Assembly of God church in Cathlamet. Never taking a dime from anyone to do so, he started services upstairs in Redmond Hall. By 1937, he built a church for the budding congregation.
Marge Bacon Brown had just begun 6th grade in the school. The high school was upstairs and the elementary kids were downstairs. A small building housed the first and second graders. She was an excellent student and enjoyed school. Social life was a bit constrained due to the fact that her church didn’t allow her to see movies or dance. However, she and her sister loved to roller skate. There was a rink on the dock above the beer parlor where they frequently skated. She also played the trombone in the school band and particularly enjoyed playing at the basketball games. Marge and her siblings also acted in school plays, although her family was horrified that her brother played the town drunk in one play.
The girls picked berries in the summer in order to buy school clothes. “I was in the Girl Scouts and 4-H,” she related. “I was kept plenty busy cooking, sewing and embroidering.” These products were entered in the fair at Skamakoa, just west of Cathlamet.
She swam in the Elochoman River at the swimming hole in summer. Brown also loved going to Girl Scout camp. She and her sister enjoyed playing tennis.
“Although it was depression time,” she said, “we always had enough to eat and lots of fun things to do.”
Camp meeting was one of those fun things. Members of the Assembly of God churches met and worshipped and renewed acquaintances or made new ones at these meetings. It was especially great for the young people from small towns, as they were able to check out the opposite sex and look for prospective spouses.
“We loved the church picnics too.” The Bacons had a car -- it was a 1936 Ford. Although she can’t remember them ever going on vacation, they did visit her grandparents. The highway had been completed a few years prior.
There was always something to do. Brown reminisces about the little town:
“There was Prue’s Toggery. My brother worked for Mr. Prue, then later bought it from Mr. Prue and named it Bacon’s Toggery.” Many people in town belonged to a lodge. Dr. Fritz had an office half-way up the hill and there was a dentist and a midwife. If people were really ill, they went to the hospital in Longview.
“There were two grocery stores -- the Red and White, which was in the middle of town,” she explained, “and Doumit’s Grocery and Dry Goods store." Coate’s Meat Market was close to the dock. There was a barber, a small post office, a shoemaker, an ice cream parlor, a hardware store, The Cathlamet Hotel, and a funeral parlor. The courthouse was also located in Cathlamet.
The main industries at that time were lumber and fishing. What is now a marina and recreation area was once called the Sands and that’s where the cannery was located.
“Have you heard of the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge?” she asked. ”Well, Julia lived in Cathlamet the same time we did.”
The local newspaper, The Eagle, kept the town-folk abreast of the news.
Brown’s mother was at home all the time except for a short time when she worked in the local variety store. Brown worked there herself as she got older.
“Christmas was always special,” she said. “We went out to chop down a tree in the forest. It was decorated with glass ornaments and real candles.” Of course, paper chains and strung popcorn also hung on the tree. There was always a special meal and the grandparents often came for the holiday.
“The Braaten’s always had a huge tree,” Brown remembers. “It was a treat to be invited to come over and see their tree.”
Although she only lived there a few years, her memories of Cathlamet are full of good things, despite the hard times.