Residents of Tacoma's Smelter District vote to incorporate as the City of Ruston on October 19, 1906.

  • By Amber Brock
  • Posted 3/12/2019
  • Essay 20738

On October 19, 1906, residents of the Smelter District in Pierce County, located between Point Defiance and the northern city limits of Tacoma, approve a ballot measure to incorporate the City of Ruston. The district is largely populated by employees of the Tacoma Smelting Company's smelter and their families. The new city is named in honor of the company's general manager William Ross Rust (1850-1928). Rust is not only a beloved manager but has also assisted his employees, who have been frustrated by the mounting problems in their living conditions, to pursue incorporation of the district as a city. The district has a schoolhouse, two churches, and three general-merchandise stores. However, due to a lack of municipal government and public funds, residents have faced mounting problems with their roads, public safety, sewer system, and water system. Following its incorporation, Ruston will see tremendous growth and improved living conditions.

Tacoma Smelting Company and the Smelter District

The Tacoma Smelting Company began operating on September 17, 1890, when the furnaces were fired up at the smelter located on 160 desolate acres between the northern limits of the city of Tacoma and Point Defiance. William Rust was hired to be the general manager and the smelter provided employment for around 60 men. Over the next 15 years, the smelter thrived and the number of employees grew to more than 300.

Many of the smelter employees lived in small cottages near the smelter with their families. The 1900 census found around 300 people living in what had come to be called the Smelter District. The expanded Tacoma Smelting and Refining Company paid taxes on the approximately $3 million worth of property, but little or none of this tax money was invested back into the Smelter District. The district had a schoolhouse, two churches, and three general-merchandise stores but, lacking local municipal government and public funds, faced mounting problems with roads, public safety, and sewer and water systems.


In 1906, citizens of the district began to meet weekly at the schoolhouse to discuss the mounting concerns over their living conditions that were driving some residents to move back within the Tacoma city limits. At one of these meetings, Tacoma smelter manager William Rust proposed the idea of obtaining a charter for the establishment of a new city. Residents supported this idea and unanimously voted to name their proposed new city Ruston in his honor. The Tacoma Smelting and Refining Company also endorsed the plan even though it would have to pay nearly 90 percent of the new city's taxes. One newspaper account from the time said, "this is another example of the broad public spirit that has always governed that corporation and its readiness to bear its due share of the public burdens and perhaps a little more" ("Ruston," The Daily Ledger, August 14, 1906).

In late August, Fred S. Fogg (1874-1933) was elected as temporary attorney for the new city to help the residents with incorporation. Fogg established a Census Committee to canvas the district. The committee consisted of H. Wilefred, Charles E. Girod (1867-1918), and Charles Colwell. The committee reported that the district had nearly 400 residents.

On September 21, 1906, Fogg appeared before the Pierce County Board of County Commissioners on behalf of the Smelter District residents to file their petition to hold an election to vote on incorporation as a city of the fourth class. At the time, Washington law classified cities into four classes based on population, with cities of the fourth class, generally referred to as towns, having a population between 300 and 1,500. Based on the petition and completed census, the county commissioners approved an election to be held on October 19, 1906, to allow residents of the Smelter District to both vote on incorporation and choose the city's first municipal officers.

With the election date scheduled, residents met at the schoolhouse on September 23 to nominate the first municipal officers, who would serve through January 1, 1907. Edward Austen (1871-1929), a machinist's helper at the smelter and major contributor to the plan for incorporation, was nominated for mayor. Albert F. Cook (1877-1972), a machinist at the smelter, was nominated for treasurer. Charles E. Girod, James P. Garrison (1869-1945), Lewis G. Ahlstrom (1854-1926), Edward R. Daley (1866-1957), and James A. Enbody (1875-1954) were nominated for positions on the council. Each nominee ran unopposed. Henry Hanks (1847-1932), Charles E. Chambers, and Harry Ware were appointed to serve as election judges and Gains H. Wallace (1878-1961) and Chester C. Eddy (1881-1951) were appointed as election clerks.

A total of 128 residents voted in the special election on October 19. The results were tabulated and 104 (81 percent) had voted in favor of incorporation. The results were confirmed by the county commissioners on October 22 and the certificate of incorporation was filed with the Washington Secretary of State on November 10, making the incorporation official.

The City of Ruston

On November 12, the new Ruston city council met for the first time in the schoolhouse. The council appointed Gains H. Wallace as city clerk and L. Martin as town marshal. Arrangements for the city's first election in December were settled. The positions of mayor, treasurer, justice of the peace, and five councilmembers were all on the ballot. Two tickets of nominees competed in the December election. Both tickets featured Edward Austen for mayor, Albert F. Cook for treasurer, and Lewis G. Ahlstrom, Charles E. Girod, Edward R. Daley, James P. Garrison, and James A. Enbody for council. The Citizens ticket nominated Eugene Smith (1846-1913) for police justice and the Peoples ticket nominated John C. Anson. On December 4, Ruston citizens voted and elected those on the Citizens ticket into office. As the charter of the city provided that two councilmembers would serve for three years and three for would serve only two years, the elected councilmen drew straws on January 8, 1907, to determine who got the longer terms. Lewis G. Ahlstrom and James P. Garrison were appointed for three year terms.

Ruston's elected officials wasted no time in addressing the problems that had plagued the district prior to incorporation. The list of improvements over the first two years was impressive. A new sewer system was designed and completed by Duncommon & Johnson. A town hall was built that housed the mayor's office, the newly formed fire department, the city clerk's office, the council chamber, the city treasurer's office, and the city jail. A new YMCA clubhouse was completed for the young and unmarried smelter men. A campaign was launched to clean up Ruston not only to address public-health concerns but also to encourage visitors.

The hard work and devotion of the residents and businesses of Ruston resulted in the assessed valuation of their property nearly doubling within 18 months of incorporation and the population, which had been declining in 1906, also nearly doubling between 1906 and 1910. By the 1910 census the official population of Ruston was 780.


"Ruston," The Daily Ledger, August 14, 1906, p. 4; "Citizens of Smelter District Meet Tonight," Ibid., August 20, 1906, p. 5; "Smelter Citizens at Work for Incorporation," Ibid., August 21, 1906, p. 3; "Smelter Citizens Are Enthusiastic," Ibid., August 28, 1906, p. 8; "Ruston Election to Be October 19," Ibid., September 22, 1906, p. 8; "Name a Mayor for New Town," Ibid., September 25, 1906, p. 5; "Ruston Formally Files Its Ticket," Ibid., October 7, 1906, p. 5; "Ruston's First Election Takes Place Next Friday," Ibid., October 14, 1906, p. 18; "Ruston Given Big Majority," Ibid, October 20, 1906, p. 3; "City News in Brief," Ibid., October 23, 1906, p. 5; "New Incorporations: Many Articles Filed with Secretary of State," Ibid., November 11, 1906, p. 2; "Ruston's First City Election," Ibid., November 13, 1906, p. 5; "Eugene Smith Named," Ibid, December 11, 1906, p. 5; "Ruston Council Awards Contracts," Ibid., February 12, 1907, p. 5; "Ruston Will Soon Have a Town Hall," Ibid., February 19, 1907, p. 5; "Ruston More Than Doubles Population and Assessed Valuation in 18 months," Ibid., June 14, 1908, p. 22; "Ruston 'Twill Be Name of New Town at Smelter," Tacoma Daily News, August 13, 1906, p. 5; "Edward Austen for Mayor of Ruston," Ibid., September 25, 1906, p. 8; "Councilmen Draw Straws," Ibid., January 9, 1907, p. 8; "Supplement for Washington: Population, Agriculture, Manufactures, Mines and Quarries," in Thirteenth Census of the United States: Abstract of the Census, p. 579, available at U.S. Census Bureau website accessed March 12, 2019 (

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