Krupp, located in Grant County about 25 miles northeast of Moses Lake, is Washington's smallest town. It is situated in a small valley along Crab Creek, and is bordered to the north and south by canyon walls nearly 300 feet high. Krupp sprang into existence at the dawn of the twentieth century and grew quickly into an exuberant farming community. The town incorporated in 1911 and changed its name to Marlin in 1918, but it never made the change official with the State of Washington. This has led to some confusion and amusement over the years, but today the town is commonly known as Marlin. It thrived until the 1930s, then entered a long period of slow decline. But despite repeated predictions of its approaching demise, the scrappy little town has soldiered on into the twenty-first century.
The first recorded non-Native settler in the area that later became Krupp was Henry Marlin (1822-1890). In 1870 he built a cabin at Cater's Spring along Crab Creek about a mile or two east of the future townsite and set up a cattle ranch. Originally from Pennsylvania, Marlin first came West in the 1840s, where he established a thriving lumber business in Oregon. He's said to have come to Crab Creek to get away from civilization, but apparently not finding it remote enough, sold out and left in 1876.
Though many accounts say Scottish immigrant George Urquhart (1847-1916) and at least one of his brothers took over Marlin's squatter's rights in the transaction, an unpublished manuscript written in 1987 by Urquhart's niece, Helen Urquhart Yeager (1907-1990), says that it was solely George Urquhart who acquired these rights. She adds that he bought 50 head of cattle from Marlin for $1,000. She writes that he was joined in 1880 by his brother Donald (1853-1931), who moved Marlin's cabin to his homestead under the hill south of Crab Creek (often called South Hill). In 1885, John Urquhart (1864?-1925) arrived from Scotland and joined his brothers. They slowly added to their holdings and eventually expanded their range as far as Stratford, more than 10 miles west. For a time they operated as a partnership and divided up their duties, but around 1890 the partnership dissolved.
The Great Northern Railway put a line running east-west through the valley in the summer of 1892, and while small towns began to spring up along the line, little changed on the Urquhart range until 1900. That year, 40 immigrant families from Iowa settled in the area. This seems to have been the genesis for the birth of Krupp. The problem was there were no businesses there to serve them, but that changed swiftly during 1901. In February, George Urquhart filed an application with the U.S. Post Office to establish a post office at "Urquhart," and it opened two months later. However, the post office was named Krupp since the local rail stop was already named Krupp. The name is believed to have come from the Great Northern, which bestowed it to please who they thought was an influential German farmer named Eckhart. (The railroad was thinking of the Urquharts.) But it fit, primarily because many of the immigrants who began coming to Krupp had German ancestry or ancestry from Russia's Volga region, which had a large population of ethnic Germans.
Like A Boy in His Teens
That same year, F. A. (Frank) Wingate established a large general store in Krupp, the city's first business. (Nearly every account this writer has seen of Wingate describes him as a lively, larger-than-life character.) From there, the little community grew quickly. Krupp's first school opened in the autumn of 1901 in a bunkhouse on the Urquhart ranch, and by July 1902 -- the same month Urquhart filed a town plat for Krupp -- it had a feed store, a blacksmith shop (a second one followed later that year), a grain warehouse, and Kunkel's saloon. An attractive and roomy hotel, the Urquhart Inn, was nearing completion, and opened with a gala celebration that Thanksgiving. That same month, Krupp's first bank opened. By mid-1903, the community boasted approximately 55 residents. In its earliest years Krupp was part of Douglas County, but became part of Grant County when it was created in 1909.
During these years, wheat (and a few fruit orchards) was replacing cattle as the community's economic mainstay, and 1907 was a banner year for Krupp, when a million bushels of wheat were harvested and stored in its seven warehouses. The little village was booming. "It is like a boy in [his] teens as compared with older towns along the line," crowed an article in the Wenatchee World that autumn. In 1908 the Krupp Signal began publishing (it ran until 1917), and a permanent railroad depot, measuring 30 by 48 feet, was open by that year. By the summer of 1909, in addition to the afore-mentioned businesses, Krupp had a lumber company, a drugstore, a doctor/surgeon, a bank (the Farmers Bank of Krupp, which was housed in small but attractive brick building on the west side of Urquhart Avenue), a butcher, a town band, and an active commercial club. There was even a photography studio run by Joshua Elmer (1867-1943) out of his house in the Black Rock area south of town. Elder took a number of pictures of early Krupp and its surroundings, some of which appear with this essay.
On August 25, 1909, disaster struck when a spark from a passing Great Northern freight engine ignited a warehouse at the Farmers Grain and Supply Company. It was a windy afternoon, and the flames spread rapidly through the community's wooden structures. Virtually every building west of Urquhart Avenue was destroyed, which meant that nearly the entire business district was wiped out. The Farmers Bank of Krupp building was one of the few survivors, even though it was caught in the flames. The brick building survived handily, though the interior of the building was gutted. The Urquhart Inn, located east of Urquhart Avenue, escaped the fire.
Incorporation and Growth
Krupp quickly rebuilt, this time with more brick structures. In 1910 a brick school opened on the flank of the hill north of town (often called North Hill), and in 1913 its first graduating class -- a class of one -- graduated. (The student was George Beck [1893-1982], who later interviewed the community's early pioneers and researched the town's early history. The information he obtained proved invaluable to later historians.) A jail followed the next year on White Street, just south of Crab Creek, but most of its tenants were either Halloween pranksters or folks who got carried away at the local saloon. In its later years the jail sat unused before it was donated to become part of the Grant County Historic Museum and Village in Ephrata.
In December 1910 the Krupp community voted to incorporate, though it's questionable whether it actually had the 300 residents required by the state for incorporation. Nevertheless, Krupp incorporated as a fourth-class town on January 7, 1911. The railroad tracks marked its southern boundary while the northern boundary was on North Hill, though most of the town was located between Crab Creek and the railroad tracks. John Urquhart was the first mayor, but he didn't stay long. He was elected to the state legislature in 1912 and served from 1913 until 1919. He became known for his work to establish the North Central Highway between Ellensburg and Davenport, which was designated by the legislature in 1915. The eastern part of this route, between Quincy and Davenport, is now known as Washington State Route 28 and is the main highway to Krupp.
In July 1914, a second major fire struck the town. It wasn't as destructive as the 1909 fire, but it had its own unique signature -- it struck on two consecutive nights, and while it was unclear whether the first fire was accidental, the second fire was believed to be arson, possibly started by transients. The first fire destroyed two warehouses and 10 boxcars, but the second fire destroyed the Urquhart Inn, by then known as the Hotel Krupp. A new hotel was built across the street later that year, known variously as the Parol Hotel (after the owners, Charles and Mary Parol) and the City Hotel. Katie Parol Scroggie (1892-1984), the daughter of the owners, later recalled that the hotel had 10 rooms upstairs; the inside rooms rented for 50 cents while the nicer corner rooms were a dollar. The Parols also maintained a restaurant (aptly named City Restaurant) downstairs.
In April 1917 America entered World War I (then generally called the Great War) against Germany and its allies, which had been raging overseas in Europe for nearly three years. Patriotic fervor swept the town, and Krupp found it had a problem. A large munitions factory in Germany had the same name, and the community wanted nothing to do with it, despite many of its citizens having German ancestry. There was considerable sentiment for the name Crab Creek, but that was already taken, so the following year the town voted to petition the post office and Great Northern to change the town's name to Marlin, after Henry Marlin. The problem was that no one in the town ever made the change official with the Secretary of State. Both the post office and the railroad adopted the change, but to the State of Washington, the town remained -- and remains -- Krupp. Today (2021), it's not uncommon to find the town referred to in internet postings or on maps as "Krupp (Marlin)," or "Marlin/Krupp" or some similar version.
The 1920 U.S. Census reported 106 residents in Marlin, and 101 in 1930. Lawrence Beck had the town's furniture store, while A. H. (Doc) Carr maintained a good-sized hardware store just across High Street from the bank. (Doc Carr was not really a doctor. Legend has it he was nicknamed Doc because he played one once in a school play.) There was Webster Shoe Repair and the Chris Lentz harness shop, there was a garage and a gas station, and at one point in the 1940s there was an ice cream parlor in the building that later became the Marlin Tavern. There were two churches, the Presbyterian and the Salem Lutheran. There were baseball and basketball games between the Marlin school and other area schools (nearby Wilson Creek was always a rival), and dances were held at a location recorded by Katie Scroggie as the "K. P. Hall ... over the store on the corner" ("Pioneer Matron Tells…"). Small fires continued to plague the town periodically, including one in 1925 that destroyed the railroad depot. The next year, it was replaced by a slightly smaller one brought from Downs (Lincoln County).
A Change in Direction
Two events within a year of each other marked a change in direction for the town's fortunes. In July 1933 the Great Northern closed its depot in Marlin, saying the revenue it generated wasn't enough to justify maintaining an agent there. Though the North Central Highway had long since been completed, it was a minor state highway that did not attract heavy traffic. The following April, the Farmers Bank of Krupp -- the town's only bank -- closed and moved to Odessa. Unless you lived there or nearby, Marlin was no longer on the way to anywhere. Over a period of several decades, businesses slowly closed as the town's original residents either died or retired. W. C. (Bill) Dashiell closed his drugstore in 1940 after 37 years in business, and Doc Carr sold his Marlin Hardware store in 1944, though it operated for another eight years before closing in 1952. At some point during these years, the furniture store closed too. Additionally, more small fires continued to chip away at Marlin's downtown. The grocery store burned in 1933 (though it reopened in another building), while the City Hotel and its restaurant burned about 1944 and were not rebuilt.
A November 1953 fire that destroyed two grain elevators and a warehouse at the Krupp Union grain warehouse was probably the community's top news story of the 1950s. Since Marlin has never had a water system, water had to be pumped a quarter mile from Crab Creek to fight the fire. It was a big fire for the little town, causing between $500,000 and $750,000 in damage (equivalent to $5 million to $7.5 million in 2021), but the elevator was rebuilt the following year. Still, the town's slow fade continued, and it accelerated in the 1960s; Marlin lost nearly half its population during those 10 years alone. The school graduated its last class in 1964, closed in 1966, and was torn down in 1970, though its gymnasium remained. Some have said that it was the closure of the school more than any particular event that seemed to seal the town's fate. "The school was the hub of the town," explained Loretta (Bunny) Haugan (b. 1939) in a HistoryLink interview. Haugan, a 1957 Marlin High School graduate, recalled a Marlin of the 1940s and '50s that "was a community ... [and] the gymnasium was the community center. There were family reunions, church events, potlucks, three-act plays, even Christmas operettas" (interview).
Despite the closeness, bits and pieces of Marlin kept disappearing. This is pointed out in a 1965 letter from Katie Scroggie to George Beck: "I saw quite a change when I was in Marlin this spring. On the side where your brother Harvey had his butcher shop, and your folks their furniture store, there are no buildings now. I see Rudolph Templin's little house is still there, but no blacksmith shop. My folks' hotel is gone" ("Pioneer Matron Tells ...").
Hippies and Hutterites
By 1970 a barbershop, tavern, grocery store, and post office were the principal businesses in the little downtown area, while the grain elevator carried on by the railroad tracks. The U.S. Census that year showed that Marlin's population had dropped to 52, making it the smallest town in the state -- a distinction it has held in each of the decennial censuses since, with the exception of 1980, when Marlin took second place to Hatton (Adams County) for 10 years. Census results for 2020 were not available at the time of this writing, but with a population estimated to be near 50, Marlin was in no danger of losing its smallest-town status.
The area's remoteness would prove attractive to a diverse group of people during the 1970s. In May 1971, promoters announced there would be a three-day rock festival held a mile or two south of Marlin in mid-June. Up to 50,000 people were expected to attend the event, billed as Sunrise '71. The locals wouldn't hear of it. They successfully obtained an injunction prohibiting the festival, and the day before it was to start, promoters confirmed it was canceled. But it was too late. Some people were already en route, and others, indifferent about the cancellation, were coming out anyway. At this point, hundreds of police from 16 counties and 10 cities, supplemented with state troopers, converged on the scene, matching and sometimes outnumbering the number of mostly young people gathering at the site. The police stopped traffic and searched vehicles, first confiscating band equipment and later food, reasoning that once the revelers got hungry, they'd leave. "We're going to starve those hippies out," affirmed one officer ("Lawmen Thwart ..."). Eventually the police established roadblocks and prevented entry entirely.
In 1975, a group of Hutterites established the Marlin Hutterian Brethren colony approximately five miles southwest of Marlin. Hutterites, a communal religious group, are pacifists who believe in living simply and off the land. In Marlin, they make their living from cattle and crops. Women wear long, plaid dresses; men wear black or dark pants and suspenders. They call themselves "the plain people." The colony's population has fluctuated around 100 over the years, living in a quiet, orderly community in the middle of nowhere. Though referred to by some of their neighbors as "the Hoots," the colony's residents have succeeded in their new home and have earned a measure of respect.
By the early 1980s, the town's barbershop was gone. The tavern closed in 1983, the grocery store in 1988. But the town faced a more existential crisis in 1986 when it was threatened with disincorporation. That year its municipal insurance premiums leapt by almost 500 percent, and suddenly represented one-seventh of the town budget. At the same time, rumors flew that the post office was about to be closed. Nevertheless, Marlin refused to disincorporate and cede control of the community to Grant County. The town resolved its insurance woes and successfully petitioned to keep its post office.
In 1989 long-time residents Henry Kallenberger (1905-1993) and Grace Kallenberger (1912-2003) opened a small history museum in the former Farmers Bank of Krupp building, which had served as the town's post office for years after the bank closed. (Like George Beck, Grace Kallenberger's efforts to preserve Marlin's history were a godsend for later researchers.) After they died, their daughter Bunny Haugan maintained the museum for a time before it closed. In the 1990s a Moses Lake family bought the tavern with plans to renovate it, but this never came to fruition. Yet Marlin endured. The annual community picnic continued into the early twenty-first century, and both its churches continued services long enough to see their centennials before closing in the early 2010s.
By the early 2020s, the remaining buildings open in Marlin (aside from the grain elevator) were the post office, city hall (housed in a small former church brought to town in the 1950s), and the community center in the old school gymnasium north of downtown. On some days -- such as a summer day in 2021 when this writer visited -- it was hard to tell whether some of these buildings were open or closed, and there was a similar solitude in the town itself, even at midday. The quiet was interrupted by the trains which still pass by Marlin, more than a dozen a day, mostly freight, as well as Amtrak's Empire Builder twice daily (one eastbound, one westbound). About 20 houses remained in and around the town, which has an area of about six-tenths of a square mile.
Politics has generally been a casual affair in Marlin. The mayor and five councilmembers serve as volunteers. Races are often not contested, and it is not uncommon for town officials to serve for decades on end. In recent years, town council meetings have been held in the grain elevator because residents find it more convenient than the city hall. And the process of governing in Marlin has an easiness that would be impossible for a city politician to understand. A 1983 Spokane Chronicle article illustrates the point by describing a council meeting where a complaint was aired about a marauding dog harassing people. The solution? "Pick up a rock" ("Welcome to Marlin ...").
Tracy Lesser (b. 1957) was elected Marlin's mayor in 1981 and assumed office in January 1982, shortly after his 24th birthday. It was not a time when most young men were interested in staying in a small town, and the Chronicle pointed that out. But Lesser was undeterred, telling the reporter: "I'm going to live here and I'll do whatever I can for there to be a future for this town" ("Welcome to Marlin ..."). He went on to do that, running his farm and managing the town's affairs for the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. In the autumn of 2021 he was completing his 40th year as Marlin's mayor and preparing for his 41st, having been readily reelected in the general election that November by a vote of 13-0.
It's this straight-ahead resolve of the Marlin community that has enabled it to persevere even while on the surface the town has seemed to disappear. Helen Yeager alluded to it at the conclusion of her 1987 manuscript when she wrote: "I add: No longer is it the pioneer life of the open range that lies ahead for our young people. It is the challenge of the technological age of the near twenty-first century. We older members trust that the spirit of our younger people will enable them to face the future."