Carl Lane Clemans was born in Manchester, Iowa, on May 30, 1871, the same year the Pacific Northwest frontier town of Snohomish was named and platted. Snohomish is where Clemans would own one of the first homes built on Avenue C and to where he moved following his celebrated turn as a college football hero for the new Stanford University. Clemans co-owned the Snohomish County Tribune, and the town was home base for his mining, real estate, and logging adventures. He established a lumber mill in the nearby mountains and named the town spawned to support the mill Alpine. Many of the employees referred to him as "Papa." He died on October 7, 1941, still residing in his home on Avenue C with his second wife and their daughter's family.
From Iowa to California
Carl Lane Clemans was the third child born to Maria Calhoun (1836-1908) and E. O. Clemans (1824-1888), who were married in Massachusetts (the Clemans name goes back to the eighteenth-century Salem Colony). Carl had seven siblings: Hugh (1860-1923), Eva (1863-1877), William (1866-1933), Gertrude (1873-1954), twins Matthew (1875-1878) and George (1875-1966), and Howard (1880-1955). Hugh, George, Howard, and Gertrude all would follow Carl to Snohomish.
Clemans attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, where he founded a chapter of the Sigma Nu Fraternity, the first of several fraternal chapters he would start at various colleges, and maintained a lifelong attachment to the school, sending his daughters there in the 1920s. He graduated in 1888.
In 1891, Clemans moved to California to enroll in the pioneer class of Leland Stanford Junior University. "It was necessary for me to attend some large university where I might drink in erudition," he wrote in a 1919 story for the magazine Delta of Sigma Nu. Much to his happy surprise upon arriving at Stanford, instead of "thirty or forty zealous and ascetic students" he found "five or six hundred of the livest most active young Americans," out of which came the "vigorous young leaders of the pioneer class" ("Beginnings ...").
Clemans and others established a chapter of the Beta Chi fraternity, which "soon became a factor in the university." Of his second year at Stanford, Clemans wrote, "a [fraternity] house became an imperative necessity." Since the chapter could not put up the money, it worked with a local bank, a building and loan association, and a contractor. "They took up the matter of a lease with Senator Stanford," and were successful in obtaining what Clemans characterized as "a model for all of the leases at the University ... We remained until the summer of 1898, when, at the request of Mrs. Stanford, we moved the house" to a location 200 yards away as the neighborhood grew to include the professors of the chemistry and German departments ("Beginnings ...").
Jump ahead to the May 5, 1932 issue of the Snohomish County Tribune, a newspaper once co-owned by Clemans, to read the editorial titled, "His City Doesn’t Know He’s an Important Man," a tribute to Clemans as the founder of Sigma Nu chapters at four colleges including the University of Washington in Seattle. The surprising essay about a man rarely mentioned in its pages referred to Clemans as "perhaps the greatest living worker" in the national development of fraternities. "But probably the neighbors don’t know it" (Dobbs).
Football and Herbert Hoover
Adding to his busy college life, Clemans was a star fullback on Stanford's first and second football teams. The team's business manager was future U.S. President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964).
According to a 1954 Sports Illustrated retelling of the March 19, 1892, football game between Stanford and California, Hoover (Class of 1895) was chosen by Stanford classmates to arrange the game with a Cal counterpart. They rented the Haight Street baseball grounds in San Francisco. Gambling that tickets would sell, Hoover ordered new uniforms – all on credit. Then he had printed 5,000 tickets "in a burst of optimism." By game time all 5,000 tickets, priced at $2, had been sold, and "gold and silver currency was spilling over the floor of the ticket booth." The stands were jammed with fans, and several thousand more were sold standing-room admission and jostled in a driveway around the field. "The boisterous throng sounded off with fish horns, Chinese fiddles, conch shells, rattles, bazoos, and bells. Suddenly the crowd fell silent. There was no football!" ("Hoover's Golden Gate").
Hoover sent the uniform salesman to procure a ball, and an hour later he returned with a punching-bag bladder inside a pigskin, "creating a not-so-prolate spheroid" ("Hoover's Golden Gate"). One of Stanford's scores came on a reverse play from Cal's 45-yard-line. "The ball was centered to Quarterback Tom Code, who gave it to Whittemore. While Code and Fullback Carl Clemans led him to the center of the line, the other halfback, Paul Downing, who had received the ball in a hand-off, ran unnoticed down the sideline ... When the confused Californians finally turned around, they saw Downing squatting on the ball between the goal posts" ("Hoover's Golden Gate"). Stanford won, 14-10. Later, after the money was counted and hidden under the mattress of Hoover's hotel bed, "only then did the future President relax enough to reflect that he had been too busy to see the game" ("Hoover's Golden Gate").
It was the beginning of the "Big Game" tradition between the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford. Clemans was the captain in the very first Big Game, and he scored the winning touchdown. Hoover continued as the team manager and maintained a lifelong friendship with Clemans.
Snohomish County Tribune
Clemans moved to Snohomish in 1892 or 1893, and on October 21, 1893, he and a former fraternity brother in Iowa, Charles Wesley Gorham (1865-1919), announced that they had purchased the Tri-Weekly Tribune (later the Snohomish County Tribune). Little is known about the Gorham-Clemans relationship. Their partnership ran into troubled waters in 1896, churned up by the strenuous "free silver" campaign, when joint-editorship became impossible. Clemans identified with the advocates of free coinage, while Gorham supported the Republican platform in its entirety, gold standard plank and all.
Their partnership was finally dissolved in September 1898, but not before their newspaper ran the story of Clemans’s marriage to Alberta Merritt, his college sweetheart at Stanford, on November 25, 1896. The wedding was held in the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Merritt, in Woodland, California. "Immediately after the wedding they took the train for San Francisco, to be present at the great football game between Stanford and the University of California. They will visit Mr. and Mrs. I. S. C. Gorham at Morgan Hill, California, and then return to Snohomish to make their future home" (Snohomish County Tribune, November 28, 1896, p. 1).
On August 12, 1897, Carl and Alberta welcomed the birth of their first child, a boy named Hugh after Carl’s brother. In November, the family left for a two-week visit to California and the Stanford football game on Thanksgiving. A second son, Albert, arrived in the spring of 1899, but in the October 13, 1899, edition of the Snohomish County Tribune came the news that, "Mrs. Carl Clemans is dangerously ill at her home" ("Locals"). Alberta died on October 25, 1899. "During her sickness she was tenderly cared for by her sister-in-law ... and the Monday before her death her mother, Mrs. A. A. Merritt arrived from Woodland. Short funeral services were held in the home Saturday afternoon. Revs. Winchester and Falls officiating, and the husband, with the children, her mother and Mrs. Hugh Clemans left with the body for Woodland, where internment will be made" (Tribune, October 27, 1899, p. 1).
Following the burial, the boys returned with Mrs. Hugh Clemans to the family home in Iowa, which was made clear in the May 18, 1900, edition of the Tribune: "Carl Clemans left for Manchester, Iowa, last Monday. He received word Sunday by wire that both his children were seriously sick with scarlet fever. After his departure a telegram was received stating that the eldest, Hugh, was dead, and that the other was hardly expected to live. This is a severe blow to Mr. Clemans and his many friends extend their sympathy to him" ("Locals").
A short blurb in the May 10, 1901 issue of the Tribune announced that Clemans, his entire family now deceased, had left for a business trip to Omaha and other points in Nebraska and Iowa. Before the month was out, he had married Mary Harriet Smith (1864-1961) in Omaha. Harriet was born in Iowa and graduated from Cornell College. The following year the newlyweds welcomed their first child, Mary Smith (1902-1966).
Settling in Snohomish
The Snohomish property that would eventually include the Clemans House was platted in 1871 by E. C. Ferguson. Three years later, E. C. sold the land – Lot 12, Block 15 in Snohomish City, Western part – to his brother Yates. Combing through the Inverted Index of Snohomish County archives, we learn that Yates sold the property to George B. Deering and John J. Stevenson, both of Snohomish City, in 1883 for $95. In 1886, three years later, Stevenson sold the lot, perhaps to his brother Charles Stevenson, for $400. The structure built on the lot appears on the first Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, dated 1892. However, Clemans’s name was not associated with the property until 1903, when a one-line notice appeared in the Tribune on April 3: "C. L. Clemans expects to begin next week building an addition to his residence on Avenue C" ("Locals"). Work on the home continued into the following year, concluding with news of a new walk in front of his residence in the October 23, 1904 issue. The Clemans House still stands as part of the Snohomish Historic District.
It’s easy to imagine the home-improvement effort was inspired by the expectation of another child, who arrived with dramatic timing on Christmas Day 1904. She was named Katharine (1904-2000), often referred to as Kate. In the May 10, 1907, issue of the Tribune, we learn that the parents and children "left this morning over the Great Northern for an extended visit with friends and relatives in Iowa and other eastern states" ("Local Notes"). Included in the long journey was Carl Lane Jr., a babe in arms, born on February 27, 1907. There was no mention of when the boy became ill, except for a death certificate that noted the child was under a doctor’s care from December 28 until his death on the second day of the new year. The certificate noted the cause of death was bronchopneumonia with an intussusception of the small bowel as a contributing factor. Carl Jr. lived for only 10 months and six days and was laid to rest in Snohomish’s Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Cemetery – the first family member laid to rest in the family plot.
Clemans’s brother Hugh was in Snohomish County as noted in the July 31, 1908 issue of the Tribune: "Mr. Clemans is heavily interested in timber in this section, and is out looking after the business end of it" ("Local Notes"). This was the first word of the partnership between the brothers that would create a lumber mill and a village to support it.
On February 12, 1910, the Clemanses welcomed their third daughter, Virginia (1910-1996). Then on March 18, the Tribune reported that Harriet and the children would spend the summer at the site of the Clemans brothers’ lumber mill acquisition, Nippon, located in the Cascade mountains. There is no word of how that plan worked out, but on March 1 a train disaster in the mountain town of Wellington killed 96 people when two Northern Pacific trains were swept away and smothered by an avalanche. The tragedy took place only 12 railroad miles from the mill site, but the event, still talked about today, was not mentioned in the Tribune. But on June 3 there was this: "C. L. Clemans was down from Nippon the first of the week. His mill is now running, and cutting about 30,000 feet of lumber a day" ("Social and Personal").
Located on the steep slopes of the Cascade Range, six miles beyond the railroad town of Skykomish, the Nippon Lumber Company was organized on June 16, 1910, by the partnership of Carl and Hugh Clemans. The company was named after an existing depot named Nippon in 1892 by the Great Northern for unknown reasons. Clemans requested the name Alpine, "on account the character of the country seems a fitting appellation," he wrote in a letter dated November 15, 1913; plus, it would coincide with the post office name. The depot was renamed Alpine in February 1914 (Raetzloff). The first school at Alpine was opened in the fall of 1910. The company’s name was changed to The Alpine Lumber Company in 1920.
From the Seventh Annual Report of the Nippon Lumber Company, written by Carl Clemans: "On June 3, 1913, the first plant was totally destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt in record time, sawing commencing thirty-three days after the fire and thirty days after the work of rebuilding started ... The following year, the slashings left by the company's logging operations caught fire on July 14. This fire swept up the valley and threatened to again destroy the mill. Heroic work on the part of the crew saved the mill and the major portion of the logging equipment, but the bridges on the logging railway were destroyed and a heavy loss incurred. Since that time the Company burns its slashings as closely as possible behind its logging operations” (Clemans).
World War I
In 1918, the Alpine Council, established to support the war effort, set out to build a grand hall to welcome home soldiers from the war. It was given the name Victory Hall and located close to the railroad tracks in Alpine to ease access for soldiers. Construction on the two-story building began in May, and by June the interior was completed enough to present a play by the Dramatic Club in the second-floor assembly room. The first floor had the kitchen, and a Red Cross room with four sewing machines, pool tables, and a reading room. The homemade structure was dedicated on Sunday, June 23, 1918, with a speech by Judge F. V. Brown of Seattle. The building was painted with care: "basement, a light marron; second story, a soft yellow; and roof, a forest green; all blending beautifully with the snow-capped background of fir-covered mountainsides" (Clemans, Eighth Annual Report)
From the Ninth Annual Report of the Nippon Lumber Company, written by Clemans: "The year nineteen nineteen at Alpine has been one of great difficulty ... The company was one of the few companies which failed to cut wages after the signing of the armistice and the consequent fall of lumber prices. The business was conducted at loss up to the first of June. About this time we commenced logging in very small timber and in a very steep and difficult county, which again prevented any successful operation." In the closing paragraph, Clemans writes: "We are particularly pleased to see the number who have been enabled to purchase farms, although in each and every case it has meant the loss of a man who gave high service to the company and with whom it was a pleasure and matter of pride to work" (Clemans, Ninth Annual Report).
On August 21, 1923, the Clemans’s oldest daughter, Mary, married William Payson Peterson (1899-1972) in Alpine. Peterson was listed as the Secretary on the letterhead of the Alpine Lumber Company. Mary gave birth to a daughter, Mary Annette, on May 19, 1924.
On December 13, 1928, a front-page story reported, "Alpine Logging Camp Is Closed." The company was forced to "discontinue work due to a heavy fall of snow in the woods ... Logs already out will be shipped down river to Snohomish or Everett and no additional logs will be cut until the weather moderates" ("Alpine Logging ..."). This temporary closure soon became permanent.
A headline on January 8, 1931, reported that "C. L. Clemans Would Provide Condensed Natural Gas in Snohomish." Clemans had applied to the city council for a franchise to install gas mains in the streets and to sell gas for 50 years. It would mean installing a mixing and pressure plant, which would receive condensed natural gas in tank cars. "'The gas we will sell,' Mr. Clemans said, 'will be cleaner than the manufactured gas ... it is entirely odorless, and is not a monoxide" ("C. L. Clemans Would ..."). Clemans lost the bid and returned to the woods, this time near Granite Falls, with the founding of the Lincoln Timber Company, partnered with his son-in-law Peterson and J. B. Litchy, as reported in the Tribune on May 21, 1936. Clemans's obituary also mentions the Great Bear Logging Company.
In the 1940 census, Clemans’s daughter’s family is living with him and Harriet. Son-in-law Peterson is listed as the head, with wife Mary, and children Marion, Payson Jr., and Priscilla.
Clemans died on October 7, 1941, in the Snohomish General Hospital "after an illness of several months' duration," reported the Tribune on the front page of the October 9 issue. The funeral was held the same day at St. John’s Episcopal Church. A short notice appeared in the Los Angeles Times, in the sports pages, on October 8, 1941, titled "First Stanford Grid Leader Dies." It noted that Clemans was "a close friend of former President Herbert Hoover during his years at Palo Alto."
Clemans’s Last Will and Testament was signed on August 26, 1941. He gave each of his daughters one dollar. All of the rest ... "I give, devise and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Harriet S. Clemans, to have and to hold the same absolutely and forever" ("Carl Lane Clemans ...").
On December 18, 1941, a Tribune headline read "Clemans’ Chimes Carry Christmas Carols to the City," the story explaining: "Dedicated to the memory of the late Carl Clemans, highly-respected pioneer citizen, a chimes amplifying system was installed this week at St John’s Episcopal church ... Bearing their message of peace and good will, the chimes have pealed throughout the city in twilight serenades" ("Clemans' Chimes ..."). The amplifying system carried music from the organ, record equipment, or the church choir, and was used extensively during the Christmas season and on other special occasions
Clemans is buried in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Cemetery alongside his son Carl Jr., who died in 1908. Harriet lived for another 20 years, dying on March 17, 1961, in Palo Alto, California, where her sister Kate and her family lived. Evidently, Harriet’s body was returned to Snohomish to join the two Carls in the family plot. Daughter Mary and son-in-law Payson joined them in the 1970s along with a granddaughter Priscilla. The Bigleaf Maple tree planted at the foot of the family plot has not disappointed. It is now one of the grandest trees in the historic cemetery.
A story of Carl Clemans, his mill, and his town would not be complete without a mention of Seattle mystery writer Mary Daheim (1937-2022). Beginning with The Alpine Advocate, published in 1992, Daheim gave new life to the remains of a ghost town with the creation of a local newspaper and its perpetually curious editor Emma Lord. The series continued for 25 more books, each with a title beginning with a letter from the alphabet, ending with The Alpine Zen.
"Back in the 1930s our family members went camping at Verlot with the Clemans family," Daheim wrote several months before her death in 2022. "They liked the area so much that they wanted to buy some property and build summer cabins. They mentioned their dream to Carl and he said he’d bought a big timber parcel that included Robe and he could sell them each 100 yards of it for $100 each ... Some place around here I have a picture of Mr. and Mrs. C. standing on the front porch of my grandparents’ cabin with the rest of our family. I do not have a picture of Carl trying to blow out the candles on the birthday cake my grandmother made for him and his dentures sailed off into the frosting. Grandma, not saying a word, simply picked the dentures and handed them back to Carl. He didn’t say anything either” (Daheim email, January 23, 2022).
Tim Raetzloff, an Edmonds businessman, became interested in the Clemans story with a serendipitous discovery of the ghost town of Alpine in 2008. He recorded his efforts in an extensive website titled "My Search for Alpine," which spawned the Facebook group "Remembering Alpine." Raetzloff said there’s not much to see these days because the Great Northern Railway didn’t like having the abandoned buildings there giving shelter to hobos. What remained through the 1930s was burned to the ground during World War II.