Frank Hellenthal remembers growing up in Columbia City in the 1900s

  • By Dave Wilma
  • Posted 10/13/2002
  • Essay 3983
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Danna C. Clancy of Tacoma found this account of the Hellenthal family and early life in Columbia City. It was written by her husband's great uncle on April 4, 1974.

The Hellenthal Family In Columbia City and Rainier Valley

By Frank Alexander Hellenthal

The original Hellenthals in Seattle as well as the first in western America, were my Father and Mother and their immediate family. They arrived in Seattle in 1891 with the following family, listed according to age: daughters Josephine Anna and Bertha. Sons, Ludwig Joseph, Joe, Frederick [sic] Carl August (Fritz). Then in 1895 Frank Alexander arrived.

At the time of this writing, my sister Bertha at 96 is still living in Seattle. I, the youngest, have four generations in my own family.


My father, Joseph, was born in St. Ingbert (Germany) in 1849. He was of the building branch of the family. Brick and stone being the basic materials, he was schooled in the use, application, and manufacture. At the age of 21 he came to America and worked on the first cement sidewalks used at the Grand Central Station in New York. After a year's experience with cement he returned to Germany. At the age of 26 he married my mother, Alexandrina Susanna Basecke, who was born in Trier (Germany) on the Mosel River about 40 miles from St. Ingbert. She lost her mother while quite young and was placed with the Nuns for schooling. Her father was a Captain of a large river barge on the Rhine River. Later she lived on board with her father. At his death she went to St. Ingbert to live with a relative.

Josephine, Bertha, and Ludwig were born in St. Ingbert. The house of their birth is still being used. America had appealed so strongly to Father that he decided to come for good and landed in New York with all the family on September 8, 1880. They lived in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and he became foreman for all masonry bridges for the Pennsylvania railroad. A son, Robert, was born there. Two years later they moved to Stuarts Headright (now Conroe), Texas. Mother's uncle had very large landholdings there and sold Father 600 acres. Robert died shortly after this move. Father immediately built a brick yard and furnished brick throughout the county. He also employed colored labor in making railroad ties. This 600 acres is now in the heart of one of the heaviest oil producing fields in Texas.

Columbia City

Several years later Father developed a very bad case of Malaria and the doctor's advice was to move to the opposite weather conditions. They loaded all their possessions in a boxcar and headed for Seattle. For a time they lived at 7th and Stewart Streets. But Father, ever the pioneer, found a new sub-division five miles out of town called Columbia City. They found housing at what today would be 41st and Edmonds Streets. Then in 1893 he bought what was laid out to be the main corner of the town. They had just electrified a car line from Seattle to Rainier Beach, later extended to Renton. The main employment was a large saw mill and car barns for repairs.

On this site Father built a three-story brick house, the largest structure in Columbia City (4902 Rainier Ave S). Here I was born in 1895. I can remember those early days quite clearly, even to the individuals. The main street -- Rainier Avenue -- built up rapidly. The old brick house, expanded, is still the largest building in town. Father was a member of the Columbia City city council. No matter the size or time of a community, politics is politics and I remember the political parades at night. Torches, goat drawn wagons, oxen, horses, children, teen-age beauty queens and what have you.


Father spotted some virgin timberland 3 miles farther out and finally secured seven acres. He cleared a road into this acreage and threw his whole heart into its development. The property was called Fernwood. He cleared several acres of large virgin cedars and planted an orchard and pasture for the cows and horses. Then he built a large two story and full basement house. All the underpinning was cedar logs, hewed square.

As soon as the house was closed in he built a large barn. This was built completely of cedar logs split in half and the flat sides hewed smooth, and stood on ends on a large cedar log hewed square. No nails were used on this building except on the shake roof. Holes were drilled and hazel dowels were used. I have the broad axe used in all this work. This building is still standing and in good condition. I helped put the shakes on the roof. Father, alone, built both the barn and the house. He made all the window sash, doors, built all the chimneys and did all the plastering. He was a master mechanic.

But he never totally recovered his health and finally died at Fernwood in 1904. Fernwood had come to a crashing halt and had left Mother with quite a brood and no money. But she was a good first mate and stepped right out and took charge of the ship. I, the youngest, had to take care of all the stock and do all of the milking, plowing, planting, and storing of crops for winter use. Fritz left high school and went to Seattle and obtained entrance to the Union and became a steam-fitter's helper, as that was the highest paid trade at the time at $3.00 per day.


Joe was working night shift in the central power station and going to the University of Washington during the day, taking Electrical Engineering. Ludwig was manager of the Union Machinery and Supply Co.

Josephine was married a few months after I was born to Thomas J. Ivers (who came to Seattle in 1896). Bertha was married in 1902 to Albert Koepfli, then a salesman with A. Hambach Co. Father had rented a two-pole circus tent for the occasion. Some months previous Joe had installed a three horsepower, six-foot-tall, gasoline engine belted to flywheel and generator. We had electric lights for the wedding -- quite a thing in those days and the only ones in miles around. I remember we had two freezers of ice cream, the first we had ever seen. The night was chilly and not much ice cream was consumed. Fritz and I were sick for a week after trying to eat all the left over ice cream.

Then came Ludwig's wedding to Edith Flynn at her home on Queen Ann[e] Hill in 1906. This was quite the social event of the season and I was very impressed. I remember an orchestra on the balcony of the second floor. Ludwig had built and furnished a home at nearby 18 Ward Street, so after the wedding they could walk home.

Then came Joe's wedding in 1917 to Marguerite Bachman. He too had built and furnished a home in Mt. Baker Park. He wanted me for best man so I came home from Camp Murray, American Lake, where we were completing our outfitting before leaving for France.

Fritz was married three months later to Nora Olson. He had closed his business, sold his boat, and joined the Navy. At the time of marriage he was in Officers Training at the University of Washington.

National Guard

That leaves me, the baby. At the University of Washington I belonged to the Radio Platoon of Field Co. A Signal Corps, Washington National Guard. We were called to the Mexican Border in March 1916. We were in active field service there when we were ordered to Vancouver Barracks, Washington. There a Battalion Organization was set up and Army examinations taken for commissions. I came out Senior First Lieutenant of the new Battalion. We then returned to Seattle and recruited up to Battalion strength. Then to Camp Murray, American Lake, for outfitting and mustering-in under Federal Orders. Left there in July 1917 enroute to France, with all horses and full field equipment that we had used on the Mexican Border.



Written by Frank Alexander Hellenthal on April 4, 1974; Edited by David Wilma, October 8, 2002

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