Nicholas Delin begins construction of a sawmill at the head of Commencement Bay on April 1, 1852.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 11/29/2002
  • Essay 5017
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On April 1, 1852, Nicholas Delin (1817-1882) begins construction of a water-powered sawmill at the head of Commencement Bay in what will become Tacoma. By the end of the year, the mill will be cutting lumber and selling it to local settlers and to the California market. This is the first Euro-American settlement in Tacoma, but it will be abandoned in 1855.

Delin arrived in the Puget Sound country from Sweden in 1851 by way of San Francisco and Oregon. Sawmills were sprouting up around the sound. A carpenter by trade, he obtained financial backing for a mill. He selected a spot on a stream (Delin Creek) at the mouth of the Puyallup River for his enterprise. With the help of Sam McCaw, Jacob Burnhardt, and William Sales, Delin erected the mill on pilings. Logs were cut with an oscillating muley saw.

Delin eventually claimed 318 acres. Other immigrants settled nearby, including fishermen John Swan and Peter Reilly; cooper Chauncey Baird; Mexican War veterans Jacob Kershner, Peter Runquist, and Carl Gorisch; and Scot Adam Benston. After the Indian War of 1855-1856, none of the settlers returned. Delin sold the mill to James L. Perkins for $3,500, and moved to Seattle, where he helped build the Territorial University. Born Niklas Delin, he was buried following his death in 1882 under a tombstone reading "Nicholas DeLin," although subsequent accounts of his life, by Tacoma history Murray Morgan (1916-2000) and others, use the "Delin" spelling.


Murray Morgan, Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), 76, 80-82, 137; "Nicholas DeLin," Find A Grave website accessed September 5, 2013 (
Note: This essay was revised and corected on September 5, 2013.

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