The Schillestad Family: Sketches of Salmon Bay Life

  • By Jody Hendrickson
  • Posted 10/16/2007
  • Essay 8334
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Alfred Schillestad (1869-1942), son of Seattle pioneer Ole Schillestad (1833-1914), left a unique visual record of early life along the shores of Salmon Bay in the sketchbooks he created as young man. Two of Alfred Schillestad's sketchbooks form part of the Michael Cirelli Collection on Northwest Photography at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), which also includes photographs related to the Schillestad family and a research file on the Schillestads. Together these materials construct an impression of the life of one of the first Norwegian immigrant families to arrive in Seattle. This account of the Schillestad family and their archives was written by Jody Hendrickson, archives assistant at MOHAI.

Like many Scandinavian immigrants in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the Schillestad siblings of Norway arrived in Washington state in a "second stage" of immigration, after settling for a time in the Midwest. Ole, Martha, and John Schillestad arrived in the United States from Bergen, Norway, around 1863, settling initially in Illinois. Shortly after arriving, on August 27, 1863, 30-year-old Ole married Norwegian immigrant Regina Peterson (b. 1835). Regina had arrived from Bergen in 1852, and it is likely that Ole and Regina knew each other in Norway. Regina's brothers Henry and Lewis Peterson (1846-1934), who would become well known as the early Seattle photographic firm of Peterson Bros., also lived in Chicago, where Henry married Mary Thompson in 1866. Martha Schillestad married Swedish ship caulker Gustave Anderson, also recently arrived in Chicago.  John Schillestad married as well, and the three Schillestad siblings settled in Chicago and began families.

Among the earliest Norwegian immigrants to the Seattle area, the families of Ole and Regina Schillestad, Gustave and Martha Anderson, and Henry and Mary Peterson arrived around 1875 (John remained in Chicago with his wife and four children).  In 1876, Ole Schillestad began constructing a building on Front Street in Belltown.  "Mr. Schillestad is just putting the finishing touches on his new residence on Front Street" reports a Daily Intelligence article on "Belltown improvements" from July 23, 1879. "It is 12 x 28, story and a half, with an addition 16 x 22. His two lots are under good improvement." City directories through 1886 list 1909 Front Street as Ole and Regina Schillestad's residence.

Trained in Norway as a cabinetmaker, Ole opened an undertaking business with a partner, Theodore Coulter. The two men operated a factory on Mill Street (now Yesler Way) opposite Henry Yesler's sawmill, advertising as "Coulter & Shillistad [sic], Undertakers, Upholsterers and Furniture Manufactures."  "Mr. Coulter is a practical undertaker," explains a July 15, 1878 Daily Intelligencer article, "and Mr. Schillestad is the sole agent for the Reeder and Bartlett patent spring beds." By 1879, the business had moved to Cherry Street near Front Street where it could "fill orders on half an hour's notice if necessary." Schillestad kept the business going after Theodore Coulter’s death from cancer in 1880, until he retired from the undertaking business in 1888.

Schillestad and his brother-in-law Gustave Anderson had each purchased large adjoining lots on the shore of Salmon Bay across from the current location of the Chittenden locks; beginning in 1899, Ole and Regina Schillestad's address is listed as simply "south shore of Salmon Bay" (a few years later named  First Avenue W).  According to his son, Anderson's smaller lot measured 160 acres and cost $5 an acre. Anderson and Schillestad each built homes on this land, and both kept fruit orchards; Schillestad's profession is listed city directories from the 1890s as "fruit grower." Indeed the land was so suitable for fruit growing that Anderson’s strawberries won first prize at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, with seven of his large berries filling a quart cup. 

Being an experienced carpenter, Schillestad built his home himself, as well as the home of in-laws John and Anna Brygger across Salmon Bay on the north shore (Anna was Regina Schillestad's sister).  The Schillestad home was moved during the construction of the ship canal, and when the water level was raised as part of the building of the locks, the family rowed out to pick fruit off of the tops of their trees.  After Ole’s death in 1914, Regina moved in with her son Frank on Harrison Street in lower Queen Anne and the home was rented until it was replaced by apartments in the mid 1970s.

Ole and Regina Schillestad had arrived in Seattle with three children, sons Frank W. and Alfred M., 10 and 6 years old, and a daughter, Sophie (a fourth child, William, died in Illinois).  Frank helped out keeping the books in his father's undertaking business and later held other positions as bookkeeper and stenographer before making a career at the Denny Renton Clay & Coal Co. as, variously, secretary, auditor, and treasurer.  Frank married Lillian Draper in 1900 and the couple moved into a house built by his father in lower Queen Anne.

Alfred Schillestad (1869-1942) first went to work as a bookkeeper at Nordhoff’s in 1896 and then as head cashier at the Bon Marche for 10 years, later making his career in the real-estate and insurance businesses. Frank W. Anderson (1881-1973), son of neighbors Gustave Anderson (1837-1916) and Martha Schillestad Anderson (1846-1898), also worked for the Bon Marche, as a delivery boy, and describes his commute, rowing across Salmon Bay to catch a streetcar to downtown:  “Some days on the way home it got so foggy I rowed around for two hours trying to find home.”

Alfred Schillestad was also an artist, drawing landscapes and scenes from his everyday life in small sketchbooks. His wife was an artist as well, a musician. Lucy May Brown, age 9,  and her younger brother George had come to Seattle from Chicago in 1885 as orphans. Lucy's aunt, Mary Peterson (1846-1931), wife of photographer Henry Peterson (1843-1911), was appointed guardian and Lucy went to live with the Peterson's in their home on 14th Avenue and Madison Street.  Lucy studied music at the University of Washington and afterwards taught music for many years. Alfred Schillestad and Lucy Brown (1876-1960) married in 1903 and the couple moved into a new home on Malden Avenue, probably built by Ole Schillestad, and stayed there until Alfred's death in 1942 when Lucy moved to Bothell.  Alfred and Lucy had one daughter, Gladys, who married Charles Kaysner, a mayor of Bothell.

At some point, two sketchbooks belonging to Alfred M. Schillestad crossed paths with Michael Cirelli. Cirelli was an avid researcher of Seattle and Northwest photography and history whose collection of photographs and research files were donated by his family to the Museum of History & Industry after his death in 2002. Although Cirelli was primarily interested in historical photographs and early Northwest photographers, he was also interested in the stories behind the photographs. He spent much of his time at local libraries photocopying and hand copying old newspaper articles and looking at photographs, and visiting local antique shops, collecting historic photographs and ephemera.

The Alfred Schillestad sketchbooks complement the other Schillestad materials in his collection. These include photographs: two images of Alfred Schillestad’s future wife Lucy Brown at her home in the Peterson house; photographs of Lucy and Alfred’s home on Malden Avenue; a carte de visite of Ole Schillestad, recently arrived in Chicago; and an image of a young Alfred Schillestad standing with other employees in front of the Bon Marche around 1896. The Schillestad research file comprises numerous photocopies and transcriptions of newspaper articles and announcements, as well as maps and ephemera.  The sketchbooks, drawn when Alfred Schillestad was between the ages of 17 and 24, consist of pencil and pen-and-ink drawings depicting various scenes of early Seattle, such as landscapes along Salmon Bay and on Magnolia Bluff, the Schillestad home on Salmon Bay, ships and sailboats in Puget Sound, the First Methodist Episcopal Church on Columbia and 2nd Avenue, as well as drawings of humorous domestic scenes, family trips, and the family dog, Gipsy.

Schillestad's grandson, Charles Kaysner of Bothell, revealed that Schillestad continued to produce art throughout his life, and several of his paintings and pen-and-ink drawings are still in possession of Schillestad's grandchildren.


Michael Cirelli Collection on Northwest Photography, Accession No. 2002.50, Museum of History & Industry; Dorpat, Paul. "Before the locks." Seattle Times. 26 April 1992;  Dave Suffia, “Ex-Bothell Mayor Recalls Early Seattle.” Seattle Times, circa 1968; Nancy Armstrong (Martha Schillestad Anderson's great-granddaughter), telephone interview, September 22, 2007; Elizabeth Howie (Frank Schillestad, Jr.'s niece), telephone interview, September 22, 2007; Charles Kaysner (Alfred Schillestad's grandson), telephone interview, September 17, 2007.

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