Nels K. Tveit opens a store at the Stillaguamish forks (future Arlington) in May 1888.

  • By Janet Oakley
  • Posted 11/15/2007
  • Essay 8380

In May 1888, Nels K. Tveit and his partner, N. C. Johnson, arrive at the "forks" of the Stillaguamish River to set up the first store in the area. Experienced at running general merchandise stores in Battle Lake, Minnesota, and already partners at Norman, a settlement down river, the Scandinavian immigrants open for business in a tiny shack until the store is completed. Johnson and his wife run it. Later Tvete will buy him out and become one of the leading citizens of Arlington, Snohomish County.

Land of Opportunity 

Tveit was born in Norway in 1854 and schooled there until he went to sea at age 16. In 1873, he immigrated to the Red River Valley in Minnesota, where he homesteaded for five years. At Battle Lake, he helped his brother run his general store, working as a clerk. In 1887, two years after marrying Gurine Ellefson, also of Norway, the couple arrived in Stanwood, Washington Territory.

“Determined to settle in the valley of the Stillaguamish” (History of Snohomish and Skagit County, p. 1030), Tveit went into partnership with Nils C. Johnson, a Swede and fellow emigrant from Battle Lake. They set up shop in Norman, a small settlement on the Stillaguamish River. Tveit became its postmaster.

There was not, however, enough business for the two families. Eyeing the growth potential from the expected railroad to the northeastern part of the county, the men opened up their second store up at the forks, where the north and south forks of the Stillaguamish came together. Tveit would stay in Norman. Johnson and his new bride, Elise, would manage the new store.

Bringing in the Goods 

In early spring 1888, Tveit went down to Seattle and purchased stock for their new venture. It was loaded on the Gleaner, a tiny steamer, and sent up river to their chosen site. On board were the Johnsons.

The store opened for business on May 1888 in a tiny shack. The land around it was raw, barely cleared of trees. A muddy path led to its door from the river. Some of its first customers may have been one of the three Indian families living nearby. Once the store building was finished, the business grew along with plans for a village. Soon the area was platted and in 1890 named Haller City. During that year, Tvete sold the Norman store to Johnson and moved up to Haller City.

Store on the Move 

The Tveit and Johnson general store continued to grow during the early 1890s, listed under its original name. Also continuing to grow was the rivalry between two communities, Haller City and Arlington, a half mile away and platted just a month before Haller City.

Arlington became the stronger of the two after the Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern Railroad chose to build their depot at that town in 1891. Haller City was down in a low area by the river and not practical for a train stop. Tveit saw the writing on the wall and in 1895 had his store moved. He jacked up the building and setting it on rollers used block and tackle and ox team to pull it a quarter mile to its final location on 4th Street in Arlington. Moving the store was a major undertaking. The crew blasted stumps along the way to clear a path for the structure.

Today, the store is gone, but Tveit’s energy and vision for a town at the forks was felt for many years into the twentieth century.

Sources: History of Snohomish County, Washington Vols. I and 2 ed. by William Whitfield (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), p. 525-526; Arlington Centennial Pictorial History (Hamilton, MT: Oso Publishing Co, 2003); History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties of Washington (Seattle: Interstate Publication, 1906); Robert M Humphrey, Everett and Snohomish County: A Pictorial History (Norfolk, VA: Donning Co, 1984).
Note: The spelling of the name Nels Tveit was corrected on January 24, 2012.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You