History Burns, Orting Transfigures

Burning Engfer House

Burning of the Engfer Farm House © by Lydiafairy. See her Flickr acct. at Lydiafairy’s flickr photostream

The Engfer farm ended in fire.  I missed the actual demolition day, but my friend Lydia was there to document the funeral pyre.  Beautiful photo, sad ending.

As of today, building of new structures, laying of asphalt, construction of roads or businesses or apartments, has not begun.  The land sits empty, looking like it expects to be ploughed for next season’s crops, bit it waits in vain.  In the words of Mayor Cheryl Temple, “With the development of the Gratzer and Engfer properties, more jobs and shopping opportunities will be offered in addition to some condominiums. I see a growing mix of great restaurants, unique shops, historic buildings and homes.”

Where the historic buildings and homes will come from baffles me since all the historic buildings and homes have been removed from the property.  Of course they could be planning to move some others there, but that seems unlikely.

The Front Door

The Front Door

This was the home of people who were Orting.  Karl Engfer purchased 50 acres, a portion of the original Whitesell donation claim, in 1912 and had the home built in 1913 by Fred Mueller.  

Karl’s son, John, worked for Fred for two years, then for James Evans for seven more learning the carpentry trade.  For many years the farm was run by family, then leased out until John took it over in 1932.  That land grew a little of everything over the years; in 1980 it became the Engfer family vineyard.

John was 93 in 1983.  At age three he and his family traveled from Germany to Hawaii, around Cape Horn aboard the F. H. Glade.  At age nine, he sailed to Victoria B.C., on to Seattle, down to Tacoma and on by train to his Uncle Albert Arndt’s home in McMillin.  In 1904 his family rented a place on South Hill, Puyallup, and he attended the one-room Firgrove school with seventeen other students.  Firgrove school is still on South Hill, but it has many more rooms and students.

Orting grew; the Engfers, the Deatry’s, the Knaack’s, the Whitesell’s — they all did the hard work of building a community.  That community still sits in the shadow of Mr. Rainier, but the life they knew has gone, only to be found it the history books, newspapers and keepsakes of descendants.

Yes, I missed the actual demolition, but I explored what was left after the fire. The silverware I had photographed on the counter in the kitchen rested in a bed of ashes.

In Case of Dinner

In Case of Dinner

Dinner Never Came

The bathtub, about the tallest thing left from the structure, was full of burned remnants of the old red house and I found the springs from the chair which had sat stoically it the upper room. The wheel chair sat off to the side as if it had been moved to spare it from the blaze. There was no trace of the Ouija board I had seen in the hall, but singed doorknobs and hardware, the fire-hardened nests of Mud Dauber Wasps, crazed and melted Ball jars, iron window weights all attested to the lives once lead there.

I found one corner of what may have been a porch that was not completely burned.  In it, I noticed charred, but readable, pieces of newspaper from the 1924.  They spoke of Willebelle Hoage and Mildred Field; Lewis B. Scliwellenbach and Preston M. Troy being on the verge of announcing their candidacy for Governor; Star automobiles and their state-of-the-art brakes; the robbery and kidnapping of Mr. and Mrs. C. O. Darling, of Vancouver; house dresses for sale, $1.79.  There was a cartoon by W. A. Carlson, the title block of a serial by Mabel Cleland and a piece of art by Frank Godwin.  Tiny bits of history that the fire couldn’t erase.

Check out more of my photos at my Flickr photostream.

Oh! So You’re from Orting WA!

It’s a little place, really…Orting that its.  Little, but not without it’s impact on us.

There was Tony Cammarano; during the first World War he started what was to become the Mazza Cheese company when Charles Mazza took it over in 1929. Charles’ son, Louie bought the operation in 1934 and ran it with his son, Edward, and wife, Darlyne, until he retired in 1974.   Though Darlyne took over the reins, she relied heavily on Louie’s assistance until his death in 1977.

In 1963, the company was still in Orting and marketed to the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska.  Enid Bennett worked in the plant then.

In 1989 the company moved to a 95,000 sq. foot plant in Sumner processing 1.2 million pounds of milk and 1 million pounds of whey per day and was featured in a 1990 issue of Food Engineering Magazine, and then, 

Mazza Cheese plant, built in 1989

they disappeared.  In 1991 overwhelming financial difficulties led to Mazza’s sale to Beatrice Cheese which about that time became a property of ConAgra.  Today, the building houses Shining Ocean, Inc., a company specializing in Japanese style seafood products.

There was Casy Carrigan, a 1969 graduate of Orting High School, who was a pole vaulting member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team in Mexico City.  Unfortunately, he was disqualified when his pole fell forward, breaking the plane of the bar, even though the bar remained in place.  There was an appeal claiming that an assistant actually knocked the pole forward, but the ruling stood.  That rule that was changed the following May.  The event did nothing to blunt the pride in this elite athlete’s accomplishments.

public domain pole vault photo

public domain photo

A self taught vaulter who trained without a coach, at home, in Orting. He began to seriously pursue the sport in 5th grade; his Dad would take 8 mm films of collage vaulters for him to study and his brother Andy got him into weightliftng.  In 2004 he still held the the state high school record of 17′ 4 3/4″, although he cleared 17′ 10 3/4″ when preparing for the ’76 Olympics. Unfortunately, an Achilles tendon injury ended his pole vaulting career.

In 1995 he married his wife, Dione, and by 2004 he was captain of the Long Beach, CA, Fire Dept.

jackie mcmahon

1990 Mrs. Washington USA Pageant – Photo courtesy of Mrs. USA Pageant

In 1986, Jackie McMahon was crowned Miss Washington.  She came from an Orting family; parents Jack and Judy (Wright) McMahon were both Ortng High graduates and Jackie followed in their footsteps.  She graduated cum laude and went on to Seattle Pacific University to study law, then returned to Orting where she maintains a law practice today.

In 1990, Jackie continued her pageant activities; she was in the top 10 competitors of the 1990 Mrs. Washington America pageant.

From food, to athletics, to aesthetics and on to music.

Born to John and Doris Buckingham, in Seattle, WA, in 1923,  Bonnie Buckingham was raised in Redondo Beach, WA, later moving to Auburn.  Around the late ’60’s she lived on an 82 acre ranch outside Orting.

Her Dad, and her uncle Bert were both fiddlers and her brothers took turns playing an old flat-top Gibson Guitar.  They had it to themselves until Bonnie turned thirteen, then passed it on to her.  She stepped up the game competing in local talent shows, winning her first at Seattle’s Rialto Theater.

More talent shows followed; touring the region with a musical review during the depression she honed her skills and developed her talent and by 1942 she took the stage name Bonnie Lane.  She studied with several prominent local pickers, including Paul Tutmarc. By 1943 Tutmac, 27 years older than Bonnie, became not only her instructor, but her husband.  They were together until 1955 and had daughter Paula, (who became a performer in her own right), in 1950.

Working together, Bonnie and Paul were recruited into a country group called the K-6 Wranglers who had a radio show on KVI from 1944-1947.  They played venues like the Eagles Nest Lounge–above the old Eagles Auditorium–and the Silver Dollar Tavern. Bonnie also guested with several orchestra’s; Abe Brashen’s, Wyatt Howard’s and Norm Hoagy’s as examples.

Record deals, concert dates with folks like the Everly Brothers, the Del Vikings, Jerry Lee Lewis and others followed.  Appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch and the Grand Ol’ Opry; even the Ed Sullivan show.  She played with Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins…and the list goes on.

At some point she hooked up with record producer Fabor Robinson of Fabor Records.  He convinced her that she needed a more marketable stage name and Bonnie Guitar was born.  Bonnie_GuitarShe was a ground breaker in the industry, moving into numerous positions not previously open to women.  At the same time, recording tunes like; Honeycomb  and That See Me Later Look In 2007 she did an acoustic home video version of Shenandoah along with some friends and daughter, Paula, which includes conversation about playing this song for a special gig at Antoine’s, (now Mama Stortini’s), in Puyallup.

In Orting, she married Mario DiPiano and they raised quarter horses on the ranch outside Orting together, but she never fully left the music scene.  Some time after Mario’s death in 1983 she took a gig in Soap lake, WA and subsequently moved there. She lives there still; she turned 89 on March 25th,  and her music lives on.

510 S Washington Ave., Symbol of the Death of the Farm in Orting WA

510 Washington 2

510 Washington Ave.

I don’t know why I developed a fascination with the Engfer farm; perhaps it was just something about the big red house at 510 S Washington Ave. that stood as a last bastion of a way of life as you entered the City of Orting.  I actually drove past it for years, always wondering who lived there, then if someone still lived there and finally who had lived there.  It wasn’t until June of 2012 that I stopped and really looked around.

As is always the case with me and abandoned houses, (or cars, or trucks, or factories….), I wanted the house to speak to me—to tell me about its history and its people, but it remained mute, so I had to go looking for answers.  I found some.  Enough to paint a small picture.  I never have met a member of the Engfer family nor had the opportunity to talk to them about their history but perhaps I will someday.

Karl Engfer and his wife, Pauline (Arndt) Engfer Came to Orting in about 1903.  Like many of Orting’s residents, they were of German descent, having migrated to the sugar cane fields of Hawaii for work and from there moved on to Orting; lots of work was advertised in Orting and by 1903 there was already a substantial German community there.   They brought with them their children, Karl Jr., Minnie, John, Edith, Dora, Bertha, Margaruite/Margaret, Elizabeth, Ernest, Max and Erna.  They were a busy couple.

The house that has held my attention, as far as I can tell, was established in 1912 by Karl and Pauline, worked, and later leased, by the family.  John took over from the lessees in 1932, presumably with his wife, Margret/Margaruite Deatry.

John and Margaret had four children; Frederick, Minnie, Herman and Martin.  According to the 1940 census, Margaret was 19 years younger than John and they lived with 4 ½ year old Fred.

In an November 2000 article from goodthings.com, I found that Fred, Barbara and their son John were hard at work providing organic produce to the local are and while they weren’t a certified organic operation according to the article, “‘It is going to take a lot to convince me to use pesticides,’ says Fred. He does not like the idea of using poison on his food.”  Apparently it was a great place for lady bugs to live and work.

They sold to Associated Grocers for awhile, but doing so didn’t leave enough to go around for the local clientele, so they gave up AG and focused on the people they knew.

In 2006 Eijiro Kawada wrote, in Tacoma’s New Tribune, that John Engfer and his mother, Barbara,  were growing just enough for themselves and leasing the rest of the land for pumpkin growing.  Fred had passed away in 2003 and they were hoping to keep the place open until their centennial year, 2012.  It didn’t happen.

For awhile, they leased part of the land to Chet Sidu, who came to America from Punjab, India in 1998 to farm.  He grew raspberries there until it appeared the land would be sold in 2008.  The deal didn’t go through, but by that time Mr. Sidu had pulled out all of his irrigation equipment and moved on.

Orting, and many other small towns are hemmed in by the boundaries they agreed to in the Washington Growth Management Act of 1990.  Since they can’t expand outside that area growth comes from paving over farm land.  In the case of the Engfer land and the Gratzner land just north of it, it provides the only space for commercial growth for the city.  Overwhelmed by the proliferation of houses, the City put a moratorium on them.   “They want to see a mix of stores and offices on that land—and the tax revenue that comes with it,” Kawada wrote.

And so, this year, the Engfer place came to an end.  I was able to spend some time photographing what was left of the farm and present a gallery of some of those haunting photos.

Meanwhile, my research continues on Orting, and the Engfer’s, and perhaps some other folks along the way.

Check out more of my photography at Flickr.

The Story of the Soldier’s Home Cemetery Orting WA

Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

In my last Orting post I referred to some of the residents of the Orting Soldier’s Home Cemetery, but the cemetery itself has a story to be told; it wasn’t always such a place of peace and refuge. In their 1987 book, Orting Valley Yesterday and Today: Including McMillin and Alderton, authors Mardel Robins, Alice Rushton and Louise Koehler, (writing under the name of Ms. Adventures), presented the saga of the cemetery itself.

Originally, the cemetery was located in the area now used as the baseball field; a nice, flat, area which might appear a perfect location for a cemetery.  Unfortunately, the water table is about two feet below the surface in that spot, which meant that our departed honored military personnel were effectively receiving an aqua-burial.  Many found this to be unacceptable – so much so that residents were choosing to be buried elsewhere.  In the early 1900’s this led to an attempt to move the Home.  Fortunately, two Orting businessmen—J. C. Taylor and James O’Farrell—came to the rescue and arranged to move the burial ground to a new location and in 1905 Paul Koehler became the first person to be buried there.

Mr. O’Farrell bought the land and made the necessary improvements to make it a perfect location.  He effectively became Orting’s first undertaker and owned and maintained the cemetery for the next twenty years.  After twenty years he left Orting and leased the land to a person, or persons, unidentified, who failed to maintain the property and even managed to lose all of the records.  According to Ms. Adventures, “…in a few years, the record states the cemetery was in worse condition than when [O’Farrell] had bought it.”

The town of Orting bought the property in 1937 and began the arduous project of restoring it.  Again, as per Ms. Adventures, “According to Margaret Groff, the Town Clerk of that time, ‘the whole thing was a mess.’”  Because the records were missing, they had no way to verify who had purchased plots or who was buried where.  A map was eventually made by, “two town employees who literally crawled all over the grounds, measuring and getting names from tombstones.”  If you go there today, you will see a well-kept, peaceful resting place.

Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

Hidden and almost lost to view under the growth of trees and vines, mere feet from south side of Orting-Kapowsin Hwy. is an old stone stairway leading up into the cemetery, forgotten it seems, since a newer drive in entrance was built.

Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

Directly across the Orting-Kapowsin Hwy. there is still productive farmland, but it seems to be being devoured by housing developments. How long can it hold out? Time will tell, but my belief is that the developments will win in the end.

Orting, like many other small cities, is bound by Urban Growth Boundaries set as a condition of Pierce County’s 1990 comprehensive plan for growth management, RCW title 36.chapter 70A. As a result, the only expansion of commercial properties within the city must come at the expense of farmland, and much of the productive farmland in the Orting Valley is already under houses and asphalt – with more about to be paved over.

You can see more of my photography at Flickr.

Shifting gears for a moment, I have been looking for blogs and websites about the towns I spotlight to provide a broader perspective and perhaps some fun stuff; when I find them, I’ll post a link.  I recently ran across a blog called Orting Valley Flyers, which is a model airplane group in the area.  

Onward with Orting WA



Entrance to Garfield Hall copyright by Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott


Portico at the entrance to Garfield Hall
copyright Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

As I wrote my last post, I was wondering about the fate of Garfield Hall.  When I was there in 2008 there was talk of razing the building due to the cost of renovation.  I contacted the Washington Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs and found that the plan is for renovation, however,when that might happen is uncertain; funding has not yet been found for the project.

Among the residents who passed their last days at the Soldier’s Home were: Joseph Marion Gale, who passed away at the age of 77 in 1913.  Mr. Gale, born in Illinois, was a teacher, a newspaper editor and a soldier in two Indian wars and the civil war.   And Isaac Newton Hall, the last living soldier from the Grand Army of the Republic, who passed away in Oct. of 1940, as well as Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. William H. Sickles.

William Sickles        Photograph credit:  Home of Hero’s.com

William H. Sickles was  born Oct, 7, 1844, at Danube, New York, son of George and Eliza Sickles, and brother of Gertrude.  William joined the service at Columbia County, Wisconsin at the age of 16.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, while a member of Company B of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry,  he was awarded the Medal of honor after he,  “With a comrade,” Corporal Albert O’Connor , ”attempted capture of a stand of Confederate colors and detachment of 9 Confederates, actually taking prisoner 3 members of the detachment, dispersing the remainder, and recapturing a Union officer who was a prisoner in hands of the detachment, “ at Gravelly Run, VA, March 31 1864. Sgt. Sickles and Corporal O’Connor, also a Medal of Honor recipient, both ended their lives at the Orting Soldier’s home. 

Although I have been unable to determine exactly when, Sgt. Sickles married Jennie E. Craley and they had two sons: Lewis, born in 1869, and Claude, born in 1877.   Jennie died in 1932, Sgt. Sickles outlived his compatriot, Corporal O’Connor,  by ten years, dying September 26, 1938 at age 93.  He was the last remaining Medal of Honor winner of the civil war.  Corporal O’Conner died April 3rd, 1928 and both remain in the Orting Cemetery.

More examples of my photography are available at my Flickr photostream.

Sgt. William H. Sickles copyright Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

An Outing in Orting WA

Orting – According to the 2011 census, population 8,632.  This little town lies at the base of Mt. Rainier, directly in the path of the lahar that would occur should that venerable mountain decide to erupt.  Yet it has rested there since Frederick E. Eldredge’s town plat was officially incorporated as a town on April 22, 1889.  Discounting the fact that it belonged to the Indians prior to 1854, the land was first owned, by way of donation land claims, by Daniel Varner, Henry and Margaret Whitesell, Thomas Headley, Daniel Lane. George Gunson bought Varner’s claim in 1861.  By 1880 the land had been abandoned and was claimed by Fred Eldredge.

Soldiers home for blog

Orting Soldiers Home, Garfield Hall portico.
Copyright-Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott 2008

There is little left of historical Orting, but there is the Soldier’s Home .  It has served its original purpose for 122 years as of June 25th.  The assumption might be that the home was of Federal origin, but not so.  It was created under Washington State Constitution to provide for Civil War vet’s who had found their way west in search of the opportunities that were so well publicized, truthfully or not.  The provision, “The legislature shall provide by law for the maintenance of a soldiers’ home for honorably discharged Union soldiers, sailors, marines, and members of the state militia, disabled while in the line of duty and who are bona-fide residents of the State,” created the Home which is run by the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs today.  It has been home to vet’s from the Mexican War, Indian War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, both World Wars, Korean War and Viet Nam.  If it isn’t already, I sure it will be providing a home and care for vet’s for our conflicts in the Arab countries as well.

Entrance to the old building,  2008

Old Glory at the Soldier’s Home
Copyright-Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott 2008