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.

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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.