KP Reads

Early Days of the Key Peninsula


When George Vancouver explored Washington’s inland waterways in May of 1792, he quickly came under the spell of “the serenity of the climate, the innumerable pleasing landscapes, and the abundant fertility that unassisted nature puts forth.” He visualized a future time when “villages, mansions, cottages, and other buildings (would) render it the most lovely country that can be imagined, whilst the labour of the inhabitants would be amply rewarded.”

By the time he made it down into the South Sound, however, past Vashon Island, the Narrows and then up into Case Inlet trying to rendezvous with Peter Puget, Vancouver would temper his enthusiasm. While the part of the sound he would later name after Lt. Puget was, he thought, similar in fertility and abundance to the country to the north, he lamented its “almost impenetrable wilderness of lofty trees, rendered nearly impassable by the underwood, which uniformly incumbers the surface.”

But the wilderness was tamed, and no better account of that has been written than “Early Days of the Key Peninsula” (1998) by Longbranch native Raymond T. Arledge — Father Thaddaeus Raymond Arledge, O.S.B., to those who knew him.

“Over the past two centuries the Key Peninsula has served mankind in many ways — a source of livelihood, a portage point, a homeland, a summer playground,” Arledge wrote. “The Indian and the pioneer, the wealthy and the laborer, the resident and the returning visitor have all expressed admiration for its natural offerings, its remoteness and its inherent beauty.”

Arledge’s work is based on three decades of interviews with descendants of pioneer families, including his own, and archival material from libraries, museums and private collections spanning almost 150 years. Later research has led to a revision of some of his claims, but that is inevitable as new sources become available. Early histories lay crumbs on the trail to more discoveries, leading to a better understanding of the past. The book’s 17 chapters and copious end notes can be read independently, as separate stories. The enormous bibliography is worth the price of admission and will quicken the pulse of local history buffs.

It’s the story of adapting to an ever-changing physical, historical and social landscape, starting with indigenous people floating in canoes hollowed out of cedar logs, fishing and harvesting shellfish, foraging in the abundance of the forests, and leaving portage trails across the peninsula that would become wagon roads and, later, paved county roads. It was a way of life that was to come to an end as the land was expropriated by the treaty of Medicine Creek imposed on Puget Sound tribes in 1854 and the subsequent two years of fighting known as the Indian Wars.

It took several years after the Indian Wars for settlers to begin arriving in large numbers. The peninsula was seen as remote, inhospitable and not particularly suited to farming; government surveyors consistently described the soil as second to third rate — gravel, sand and clay. That was of no interest to immigrants coming on wagon trains from the east; the fertile valleys to the south of the Sound were much more appealing.

The first white settlers on the peninsula are said to have arrived in 1852. Virginian William D. Vaughn staked a claim on the bay that bears his name, a claim that he didn’t file until the 1870s and that was never approved. Vaughn, who lived most of his life in Steilacoom, blamed animus against him as a southerner by a northerner government official. Charlie Taylor, a British sailor who jumped ship in Everett and eventually made his way to the southwest side of the peninsula, settled between what is now Taylor Bay and Devil’s Head, where he cleared some land that he farmed, having no interest in timber.

By the late 1850s logging arrived to the quiet and remote peninsula, and the pace of change quickened.

The virgin forests near the shoreline were the first to fall to the axe and crosscut saw; logs were dragged to the water by teams of oxen or dropped directly onto the beach, then boomed into rafts and towed to one of the many sawmills on the Sound. The earliest logging operations were by Joe Shettlerow (sometimes spelled Shettleroe) in Filucy Bay, starting around 1859; and, in the early 1870s, Harry Winchester and his partner Nicholas Petersen in Glen Cove, called Balch Cove at the time. Settlers on logged land would have to contend with “ugly stumps, giant saplings and deformed trees, (which left) the landscape with a battle-scarred appearance,” Arledge wrote. “Constant labor was exerted to clear the ground of brush debris and massive roots.” The land was ultimately found to be best suited for pasture and orchards; the peninsula would later become known for its fruit production.

And yet settlers came, aboard the steamers of the Mosquito Fleet, the captains sometimes unloading them and their belongings right on the beach if there was no wharf, strangers in a land they were hoping to call home. Names that are part of the peninsula’s pioneer past start to appear in the 1880s. William Creviston, said to have been the first settler south of Lake Bay(still two words until 1894), followed by Carl and Louise Lorenz and their four children. Lorenz, a carpenter, built the first sawmill on the peninsula in Lake Bay and would later build a small fleet of tugs and steamboats offering freight, mail and passenger service across the Sound; and in Vaughn and Glencove, there were the Van Slyke, Coblentz, Harriman, and Davidson families, among others. Communities sprouted along the peninsula’s shoreline, defined by a church, a schoolhouse, a store, a post office and sometimes a library hall often used for entertainment.

And of course, there was Home Colony, the utopian community established in Von Geldern Cove, also known as Joe’s Bay, which thrived for almost 25 years until it was dissolved in 1919. Home is the only surviving platted town on the peninsula, with descendants of some of the original families still in the area.

Inevitably, vacationers and the well-to-do discovered the peninsula. Hotels in Glen Cove, Home, Delano Bay and Longbranch, some initially established to accommodate short-term guests and travelers, began to cater to leisure visitors from cities across the Sound as well as points across the state and beyond. In 1889 Edward Yeazell, a successful entrepreneur and developer, purchased most of the waterfront acreage in Filucy Bay south of the present-day marina, planning to build a summer home and develop the rest as a summer resort. The home was built but the resort did not succeed, and around 1908 Frank McDermott and his wife Josephine, the wealthy owners of Seattle’s Bon Marché, bought most of the land that Yeazell had platted and built Faraway, a historic estate, parts of which are still in existence and being restored.

And a little to the north, Dr. Stephen Penrose, president of Whitman College from 1894 to 1926, who had been to Delano Resort with his family in the 1890s, bought the northeast point of what is now Penrose Point State Park as the family’s vacation destination.

The arrival of wealthy outsiders did not go unnoticed; Arledge, whose own grandparents rowed across the cove to Faraway every day where they worked as caretakers, remembers locals referring to city slickers as the “la-di-da.” He is quick to point out their kindness and generosity, however. Still, a photo of his uncle Henry Pohl, Jr. as a young man pulling a rickshaw carrying Frank McDermott, who by then was in failing health, is fraught with poignant symbolism.

Early Days” is the story of a place and its people, born of love for both. It is also a roadmap to the past, if you’re up for a visit.