Opinion

WALLY'S WORLD: My, how things have changed around town

By Wally DuChateau

From roughly 1920 to 1950, Enumclaw was an authentic, relatively isolated, provincial hamlet with a population around 3,000. The residents rarely had any occasion or excuse to leave town. Almost everything they wanted was available here.

This included work. Most local men were employed by the White River Lumber Company. At the time, White River usually employed around 600 men, although, for a few years during World War II, it employed more than 700, including a few women. If a fellow didn’t work there, you could safely bet he was either a coal miner or, with the help of his entire family, a farmer.

There was no reason to shop outside of Enumclaw. The town had three lumberyards, two or three clothing stores – including J. C. Penney – a hardware store, a couple of “five and dimes”, at least three food markets, including Safeway, three or four restaurants, two drug stores, a number of lawyers, real estate agents, dentists and doctors, and perhaps most important and certainly the most numerous, six taverns.

On rare occasions, during the holiday season or when Mom wanted a new dress, my parents would drive into Seattle or Tacoma to shop in large department stores like the Bon Marché or Rhodes. These were all-day excursions. On old Highway 99, the drive into Seattle, alone, took an hour and a half. (To the eyes of an 8-year-old, like myself, the awesome toy display in Sears and Roebuck was absolutely mind-boggling.)

When it came to recreation, here again, the community cultivated its own resources. There were two movie theaters, the Avalon and the Liberty, owned by Gene Groesbeck. He showed films one or two months after they had opened in Seattle and had, more or less, exhausted their runs in the city. Since Seattle had 20 or 30 theaters, many of the films shown there never came to Enumclaw, but the idea of driving into the city to see a movie was simply ridiculous to most local people.

The same was true for Seattle’s posh nightclubs and dancehalls; that is, few Enumclaw residents ever drove there for dances or a drink. Locals preferred Enumclaw taverns that weren’t “fancy” and “stuck-up” like Seattle clubs. If locals wanted to dance, they went to local granges. Seattle offered big bands and new dances, like the Continental, Charleston and Jitterbug, but Enumclaw people preferred guitars, pianos and accordions, more down-home country music, and traditional folk dances like the waltz, square dance, polka and maybe a schottische or two.

In those days, the town didn’t have a hospital, so one of the few, important reasons for local residents to leave town was for surgery or other serious health problems. With that exception, Enumclaw was a comparatively self-sufficient community; a small, remote town that had the full support and pride of its people. My oh my, how things have changed.

More next week.

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