three INDIVIDUALS who spent considerable time in yukon harbor during the 1930’s and 40’s recall what life was like then, the impact of the world war, and the places frequented by youngsters. this first narrative is by Joann grant lorden, the great-granddaughter of one of the original Yukon Harbor families. additional commentaries are provided by actor/producer earl whitner, whose family lived in various locations nearby, and Virginia blackburn burgess, whose family lived next to curley creek.
THE NORTHERN LATITUDE of Puget Sound in the summertime means the daylight lasts well into the evening, but a day here in this beautiful place is never long enough. I’m walking Northward on Yukon Harbor Road where it intersects the main road to the old steamer pier. I turn right, facing downhill, and from this vantage point I can see Blake Island and the town of Colby, just a few yards below me, with Seattle off in the distance. The weather is warm and the skies are clear.
It’s 1942 and the Second World War is at its height. I am eleven.
All of the towns in the area — Colby, South Colby, Manchester, and Port Orchard — are abuzz with the collective effort to defeat Japan and Germany. Dull, gray warships are commonplace on the Sound, as are military vehicles on the roadways and men in uniforms in all of the stores. There are several Navy ships anchored in the bay near Blake, waiting to be loaded with fuel and ammunition, I suppose. Americans — the civilians as much as the solders — are at war. Victory gardens are everywhere, boxes of recycled rubber and metal sit on stoops, and people go about their daily business with a serious, purposeful look on their faces. It is summertime, though, and the war is a concern left to the grownups. We children of Colby put those thoughts aside to play, explore, and enjoy the fair weather. It is a carefree time for us.
Right here, on the corner, is where Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Graham live. Their children, Elwood and Jean, are my friends. As I turn right to walk down the sloped roadway, I glance across the avenue, to my left, to Captain Shaw’s house. It is a large lot and has such a beautifully landscaped yard with flowers everywhere. Captain Shaw — everyone simply calls him “Cap”– is the captain of the ferry just across the bay, at Harper.
Bearing left on First Street* I walk up the slight incline, past Capt Shaw’s house and the
gray two-story “foursquare” owned by the King Family to the Billing’s family house, a two-story building with a porch. The lower floor is below grade, so the windows are high up. Barbara and Ross are their children and Barbara is my friend. Our little group of friends spend many evenings at her house playing the piano. Everyone knows most of the “boogie woogie” bases and we trade off playing while the others dance. Barbara makes wonderful fudge. Her parents are very tolerant of us kids.
The Whitner’s once lived in that house but they moved across the road to a house you reach by walking down a wooden stairway towards the beach. Robert, Frances, Fred and Earl are their kids. Earl is a friend. Bobby Nittaberg sometimes joins us. His dad is the dentist in Manchester and his mother has a beauty shop there. Sadly, Bobby would later die at a very early age in an automobile accident.
As I turn around and walk back and down to First Street, toward the pier and old steamer landing, I pass the flat-roofed brick building on the left that used to be a grocery store and is now used by the brush pickers. You can still read “Colby Groceries” faintly painted on one wall, and there’s a stone plaque over the door that says it was built in 1925 by somebody named Rush. They gather ornamental branches and foliage and re-sell it to florists, storing the material there. Across the road is Squire Grant’s little white confectionery store, where ice cream and postcards were sold to travelers who landed at the pier years ago. Squire was my Grandfather Tom Grant’s younger brother. It’s vacant now, but to support the war effort, my grandmother, Georgina Harding Grant, has converted it into living quarters as everyone has to do to accommodate defense workers. A young couple lives there now. The husband works in the Navy Yard in Bremerton, building and repairing Navy Ships for the war, and his wife is expecting a baby.
I peek inside the old general goods store that has been such an important place to the community and my family since the late 1800’s. The interior is basically the same configuration as it has been for all those years but with practically no merchandise. The post office is in the back left of the room. It takes up quite a bit of space as it had an ‘L’ shape. One counter runs across the front with the mail boxes standing on top and there is also space for a scale and a place to do “post office” business. Then another counter runs from that counter almost to the back wall.
My grandmother, Georgeina Grant, who married Joseph Squire Grant’s son, Tom, keeps the store open six days a week because of the post office. Someone has to be there for the mail. She has an old GE refrigerator where she stores quarts of milk for sale. She also has a counter for bread and packaged sweet rolls and sometimes candy. The store is really a skeleton of itself but I love the smell of it. It is kind of musty and dark. On a hot day, like today, it is perfect to walk into and feel cool. The walls must be coated with all the odors of things it had contained over the many years.
When I was very little — many years ago — I remember the store being very well stocked and full of people. Every day, my uncles would fill orders that people called in and sometimes I would go with one of them to make deliveries. They had a green Ford panel truck for deliveries. Eventually, there was no reason to stock the store. There were better stores and the ships no longer visited the Colby pier so it was just a handy place to pick up a loaf of bread or a quart of milk if you ran out. My grandmother still sits by that potbelly stove and crochets or tats all day long. Occasionally someone comes in to get their mail or pick up something. It’s quiet now.
Glancing up the street, I see the little brown building that stands next to the store. It served as a separate post office in the early days before it was moved inside, but is now a lending library. I would guess the floor area is about 10 ft. by 10 ft. It seems square. The walls are wider than that because of the rows of shelves that jut out from the walls to hold books. It was definitely smaller than a two car garage. I have always known that it was Jos. Squire’s lending library and later a polling place for elections
Continuing my walk down Front Street, I pass the metal waterfront warehouse, Great-Grandfather Grant’s original Grocery store, and my Aunt June’s house on the beach. So many times my father, Fred, and I have walked along this road past the lumber mill and stopped to fill a couple of pint jars with sulfur water. There is a pipe that comes out of the ground with a faucet right in front of George Harmon’s house at the intersection of Front Street and Yukon Drive.
He is the only Indian resident of Colby that I know. His house is a little wooden cabin on stilts and built over the water. George goes fishing almost every day and everyone recognizes his rowboat on the bay. We sometimes see it drifting along with apparently no one in it but we all know he is asleep in the bottom of the boat and no one was concerned. I did hear that one day his drifting boat was on a collision course with the Manchester ferry and someone had to go out and rescue him at the last moment.
The abandoned lumber mill, located ahead at the water’s edge, provides us with entertainment. It is at least two stories high and is fun to climb around in. All of the machinery has been removed. We often play a hide-and-seek game called “Washington Poke” when we can get enough kids together.
Through the lazy days of summer we often gather on the beach behind the mill where there is a sandy spot. Our days are spent swimming, riding logs in the water and sunbathing on an old scow that has been beached there for years. We usually stay in that water until we literally turn blue and our teeth are chattering.
Often we head for Curly Creek when the tide is coming in and today I walk that far, down along the beach parallel to the road that crosses the bridge to South Colby and Harper. There is usually so much driftwood we play a game requiring that you have to run all the way to the picnic grounds on wood or you would “be poison.” Curly Creek is a meeting place for the kids from Colby and South Colby. Cookie Biggs is often there. His father, Alfred Biggs, has a grocery store along the highway in South Colby.
I have had many adventures on this creek. I thought it was called “Curly” because it wound back and forth, but I guess it was actually named after a man named Curley. Not too long ago a friend and I decided to get a rowboat up at Long Lake and explore the length of the creek down to the bay. During that “adventure” we actually had to carry the boat as much as row it, but somehow we made it through. At the point where the creek meets the sound, it gets wider and rowing a boat is much easier. There are fish here, too.
The mark of heroism for the older boys is to jump or dive off of Curly Creek Bridge at high tide. It’s dangerous because the steep bank is rip-rapped with cement bags and the point of entry into the water is narrow. I’m sure most of my uncles have done it and some of them have tackled the greater feat of swimming to Blake Island, about two miles toward the Seattle mainland. That Island was always intriguing because we have been told that sometimes at night you can see lights on the island. The legend is that the lights are Indian runners carrying torches. We have never seen the lights.
Across the creek are two distinctive large buildings, the Curley Creek Grange Hall on the hill above, and the Methodist Church near the water below. The Grange has been the social outlet for the community since when I was younger, I would guess from the 1930’s to 1940’s or maybe even before that. Every Friday night there is a dance there. Those evenings are like a county fair there with women bringing cakes, jams, flower arrangements, etc., to display and be judged. There are always dances or parties and for Halloween and everyone dressed up. I’m too young to go to the dances, but my uncles and aunt always go, as do all their friends. I’m sure that building is used for meetings, too. It’s a fun place to go with my grandmother.
The church is a typical New England style building with a high spire and brings a smile to my face. In front is a large weathered bell. On Sundays, while my grandmother attends services upstairs I go downstairs and color pictures and listen to bible stories. The Church has close ties to my family. Joseph Squire Grant donated the bell to that church which is exactly like the bell that is on top of Grant & Sons grocery store. The church used to be on Curly Creek Road just behind the Grange Hall, but was moved down to the bay side of the highway where it is now. When the new church was built the bell was taken down from the belfry from the old church and placed in a wooden frame on the grounds of the new church. Grant and Harding are two names that they were honoring as founding families of 1886.
It’s getting late and the family will begin to worry if I don’t return soon. Of course, it will be light well into the evening this time of year, but it is time to turn back. I head home from Curly Creek on Yukon Harbor Road, back to where I began. I pass the picnic grounds, mill house and then Squire Grant’s house. I never stop at Uncle Squire’s house because he has a vicious German Shepard tied up in the front yard, named Cougar. Squire is a sour man who seems unhappy much of the time.
Next door is the little house where my parents were living at the time I was born, the one that has a turret-type roof, located between Squire’s house and Georgeina’s house. Grandfather Jos. Grant built it and lived there until he died. Good memories. I look out onto the water, and see a ferryboat heading from Port Orchard toward West Seattle, taking workers some from their day’s work at the shipyard. The day is winding down.
As I burst in the door my grandmother asks, “What did you do all day, Jody?” And I offer my usual response: “Oh nothing….just went for a walk….”
For a young girl Colby is a perfect place to be and life seems so simple. I visit often — in my memories — and I am so glad I have them.
* the street that JoAnn Lorden describes as First Street was later incorporated with the two East-West shorter streets and renamed Cole Loop. It originally extended downhill on the Southern end and passed through the town.
FOR THE BOYS, growing up around the bay was wonderful. We fished, played ball, boated, and explored the woods in search of adventure. Two places in particular – Blake Island and Curley Creek – were our favorite locales. We developed a game of “chicken” that had to do with the concrete bridge.
As the tide went out — the last one to jump off the bridge was judged to be either the bravest or the dumbest. Charlie Smith, who lived in South Colby, was often the winner and had scarred flesh to show for it.
As for Blake Island: We kids owned it; it was ours. We camped, hiked, fished, and practically lived there during the summer, except during the war when the Army took over. They had barrage balloons, searchlights and anti-aircraft guns. They also destroyed the large house that was there. We were very angry that they hadn’t taken care of “our” island. The house was on the other side near where the Indian Village. now stands. The Indians should of had it so good. In 1948 when I was home from boot camp I brought a boatload of bricks from there (there was a very large fireplace which heated the whole house, I guess) and built a fire pit near the bulkhead in the lawn down below [our house on Cole Loop]. I think the Trimble Family built it before Blake [sic] bought the island, but of that I’m not sure. Maybe it was the other way around.* The south end of the island was in our school district and the lumber from that paid for the Colby school. At least that’s what I remember hearing from my parents.
Of course we were not permitted on the island (our island) during the war. The large house there [known as The Trimble Mansion] was inhabited by the Army who had searchlights and antiaircraft guns there After the war, ie., sometime after the Army left, on my first trip back to “my” island I discovered the house was gone — burned and us kids were really angry with the army because since they were the only people allowed there, it must have them them that burned it down.** In fact we were afraid we were going to burn the island down one day when we had a fire going in all the driftwood that was on the beach just in front of where the tennis courts which were down through the trees in front of the house. We had a heck of a time putting it out, but finally did.
It was there before the Army and gone after the Army. This is the recollection I have and this is from somebody who spent an awful lot of time on that island before and after the war. Ed McFate from South Colby (I don’t know if he is still around), Ross Powell (who just passed away recently — his dad had the Hannah/Powell drug stores at Orchard Heights and in Port Orchard where the antique store is now located) were the ones from Colby who spent much time fishing, hiking and camping there. Also Ed Higgins (whose dad had the Barber Shop next to the Candy Nook which was next to the D & R movie theater across from Feed Store) and lived part way up the “mile hill’) also went with me a few times to the island.
We had unorganized (unlike now-a-days) sports teams: The Colby Cookie Dusters, The Manchester Mud Hens, The Waterman Wharf Rats. and The Orchard Heights Pigs. We played football in the vacant lot just east of the Curley Creek bridge on the south side of the road. Had to dodge the cowpies. Basketball in the Colby School Gym [on Garfield Avenue] and baseball at the school also. “Them were the days.”
I graduated from South Kitsap High School in 1948. Eddie Higgins and I were in junior high and high school together. His father had the barber shop down on Bay Avenue (and that building is still a barber shop today) which was next to the Candy Nook which was next to the (Port Orchard) Theatre. Near that was Vaughn’s Feed Store where I worked for about a month before joining the Navy in ’48.
The D&R Theatre was a great place to go. On Saturdays I got 25 cents allowance and 50 cents for cutting the Coleman’s lawn. They lived in the corner house at the end of First Street (Cole Loop). With that 75 cents I would hitchhike into Port Orchard, see the matinee (usually Roy Rogers or The Lone Ranger films), get a milkshake at the Candy Nook, and buy a model airplane to work on over the week. That left 15 cents, of which 10 cents went into the collection plate at Sunday School and the rest (five cents) bought penny candy at Grant’s Store. That was a penny a day for that week.
My family lived in three different houses at different times, all within a few yards of each other at the north end of the town. First we resided in the house on the corner of Cole and Yukon Harbor Road, and that was where the original one-room schoolhouse was located and (we thought) torn down and replaced with ours. Then, we moved just down the hill to a lot that had a dilapidated cottage-style house [pictured in the First Street photo in JoAnn Lorden’s essay]. So the men of my family took to tearing that one down and building a new one, and darned if the living room didn’t have blackboards behind all the walls! Someone had move the obsolete school building 40 yards downhill and converted it into living space!
We also lived in the beachfront cottage on the beach that has a bright red roof today. In those days it had a walkway that went around the house on the upper level. I was a sleepwalker, and sometime I woke up and found my own footprints on that deck.
* The island was originally called Blake Island by British explorer Vancouver, and later purchased by William Pitt Trimble, who unofficially re-named it Trimble Island. For a complete history of the island see the article on this website, noted below.
**In fact, we know now that the Trimble Mansion was accidentally burned by two teenagers, Don Winslow and Keith Williams, in 1948.
THE BLACKBURN FAMILY lived just north of the Curley Creek Bridge, two houses away on the east side. The Jerry Schultz family lived in the first house after Mr. Caterson. Mary Schultz is in her 90s and alive and well in Missoula, Montana. Many of the families frequently had bonfires on their beach next to the bridge and I remember eating there as a young girl. Of course it’s all grown over now and there’s not much sandy area left today.
I remember when they made a log skid on the southwest corner of the bridge. A skid is a steeply angled trough used to move cut logs into the water. I wasn’t very old, but I remember feeling badly that the trees and underbrush had been cut down and it was “ugly.” The logs were slid down to the water and put into log booms and towed away by tugboats. We were cautioned not to play on the log booms because of slipping under the logs and being caught. I don’t remember how many years that was used, but years later the trees and underbrush grew back. I love that about the northwest, the trees and greens come back.
Boys used to swing on ropes and drop into the water under the bridge, but I didn’t do that. In fact, one reason I didn’t go there very often was because of the graffiti under the bridge. I didn’t know what those words meant, but I knew they were “bad.” Another meaning of “early education.” I didn’t go under it very much because the sandbags were slippery with moss and I had a fear of slipping into the water. I couldn’t swim. The channel was deeper in the middle and we were careful of the “drop offs.”
I don’t remember very much of the war since I was born in 1940, but someone had drawn a swastika on the pump house and I knew that was “naughty.” As a five-year-old, my world was pretty small, but I must have been aware of some things. Jay said our mother watched for planes from the tower east of where the Methodist church is now on Bay Street. I don’t remember that, but we used to play on the tower and run up and down the steps.
This doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but I always tell my kids I could take 21 tax tokens down to Sicks’ grocery and get a package of Twinkies. Three tax tokens equaled a cent, and adults were always willing to give away tokens. Twinkies for 7 cents!
I remember going to community theatre productions at the Grange Hall. One was a mystery play, where I remember being scared. I don’t know who did the plays. The hall had an upper room and there were still balls of tin foil that had been collected for the war. This was after the war and I thought of them as “relics” of long ago, although it was probably only five or six years after the war ended. Jewel Anderson was one of our Girl Scout leaders there. She lived in Manchester. Our other leader was Mrs. Gardener, who lived south on the hill somewhere, and had two children named Faith and Hope. We had campouts in her backyard on the hill.
It was the first time I heard of eggs being preserved in water glass. (Do you know what that is?) I think she was our leader from 1947 (Brownie Scouts) until 1953 (Girl Scouts). We held our meetings in the Grange building. It was a wonderful place for us. In 1989 my dad’s 80th birthday party was held there and there was still a picture hanging there showing my brother Jay and mother at a Blue and Gold Scout banquet that was held there. Jay was a cub scout, so it was about 1946. That picture had been hanging there for 43 years!
The photograph at the top of this section is of the Colby Girl Scout Troop, about 1950. Virginia has attempted to identify the girls.
Back row, left to right: ___, Linda Milos Anderson, ___, Elaine ___, Shalene Davis (Bell), Janet Chapman. Middle row: Florence Hilton, Sharon Grothen, ___, ___.Front row: ___, Virginia Blackburn (Burgess), Madeline Everett, Judy Valley, Deann Blackburn (Hokanson), Carolyn Niles, Jeannie ___.
Jo Ann Lorden is the great-granddaughter of Joseph Squire Grant, one of Yukon Harbor’s early businessmen featured prominently on this site.She was born in Seattle in 1931 and lived in various locations in the Yukon Harbor and Bremerton area, often spending weeks on end in the various Grant households. To explain her relationship
through the generations, Jo Ann says: “Jos. Squire Grant was my grandfather’s father and Thomas Harding was my grandmother’s (Georgina Harding Grant) father. The Hardings lived in the Banner District.
She spent her summers visiting her grandparents in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, leaving for good about the age of fourteen. She currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband, Jerry, and is an active support of the Yukon Harbor Historical Society. See other articles and photographs about the Grant Family and Colby provided by Jo Ann on this site.
Earl Whitner also was raised in Colby, moving away not long after graduating from South Kitsap High School in 1947. He has performed on stage, film, and television, and has taught drama. He currently lives in Modesto, California, and occasionally re-visits Yukon Harbor.
Virginia Blackburn Burgess, currently a resident of Idaho, lived “just north of the Curley Creek Bridge, two houses away on the east side” with her brother Jay Blackburn, a friend of YYHS, and their family.
Here are additional thoughts Jo Ann Grant Lorden has shared with us about various places around Colby and South Colby.
My parents and I later moved to Harper where my father operated a grocery store and post office across the road from the ferry dock. We lived in a rented house along the old beach road to the north of Harper. The house we rented was on the beach and I remember standing on the beach and watching the Kalakala sail past Blake Island on the way to Bremerton on her maiden run. If you aren’t a local you may not remember the Kalakala. She was a streamlined ferry that was ultra-modern for her time. It’s a shame where she ended up.
When Joseph Squire Grant, Sr. passed away in 1916, the various properties he owned were inherited by Thomas Grant. Then, when Tom passed, his widow, Georgeina took ownership. By that time, business was very slow, due to the main roadways that took traffic elsewhere, and the loss of any ship traffic at the dock. Still, Mrs Grant kept the place open, mostly to maintain the Colby Post Office.
I have a news clipping when the post office closed. It states that the postmaster’s salary was $891 per mo. plus an allowance of $135 for rent, fuel, lights, etc. I’m sure she looked upon this as a job and I’m surprised at the price they paid. The article also states that the income for the post office the previous year had only been $207 so it was no longer viable to keep it open. The post office was closed Dec. 31, 1954. The article also states that Georgeina had kept this job for fifteen years and would be eligible for retirement. So, she only got it in 1939, three years after Tom Died. She was 79 at that time.
She was born in 1875. Amazingly, she lived another 23 years and died at almost 102. This is probably the time when Port Orchard began the Rt. 1 deliveries to Colby and eventually changed the addresses and Colby was assimilated into Port Orchard.
Getting back to Jos. Squire, I think Annie [his oldest child, Annie Grant Hamilton] may have inherited his drive. Being a girl, I wonder if he appreciated her abilities. I always think about how she insisted on paying him back for the money he had loaned her. It seemed that Tom and Squire seemed to be willing to take what ever he was offering. That’s unfair of me. I wasn’t there. I agree with you, I would have loved to have known him, too.
I have a death certificate from England , Paddington actually, stating that on the 19 of September 1856 Robert Grant, 46 years old, who was a gentleman’s coachman, died of dysentery choleric collapse. His children, Joseph Squire Grant and Robert Michael Grant left England for Kansas sometime later. I do not think that Percival Squire Grant came to the US. At least I haven’t found that info yet. Sarah Annie didn’t come to the US until Joseph Squire’s wife, Emma Green, died and his mother, Sarah Squire Grant came to help with the three children. At that time Sarah Annie came with her and eventually (rather quickly) married William Morgan. Do you suppose the money came from the Squire side of the family in the educating of the children? I have pictures of Michael Squire, his lovely estate outside of London and his beautiful hunter/jumper horse. I do remember my grandmother getting letters from Mary Squire (maybe Michael Squire’s wife) telling of buzz bombs coming over their estate outside of London and picking up care packages dropped by the Royal Air Force during WW II. This may be a whole new story. I don’t know how Michael Squire was related. Could have been Sarah Squire Grant’s brother. I don’t think he could have been her father. He looks too young in the pictures I have. He also looks very British.