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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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H. Bean Hardware, Sedro-Woolley classic

By Noel V. Bourasaw, © 2002
      Update: Mort Bean passed away the weekend after the Fourth of July, 2002.
(Harry and Mort Bean)
Harry and Mort Bean, 1953, courtesy the Courier-Times

      When I was growing up out in the Utopia district near Lyman, my father loved to tinker with wood and built gadgets and furniture for the house. On Saturday mornings he would let me ride shotgun in the old 1946 Plymouth and the first place we would stop in Sedro-Woolley was H. Bean Hardware at the corner of Reed and State streets. Harry Bean would lift me up onto the counter in the front of the store while he and dad went rummaging about for door handles and nails and wood for mom's climbing roses. I can still remember the dozens of metal bins with nails and screws. One time Harry learned that my brother and I created army battlefields and he gave me handfuls of various-penny nails for our platoons of play soldiers.
      For six decades H. Bean Hardware was the number one source for do-it-yourselfers and farmers all over Skagit county, but it started very humbly as a scrap pile. The owner was born as Harry Boon in Lithuania in 1883. His son Mort, who managed the business until 1974, recalls that Harry followed his brothers Nathan and Eli to Vancouver, B.C. sometime around the turn of the century. The brothers originally immigrated through Ellis Island in the late 1890s. Once they were all together in Canada, they formed a business that would now be classed as recycling. Eventually one brother went to Seattle and the other went to Olympia. Harry moved down to Bellingham, which became his base from where he rode his horse and wagon all over Whatcom and Skagit counties, buying scrap metal.

Collecting scrap metal with a horse and wagon
      While his brothers found gold in the salvage after the San Francisco earthquake, Harry discovered his own nuggets as he recycled materials from sawmills that folded and ghost towns formed during the depression of the 1890s. The first photo we have of his business was taken in about 1910 and it is of a very humble barn. From about 1904 on, Harry traveled here from Bellingham and shipped the scraps back northwest on the Fairhaven & Southern railroad while bunking in the barn at night. Not all the scrap was mineral; Mort remembers his dad talking about buying hides and skinning animals he found out in the wild — early road kill. By 1912, Skagit county was his focus and he centered his business on the barn, with huge hoppers inside where he sorted his scrap. At that time it was located behind the Skagit Talc Company, which had an office in what Mort described as an old shack on the site of the future H. Bean Hardware. Back in those days, Reed street was not yet cut through and trees and brush covered the corner. The F&S tracks cut through in a diagonal just above Bean's barn and then continued south to old Sedro at a point just east of Township. At that time the barn and the lots around it were owned by Len Livermore, who started the Ford dealership in Sedro-Woolley in 1910. Several old-timers have pointed to the old town of Cokedale, which once housed up to 2,000 workers and their families around the coking coal mines on the hillside near Northern State Hospital, as being an early Bean project. There is neither a stick nor stone left from that town, which effectively shut down in the mid-1920s. After the major materials were sold off to other coke mining companies, Harry was a very efficient recycler of all salvageable materials there as were farmers in the area..
      In 1919, Harry bought a farm on the eastern wye of the F&S. That rail bed later became the Minkler highway after the Cokedale mines were closed and the tracks were torn up. His son Mort was five years old then and fondly recalls growing up in the country. They lived there until Mort returned from service in World War II, even after his mother died in 1928. Neighbor Carl Sorenson recalls seeing Bean's barn north of his property on the west side of the road when he was a child.
      By 1922, Bean took over the talc building. Mort recalls that his father used the best quality lumber from the Clear Lake Mill, which then had a retail lumber store where Marketplace now stands on State street, to add wings, first to the north and then the west. During one of the many remakes of the building, as his father replaced flooring, Mort saw stumps that were cut to ground level and used as a partial foundation. Mort also told us something never mentioned in stories about his father: Harry trained as a blacksmith as a young man and apparently he originally used the building for that trade, shoeing horses and repairing buggies for partners Len Livermore and Dale Tresner. In interviews with the late pioneers, Chuck Hyatt and George Sanders, we learned that the expanded building originally housed the garage and welding shop owned by George's father, Ed Sanders, and Marion Nelson. Ed's brother Jasper settled in Sedro before the turn of the century and had the first bicycle shop here, even before Ewestern Reno. In his great book about Clear Lake, Hyatt wrote:

      Harry Bean would come from Sedro-Woolley twice a month and buy bottles, gunnysacks, copper and other metals for scrap. He also dealt in hides, junk cars and other salvageable things. His junkyard was on State street in an old barn towards the back of the property and us kids scrounged around town and the bunkhouses for anything we could see for a few pennies. I remember he had a white sway-backed horse.
      Mr. Bean later had a new building put up at the front of the property on State street and leased it out to Ed Sanders and Marion Nelson as a garage and welding shop. Ed Sanders owned and operated the garage and Marion Nelson advertised he could weld anything but a broken heart, the crack of doom or the break of day. I worked there in 1925-26 and my monthly pay was gas for dad's Ford car. Boy did I use gas!

      The ad was very famous hereabouts, painted on a glass slide and projected on the screen at the Dream Theatre with a magic lantern device. The main one read: "Sanders and Nelson garage and welding shop. They had a slide ad at the Dream Theater that read "We can weld anything [drawing of a heart cleaved in half] but a broken heart." Sometime in the 1920s After he added the wings to the building, Harry installed a gas pump out front, the old gravity type that was operated with a hand pump. Mort recalls that the original gas and oil brand was Cal-Pet from California Petroleum, replaced by Texaco after World War II. Mort recalls gas wars in town when his dad sold gas for as little as nine cents a gallon. The hardware business evolved slowly and Harry obtained a franchise for McCormick Deering farm implements and parts, which became the kernel of his business. A 1939 article in the Courier-Times noted that he had recently built a new display room at the front of the building. By that time he was selling Texaco gas and oil, new and used parts for all makes of cars and trucks, and he featured a large selection of batteries, tires and auto supplies.

H. Bean in modern days
      Mort told me a very funny story concerning his dad's store during World War II. In 1942, Mort was stationed in the Army Air Force in a tent city at Paine Field near Everett. His unit was scheduled for transit to the South Pacific when Mort received an urgent message from back home in Sedro-Woolley. Mayor Puss Stendal was on the draft board and had arranged for a special weekend pass for Mort to return. He had no idea why he was sent for but when he returned he discovered the world-shaking reason: "dad lost the combination of the safe at the store and got me home to give him the combination." By the time he went back to his unit, the tent city was gone. He was then transferred to Fort Lawton in July 1942 and eventually put on a ship to Anchorage, and then went by plane to the Aleutian islands where he served as a traveling bookkeeper in the dental corps and flew from one base to another.
      When Mort returned from the war, he helped his dad move back into town to a house at Talcott and Township streets. In June 1946, Agutter Electric won the bid to build the Bonneville power line across the Minkler Highway and they housed many of the 100 workers at the Harry Bean farm. Mort assisted his dad until Harry died in 1962, managing the store in the later years and later until it was sold in 1974.
      Various owners kept it open until 1992 when the last nails were sold. Luckily the building caught the eye of local contractor Pete Shamp, who restored two other buildings in the early 1990s: the old Best Cleaners on Third street and the old Coast-to-Coast building on Metcalf. Both have become headquarters for food companies — Cascadian Farm and Rootabaga/Cascade Fresh and are beautiful examples of restoration. Back in 1994, Shamp and Mike Laue worked their same magic on the H. Bean building. Pete starts by gutting the building, checking its structural integrity and then keeping the historic wood, brick and fixtures that give the building special character. Laue, who started his Country Cabinets business in the Third street building, recalls that the building had no foundation and was largely built on top of stumps, as many structures were at the turn of the century.
      The anchor tenant of the building is State Street Deli, in the front where the Sanders once fixed motors and welded steel and broken hearts and Harry Bean later sold nails and hardware. We can think of no better place for you to while away an early afternoon before you start on the history walk. The folks at the deli have inherited one of Harry's most successful traits, getting to know their customers and remembering them when they return a second time. That corner has become a meeting place for people in the community as well as visitors during the tourist season, all of whom enjoy the relaxed atmosphere for long or short lunches. Meanwhile, Shamp has added the old lumber and paint company building on Puget street as another restored structure. We hope that he finds and restores several more.

(H. Bean front 1920s)
(Bean's barn and scrap pile, circa 1910)
(Bean Barn 1910)
Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
Top left: Front of H. Bean Hardware, 1920s
Center: Harry Bean's barn and scrap pile on Reed street, circa 1910
Top Right: Frank LaRoche took this photo of Bean's barn in 1910 while standing on the turret of the new Episcopal church, looking northeast. That is Township street on the horizon, with much of the forest east of it still standing.

Update: Mort Bean passed away the weekend after the Fourth of July, 2002, at age 87.

Story posted on Dec. 30, 2001, and last updated May 21, 2004
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