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Ambrose B. Ernst and the
Skagit County Times of old Woolley
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2004
Until 2004, the history of old Woolley town from the early 1890s was confined to a few short references, but this year the record has all changed due to old newspapers popping up and emails coming over our transom. We have our first peek at P.A. Woolley's company town in 1890-92 through the eyes of Ambrose B. Ernst, publisher of the Skagit County Times in old Woolley, and we thank his great-grandson Michael Garrett "Gary" Blakeslee in Portland, Oregon, for helping us complete the picture. The recorded history of old Woolley was limited because all the newspapers of those days burned in fires from 1895-1911. As our good luck would have it, Ernst moved on from Woolley to Seattle, where he became famous as a key figure in the development of children's playgrounds in Seattle and he left quite a record.
|Ambrose B. Ernst|
This search all started when we accidentally discovered a Seattle news item in the fall of 2003 that has led to the first documentation of life in early Woolley. That small article has blossomed into pages of material, mostly from Blakeslee, that tell us how a few pioneers helped develop the little village at the triangle where three rail lines meet just north of today's downtown Sedro-Woolley. Mayor Greg Nickels and other Seattle dignitaries cut a ribbon at the groundbreaking of the newly named A.B. Ernst Park in Fremont, a neighborhood in north Seattle, on Oct. 1, 2003. They honored Ambrose B. Ernst (1861-1931) as the "father of Seattle playgrounds." That rang a bell here at the Journal because in past research we found a vague reference to Mr. Ernst as the one-time publisher of one of Sedro-Woolley's earliest newspapers, the Skagit County Times. Just a couple of months before that dedication, Clear Lake Historian Deanna Ammons loaned us copies of some rare newspapers that were found when a local house was being remodeled. At first we thought that the oldest copy was from 1898 because it outlined the attempt to consolidate the original towns of Sedro and Woolley. But we soon realized that the issue dated from Dec. 5, 1891, and A.B. Ernst was right in the thick of it.
The 2000 Seattle Pro Parks Levy included money to purchase the park site at 723 North 35th St., just west of the Fremont Library. The site will eventually include a mini-amphitheater, plantings, lighting and a path and it is located across the street from 752 Blewett street, where Ernst lived from 1892 to 1919. Ernst was a member of the Board of Park Commissioners from 1906-1913 when the board developed many city parks, playgrounds and boulevards in accordance with the Olmstead Brothers park plan.
Woolley was incorporated as a town of the fourth class on May 11, 1891, and a temporary mayor and town council were elected at the same time. In the Dec. 5, 1891, Times issue, which announced that Ernst had just purchased the paper, we found the candidates who were running for the first full term of city offices. P.A. Woolley was one of the candidates for mayor and on his supporting petition we found the name of A.B. Ernst. In the same issue we found Ernst's name as the secretary of the newly formed Democratic Club of Skagit county. From other research we knew that Junius B. Alexander and the Sedro Land & Improvement Co. bought the Times in late 1892. But why did Ernst sell the paper and leave Woolley? The trail was temporarily cold but then, in January 2004, we received an email from Blakeslee, who read our initial brief story about Ernst on the Internet. He checked his family scrapbook and sent us scans of some articles and photos that have not been seen here for a century.
Ernst emigrated to Woolley from Oberlin, Decatur county, Kansas
Those of you who have read our stories of the Hammer, Green and Parker families know that the area of north central Kansas was the home base of dozens of our earliest pioneers in Skagit county, with more than 50 settling in the triangle of Sedro and Woolley to Burlington on the west and Clear Lake, south across the Skagit. George Green was the founder of Lincoln, Kansas, in 1870 and during ten years of research about his family of Darts, Greens and Parkers, we have learned a lot about that area.
|This may have been the first business letterhead, per se, in Sedro-Woolley, dating from Christmas time 1890|
A.B. Ernst emigrated here from Oberlin in Decatur county, Kansas, which is west of Lincoln county, on the state's northern border with Nebraska. Oberlin is 100 miles west of Smith Center, and about 75 miles north of Lincoln. The Jenkins family, who moved to Nebraska and Kansas from Illinois just before the Civil War, started some of the first newspapers in those two states and over the years they employed some of the eventual first pioneers of Woolley. In the 1880 census, for instance, we find that Will D. Jenkins III lived at a hotel in Smith Center, Smith county, along with one of the eventual founders of the Times. Jenkins moved to Bellingham Bay in 1883 and was one of the first people to develop land around Lake Padden. His grandson, Will D. "Bob" Jenkins lived to be nearly 100 and wrote one of the finest books about the Cascades mountains, Last Frontier in the North Cascades. Later we will tie Jenkins and Ernst together in Oberlin.
Ernst was 18 back in 1880 and living with his mother, Isabella Ernst, and younger siblings in St. Cloud, Wisconsin. He immigrated with his family from Hessian Germany on the steamer Batavia to New York City in 1872 when he was ten. He was born Ambrose Basileus Ernst on Sept. 4, 1861, in Wiesen, Fulda, Hessen, which Emperor Bismarck later folded into Germany. His parents, Basileus Ernst and Isabella Handwerk, married in Hessen on Nov. 15, 1860. His father died in 1879, at age 56, when the family was living on a farm in Wisconsin. Blakeslee thinks Basileus moved his family to Fond du Lac county, Wisconsin in 1873. Ambroses's brother Phil was born in St. Cloud in 1875 and Basileus was recorded as a stonemason there in 1876. In 1880, Ambrose's younger sister Regina was ten and lived away from home as a boarding student at a convent and probably worked as a servant to pay for her board and education. Their sister Tina was 15 and was a servant/nanny with a nearby family. Their sister Susie was 12 and helped her mother, Isabella, take care of the younger brothers, who were two and five.
Blakeslee thinks that Isabella and the children moved to the little town of Prairie Dog in Decatur County, Kansas, because Isabella's brother, Ambrose Handwerk, owned a farm there and another brother, Norbert, joined him there. By October 1886, Ambrose was courting the Kansas school teacher and Wisconsin native, Stella Herren, and he worked for his older mentor, G. Webb Bertram of Oberlin. Bertram was a commercial and political leader of the city. After dabbling in the newspaper business, he practiced law and was elected county attorney in Beloit, Mitchell county, Kansas — southeast of Oberlin, until 1878, when he bought a one-third interest in the townsite company of Oberlin. He was soon elected judge as a Democrat and held an interest in the Oberlin Herald at its inception in 1879, before his election to the state legislature.
Blakeslee found a letter that Ambrose wrote to Stella on Bertram's letterhead, dated Oct. 5, 1886, in which he tells her that business is very good and recalls their recent date affectionately, two months before their wedding. Blakeslee found in other documents that Ambrose worked for Bertram as a land attorney and notary public and he was also appointed as a delegate to the Democratic state convention. This all prepared him for his move to Woolley and his involvement there in both politics and the newspaper business. By 1890, Ernst had established a firm under his own name, where he acted as a land attorney, arranging mortgages for farmers and aiding with homestead, preemption and proof applications to the U.S. Land Office. He was also a notary public. Bertram finally tired of the law business and went to California and started a fruit farm. Oberlin was also where Ambrose met Jenkins and the other newspaper figures who would later influence journalism in both Woolley and Fairhaven.
We are working on an update to this story. Can you help with old records or copies of the Times?
Blakeslee describes his great-grandfather Ambrose and his wife, Stella, from the limited records about them. He notes that a description of Stella is difficult because she died so early (1903) and the family members who knew her are long gone:
The American story is in many respects a story of self-invention and Ambrose's is an American story. At 10 years old he was a Hessian boy arriving in the New World; at 15 a German speaking farm boy in rural Wisconsin; before he was 25 he was a politically active Kansas businessman and soon to be a Washington newspaper publisher.
Ernst moves to Woolley in November 1890
I've got a letter to Stella from 1886 where you can just about hear the German accent. Even in the early 1890s in Woolley the spelling and syntax suggest his self-education. I believe his schoolteacher wife, Stella, one of the 9 Herren sisters of Schullsburg, Wisconsin, was a strong influence . . . . Schullsburg is in Lafayette county, which borders Illinois. It is 150 miles or so between Schullsburg and St. Cloud, so it is not as though the Herrens and Ernsts were neighbors. But however they came to meet, the Herren sisters became an important element in the history of the Ernst family.
Charles Herren was an early settler of Schullsburg when he arrived in about 1850. He drove the stage to Galena, Illinois in the early days. Galena was then a busy trade center of the upper Mississippi valley and, like Schullsburg, a lead mining boomtown. In 1855 Charlie opened a livery stable which he ran for the next 40 years. His obituary says he "served a number of turns as town treasurer, and also as deputy sheriff." He is described as "a generous and kind-hearted man whom everyone trusted and respected." As treasurer he was also the tax collector. In one letter a daughter mentions that "only one person so far today has come by with their taxes." . . . Not long after her mother's death the next eldest daughter, Stella, took a teaching job in Oberlin. In December of 1886, 24 years old, she married Ambrose Ernst. [Ed. note: : Ambrose Ernst married Estella Margaret Herren on Dec. 9, 1886, in New Alamelo, Decatur county, Kansas, when he was 25 and she was 24.] Another sister, Emma, then 21, followed Stella to Kansas and took over her teaching position after Stella and Ambrose married.]
Old Woolley came alive for us when Blakeslee sent us scans of letters that Ernst wrote home to his wife, Stella, a former schoolteacher in Oberlin who was raising their three young sons back home. A postcard dated Nov. 9, 1890, told her that he arrived in Woolley the day before:
|Leo's christening, circa 1891|
Woolley Junction, Wash., Nov. 9, 1890 (Sunday evening). Dear Stelle. I arrived here yesterday. Am feeling well. How are you? Will write you tomorrow or Tuesday what I will do. This is a heavy timber country. May stay here for awhile. Don't know yet. If I could drive oxen, I could get 90 to 100 dollars per month. Money is plenty. Will give you description of town next.
At that time, Woolley was just two blocks long in an L-shape: Northern avenue, which ran for one block parallel to the Seattle & Northern railroad tracks, and Metcalf street, which made a right angle to the south for one block. A dozen or two other shacks and houses dotted the forest and stump land north of the tracks and P.A. Woolley's sawmill and shingle mill was clustered where Skagit Steel later stood.
Ernst's letters home to his wife
The next letter in the scrapbook is dated Christmas day, 1890. Like all the other letters we read, this one was to his wife, Stella. He describes the Catholic holiday mass and party, which we know was hosted by Herman Waltz, the pioneer hardware merchant in old Sedro by the river and the host for Catholic functions in the early years before a church was built. He also told her about Jake E. Kulp, who was already in Woolley with his wife. Kulp would soon be one of the principals of the Times, along with Fred L. Henshaw, whose wife was also already in Woolley. He told a detail about the early Woolley post office that we never heard before: "I am at the post office every time the mail comes and that is three times a day, the last at half past eight in the evening."
Although Ernst was initially unsure if he would remain in Woolley, in this letter and the ones that follow, he gives detailed instructions to Stella about how she is to arrange for the rail trip on the Northern Pacific Railroad to Woolley, a great overview of what travel was like in those days, just a year exactly after the first train, the Fairhaven & Southern Railway, chugged into old Sedro, via Woolley:
Sell everything that's heavy or bulky. When you pack, divide the things, in those that we need right away and others that we can do without for a while. What we need right away, bring in the trunk, and baggage you can check. The other we could ship by freight well packed in strong boxes. Find out the freight rate per 100 pounds. Take the enclosed slip and go to the station and find out if they can sell you a ticket that way. If they haven't got that, then let him tell you how long before going you must let him know so you get just that kind of a ticket and no other. . . . Also, ask when you see the agent about a ticket if he can check trunks right to here and tell him he must check them through as you can't bother on the way. If the trains leave yet in Oberlin as usual, you would get to Denver in the morning at 8 . . . . leave Denver at 9:15 o'clock in the morning, secure a tourist sleeping berth all the way to Portland — lower berth, be sure of that — and you will have a nice bed for you and the children. You can sleep well and have no change of cars till you get to Portland. They have a stove in those cars and if you put some ground coffee in with your lunch you can cook coffee for yourself and the children. You will find it good traveling in the tourist sleepers; stay in them all the time. In Portland, the Northern Pacific train leaves one hour after your train gets in, and comes right to this place. You only have to step from one train to the other at Tacoma; the Tacoma train comes in here . . . . If you can't get a ticket to Woolley, buy it to Sedro. It is only 1/2 mile apart and when you get to Sedro, just stay on the train. When it gets to the Junction, I can get the baggage and freight at Sedro all right. [That Sedro depot was for the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railroad's West Coast branch, the forerunner of the Northern Pacific line.]
Ernst sinks down his roots in Woolley
Ernst wrote the Christmas day, 1890, letter on letterhead of "St. Clair and Ernst Real Estate Dealers." St. Clair is still a bit of a mystery. We think his partner was Alfred or Albert L. St. Clair. So far, we have not found any other information about him. Sometime in 1891, after a fire on May 26 that leveled many of the original buildings in Woolley, a woodframe hotel rose on Metcalf street where the Gateway hotel stands today. It was originally called the St. Clair and was financed by C.W. Waldron, a banker in Fairhaven who invested in Woolley's town. Waldron came from the Lake St. Clair area near Detroit, Michigan, so we have always assumed that his home area was the namesake for the hotel. But did Mr. St. Clair have some interest in it? We hope that a reader will have documents or an old newspaper from that time, which will help us understand Mr. St. Clair.
|Ambrose's father in uniform in Germany|
From all indications in his letters, Ernst was struggling for money while trying to scrape together enough to establish a home for Stella and the boys. On Christmas day, 1890, he wrote: "Oh how I hate to have you come alone, but Stelle, you will try and come alone, I know, for it would cost me $75.00 to come after you and would take two months before I could earn it." On Jan. 5, 1891, he wrote: "Business is rather quiet for a week. We have not been doing anything. It will pick up as soon as the holiday season is over. We will get in our office by next Monday and there I will feel more like business. I have the blues some and felt very homesick for you yesterday. I would feel so much better if you were safely here . . . . Love to Emma [Stella's sister]. Hope she is well. I hope to be able to get her a school here next year. Maybe our land office business will be so heavy we need a shorthand writer." Jan. 7, 1891: "I am not making money very fast just now, and expenses heavy, but I want you here. I hope the blizzard has not affected you."
From what he said in his letters, we conclude that he wrote to Stella almost daily. We do not have the one where he would have told Stella about being named as a Justice of the Peace for the Woolley precinct of Skagit county, effective Jan. 1, 1891. That was quite a distinction in those days, so she would have been very proud and it indicates that Ernst sinking down roots.
Ernst, Henshaw and the Skagit County Times newspaper
We also wish that we had a letter from Ernst dated around Jan. 24, 1891, when the Skagit County Times was launched in Woolley, the second newspaper in the area after the Sedro Press, which began in new Sedro — where the high school stands today, in April 1890. In the 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, we find the only reference to the Times in its first year. The book notes: ". . . the Skagit County Times, established in the old town of Woolley early in February 1891 by Messrs. Henshaw & Lucas, as a six column quarto, Democratic in its politics." We have never found a reference to Mr. Lucas, but we now know that Henshaw's partner was Jake Kulp.
We know about the partners because of a fine website in Oberlin where Sharleen Wurm and Ardie Grimes transcribed the Thirty-Year Supplement to the Oberlin Herald, dated 1909. Fred Henshaw moved to Oberlin in 1879 after working several years for the aforementioned Will D. Jenkins III at the Smith County Pioneer newspaper. When the Herald editor was elected to the Kansas legislature, Henshaw took over as editor. Henshaw then bought the paper himself and hired Jake E. Kulp, who ran the paper when Henshaw was also elected to the legislature in 1887.
Possibly beckoned by Jenkins, who had launched the Whatcom Reveille on Bellingham Bay, Henshaw showed up in Woolley in the fall of 1890 after a brief tenure in California as a publisher. P.A. Woolley wanted a newspaper in his company town, just as Sedro had one, and he probably bankrolled it himself to promote the attractions of the area. In the Dec. 5, 1891 Times issue, we learn that Ernst had just bought the paper. Henshaw was the owner by November. We see in that issue that Kulp became the city clerk after Woolley was incorporated as a fourth-class city on May 11, 1891. We do not have any letters from Ernst at that time to explain why he took over the paper; perhaps Woolley continued bankrolling it and Ernst simply stepped in as publisher when his friend Henshaw left for Alaska. One tantalizing detail from the Oberlin website is that Henshaw left to work for a newspaper at Douglass Island, Alaska, which was owned by a Charles Hoppe. Could that have been a relative of George Hopp or Hoppe who owned the Sedro Press?
Blakeslee found in his scrapbook the only information we have about Ernst's purchase of the Times besides the brief mention in the 1891 issue. They are obviously from 1891. The first is an undated clipping from a newspaper in Oberlin, probably the Herald:
A. B. Ernest [Ernst], an old resident of this county but now residing at Woolley, Wash., has assumed editorial control of the Skagit County Times of that place, a paper founded by Fred L. Henshaw. Mr. Ernst was raw in the newspaper business but the papers we have received since his promotion to such a responsible position as the editing of a live Democratic paper, shows that he poseses [sic] the requisite qualifications, the distance from true Democratic principles to success is short.
The next clipping is from the Sedro Press:
The Woolley Times has been purchased by A.B. Earnst [Ernst], who will continue its publication as a Democratic organ. The Times was brought forth by one Henshaw, with the personal explanation that he was "born in a riot," and "that peace disturbed his soul, and that the cyclone, the whirlwind and the mazy waltz" were all the same to him. After a fitful "cyclonic" experience he departs with his personal and "family" effects regretted only by the "nobby sports" of his town. In his departure, the Press can only offer his own advice, so generously given us: "Hic jacet, which literally translated means, keep your shirt on," and "E pluribus unum, let the tail go with the hide." To Mr. Ernst we extend the right hand of fellowship, wishing only for his complete success in his new field of labor.
Life in Woolley and in Seattle
We know that he was very lonely for his family. On Jan. 5, 1891, he writes to Stella:
|Taken about 1901 at the house on Westlake, from left to right, Stella, Ambrose and his sister Tina on Isabella's porch on Westlake.|
I wish to hear from you so bad, to know if you will be able to raise any money to come. I think we can live as cheap as I can board, $24.00 a month it costs me, and I am sure we can all live on that. I do wish so much you could come. Your boy is so lonesome Stella you don't know how much I miss you. What a good time we will have when you come. It will be love in a cottage surely [Blakeslee: Love in a Cottage is a poem by Nathaniel Parker Willis, 1806-1867.] How pleasant it will be at home evenings with you and my boy(s) around me. The evenings are so long and lonesome. I don't know what to do with myself. I don't like to loaf at the saloon. Love to you and my boys.
On Feb. 25, 1891, he gives her a description of the town:
I enclose you a clipping from a Seattle daily paper. It gives life at Woolley about as it is. They overstate the beauty of the stud-dealer a little but she is very good looking , but won't last long, as she will soon look as hard as the rest, of the buyable ones. There is not a gambling device, but what is run here all night long, as also two dancehouses.
The last letter that Blakeslee found is dated March 4, 1891:
The majori what they are doing, and in looking on spent a few hours till it is bedtime. You need not worry that I spent any money there for I am not inclined that way and haven't the money, being busted most the time or as they call it here, "I am over a barrel." I thinking March we will have nicer weather and business will open up.
I am on a sale now that will give me about $50. if I get it through and I will be able to pay some of the debts and then if I make more soon I can help you. The indications are as favorable as could be expected and I am feeling very cheerful.. If the next two weeks are as favorable as this I can send you the money to come on.
Whatever happened to that sale, the real estate business apparently did not prosper enough to retain Ernst's attention. We do know that on May 18, 1891, he was a charter member at the inauguration of the Knights of Pythias, Mt. Baker Lodge No. 73 in Woolley, so he was firmly situated socially at that point. By December, he was in the newspaper business. Did he take over the Skagit County Times as a cheap way to advertise his own properties? We do know that another Midwesterner was doing well with a real estate business down in old Sedro by the river: Harry L. Devin from Ottumwa, Iowa. Blakeslee has not found anything that indicates exactly when Ernst moved to Seattle, but we do know that the obituaries, which you will find below, were incorrect about him moving there in 1890. The only hint we have is that Junius B. Alexander bought the Times sometime in 1892 and moved it to new Sedro. In 1892, Ernst's trail grows cold in Woolley. We hope that a reader will have an old issue of either the Times , the Sedro Press or another county newspaper that will fill in the gaps.
The Ernsts move to Seattle
Blakeslee has a copy of Ernst's Justice of the Peace papers from Woolley dated Feb. 15, 1892, which backdated the appointment, so that pretty well establishes that he was still in Woolley through that time. He must have moved to Fremont, on Lake Union north of Seattle, within a few months after that. We do know that Ernst stayed in the newspaper business for the rest of the decade. In August 1898, he leased the Seattle Review, formerly the Fremont Saturday Review, to a C. R. Tuttle and the report said that Ernst had published the paper for seven years. Blakeslee has deduced that Ernst published the paper from 1892-98. According to later articles, it was also called the Fremont Herald at one time. Blakeslee has found evidence that Ernst was connected with the paper by Aug. 13, 1892. Ernst also had a printing job shop and publishing business in conjunction with the newspaper. In an 1894 letter he wrote, "We got the W.C.T.U. book out Friday, and by next Sunday I hope to have the Wegener book about out. I delivered the other books yesterday but got no money; everybody is hard up." Keep in mind that the whole country was in the second year of a terrible Depression by then and capital had dried up.
|Phil Ernst during his Klondike period|
All photos courtesy Gary Blakeslee
The rest of his profile is in the obituaries below, except for one glaring omission in all three of them. Why was there no mention of his wife? Blakeslee notes that A.B.'s beloved Stella died in 1903, at age 41. The only hint we found about when Stella moved out here with boys is a photo of Leo's christening, which has the date 1891 written on the back. Blakeslee notes that Leo was born on March 27, 1890, in Oberlin and he thinks that Leo was actually christened back in Kansas. After carefully checking his family scrapbook and all the documents, Blakeslee has concluded that Stella, the three boys — Charlie, Gene and Leo, maybe AB's mother, Isabella, and probably Stella's sister, Emma, arrived in Woolley in the spring or summer of 1891.
"It appears the family only lasted one year in the Skagit Valley," Blakeslee surmises. "A careful study of photographs and the occasional note on the back strongly suggests that the first place where they lived in Fremont, from 1892-95, was not 752 Blewett but a house on the same street that they called the "Eide" house. Daughter Marie was born there in 1893. According to the 1895-1896 Polk Directory, they then lived at "Draco near Kilbourne Ave, Fremont" and then, in the 1897-1900 Polk Directories they are listed at east side of Bowman, corner Fremont avenue, Edgewater. They then moved to 752 Blewett in 1900. This information was discovered by Seattle historian Gregory Dziekonski, who Blakeslee credits as being the prime instigator behind the naming of the new park for Ernst.
The family at home in Seattle: front row, left to right, Phil, Isabelle, Ambrose; back row,: Marie, Charlie, Emma.
Stella's younger sister Emma was a key member in all those households in Seattle, too. Then, after Stella's death on April 28, 1903, Emma married widower Ambrose. He was in New York City, hustling mining stock, when Emma sent him a telegram on April 6, "Stella very sick. Come at once." Ambrose hurried home almost immediately, telling Emma by telegram from Chicago the next day that he was on his way. Stella died ten days after her 41st birthday. In 1904, Ambrose was once again in New York City, when he wrote a long letter home to Emma, proposing marriage. "I love you some," he wrote. They married in September 1905 and continued living at 752 Blewett. In 1919 they moved to 5252 15th avenue, which would have been northwest in Greenwood. On March 16, 1922, Emma fell down the basement stairs and died of brain injuries the next day. "The best pal a man ever had," Ambrose wrote. She was 57 and they had no children together. Ambrose continued living on 15th avenue as a widower until his death in 1931.
The Ernst descendants
After the family moved to Seattle and Marie was born, she was followed by three more boys. Blakeslee's grandfather was Gene, the second eldest boy. He and the eldest, Charlie, married two sisters named Gorman. Of all seven children, only Gene and Charlie had children of their own. The first child of Ambrose and Stella to die was the youngest, Philip, who succumbed in the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, when he was 20; hundreds in Washington fell to the disease that year.
|Ernst children after moving to Seattle|
Ambrose's youngest three siblings, Regina, Phil and Joe, lived at least part of their lives near the Sound. Back in Kansas Regina married Frank J. Katzer in 1886 after earlier being in a convent during the 1880 census, perhaps as a student rather than as a novitiate. They later moved to Seattle, where Regina died in 1907, and then Frank moved to nearby Renton, where he died in 1932. Phil married Clara Herren, another sister of Stella and Emma. Phil and Clara lived in Seattle, too, until he died, except for a few years in Nome and Dawson during the Klondike gold rush. Joe lived in Seattle for a while as a young man and married Arlene Wheeler. He, too, went to the Yukon with Phil, Clara and Arlene. Joe and Phil ran a printing and photography business and also sluiced for gold on the beach at Nome when future Sedro-Woolley business leader Dad Abbott had a hotel in that Alaska boomtown. Phil also worked as a printer for a newspaper in Dawson in southeast Alaska. The 1920 census shows Arlene living with her two youngest children in Seattle at the home of her brother and sister-in-law, but no sign of Joe or their two older boys. Blakeslee discovered that their eldest son, Joseph Phillip, was born in Nome and died in Thermopolis, Hot Springs County, Wyoming, at age 93 in 1999. Ambrose's other siblings included Tina, who stayed in Kansas while many of her siblings moved; she died in Kansas City at age 51. Susie moved to Los Angeles — where their mother died in 1915, and she died in Brawley, California, in 1955, the last of the original Ernst family.
By the time that Ambrose leased out the newspaper in Fremont, he apparently went into the mining business. In 1906, he became a parks commissioner and made his mark on Seattle, for which he is being honored this year. In 1913, Washington state Governor Ernest Lister appointed Ernst to the State Industrial Insurance Commission, a full-time salaried job on a board whose mission was similar to that of workmen's compensation today. He may have ultimately regretted leaving the parks commission because a major insurance swindle involving the theft of public funds erupted for the commission in 1915. Ernst was not involved in the crime, but it did happen on his watch and he ultimately became a political scapegoat, probably for other reasons, and lost his position. He went back to investing in mining interests and then in 1919 he was appointed to the Civic Auditorium Association.
Ernst will finally be rewarded for his years of hard work with parks and playgrounds when the new A.B. Ernst Park at 723 N. 35th St. will be dedicated in his name at 2 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2004.
A.B. Ernst, Playgrounds Father, dies. Former Park Board member
prominent Democrat, here since 1890, is stricken
Seattle Times, June 24, 1931
A.B. Ernst, called "The Father of Seattle Playfields," died at his home, 5232 15th Ave. NE, last night after a six weeks illness. As a former member of the Seattle Park Board, Mr. Ernst fostered the Seattle playfield system.
He was prominent in Democratic political circles and at one time owned and published the Fremont Herald. In 1919 he was connected with the Civic Auditorium Association. More recently he was a member of the State Industrial Insurance Commissioner.
n Seattle, where he had been active in political and civic affairs. He was head of a mining business with offices in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.
Five sons and one daughter, all of Seattle, surive him: Charles B. E.E., Leo A., H.F., Bernard E. and Marie Ernst.
Funeral services will be held at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament Friday morning. Interment will be in Calvary Cemetery.
Friday: A.B. Ernst buried today from Blessed Sacrament church
Requiem Mass was celebrated in Blessed Sacrament church this morning for the repose of the soul of Mr. A.B. Ernst, familiarly known in this city as "the Father of the Seattle Playfields." The Rev. J.S. Rice, O.P. was celebrant of the Mass and led in the recitation of the last prayers at the graveside in Calvary.
Mr. Ernst, who was 70 years of age, was prominent in Democratic political circles and in park activities until the illness which struck him six weeks ago, brining on his death. Born in Germany, he came to the United States in 1871 and in 1890 established his residence in Seattle. His business career brought him into the publishing business, insurance and mining endeavors. As a member of the Seattle Park Board, he featured the playfield system and later became connected with the Civic Auditorium Association.
[Same survivors as above] Last night the Knights of Columbus, of which organization he was an active member, met at the family residence, 5252 15th NE, to recite the Rosary for the repose of his soul. May he have eternal rest!
Friday: A.B. Ernst funeral services are today
Mr. Ernst, who had made many friends in the District during his 13 years residence here, was a former member of the Seattle park board and state industrial insurance commission, and was prominent in Democratic political circles for many years.
Born in Germany, Sept. 4, 1861, he came to the United States in  and has lived in King county since 1890 and in the University District since 1918.
"The Father of City Playfields" was the title often used in speaking of Mr. Ernst. In addition to his park board and insurance commission activities, he was former president of the King county Democratic Central Committee. Of late years he has been engaged in mining industries in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.
Links, background reading and sources
- To read more about old Woolley in 1891 when Ernst owned the Skagit County Times, read this Journal site
- And read this Journal site about the first attempt to merge the cities of Sedro and Woolley in December 1891.
- Transcriptions of rare old newspapers, including the Skagit County Times of Sedro-Woolley, some issues of which were published by Seneca G. Ketchum.
- Check out Sedro-Woolley First, index to all stories Sedro and Woolley.
- Read this Journal site about the first attempt to merge the cities of Sedro and Woolley in December 1891.
- Perhaps a reader can answer this question from Gary Blakeslee: "Something I would love to discover is this: Ambrose was removed from his first term on the Parks Commission by the mayor because the mayor believed he was responsible for a defamatory 'pink cuff dodger.' I know that a
'dodger' is what we might call a 'flyer' or 'leaflet.' But what 'pink cuff' means I have not found." We know that dodger was also a derogatory term for a con man, a conniver, an "artful dodger." Can anyone help with the "pink cuff" part? Please email if you can.
- Can you help us with updating this story about Ernest and the Times? We are also preparing stories about Will D. Jenkins, whose family members were so important to the early growth of Whatcom, the town and the county. And we are also preparing a story on George Hopp, with the help of South Dakota researchers. Remember, we very much want to see copies you may have in your attic or scrapbook of early Sedro and Woolley newspapers.
See this Journal website for a timeline of local, state, national and international events for years of the pioneer period.
Search the entire Journal site.
Due to continued popular demand, in the interest of furthering our "open source" policy, we are assembling a collection of CDs that will include MS Word files of our pioneer profiles and town profiles from years 1-5, so that you can print them individually at your convenience. Inquire for details today via email or see our site about the planned CDs offering.
Story posted Dec. 21, 2003, and last updated Aug. 26. 2006
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Please let us show you residential and commercial property in Sedro-Woolley and Skagit County
2204 Riverside Drive, Mount Vernon, Washington . . . 360 708-8935 . . . 360 708-1729
Schooner Tavern/Cocktails at 621 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, across from Hammer Square: www.schoonerwoolley.com web page . . . History of bar and building
Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery-Cafe at 823 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
Check out Sedro-Woolley First section for links to all stories and reasons to shop here first
or make this your destination on your visit or vacation.
DelNagro Masonry Brick, block, stone — See our work at the new Hammer Heritage Square
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Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20
Park your RV or pitch a tent by the Skagit river, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley
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