Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We passed one million page views on Memorial Day, May 2006
These home pages remain free of any charge. We need donations or subscriptions/gifts.
Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Home Page 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, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to 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

(Click to send email)

Paul Pressentin memories, Chapter One

      This is one of a series of four newspaper stories that featured interviews with Paul Pressentin and other members of the von Pressentin family, who were key pioneers of the upper Skagit River. The family was possibly the most publicized of all the early 1870s settlers and is the subject of the most features in the Journal. Our transcription has only been lightly edited for correction of spelling or to provide continuity. Colored underlined links direct the reader to background essays elsewhere in the Skagit River Journal. You may want to read the whole essay before clicking on the links. You will find links to all the family stories at the bottom.
(von Pressentin boys)
      This photo of mother and six boys was taken on the von Pressentin homestead at Birdsview on the south side of the Skagit River in 1892, a day when father Karl was away from home, acting as probate judge. From left to right: Frank, Bernhard, Paul, Charlie (in the chair), mother Minnie, Otto (standing), Hans (on step). Photo by Laura B. Duncanson, courtesy of von Pressentin descendant Barbara Halliday.

Four parts of this story

Von Pressentin family moves to Birdsview
1878 via San Francisco and Seattle

By Maurice Heitand, Mount Vernon Daily Herald, Page 3, Saturday Evening, Sept. 24, 1949
      Many little impressions stick in the memory of a four year old. But not many a lad of that age has as varied adventures to remember as did Paul Pressentin, when he came out to the Skagit country with his mother from Michigan in the late 1870's.
      Still fresh in the recollection of the Mount Vernon man, member of a pioneer upper-Skagit valley family, are: vivid pictures of the deep snow drifts they left in Michigan (towering high, they seemed to the little boy); the bones of buffalo whitening in the sun on the plains beside the railroad track. [Out here he recalled:] the lantern-lit, teetering across the mudflats to the landing at frontier Seattle; the desperate dash from the canoe across the river bank quicksand to solid ground at the tiny outpost that became Mount Vernon.

Letter inspires trip
      It was a letter from Paul's father [Karl, later changed to Charles] Pressentin, who had come out to the coast the preceding year, led by the lure of gold, that brought Mrs. [Wilhelmina, known as Minnie] Pressentin and her three children to the wild Skagit valley in the winter of 1877-78. She was to be the second white woman to live on the Skagit river above Mount Vernon.
      In Manistee [Michigan], where Mr. Pressentin-senior had been a bookkeeper at a large sawmill, the family had lived in a plastered house, with at least the average comforts of the day. But the letter, which had probably taken three weeks to a month to make its roundabout and haphazard way to Michigan, was to change all that. Packing together little but the minimum clothing, bedding and a sewing machine, Mrs. Pressentin and the children set out for the west.
      [Journal Ed. note: von Pressentin Barbara Halliday shared with us some fascinating details that she learned from her mother, Pauline Kemmerich, who was a granddaughter of Karl and Minnie. Pauline told Barbara that Wilhelmina "Minnie" May (also spelled Wilhelmine) was the only child of her father's first marriage. Her father moved with his second wife and Minnie to the United States in 1867 and the first of her four half-brothers, Ernest (sp?), was born en route on the ship. Pauline retained a photo of two other brothers, Herman and William, which was taken in Sedro-Woolley. The family settled in Manistee, Michigan, where he probably continued farming as he did in Germany. Minnie told Pauline, however, that she and her step-mother ran a boarding house in Manistee, which was a logging center in Michigan. Wilhelmine and her future husband, Karl VIII von Pressentin, met in Manistee. Karl worked in the woods there as a log scaler and may have met Minnie when was a boarder at the May's boarding house.]
      With Mrs. Pressentin were her three small sons, Bernhard (Ben), 7, named after his uncle who accompanied the father west in '77; Paul, 4; and Otto, who was 14 or 15 months old when the journey began. It was while crossing the plains on the Southern Pacific that young Paul was so impressed with the buffalo bones. "There seemed to be millions of them," he says.
      [Journal Ed. note: we took notice when we read that Paul recalled traveling west with the family on the Southern Pacific. We think his memory might have been faulty. The Southern Pacific was the route that Senator Jefferson Davis originally envisioned as his preferred southern transcontinental route to the West Coast across the southern tier of states. On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific joined their tracks with the famous golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, and five days later, the "Overland Route" began from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento and eventually to San Francisco Bay. Thus it was the Central Pacific that the von Pressentins rode west in 1877. The Southern Pacific was launched in 1865 to build a rail connection between San Francisco and San Diego, a route that finally opened in 1876. The Southern Pacific transcontinental route did not open until eight years after the von Pressentin journey. On Jan. 12, 1883, Southern Pacific became the second transcontinental line when tracks east from Los Angeles met the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway at the Pecos River and the companies joined with another ceremonial spike. The "Big Four" who owned the Central Pacific purchased the Southern Pacific in September 1868, but both lines operated under their original names. In 1885, the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific combined under a holding company named the Southern Pacific Company and the latter took over all operations of the Central Pacific. Effectively, the CP no longer existed as a separate company but it technically remained a corporate entity until 1959 when it was formally merged into Southern Pacific. The original right of way is now part of the Union Pacific, which purchased Southern Pacific in 1996.]

Lanterns in Seattle
(2d and Pike, Seattle)
This photo of Seattle, circa 1876, was taken by a photographer looking northeast from a spot near the present-day intersection of 2d Avenue and Pike. The Territorial University building dominates the upper left corner. Courtesy of HistoryLink.

      The journey started in late November [1877]. By Christmas the Pressentins were in San Francisco and there they boarded an ocean-going ship for Portland. The next stage was to Seattle, by a smaller boat. They came into the little frontier port at night, and the lanterns strung on posts beside the narrow catwalk — there was nothing like a pier — lighted the way along the treacherous walk to shore.
      "Seattle was First street, then," Pressentin recalls. Between that and what is now the waterfront there was the mud flats. Back from First street was the cut-over ground where Yesler had been logging and beyond that the woods.
      The only place to stay in Seattle in those days was upstairs above one or another of the saloons. To give her children some fresh air and a chance to stretch their legs after the long voyage, Mrs. Pressentin the next day took them for a walk out of town to the vicinity of the spat where the Smith Tower now stands. Brambles and second-growth timber were already beginning to cover up the scars of the logging. Beyond that was the wild forest, still untouched.
      The Pressentins stayed in Seattle until they could get passage on one of the boats that plied the Sound, stopping wherever they could pick up passengers or freight and making no pretense at fixed routes or schedules.

Mount Vernon a tiny village
      The boat — it might have been the old Chehalis; Pressentin is not sure — docked at Mann's Landing, about where Conway is now located, and from there the party went by dugout canoe to Mount Vernon. That was their first experience with dugout canoes, the prime means of transportation on the Skagit, which came to be as common to them as automobiles are today.
      There wasn't much to see at Mount Vernon. Pressentin recalls the shack occupied by Clothier and English, the traders, and another occupied by a Mrs. [Schott] who was their landlady for the night. They slept on the floor. The bedding which they had carried with them and which had represented their "Pullman accommodations" on the train trip out, came in handy again, but it would have been hard to find a greater contrast to their home in Manistee.

(Mount Vernon waterfront 1880)
      This view is of the east side of the Skagit river where downtown Mount Vernon is now, a photo taken just a few years after the von Pressentins arrived and after a few stories had joined the two shacks that Paul described. Various publications indicate either 1879 or 1881, but we think 1880 is correct because the Ruby House hotel is in the scene. The photographer was standing about where the west end of the bridge to Mount Vernon and the Memorial highway is now. Note the flag at the left. We know that the scene was after 1877 because that is when pioneer John Lorenzy [also spelled Lorensey in some records] shinnied up that tall cedar to attach and unfurl Old Glory. The tree burned in the famous Mount Vernon fire of 1891. John and Blanche Lorenzy later owned the Brooklyn Hotel.
      The late Maxine Meyers of Lyman loaned this photo to be scanned and handwritten notes by Lyman pioneer Henry Cooper on the back identify some of the structures. From left to right, you will see the Bonanza Saloon; Clothier & English general store, the first building in town, with Skagit Ned's upstairs; the Ruby House/McNamara Hotel; a floating house on the river; a drug store owned by Dr. D.Y. Deere; and a logging camp. The steamer Glide is on the river. Henry Cooper described this photo as being what Mount Vernon looked like when he and his cousin Henry Cooper Leggett arrived. Can you tell us anything more about this photo?

Buy out store; Mrs. Pressentin shops still she drops
      The first thing that the young boy saw, to his great surprise, when he woke in the morning, was the sun streaming through the cracks between the rough-hewn hoards that made up the walls of the shack. Fortunately the weather was pleasantly mild that January.
      Clothier and English had a "store", but the name was appropriate only because there was nothing better in that frontier settlement. It was just a one-room cabin, not large, with a fireplace at one end for heat and cooking, bunks for sleeping and the living equipment intermingled with the merchandise.
      Mrs. Pressentin, her son recalls, bought out most of the stock. including all the flour, all the sugar (brown). and whatever coffee was on hand. Her shopping expedition, left the store's stock reduced to a few pairs of overalls and some chewing tobacco. Paul's uncle Ben, who had come out with his brother [Karl] the year before, met them at Mount Vernon and accompanied them up the rivet to their future home.

Portage around Log Jam
      It was necessary to portage around the big log jam at Mount Vernon (it was not broken up until the next year), and the canoes were hauled by oxen through the woods from a point near the present site of the Carnation plant [Main at Division, downtown] to a point across the river from Avon.
      It took three days to reach the new home of the Pressentins near what is now called Birdsview [their cabin was then on the north shore of the Skagit]. The first night the party stopped at the cabin of a bachelor named Williams at Sterling. It was a one-room hut of the most primitive sort, reached by steps cut in a log leading down to the water's edge. some had two. There never seemed to be a time when at least one canoe was not in sight on the Skagit, the only artery of travel in the wilderness. The woman and children slept on the dirt floor and the host and Mr. Pressentin In the bunk.

Canoes Numerous
      The next day's journey took them to what is now Lyman. where they spent the night at the cabin built by Valentine Adam, who had come up the Skagit the year before with the Pressentin brothers and their party. The strangers from the east continued to marvel at the number of canoes on the river. Every Indian had one, they later learned, and some had two. There never seemed to be a time when at least one canoe was not in sight on the Skagit, the only artery of travel in the wilderness. The third night they reached the Minkler cabin at what is now Birdsview and were met by Paul's father, a long-remembered family reunion. Mrs. [Hannah] Minkler, the only white woman on the upper Skagit, welcomed them and was their hostess.
      Paul's father and mother stayed at the Minklers while the uncle and the boys went over to the partly completed Pressentin cabin across the river to spend the night. On the way they could not help seeing a tightly wrapped bundle hanging from a tree limb over the trail. It was the body of an Indian papoose, the newcomers learned, the recently deceased son of a chief. The disposal of the remains, as they were to know later, was in the tradition of the tribes [and inspired the place name, Skiyou].
      "I am still reminded of that sight," Pressentin says, whenever I pass a pointed hemlock stump that still stands by the road, all that remains of the tree on which the bundle was hung."
      Down the trail and across the river they came to the cabin Ben Pressentin had started to build while his brother and other members of the party had set out further into the wilds the year before in search of the elusive gold. Not yet finished, the cabin was more ambitious than some the easterners had seen on the Skagit, Its puncheon (split cedar) floor was partly finished and in its fireplace of sticks and clay a fire was built to welcome the boys to their first home in the west [we hope someone eventually finds a photo or drawing of that original cabin].

Biography of Paul v. Pressentin
History of Whatcom County, Volume II, by Lottie Roeder Roth, 1926, pages 440-441
(Originally transcribed for the Whatcom County Rootsweb website)
      Paul V. Pressentin, local distributor for the Studebaker automobile at Bellingham and one of the leading dealers in the automobile business in this section of the northwest, has been a resident of this region since the days of his childhood, having formerly been for years a merchant in the neighboring county of Skagit, so that he has a wide acquaintance throughout this section of the state.
      He was born in Michigan, February 11, 1874, and was not yet three years of age when in January, 1877, his parents, Charles and Wilhelmina (May) von Pressentin, came with their family to this section of the then Territory or Washington and settled at Birdsview, then in Whatcom county [the arrival date is obviously in error, should be 1878. Charles von Pressentin became one of the substantial and influential pioneers of that section and when in 1883 the movement was inaugurated to create for Skagit a separate civic entity by slicing all the southern half of Whatcom and making a new county he was one of the foremost promoters of the enterprise.
      The tract of government land at Birdsview, for which he got title in May 1877, was so heavily timbered that before it finally was cleared no fewer than ten million feet of logs had been sold from it. Mr. von Pressentin also profited somewhat by the discovery of gold on Ruby creek, which created a stampede in that direction that led to the organization of the Ruby creek district in 1880 and the platting of Ruby City, which at the time [of] the plat was filed was under twenty feet of snow.
      However the dreams of metropolitan expansion entertained by its projectors never were realized and the once promising settlement now exists only as a memory of the pioneers. Charles von Pressentin, the pioneer, died in March, 1924, when seventy-five years of age and his widow is now residing at Birdsview. It is interesting historically to recall that she had the first cook stove seen on the reaches of the Skagit river.
      Reared on that pioneer timber tract in the Birdsview neighborhood, Paul V. Pressentin grew up familiar with the conditions that faced the men who conquered the wilderness and the memories of his youth carry back to many a scene in which Indians and wild game figured most conspicuously. He continued on the home place until 1895, the year in which he attained his majority, when he became established in general mercantile business at Marblemount up the Skagit and there continued for twenty-four years or until 1919, when he sold his store and retired to Sedro Woolley, where for two years he made his home and then the lure of business called him to further commercial activities and on May 25, 1923, he bought the local agency for the distribution of the Studebaker automobile at Bellingham and has since been engaged in business here, with an admirably equipped establishment and sales rooms at 104 Prospect street.
      Mr. Pressentin has been twice married. In 1898 he wedded Miss Bertha Kunde, who was born in Kansas and died in 1911, leaving four daughters and a son: Dorothea, the wife of H. N. Walker, now of Alaska; Laura, living in Alaska; Wilhelmina May, the wife of Emil Malmquist of Bellingham; Alice, the wife of Jack O'Rourke of Oregon; and Paul, Jr., at home with his father.
      In 1913 Mr. Pressentin married Miss Nellie Nelson, who was born at Bailey's Harbor, Door county, Wisconsin, and who has been a resident of Washington since 1913. To them two children have been born, Bernice, and Lyle. Mr. and Mrs. Pressentin are Republicans and take a proper interest in local civic affairs. During the many years of his residence in Marblemount Mr. Pressentin served continuously, a period of twenty-four years, as postmaster of that place and during that period was also clerk of the school board. He was a frequent delegate to state and district conventions and gained a wide acquaintance in party circles throughout the state. He is a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks.

The Von Pressentin home, 2318 Eldridge Avenue
Bellingham Historical Home Tour pamphlet, 1997
      This home at 2318 Eldridge Avenue was built on speculation by H.S. Miller, a realtor, in 1909. The first owner-occupant was the Von Pressentin family. A total of seven families lived in the home between 1909 and 1989, when Nora and Hilton Wolfe purchased it. The Wolfes have been very fortunate to meet most of the prior occupants, including several members of the family of the late Dr. Connor Reed. Dr. and Mrs. Reed and their six children enjoyed 25 happy years at 2318, from 1919 to 1943. The home doubled as an office for Dr. Reed's medical practice.
      The home underwent a number of significant changes between 1909 and 1989. A coal stove was removed from the kitchen and a fireplace installed into the living room. The kitchen pantry was walled off and became a sewing/utility room at the back of the downstairs bedroom. A wall with a sliding door was removed from the middle of the living room. A small bathroom was added in the downstairs bedroom (which is now used as a family room). In the late 20's, a portion of the back porch was enclosed around the north side door and the garage was added.
      Journal Ed. note: Paul Pressentin died on March 18, 1964, in Mount Vernon. Contrary to the information above, he married his second wife, Nellie Louise Nelson, on June 27, 1914, in Seattle. She was the daughter of Samuel Nelson. Paul was born on Feb. 11, 1874, in Manistee, Michigan. He married his first wife, Bertha Maria Alvina Kunde, on Oct. 17, 1899, in Seattle. Paul and Bertha had five children together between 1900 to 1912: Agnes Dorothea, Laura Beatrice, Wilhelmina AMay, Alice Bertha and Paul III. Paul and Nellie had two children between 1917 to 1920: Bernice Elinor and Lyle Godfrey, both born in Burlington.

What Do You Know?
      These are questions that were posted along with the original article in 1949. Do you know the answers? If you email us the correct answers, we will give a free six-month subscription to the online journal to the first three readers who answer all correctly

Links, background reading and sources
Other interviews with Paul Pressentin
Other stories that include von Pressentin information

      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.

You can click the donation button to contribute to the upkeep of this site at a time when we may be forced to cut it back for lack of funds. You can also subscribe to our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online, which is about to enter its sixth year with exclusive stories, in-depth research and photos that are shared with our subscribers first. If you like what you read, thank you in advance for whatever support you can provide. You can go here to read the preview edition to see examples of our in-depth research.

(bullet) Story posted on Feb. 20, 2003, and last updated Aug. 30, 2006
(bullet) Did you enjoy this story? Remember, as with all our features, this story is a draft and will evolve as we discover more information and photos. This process continues until we eventually compile a book about Northwest history.
(bullet) Can you help? We welcome correction and criticism.
(bullet) Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. With more than 500 features, we depend on your report. Thank you.

Return to our home page anytime

You can read the history websites about our prime sponsors:
(bullet) Jones and Solveig Atterberry, NorthWest Properties Aiken & Associates: . . . See our website
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
(bullet) Schooner Tavern/Cocktails at 621 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, across from Hammer Square: web page . . . History of bar and building
(bullet) Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
(bullet) Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery-Cafe at 823 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
(bullet) 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.
(bullet) DelNagro Masonry Brick, block, stone — See our work at the new Hammer Heritage Square
See our website
(bullet) Are you looking to buy or sell a historic property, business or residence? We may be able to assist. Email us for details.
(bullet) 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

Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find" Search this site powered by FreeFind
    Did you find what you were seeking? We have helped many people find individual names or places, so email if you have any difficulty.
    Tip: Put quotation marks around a specific name or item of two words or more, and then experiment with different combinations of the words without quote marks. We are currently researching some of the names most recently searched for — check the list here. Maybe you have searched for one of them?
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.

View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook
Email us at:
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.