Otto Selle’s small autobiography was published in 1954 in The History of Eastern Pierce County. He talks about Elbe before there ever was an official Elbe.
Coming to Elbe “Our family was one of the very first to settle in Elbe. In fact, there wasn’t any Elbe when we came and my Father named the place after the River Elbe in Germany. My parents, Ferdinand and Emilie Selle came from Bismark, North Dakota to Tacoma in 1889 and stayed there until April 1890, when then moved to what is now Elbe.
The trip to Elbe was quite a feat — emigrant style. Some rode on the wagon with our belongings and a create of chickens. The older boys walked and took turns leading a cow. The trip took three days.
The first night we camped at Clear Lake and it snowed, which made it miserable. The second night we camped by the Mashell River. That was the end of the road, and with nine miles yet to go. Then everything had to be packed by man or horse over a trail that was up and down and over logs that had been chopped down low enough so horses could jump over them. We had no stove, tabe, chairs nor beds at first, which was also true to all who came before the road was built.
First Store and Hotel
My father built and ran the first store, which for years as an old landmark. Meals were served and a bed could also be had. My father also built the first hotel, across the road from the store and he named it The Tourist Hotel. My Mother had charge of the hotel until it was destroyed by a fire.
This picture looks like a mill that was built yesterday, but the Elbe Lumber and Shingle Mill was built back in 1904 when the Tacoma Eastern Railroad made it all the way up to Elbe. In fact, you can see the tracks coming right up the door.
The mill was owned by Robert Patton Sr., Robert Williamson, Carl Williamson and C. R. Campbell.
Less than 20 years later, in 1922, the property was destroyed by fire at a loss of $150,000 (about $2 million today). Arson was suspected.
The Pierce County Auditor wrote this about the town of Elbe in 1909:
Situated in the Nisqually River Valley in the heart of the timber district is the town of Elbe.
On October 20, 1903, Adam Sachs and wife filed a plt of the town, and the following year the Tacoma Eastern Raileway built its line through the town.
Elbe has three general stores, two hotels, five business houses, livery stable and several large logging camps, a fine school and a hustling population of 350. It is near the great coal belt and borders on the finest timber in the state.
Photos courtesy of Pat Van Eaton. Auditor info from Linda Lewis.
This photo is entitled “Wreck at the Elbe Lumber and Shingle Company”. A title like that deserves more story, but unfortunately I only have the picture.
This wasn’t the first catastrophe for Elbe Lumber and Shingle. In September 1922, a fire started under the planing mill of the big plant (a mile north of Elbe) and completely destroyed the business, putting 100 men out of work.
The loss was $150,000 ($2,010,000 in present day dollars) according to the manager and part owner, John Patton.
There was no hard evidence as to how the fire started, but people believed it was the work of a disgruntled ex-employee.
The mill was originally built soon after 1904, when the Tacoma Eastern Railroad made it out as far as Elbe and was owned and operated by Robert Patton Sr., Robert Williamson, Carol Williamson and C.R. Campbell. While in operation, it provided a substantial payroll to the growing community. (History of Southeastern Pierce County.)
They don’t make bridges like this anymore. This primitive bridge in Elbe was built on a single, enormous tree. That particular piece of a bridge — if I’m understanding bridge designcorrectly — is called a deck.
This shot if from the 1904 July 4th celebrations in Elbe. Back then the town was a little more built up.
The population list for Elbe in 2000 was only 21 people.
Historical Fact (taken from Wikipedia): Elbe used to be called Brown’s Junction, but the post office wanted a shorter name. The settlers met and decided to honor the pioneer settler Henry C. Lutkens who had come from the valley of the “Elbe” in Germany.
I’ve always wondered what other names were batted around at that meeting. Maybe Lutkenberg?