La Grande

More on the La Grande Nitrogen Plant

Nitrogen Plant and Chimney-free homes at LaGrande (ca. 1912)
Nitrogen Plant and Chimney-free homes at LaGrande (ca. 1912)

For you science buffs, Donald Johnstone has provided two articles on the La Grande Nitrogen plant. Beware, you need to understand a bit about chemistry to fully appreciate the articles.

• The first, printed in 1930, ran in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry on the La Grande Nitrogen plant.

* The second ran in May, 1920 in The Quarterly  Journal of Economics. It’s entitled Nigtrogen: its Fixation, its Uses in Peace and War.

For us that aren’t quite as science oriented. Here’s a litte on the plant in layman’s terms.

1916 was an eventful year. Besides WWI being in full swing, the light switch was invented, Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to create the National Park Service, and the American Nitrogen Productions Company began producing sodium nitrate pellets at its nitrogen plant in La Grande.

Explosives
Sodium nitrate — for those like myself who don’t know what it’s used for — is an ingredient in potassium nitrate, fertilizers and . . . explosives. In fact, during the war, nitrogen was one of the prime components of TNT and other high explosives, and the U.S. government built 10 plants to supply nitrogen for bombs.

In Donald Johnstone’s book, Upper Nisqually Valley, he says that the product was also known as saltpeter. “The La Grande plant was the first commercially viable plant in the country.”

The process, which produced synthetic ammonia, was developed by Germans immediately after the state of WWI. Ironically, if the process hadn’t been developed, some historians believe Germany would have run out of munitions in 1916, ending the war.

Jobs for the Locals
The plant was built near the new, state-of-the-art City of Tacoma dam in La Grande, so electricity was plentiful. The nearby houses were considered the first all-electric homes in the world and known as “the town without a chimney.”

While the plant was in operation, many in Eatonville knew the products coming out of the plant were used to create explosives — versus fertilizer. For example, there were no schools built anywhere near the large facility. And Martha Parrish — a very young girl at the time — recalls her father working there during the war at the plant that made “ammunition”.

Martha also remembers the plant being torn down in 1927. There is little remaining of the plant except for a few pictures like these. In one you can see the bags of pellets ready to be taken to market by rail. The other shows the chimney-free homes nearby.

Ohop Mutual Light Co. (ca. 1960s)

Center left Ogie Enwall, Center right Matt Kjelstad
Center left Ogie Enwall, Center right Matt Kjelstad

Ohop Mutual Light Company has been a part of the community for decades. “It was organized in the fall of 1920. Andrew Anderson was the prime mover in the organization and served as president continuously for more than twenty years.” (per History of Southeastern Pierce County)  At the time of the this picture, Ohop Mutual purchased its power from the City of Tacoma at its La Grande plant.

Here’s a shot two farmers in front of the Tacoma transformers. Center left is dairy man Ogie Enwall and center right is Matt Kjelstad. Matt was involved from the very beginning, before there was even electricity in the area.

If anyone knows who the other two men are, please speak up.

Photo courtesy of the Taylor family.

Click on image to enlarge.

La Grande Nitrogen Plant (ca. 1920)

Nitrogen Plant in La Grande, Wa (ca 1920)
Nitrogen Plant in La Grande, Wa (ca 1920)

La Grande used to be home to a commercial nitrogen plant.

“The American Nitrogen Products Company started producing sodium nitrate pellets in La Grande in 1916. The product is also known as saltpeter and is used in a number of chemical processes and as a component of explosives and as a fertilizer. The La Grande plant was the first commercially viable plant in the country.

This photograph shows both plants one and tow, the electrical service and bags of pellets (bottom left) ready for shipment.” (Per Upper Nisqually Valley)

Many in Eatonville felt the plant was built to create explosives for the war. The plant burned down years ago and there are little signs that it ever existed. But there are still a few who remember it. Martha Parrish (now 99) remembers her dad working there.

Photo courtesy of Pat Van Eaton.

Click on image to enlarge.

 

Operation Bootstrap

Bootstrap Invitation, 1953
Bootstrap Invitation, 1953

In 1953 it was obvious Eatonville’s lumber mill, the town’s main industry, was shutting down. Hundreds of people had already left and residents were depressed and worried about the town’s survival.

No one wanted to see Eatonville disappear like other logging towns, and with the help of the University of Washington’s Jack Wright and John Mills, townsfolk set out to make Eatonville “a better town. . . and an improved, more prosperous area.”

Operation Bootstrap was born.

Forging Ahead
It was ambitious project from the start and described as, “A program to get everyone in the community to take hold of the rope and pull in the same direction.”

On October 4, 1953 the News Tribune ran an editorial on the project, when 513 people out of the 1,048 residents turned out for the launch of Operation Bootstrap.

“The citizens and their town are acting as guinea pigs in the first movement in the county of the University of Washington Community Development Plan. It is not a short course, but is scheduled to go on for half a year, during which all manner of questions from religion to recreation will be discussed . . . in an effort to make Eatonville a better place to live, and an outstanding example of a cooperative, democratic society.”

Bootstrap Committees
Bootstrap Committees

Committees Are Formed
Residents didn’t just get involved — they jumped in with both feet. Committees were formed on every topic — population, church, government, library, history, health, recreation, economic development, education, and more. Each area was examined and all kinds of suggestions were made for improvements, from how to be more friendly to newcomers to the need for a library.

Community spirit ran high through 1953 and 1954. People not only made many positive changes to the town, they took their message to the airwaves and made T.V. appearances. They also created a large festival called Robin Hood Days that included archery events, a street dance and a pageant.

Success for Failure
In the end no new businesses set up shop in Eatonville and some say Operation Bootstrap failed. Others, like Margit Thorvaldson, executive secretary for movement, who documented the countless hours people put into their committees saw another side, “It was successful in that the community got together to get insight on the problem.” And people who may never have socialized worked together.

First Bootstrap meeting and Editorial
First Bootstrap meeting and Editorial

Almost 60 years later, people are still benefiting from Operation Bootstrap. For example, if you like these history articles, thank Bootstrap’s history committee, which produced the two volume History of Tacoma Eastern Area. It covered not just Eatonville, but Ohop Valley, Ashford, National, Elbe, Alder and La Grande. It’s a priceless record of our history and without it these articles wouldn’t be possible.

Nisqually Dam (1927-29)

Nisqually Dam  and Gatehouse 1927
Nisqually Dam and Headworks 1927

Here are a few shots from the Nisqually dam taken in 1927.

This excerpt is taken from the book Upper Nisqually Valley:

“The flow that was to be used for power generation was divereted into a 1,3000 foot settling canal, which removed silt from the water. Then the water flowed into a tunnel that was more than 2 miles long.

The gatehouse allowed the settling cannel to be flushed of the built-up silt. The flow then entered a nearly 2-mile-long tunnel on the south side of the Nisqually River.  The tunnel was from 10 to 12 feet tall and had cement lining on the floor and partially up the sides. 

Welsh coal miners were the contractors for the tunnel portion of the project.”

Photos courtesy of Rich Williams and Haynes family.

Click on images to enlarge.

 

Nisqually Headworks, 1929
Nisqually Headworks, 1929

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gatehouse and settling canal
Gatehouse and settling canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headworks — Tacoma Power Conduit (1927)
Headworks — Tacoma Power Conduit (1927)

 

Eatonville School Plant, ca. 1915

Eatonville School, 1915
Eatonville School, 1915

In 1915, when the Eatonville high school was construction, the Eatonville school was one of the best around.

Here is a small write up. I’m not sure where it was published, but it reads . . .

“The above picture gives a panorama view of the Eatonville School Plant. To the left is the grade school, in the center is the gymnasium and on the right the high school.

The later is the newest of the buildings, having been built in 1915. The pay for the $45,000 bond issue was celebrated on Community Day. It is a modern structure and helped greatly to establish the reputation of good schools which Eatonville has. The gymnasium was built in 1913 and is also one of the best in this part of the state.

In the foreground are a number of the busses, which daily transport pupils from outlying districts. By consolidation students attend the Eatonville schools from Alder, La Grande, Clay City, Weyerhaeuser, Silver Lake, Rainier, Edgerton and Benston.”

Click on image to enlarge.

 

Canyada Lodge Ruins

Canadya Ruins - portion of the chimney 1989
Canadya Ruins - portion of the chimney 1989

In 1912, the Canyada Lodge was the something to behold. It was built in La Grande, by Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney, John L. McMurray, for $92,500 — something like $2.1 million today.

In 1927 the grand lodge burned and only the ruins remain. Here are two shots of the ruins taken in 1989, along with a postcard of the short lived Canyada.

Photos courtesy of Gary & Debbie Saint.

Click to enlarge photos.

 

 

 

 

 

Canyada-post-card
Canyada-post-card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadya Ruins - Stone columns (1989)
Canadya Ruins - Stone columns (1989)

LeGrande Dam Pipes – 1915

Alder Pipe, La Grande, WA 1915
LaGrande aqueduct, La Grande, Wash., 1915

Here are two photos of the LaGrande Aqueduct taken in LaGrande, Wash., in 1915.

In the first photo you can actually see people at the top.

Rich Williams, “The water was diverted at LaGrande Dam, and the flume ran down the west side of the river and crossed the LeGrande Canyon vie this pipeline. The pipeline ended up at the headworks reservoir in LaGrande.”

Photos courtesy of Pat Van Eaton.

Click on images to enlarge.

East end of LaGrande aqueduct, La Grande, WA 1915
East end of LaGrande aqueduct, La Grande, WA 1915



 

 

 

La Grande Tavern

La Grande Tavern postcard
La Grande Tavern postcard

This postcard of the La Grande tavern is courtesy of Jeff Morrison who found it on Ebay.

Although the building is no longer there, Jeff says it was located where the motel once stood.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with La Grande’s history — like me — Roger Hoskins says that, “It’s above the La Grande metropolis, just before entering the Nisqually canyon. The property is owned by the University of Washington and is part of Pack Forest; the UW’s forestry school.”