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.
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.”
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.
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.