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Saving Fall City's stories: Memory book preserves vanishing community memories

Janet Ewing and Ruth Pickering, members of the author
Janet Ewing and Ruth Pickering, members of the author's committee for 'Preserving the Stories of Fall City,' a community memory book, leaf through the finished manuscript outside the historic Harshman house in Fall City. Memories of the Harshman Telephone Company came up frequently during the book's interview process. Pickering said many locals spent time working at the company switchboard.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Dressed in overalls and a floppy cap, Les Morton holds an armful of glass bottles in the grainy black-and-white photo.

It was 1933, and young Morton's Sunday morning job was to sweep up the empties outside his father's Fall City dance hall. Glass wasn't recycled in those days, so Morton carried the bottles to the Fall City dump, then rushed home to jump into his parents' still-warm bed.

With the Great Depression still entrenched in America, Morton did his chores free of any pay.

"There was no such thing as an allowance in those days," the Fall City resident, now 86, said. "I never got a bloody penny."

The Depression shaped Morton's life indelibly.

"My dad had a tough time from '29 to '35," he recalled. "Heavens, the only meat we had was when dad went out and poached a deer. My dad told me, 'You've got to eat everything on the plate.'"

Growing up, Morton made a comfortable living as a forester, but he was always thrifty.

"My three kids told me I was tight as the devil," he said. "It's taken me years to get over the training that dad gave."

Morton was among 54 Fall City residents to share their memories of the depression, World War II and other definitive experiences with the authors of the new book, "Preserving the Stories of Fall City."

The Fall City Historical Society created the tome, which hits stores this week. The book launch culminates a thee-year sage of family interviews, writing and compilation. The finished 350-page product includes pictures and interviews from Lower Valley natives born between 1910 and 1957, unearthing otherwise forgotten tales of life and love, work and play in the Lower Valley.

"We got waylaid with stories," said committee member Janet Moore Ewing, a lifelong Fall City resident.

Using an electronic form devised by a summer intern, the book's editors divided stories by topic. Memories were distilled into categories such as Depression or wartime experiences, education, entertainment and recreation. The best stories made it into the book.

The Fall City project was inspired by friends outside the Valley. Fall City historians took note of the Issaquah Historical Society successful memory book.

"We thought, 'Wow, what a neat thing," said Fall City Historical Society President Ruth Pickering. "There was an established process."

Locally, there was a sense that time was of the essence.

'We're losing people all the time," Ewing said. "They're all in their 80s and 90s, a lot of them."

The project was a way to preserve memories that otherwise would be lost. During the three-year process, stories were collected from a number of residents who have since passed away.

To Pickering, the book is a perfect complement to neighbor Jack Kelley's 2006 "Jack's History of Fall City."

"His book is wonderfully organized," Pickering said. "But it's kind of an engineer book. It's full of facts and figures and dates, which is so important. But ours is full of dance programs and kid parades and memories. It's a balance."

Morton, who donned a nearly identical hat and posed for a "then and now" photo montage that made the book, said he was excited and happy to share his early memories of Fall City.

"That was easy for me," he said. "It's fun for us people who are born and raised in the Valley to recall those things."

To Pickering, the memories showed early Fall City's strong sense of community.

"What stood out was how everybody knew everybody," Pickering said. "Entertainment was when the fire alarm went off. Everybody knew where the fire was, and they all got together for coffee afterwards to talk about it."

Fall City Sharks

The Fall City school figured prominently in collected memories. The school, which operated independently from 1917 to 1944, housed every grade under one roof. Overseeing it all was principal Ed Opstad, a stern, no-nonsense educator. The book authors turned up a rare relaxed and smiling photo of Opstad.

"We did not do anything to cross that man," Ewing said. "But he would do anything for you."

In those days, before the Snoqualmie River dikes were built, Fall City experienced terrible flooding. Opstad received a set amount per pupil from the state per day, and his goal was to make sure every child was in school daily.

During one flood, Opstad came for Ewing in his hip waders.

"My dad brought me out in a rowboat to where he could meet us," Ewing said. "He carried me on his shoulders across the fields to get me to school."

Fall City's mascot, perhaps chosen on account of their river connection, was a marine predator.

"We were Sharks," Ewing said. "By the time we got to high school, I was an avid Shark fan."

For a while, there was a live mascot: a goldfish in his bowl.

Fall City's chief rival was North Bend High School. Students sang a mocking song, "Nobody likes you, you're the kids from North Bend," Ewing recalled.

"There was usually a fight after the high school basketball game," she said. "Even the parents got involved."

After the school district was consolidated, a passage in the 1945 Mount Si High School yearbook attempted to make peace.

"There was a paragraph about how we're putting away these rivalries," Pickering said. "We're all Wildcats now."

Changing times

Another Memory Book find was a glass negative showing the vanished Raging River Auto Camp. The campground opened in the early 30s with a partly above-ground swimming tank, serving as the town pool. But a bad flood circa 1935 wiped out the pool and other structures. By 1940, Pickering believes the camp was gone.

The Fall City School itself was demolished in the 1970s.

"It almost tore the community apart when it happened," Pickering said.

But bricks from that lost building were freely available to any citizen.

"Those bricks are all over Fall City," asid Ewing, who has some in her kitchen wall. If a historian could somehow look inside every home, she said they would find the bricks imprinted in the city's very fabric, nestled in patios and chimneys throughout town.

How to buy

The launch party for "Preserving the Stories of Fall City" is 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Fall City Masonic Hall, 337th and 43rd St., Fall City. The book costs $35, and was sponsored by 4Culture and local businesses. The book will be sold at the Fall City Holiday Market on Saturday, Dec. 4, at the Chief Kanim Middle School commons. To learn more about the book, call Becky Gordon at (425) 222-7102, or e-mail to grgordon@comcast.net.

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