Tales from old Tolt: Historians, photographer look back on Carnation’s first century

Jerry Mader sits at Pete’s Club in Carnation, surrounded by some of his portraits of elders. Mader captured the stories of 28 of Carnation’s 80-or-older residents in Carnation Verbatim, and learned a lot about the joys of the simple life.  - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Jerry Mader sits at Pete’s Club in Carnation, surrounded by some of his portraits of elders. Mader captured the stories of 28 of Carnation’s 80-or-older residents in Carnation Verbatim, and learned a lot about the joys of the simple life.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Carnation, or Tolt, as some of the city’s long-timers prefer to call it, celebrates its 100th year as a city in December, but Tolt/Carnation was a community long before it was an official city.

By the time incorporation papers were signed, Dec. 31, 1912, the little community at the confluence of the Tolt and Snoqualmie Rivers had a post office, general store, hotel, creamery, mill, logging company, mining company, a cannery, land office and its own local newspaper, the Tolt Enterprise. The landmark Tolt Congregational Church had been there since 1895, according to the Tolt Historical Society book “A History of Tolt/Carnation: A Town Remembered.”

In the next 10 years, up to about the time that Isabel (Larson) Jones was born on the Larson Homestead, even more had sprung up to support the growing community of logging camps, farms, and businesses.

“We have always had a doctor here, in fact, at one time — I don’t remember it —  they had a little hospital behind Ixtapa’s,” said Jones, in an interview about the city’s centennial year. “And we always had a drugstore. Dr. (William) Cheney in Fall City… he came down here by horse and buggy, and he built the drugstore. His son Walter ran it.”

Jones, as director of the Tolt Historical Society Museum, and editor of “A History,” is the go-to source for all things historic in Carnation and the Valley beyond, but she’s also part of the city’s history. The farm where she lived, which her grandfather, John T. Larson homesteaded, is now in the city’s Swiftwater neighborhood. She grew up in and with many of the city’s founding families and future leaders — and she has the scar on her forehead to prove it, from the ricochet of a rock that a young Nick Loutsis, future mayor of Carnation, had been trying to hit his brother with.

“I’m probably the only person who has a scar on their forehead from the Mayor of Carnation,” Jones says, laughing.

When artist Jerry Mader asked in 2005 who he should talk to about a project highlighting some of Carnation’s oldest residents, Jones was probably the only person people suggested.

“You need to talk to Isabel Jones, they all told me,” said Mader.

He’d moved to Carnation in 2004, and had soon become fascinated with some of the people he saw in the community -- their faces first, but soon he was fascinated with their stories, too.

“Meeting these people was sort of like old home week,” Mader said, explaining that his parents had been older when they had him, so he grew up with an older generation, in a sense.

“They had the same traditions,” Mader said. “They’d say ‘You come back any time you want, the door’s always open,’ and at each interview, I got bags of vegetables and home-made preserves!”

What’s more, “These people were completely and unabashedly honest,” Mader said.

Over the next two years, he created “Carnation Verbatim: A Snoqualmie Valley Memoir,” a series of black-and-white portraits of 28 (“I missed a few,” Mader sighs) of Carnation’s senior figures, along with recordings of them telling their own stories, in their own words.

In the book, or on the website ( you can hear Robert Andraelli, aka “Tractor Bob” (1923-2008) talk about fishing with his brother when he was younger: “One weekend we caught 70 whitefish in two days.  But the only thing, they’re a nuisance, them whitefish.  They follow the salmon around, they want to eat up all the eggs — the whitefish.  Same with the steelhead.… We used to give the fish to everybody that wanted ’em — we had too many. My hands usually get cold, and feet.  We had to stop at one place all the time, invite us in to eat.  We give ’em some fish. I liked to go by that place, because they always wanted to give us a dinner and warm us up.”

Or listen to Garnet Paar (1912-2007) talk about growing up in the Valley: “I was born in a little house next door to where I live. It’s still here.  That was built in 1900. And so my roots are very deep…It was like one great big family, growing up here.  You knew who people were, because there weren’t so many of us.  It seemed like everyone watched out for everyone else’s kids.  They knew what they were doing, you know.  My grandmother and my father raised me.  There were three children in the family, because when my mother died, my grandmother promised my mother she would raise us.  So my father then lived with us with my grandmother.  They had moved into living with grandmother earlier, before I was born.  So that’s why we were all born in that house.”

Originally platted in May, 1902, by William and Eugenie Lord who came to Tolt in 1889, the town was a picture of the idyllic rural life. Elmer (C.E.) Sorenson was mayor, governing the city along with councilmen A.H. Lemon, A.J. McDonald, William Ince, John (Jack) D. Bird and Charles Knecht. One of the city’s first actions, reported in the July 17, 1913 Tolt Enterprise, was summed up with the headline “Frank E. Harte, Tolt, to show movies in Grange Hall. Admission 10-15 cents.”

Jones is among several in Carnation Verbatim to fondly remember how they used to charge all their groceries for the month at the Grange store. “They sliced your bacon off of the slab, and cut your cheese off the big wheel, and when you paid at the end of the month, they gave you a great big Hershey bar,” she said.

Even Mader’s seemingly scandalous announcement “Howard Miller’s claim to fame is that he knew the bra size of every woman in Carnation,” is a simple, wholesome truth — he ran Miller’s Dry Goods and so had to order these items for his customers.

But Tolt, or Carnation, was an ordinary town, so challenges arose, including the name of the community.

“In 1912 it was Tolt,” said Jones, but it changed to Carnation in 1917, to acknowledge the growth of Carnation Farm, founded by E.A. Stuart. By 1928, the city voted to switch back to Tolt, but the post office and railroad stations kept Carnation in their names, causing much confusion, according to “A History.” Finally, in 1951, the name went back to Carnation, and it’s stuck so far.

The city was Carnation when a bank robbery plot was spectacularly foiled there. Reports in the Seattle Daily Times and “A History” on the incident described in detail the Aug. 13, 1924, robbery that featured a scrappy County Sheriff who liked to knock people out with his fists, Matt Starwich, a brave bank vice-president, Isadore Hall, and a would-be robber turned hero, Ted Lashe.

According to the story, Lashe tipped off authorities that his crew was planning to take the $25,000 in the Snoqualmie Valley Bank, and Starwich hid, with deputies, in a building across the street. He planned to stop the robbery in progress. Hall acted as teller so the employees could be safe at home, and was advised to act naturally.

“So confident was Starwich that he invited all newspaper reporters and photographers attached to the Court House to go to Tolt, warning them to remain in hiding until the bandits were caught,” the Daily Times report read.

When the robbers, Lashe, William Sant, and Dan Malone, alias A.J. Brown, arrived at the bank at about 2 p.m., Sant stayed in the car while the other two went inside. Starwich then knocked out Sant in the car, and deputies emerged from a room inside the bank, opening fire.

In the firefight, Malone was shot dead and Lashe was severely wounded, dying later in the day. A deputy, Virgil Murphy, was shot in the leg, but recovered. Both accounts estimated that 50 shots had been fired in the incident.

Other headlines that Carnation made in the Carnavall Reporter, which operated from 1952 to 1965, included: “No kindergarten in Duvall, Carnation this year. 36 signed up. Needed 50.” (Aug. 14, 1958); “Town Council votes to hook up with Tolt River-Seattle pipeline” (April 16, 1959) “407 Citizens’ Club formed to fight moving Duvall 8th graders to Tolt” (May 7, 1959); “Duvall’s request for its own mail delivery turned down. Carnation, Monroe will do it.” (Sept. 8, 1960); and, in a reversal of today’s agreement, “Carnation chief Tony Trippy will patrol both Duvall & Carnation” (March 15, 1962).

Police, infrastructure and schools have been the big areas of struggle for the little community over the years. The Riverview School District’s decision to close Tolt High School and send all students to Cedarcrest in Duvall in 1993 was a blow that still pains some community members. And some of the city’s wins, like the new stoplight installed last December on Entwistle Street, aren’t wins to everyone. Even the city’s connection to sewers in 2008, marked by a well-attended ribbon cutting and festive atmosphere, had been opposed.

Some feared that Carnation will lose its small-town character with increasing modernizations, but no one seems to want that.

Mader, something of a newcomer to Carnation in 2005, meeting with the octogenarians of his new home, sensed it right away in his interviews.

“I didn’t hear anybody say they wished they had a different life,” he said. “They saw themselves, and they weren’t embarrassed by who they were.”


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