Yelm in 1946

Yelm in 1946

By James Mosman

Yelm, which is located in about the center of the prairie, was incorporated in the spring of 1924, has a population of about 500. The prairie has about 1000inhabitants. From the start of two stores, 1 dwelling place and a blacksmith shop, Yelm now has a large grade school, high school, four churches including the

Methodist, Lutheran, Assembly of God, and the Adventist Church and school, a railroad depot, 4 garages and filling stations, one department store, 2 grocery stores and feed stores, two large cold storage locker plants, one butcher shop, three eating houses, 3 taverns, a dial telephone exchange, a theater, a county tool house, Memorial Clinic with one doctor and one dentist, 1 jewelers shop, the Puget Sound Power and Light office. 2 hardware stores, one electric shop, Standard Oil Company delivery service, one real estate and insurance office, Odd Fellows Lodge, Rebecca Lodge, Masonic Lodge, Eastern Star, Rainbow Girls, DeMoley, Post Office 2nd class, 2 shoe repair shops, day and night marshal, fire engines and fire department, City Hall and library, water system with fire hydrants, paved main street, one bus line to Tacoma, 2 radio and television repair shops, one plumbing shop and one drug store.

[Connecting With the Outside World] by Edgar Prescott

[Connecting With the Outside World] by Edgar Prescott

Introduction:  Edgar Prescott moved to Yelm in the 1940’s.  In his unpublished autobiography Prescott left this description of “connecting with the outside world”

In Yelm it was a man named Wright, a black haired fellow with snapping black eyes. He had a boy and a girl in high school who looked just like him.

Mornings, except for Sundays, passengers loaded onto his little bus—On good days there might be a dozen of them—and he hauled them off to Tacoma. About the middle of the afternoon, after they’d had plenty of time to get their business tended to, he brought them back, along with anybody else who might be wanting to come to Yelm.  He only made one trip a day.

Alice found out about the times of his going and coming back, and she found that in Tacoma she could catch a bus to Seattle, and that in Seattle she could hook up with another local bus that crossed over to the island on a ferry at Mukilteo and went on to Coupeville.

Album – Brown Bros. Garage

Brown Bros. Garage on the road to Rainier, Washington.

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

Brown Bros. Garage on Yelm Ave.

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

(Courtesy Diane Kraus Albright)

The Yelm PTA: 1949-50

Introduction:  The Yelm PTA maintained scrapbooks for a number of years of their existence.  The 1949-50 scrapbook was also maintained by Mrs. Alice Prescott and chronicles the PTA organization for that school year. 

Yelm PTA Hears Prominent Educator Tuesday Evening

Nisqually Valley News October 6, 1949

The Yelm Parent Teachers Association meeting was held in the high school auditorium on Tuesday evening with Miss Anna Marne Neilson as the guest speaker.  The meeting, presided over by Mrs. Harold Wolf, opened with an invocation by Rev. Wm. Richards, and was followed by a flag salute led by Boy Scouts Bobby Fields and Dick Birkland as flag bearers.

Mrs. Wolf introduced Mrs. Clarence Hughes, of the American Legion Auxiliary, who said the purpose of Girls State at Pullman was to learn a better way in life and government and presented Katherine Miller, a delegate from Yelm to the Girls State, who gave a summary of her activities and fun on that occasion and expressed her appreciation of being allowed to represent Yelm.  Jim Simcox and Dick Sokolik, who represented Yelm at the American Legion Boy’s State as the delegates sent by the American Legion and the Yelm Lions Club, told how much they enjoyed their experiences in learning about the government while at Boys State.

Mrs. Eve Tucker, secretary, read the minutes of the past executive committee meeting.  Mrs. Wolf thanked the Des Chutes Grange and Jim Metrakes for the PTA booth at the Des Chutes 4H Fair.  On October 31, Halloween, the PTA will sponsor a County Fair Harvest Festival in the grade school auditorium.  All rooms will be taking a part and lots of entertainment is being arranged for everyone.

The president announced that they Yelm PTA will be hosts for the next County Convention on Saturday, November 19th, at the school.

The dates for the PTA School of Instruction will be the second and fourth Thursday of the month, beginning October 13th, at the school.  Rec. William Richards will lead in parent and child relationship; Joan Walen, home Economics instructor, will help you with sewing; Marie Hoff, English teacher will help you with confidence. 

Mrs. Harry Bell presented her talented group of Mothersingers which includes Mrs. E.A. Prescott, Mrs. Harry Bell, Mrs. Phronie Smith, Mrs. Elsie Schneider, Mrs. Wilma Parker and Mrs. Neil Sherman.  The date for the Mothersingers to meet will be the second and fourth Thursdays at 7 o’clock, in the band room at school, beginning October 13th.

The Mothersingers extend a welcome to any mother tom meet with them and enjoy singing with a group.

Ralph Peoples, program chairman presented the 1949-50 PTA Yearbook, using as a theme, “For Every Child the Greater Opportunity”.  He thanked Miss Eugenia Fairbanks and class for their fine work on the publication of the yearbook.

Harry Southworth introduced the guest speaker, Miss Anna Marne Neilsen, of Pacific Lutheran College, who spoke with a humorous, pleasant personality which was felt by the crowd.  She stressed the fact that all children as well as adults were differed and geared different, and warned not to try and stretch your child to learn beyond his ability.  She said start you child on a good foundation and he will gain confidence and succeed.  The audience was very happy to have heard and met Miss Neilsen.   

The meeting was adjourned and all enjoyed pumpkin pie and coffee served by the third grade mothers, with Mrs., Roger Eide as chairman. 

Keep in mind the Fathersingers and be one of the gathers to have the privilege of showing how well you can sing, Ralph Simcox is in charge of this group.  

Important School Election to Be Held in February

Nisqually Valley News


The cold weather has placed considerable strain on school transportation.  Wednesday, four school busses failed to start.  This places a great hardship upon the students who depend upon a bus to come on regular schedule, and must wait in cold weather for a bus that is late or doesn’t make the run.  It is difficult to start new an dup to date equipment in extreme cold weather, but old equipment is very undependable.  Regardless of good repair and maintenance work it is impossible to predict what is going to give next on an old bus.

Prices have more than doubled in the last 10 years on busses, yet the income from depreciation on busses is based on purchased price on new busses-now owned by the district.  Therefore the income is not sufficient to make these necessary replacements.  The state does not pay depreciation on busses over 10 years old and half o School District No. 400 busses are over 10 years old.

In 1945 six school busses transported all the students in our district.  Today it takes 9 busses, three which are much larger than we have ever had before.  One of these even makes two trips. 

Therefore if parents whish to have adequate, safe transportation for their children, it is necessary to make some replacements.  It the levy fails we shall have to continue with the old busses and break downs as some of the busses are beyond the state of reasonable repair.   

The school board would appreciate having every voter cast a ballot regardless of whether you are for or against the special levy.  The only way they can determine the wished of the public is to have a large number turn out and cast a ballot in the election on Saturday, February 4th.  Polls will be open from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Yelm High School, McKenna School and Lackamas Community Hall.   

Scenes From the December 7, 1949 PTA Meeting


                                    Demonstration of Modern School Equipment (picture)

                                    Social Hour  (picture)



PTA Group Enjoys Talk By Willis Rambo

Nisqually Valley News


Parents and teachers attending the Yelm PTA meeting Tuesday evening were fortunate to hear a very excellent speaker, Willis Rambo, superintendent of the Montesano schools, and state head of the Washington Education Association.  Mr. Rambo was well qualified to speak on “Are Our Children Brats?” and told of the outstanding virtues of honor students that receive scholarships, honor awards and letters throughout their school years to the poorest type of delinquent students, irregular in attending classes and continually in trouble.  Mr. Rambo stressed that every school had these two extremes in students and said the majority of students are good “kids” and a big bulk of them are the backbone and hope of our generation.

Mr. Rambo’s talk was appreciated by all present and the PTA wished to thank him for coming to Yelm.

Marvin Stevens reported for the Legislative committee, and said not enough votes were cast to carry the ten mill levy, voted on last Saturday, but 242 votes for were received as against 60 against, with 415 votes needed.  People just didn’t go to the polls and vote for this levy, so badly needed, and it is hoped the voters will be able to vote on this 10 mill levy again.

Mrs. Gladys Morris, Ralph Simcox, Mrs. Austin Weeks, Mrs. Milo Schneider and Leonard Darnell were nominated to serve on the nominating committee, to choose a panel for election of officers in the spring.

Mr. Hillesland presented a few members of the chorus that sand three numbers, “My God and I,” “All Thru the Night,” and “Santa Fe Trail.”

Refreshments were served in the cafeteria by the second and fifth grade mothers.  The Founders Day birthday cake was beautifully decorated in pink and white, “Happy Birthday to Parents and Teachers” was sung by everybody.  The tables were decorated in pink and white with a pink candy and candy hearts in the center of each table.  Ladies responsible for the special refreshments were Mrs. Bill Olson, Mrs. Percy Herness, Mrs. Roger Ramsay, Mrs. Floyd Phillips and Mrs. Dallas Edwards.     


Yelm is Center of Progressive Irrigated Agricultural District

This is the first of a series of entertaining and informative articles about the prosperous and progressive city of Yelm, located on a fertile prairie 22 miles from Olympia. The stories were written by an Olympian reporter who visited Yelm several times to obtain pertinent information about the steadily growing community.

By Bill Fox The Olympian. January 9, 1949

On a fertile prairie 22 miles southeast of Olympia is a progressive, prosperous, friendly community. It is Yelm.

A center of lucrative agricultural activity, and having civic-minded residents, it has the means and enterprise that are necessary to the development of a good educational system and other advantages uncommon in most settlements of its size.

The population of Yelm is listed as 489, but there are many who are not counted in that figure, as they live outside the city limits, on rich farmlands, supporting the area’s primary income source, dairy farming.

The business section of Yelm is small, but growing rapidly. It boasts many fine stores. The people work hard, putting in long hours, but they can still find time for relaxing at community dances, picnics and other social gatherings. Yelm’s theater attracts many who enjoy the latest movies.

The source of Yelm’s name is a matter of conjecture. It is said that roving tribes of brown-skinned people drifted across the Bering Sea and into Western Washington. One of these early tribes was called Yelm-Pusha. Other historians believe that the early Nisqually tribes gave prairie the name Shelm, which indicated shimmering heat waves observed above the land in the Summer. It isn’t definitely known whether the tribe took its name from the prairie or if the area was named after the tribe, but the name is of Indian origin.

The area is a natural trailway and it is believed that many thousands of persons walked or rode the historic trails that cross Yelm Prairie. Indians, Spanish Seamen, Englishmen and Frenchmen trading for the Hudson’s Bay Company, Japanese blown ashore by adverse winds, Chinese working for prospectors in search of wealth—all these and perhaps many more saw Yelm Prairie hundreds of years ago.

As the white man came in, he improved the rough trails making them wider and better as his needs required. The turn of the century interestingly enough found many persons riding between Yelm and Olympia on bicycles.

These are some of the highlights of Yelm’s history. The complete chronicle of the area was recently published by Richard and Floss Loutzenhiser, titled The Story Of Yelm—The Little Town With The Big History.

The background of another chapter of Yelm, its irrigation system, would fill a book. If one were to ask any resident what his favorite topic of conversation is, the answer would be–irrigation. This is understandable when one examines the situation to find that thousands of persons depend on the land for a living in that vicinity.

J. A. Conner is chairman of the board of directors of the Yelm Irrigation District and Roy Hansen is superintendent.

The district was organized in 1910 when several persons realized the possibilities of developing, by irrigation, that part of the Nisqually Valley which was known as Yelm prairie. It was not easy, however, to bring water into the area. Water was carried from the Nisqually River, thirteen miles away, to Yelm prairie by a series of canals and wooden flumes.

Within the Yelm Irrigation District there are approximately 6,500 acres, of which 4,350 acres are first class land, according to Mr. Conner.

“Our principal crops are green beans, sweet corn, filberts and berries,” Mr. Conner said. “Of course everyone knows that Yelm is famous for blackcap berries which thrive exceptionally well, and that the area is noted for dairy products and poultry.”

Mr. Conner explained that during the war, a great number of farmers of the vicinity went into munitions industries and the armed forces. As a result, the district suffered a serious setback.

“However, since the end of the war, we are rebuilding the irrigation system and right now things look pretty good for Yelm.”

In 1945 the first step was made toward rehabilitation of the system when bonds were voted to install pumps to lift water 75 feet into a canal near the Centralia Dam, it was believed that this plan would eliminate the necessity of replacing all the old wooden flumes above this point and would therefore be more economical. However, the Yelm Irrigation District officials found that several of the wooden flumes would still require replacing the remaining flumes with ditches as soon as funds are available.

“In the last two years, a great deal of work has been on the distribution system,” Mr. Conner pointed out. “This has been mostly maintenance work such as cleaning ditches, replacing wooden siphons with concrete and in general, improving temporary structures with permanent ones.”

Considerable work has also been done, improving the natural streams within the district for the purpose of making full utilization of these streams as integral parts of the system.

Chairman Conner explained that there is a definite trend in the vicinity towards sprinkler irrigation. “This results in better distribution and application of the water, as well as being more economical for each farmer,” he said.

“this method is also very satisfactory for permanent pasture in connection with the production of dairy products,” he pointed out.

In April of last year, the Enumclaw Co-operative Creamery built a new plant at Yelm, of which Art Loney is manager.

“Yes, we dairy people are vitally interested in the Yelm Irrigation Project,” he said. “Proper sprinklage and fertilization are the two main factors one must consider to realize a greater percentage of return from the farm lands in this vicinity.”

He illustrated his point by telling of one man who had four pastures of two acres each. The farmer employed the latest methods of irrigation and fertilization and consequently saw his land return as high as nine tons from the eight acres every month. This is more than double the average yield.

The dairy manager says that the creamery picks up, pasteurizes and ships out more than twenty thousand pounds of grade C milk every day. Grade A milk is shipped directly from the farmers to bottling plants in Olympia and Tacoma. The creamery in Yelm does not bottle and milk, as it is primarily concerned with supplying ice cream manufacturers.

In explaining the routine of his creamery, Mr. Loney pointed out that the plant receives pickups from seven trucks, each bringing in capacity loads—some trucks even making two trips daily.

“Our most important development in the offing right now,” Mr. Loney said, “is a condensing machine which we hope to install very soon. We would use it primarily during the peak months of March through August, when the creamery handles more than forty thousand pounds daily.”

“Yes we believe that Yelm is a pretty good place in which to live,” Mr. Loney explained. ”The irrigation project is a big one, but it has the support of everyone in the vicinity—and with that many people behind something how can it fail?”

Future Looks Bright To Yelm’s Residents

This is the second article of an interesting series concerning Yelm which is being printed in The Daily Olympian. The articles, written by a Daily Olympian reporter who visited Yelm several times, are being printed for the purpose of acquainting the residents of Olympia with some of the activities of a city which is a pleasant place in which to live, and which is important industrially.

By Bill Fox. The Olympian. January 10, 1949

In the neighboring community of Yelm, 22 miles southeast of Olympia, Nathan Henderson is Mayor. He has served in the position for two years, and was recently re-elected to a four-year term. Mr. Henderson is married and has two children, one nine years old and the other, five. Both are boys. They resemble their dad and have the same mild manner, quiet disposition.

Mayor Henderson’s favorite project is a park for Yelm. The tentative plans provide for a large memorial playground and shade area, to be built on eight city-owned lots.

“It is the City Council’s hope that Yelm can erect a memorial statue to the veterans of WWII,” the Mayor said. “However, financing the affair presents quite a problem. We hope that Yelm can see its way clear to subscribe the cost of the park, approximately $8,000, but this is all in the planning sage, as yet.”

The City Council has contacted The War Assets Dept. for a suitable statue, and it has been suggested that The American Legion furnish a bronze plaque.

The park would contain tennis courts, swings, slides, ball field and all the other familiar playground equipment, in addition to shade trees and places where Yelm residents could relax and talk of their favorite topic, dairy farming.

Mayor Henderson heads a council type government, with five men serving on the board. Each of the city fathers has his own occupation, in addition to his civic duties. This is, the Mayor believes, an excellent working arrangement, because the councilmen continually are in touch with the residents in all phases of community life. Mr. Henderson operates the B and H Service Station, just around the corner from the Administration Building. The group of civic leaders meets monthly to consider everything from civic enterprise to new methods of garbage disposal.

“With only one meeting a month, we find that the increasing demands of the growing community are almost too much to handle,” the Mayor pointed out, “and we are thinking of having two sessions each month to alleviate the situation,” he said.

According to Mayor Henderson, the Yelm vicinity contains about 5,000 acres of irrigated, tillable land on which berries, beans and corn are the chief products. The area has one cannery and three receiving stations, from which the produce is distributed throughout a large area.

The population figure for the town of Yelm itself is only 489 persons, but as any resident will tell you, there are thousands more live in the immediate vicinity, outside the actual limits of the city. These are the ones who buy and sell in Yelm. Almost 600 of them are school children and attend grade or high school in the town.

Frank A. Bowers is principal of the high school, and Harry Southworth heads the grade school. There are 165 students in the upper division classes and 400 in the elementary grades. Marvin S. Stevens is superintendent of the Yelm school district.

Six years ago, a new high school was erected at a cost of $110,000 and was so constructed that future expansion will require a minimum of work. The building is laid out in a u-shape, with each wing receiving a maximum amount of natural light. Classrooms are in keeping with the most modern designs for efficiency and student comfort.

The Yelm district operates eight busses, picking up children from the area in a radius of 15 miles. Counting the superintendent and principal, there are 11 teachers at the high school and 14 in the grade school.

In high school, Mr. Stevens is the art instructor and Mr. Bowers teaches algebra and geometry. History is handled by Edgar Prescott, John J. Spencer is the athletic coach, dividing his time between physical education and general science.

A graduate of Olympia High School, Mrs. Marie Hoff, teaches English, assisted by Miss Evelyn Coubrough, who also has classes in Spanish.

Miss Eugenia Fairbanks is the commercial subjects instructor and Miss Joan Witscher is head of the vocational home economics classes.

Martin Teeter presides over the Voc. Ag. Dept.; Mrs. Jean Grinde is the librarian and Anton Hillesland heads the music department of both grade and high school.

Principal Bowers favorite topic of conversation is getting a set of lights for the high school football field. The Student Council, headed by Rodger Miller, student body president , also pushing the project.

Yelm High School has a full schedule of football, basketball and baseball and belongs to the Pierce County League.

“We were next to the bottom in the league football standing this year,” Principal Bowers explained.

History of the Prairie Line (II)

As World War II broke out, traffic increased on the line. It was used as an alternate route for troop trains to and from Tacoma. The telegraph office was manned 24 hours a day with three shifts or “tricks.” In the post-war years, traffic dwindled to secondary or branch status with logs the main commodity carried. The agency closed in the late 1950s and the depot, which stood near where the current Yelm City Hall is, was subsequently dismantled, leaving once again only a wood platform at the Yelm facility.

Recent Years on the Prairie Line

During the 1960s the line handled trains carrying general freight, including Boeing airplane parts on oversize freight cars that would not fit through the tunnel under Point Defiance on on the Steilacoom route. In 1970, both the Northern Pacific and Great Northern lost their individual identities when they merged with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy and Seattle, Portland and Spokane to make one large company, the Burlington Northern.

Around this time, the clearances for the Point Defiance tunnel were increased to handle oversize loads, eliminating the need for the Prairie Line as an alternate route. With the closing of several mills around Tenino and the ceasing of log hauling by the BN, local traffic diminished to next to nothing by the 1980s.

In 1986, BN severed the Prairie Line from the main line at Tenino and took the tracks south of Yelm out of service. Today, Yelm is the end of the line. Current service sees the BN freight train, the Mobase local, venturing to Yelm about once a week to deliver a boxcar or two. The crew sometimes “goes to beans” at one of the local eateries and then heads back toward Tacoma and more prosperous rail business.

Although the rails are still in place and BN still owns the right of way, the fate of the once proud Prairie Line is at stake. A railroad line that was once coveted as the most important item for the development of Puget Sound communities is now ignored and will probably disappear quietly without anyone noticing-and without any chance of ever being rebuilt.

(Source: The Nisqually Valley News)

1944 – YelmThrough the Eyes of Edgar Prescott

Yelm in 1944

Introduction: Edgar Prescott recalled first coming to Yelm in this section of his memoir. This manuscript may be found at the Washington State Historical Society.

At last we were in Washington, land of big trees. They stood sky-high along the road between the towns—Vancouver, Kalama, Kelso. The highway ran right down the main streets, like in Colorado. Back then freeways hadn’t been invented.

Now and then, to our left, we could see a shine of water through the trees, and looking at our map we discovered that the Columbia River had turned west at about the point we did and was following along beside us—until just before we got to Kelso. Then it turned west again and was gone.

We marveled at the big double trucks lumbering past, loaded with logs, a lot of them six to eight feet in diameter, one with a single log, wider than the truck bed and it towered most of a man’s height above the cab.

Alice spelled out the names of places she saw on the map—Wahkiakum, Skamokawa, Puyallup, Kapowsin, Enumclaw—and tried to pronounce them. (What came out was nowhere near the way Washingtonians said them) She looked at the names of the towns up ahead—Napavine, Chehalis, Centralia. From Centralia it was only a jump on to Yelm. And when we got there, we decided it would be wise for us to stay the night, so that tomorrow we’d have a whole day to get settled.

A sign to the right of the road—It was only a two lane road—said: “Entering Yelm —Population 498”. Maybe a hundred yards farther on we paused at a stop sign and looked to the right and left down the town’s main street

It wasn’t a very impressive sight. In a beauty contest of small towns I’m certain that both Ault and Platteville would have come out ahead.

To our left stood a dilapidated theater with posters in front of cowboys and horses. Ahead, H. L. Wolf and Company, a large one-story stucco building, advertised groceries and general merchandise.

The street, when I close my eyes and number them off on my fingers, boasted four taverns, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, a post office, a drug store a jewelry shop, a meat market, several garages and filling stations and the Yelm Community Methodist Church.

A lot of the businesses were in individual wooden buildings, most of them needing paint, and the spaces between them were grown up with weeds and cluttered with rocks. And the farm buildings, the ones we saw, were run-down. We should have guessed that the farmers, along with most of the other town-folk, had postponed whatever they were used to doing and were gone to Tacoma to work in a shipyard.

A Short History of Yelm

  A Short History of Yelm

The history of Yelm’s post office capsulizes the creation of the community. With the exception of a period of time between November 1880 and May 1881 (when mail was delivered to Tenino), Yelm Prairie has had a post office. It was first named Yelm on August 18, 1858, nice months after its creation at Fort Stevens. Until 1974, when Moses M. Metcalf became postmaster, the various post offices were located in homes situated throughout the prairie. Metcalf moved the postmastership into him home and store at Yelm, thus being the first to locate it in the new community. In 1881, Frank Longmire became postmaster, and the post office was moved to his store. Dow R. Hughes, postmaster from 1907 through 1934, moved the post office in 1925 to the Mosman Building, where it stayed until 1968. (A full list of postmasters is provided at the end of this history.)

Yelm greeted the twentieth century with the creation, in 1901, of three plats that formally established the blocks, lots and streets of the town. These included the Yelm Addition, situated immediately to the northwest of the railroad tracks near Yelm Avenue, and two filed by John McKenzie which platted his land southeast of the tracks. Ten years later Ole Solberg purchased the old George Edwards

George Edwards House

claim and, in 1916, platted a portion of it as Solberg’s First Addition. This land was located northwest of the railroad tracks. With Solberg’s filing of a second addition in 1923, the historic town of Yelm was complete.

The first quarter of the twentieth century was a period of growth, development and re-development when fires plagued the town in 1908, 1913 and 1924. In the process its population grew from 50 (by 1908) to 400 (1926). The business district acquired all the trappings of a small town emporium designed to serve the loggers, lumbermen and farmers living nearby. Close friendships were formed with McKenna and Roy, Pierce County neighbors situated north of Yelm along the northern Pacific line. (A listing of Yelm businesses is provided at the end of this history.) The agricultural development of Yelm during this time was related closely to lumbering operations. Many settlers were employees of the McKenna Lumber Company. This firm, in acquiring land for a power site also obtained land on the Yelm Prairie. “Officials of the company encouraged their employees to purchase tracts and to build homes of their own. They believed that such a policy was to the advantage of the employees [and would] promote a more stable labor supply for their lumbering operations.” (WSU, 1943) The land was divided into five to fifteen acre tracts, and was offered to mill employees at reasonable terms. The company provided an agriculturalist to give advice and a home demonstration agent to help the farm-working wives. In this way lumber workers could “increase their earnings through producing a part of their food.” By 1912, when the Northern Pacific Railroad elevated Yelm to official station status, the town had assumed the form still visible today. Businesses, as they had since 1874, concentrated along the rail line and Yelm Avenue, centering at the crossing of these two routes. Surrounding this district were the residential neighborhoods whose architecture reflected the vernacular styles popular in the builder’s manuals and design catalogs of the day. Later, some houses were prefabricated at the Gruber and Docherty Mill, located near Yelm. Some were imported logging camp bunkhouses modified to meet family needs. Others were constructed by local carpenters, such as Charles Mittge. The first quarter century also saw the creation of one of Western Washington’s few irrigation districts. The impetus for this project came in 1910 when a few prairie farmers viewed irrigation as a way to increase productivity, and to invite more families to settle in the area. The Yelm Irrigation Company was organized, issued stock, and began construction. On June 16, 1916, the project was completed. The Yelm Ditch, as it was popularly called, was the product of an enthusiasm rising from the pre-World War I agricultural boom in the United States. Farm prices were good, demand for produce was high. This Golden Age, however, did not last. By the 1930s the economics of farming and problems of maintenance were taking its toll on the irrigation system in spite of Works Projects Administration (WPA) and State assistance.

When the Yelm Irrigation Company ceased operations by the late 1940s it was also faced with the changing demographics of the prairie. Farmers were being replaced by commuters. According to one local resident commenting later, “The people work for Weyerhaeuser. They work in Olympia or Tacoma or at Fort Lewis. They don’t want to farm. They want a place to live and raise their families. Yelm should be a bedroom town.” (Prescott, 1979) On December 8, 1924 Yelm was incorporated as a city. It was one of four in Washington State to do so that year (Bingen, Longview and Winthrop were the other three). The Yelm Women’s Civic Club started the movement following the May, 1924 fire that destroyed much of the business district. The purpose of incorporation was to allow the construction of a water system to fight fires, and one of the main orders of business for Yelm’s first Mayor, R.B. Patterson, and his council was to establish a fire department. Many buildings seen today along Yelm’s main street were built following the 1924 fire. They types of business uses were similar to those of the past, except for one thing. By 1926, Yelm had an automobile dealer to supplement the garages located there prior to the fire. The modern age of commuting had arrived.

Yelm and McKenna Businesses from Annuals

Yelm and McKenna Businesses from Annuals

1947 Annual


Schorno’s Dairy

Yelm Meat Market

Trimble’s Hardware

D & H Mobile Service

Yelm’s Thriftway

Wolf’s Department Store

Colson & Medley

Stewart’s McKenna Meat Market

Ed’s Kennels

Earl Johnson Jeweler

Yelm’s Marshall-Wells Store

Green lantern

McKenna Spaniel Kennels

McKenna Grocery

Loney’s Electric

Lord’s Dairy

Dr. B. L. Phillips, Physician

Yelm Theatre

Porsch’s Grocery

Gallagher & Son Standard Oil Products

Bungalow Grocery

Dr. W. H. Frisbie D. D. S.

Nisqually Valley News

Whited Lumber Co.

Wright & Herness

Yelm Telephone Co.

Dinwiddie’s Grocery

Joe’s Place

“My Corner”

Field’s Motor Co.

Mosman Agency

Patterson’s Drug Store

Brown Brothers’ Garage

Del’s Confectionary

 1949 Annual

 Joe’s Place Restaurant

Rosana’s Electric Shop

Nisqually News

Colson & Medley Fountain Confectionary

Yelm Telephone Co.

Field’s Service

Yelm Moderne Cleaners

Yelm Meat Market

D & H Mobile Service

Blake’s Café Fountain Confectionary

Trimble’s Hardware

Lewis Poultry Farm

Shell Station

Whited Lumber Co.

Johnson’s Jewlery

Dr. B. l. Phillips, physician

Yelm Bakery

Wright & Herness Confection Groceries


Yelm Thriftway Grocers

Town & Country Shop

Johnstone’s Café

Wolf’s Department Store

Brown Brothers Garage

Dinwiddie & Parker

McKenna Meat Market

Enumclaw Dairy

Maxvale Registered Guernseys Farm

Roger Eide Barber

Demich Hardware

Yelm Theatre