1930s – Yelm Described (Part of a WPA Project)

THE NEW WASHINGTON

A Guide to the Evergreen State

Compiled by workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Washington

THE WASHINGTON STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

BINFORDS & MORT, Publishers, PORTLAND, ORE.

At 10.6 m. is a junction with 5-H, a concrete-paved road.

            Right her through pastures and prosperous farmlands, the fields bright in spring and summer, with camas flowers and lupine, to ROY, 7.9 m. (315 alt., 261 pop.), a bustling market center near the convergence of the Muck and Nisqually valleys.  Three nurseries ship quantities of pine, spruce, and fir seed; a large bulb farm and a dairy farm, with herds of prize-winning cattle, lie adjacent to the town.  Mink are bred successfully at two fur farms, and a hop ranch, located three miles east of the town, is noted for its long rows of hops.  Another asset for the community is a lumber mill.  Comfortable homes cluster around a large red-brick school.  A branch line of the Northern Pacific bisects the business district, and the buildings are built about an open area surrounding the depot.  Roy was named for the son of James McNaught, who platted the town site in 1884. 

            South of Roy, State 5-H passes stump lands converted into farms and pastures.  On the banks of the Nisqually River is McKENNA, 12.6 m. (285 alt., 200 pop.), started as a lumber company town about 1908.  An irrigation project on the adjacent prairie was started by the company, and preference was given to laborers who purchased land.  A school, a church, and a pool hall were the only institutions not controlled directly by the company.  When the timber supply thinned out, and the lumber market sagged, the mill was dismantled, and even the land office was moved away.  Only a quiet little village remains today where once a busy industrial town flourished. 

            Passing a small co-operative creamery, the road swings through irrigated orchard lands.  The name of YELM, 14.7 m. (350 alt., 378 pop.), in the midst of the prairie, preserves in modified form the Indian word for heat waves such as rise from sun-baked earth; the Indians reverenced Chelm, as they called the waves, believing that the Unseen Power radiated them to render the earth fruitful.

            Among the earliest settlers on Yelm Prairie was the family of James Longmire, who crossed the Naches Pass with the first immigrant train in October 1853.  Longmire, who took up cattle raising, was one of the earliest explorers of the Mount Rainier region.  Until the recent introduction of irrigation, the prairies served as grazing land for beef cattle and sheep; and in early days the Hudson’s Bay Company, which maintained a herdsmen’s station and a farm here, established Yelm Ferry across the Nisqually River on the road to Fort Vancouver.  Today young cowhands in sombreros and high-heeled boots to drive to McKenna in modern automobiles, and truckloads of stock pass through the streets on their way to Puget Sound cattle markets.  Irrigation has made possible the cherry orchards, prosperous farms, filbert groves, and berry patches that sprinkle the prairies near the town. 

            The highway passes an abandoned sawmill and, paralleling the railroad, sweeps past prairies covered in summer with a mass of bloom.  Camas flowers, ranging in color from white to a brilliant sky-blue, blend with yellow buttercups.  RAINIER, 20.7 m. (430 alt., 500 pop.), served by the Northern Pacific and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific railroads, is the social center for farmers and loggers of the vicinity, although its closed mills and vacant houses mark it as a ghost lumber town.

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