Yelm in the Early 20th Century
(From: A Guide to Historic Resources of Yelm, Washington
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 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.
(From: A Guide to Historic Resources of Yelm, Washington 1994)