Yelm in the 1920s


The Roaring 20s was a very interesting time for all.  The Great War was over; the country was experiencing unprecedented prosperity as well as some new and exciting developments. This decade also had its shares of downfalls.  During this decade the small town of Yelm was experiencing on a smaller scale the same new things and emotions as the rest of the nation.  The 1920s offered tragedy, new developments and fun and leisure activities for America as well as Yelm.           

 Those that lived in America during the twenties can recall real tragedy.  President Warren G. Harding died quickly and mysteriously.  Because of post-war nationalism the Ku Klux Klan was at the peak of its power and the entire nation experienced a series of mild recessions.  Yelm may have had a more turbulent decade.  In 1924, in the last of a series of three huge fires, Yelm almost completely burned down.  The origin of the fire is debated but most say it started on the porch of the Wilson Hotel.  The fire started sometime in the seven p.m. hour and spread quickly.  Because of strong winds and most structures being constructed of wood, the fire was able to consume most of the town in a short amount of time. 


 Yelm was without a fire department at the time so a bucket brigade was formed.  This valiant effort did little to stop or contain the fire and by Sunday morning, the entire town was charred.  The destroyed buildings included Patterson’s Drug Store, Yelm Post Office, Drew’s Confectionery, transformer house, the telephone office, Yelm Cash Mercantile Company, Yelm Hotel, Wilson Hotel, New Method Repair Shop, Fashion Barber Shop, Pastime Confectionery, Yelm Meat Market, Yelm Barber Shop, Yelm Realty, H. L. Wolf & Company, William H. Keller, Nisqually Valley News, Thurston County Utilities Company, U. S. Post Office and a county storehouse.  The total monetary loss was estimated at $125,000.             

  While a time of tragedy, the 20s in mostly remembered as a decade of exciting new developments.  The first nationwide commercial radio station was broadcasted as KDKA out of Pittsburgh.  Important literary works such as Reader’s Digest and TIME magazine were founded.  The Jazz Singer was released as the first feature length motion picture with sound.  New developments in Yelm contributed to making the town what it is today.  F. E. Grant and E. K. Fristoe founded the Nisqually Valley News in February of 1922.  Yelm finally established a fire department in 1927 after three tragic fires.  It was a meager fire department at first, but over the years, it has been built up.  A number of social groups and organizations founded by women worked to incorporate Yelm.  Such things as public waste baskets, road signs, a water pump and a library were added to the town.             

  The “Roaring 20s” were named so because of the endless amount of fun and leisure people experienced.  There was a renewed interest in motion pictures because of the addition of sound.  The new concept of “adolescence” enabled young people to have fun with less restriction.  Dancing gave way to the “Swinger” era.  Prohibition inspired “speak easies” led to a new fascination and a subsequent increase in moonshine production.  Yelm was also a hopping’ place in the 20s.  The annual community fair offered a wide range of categories to enter in to, so many in fact that every family member could have come home with a blue ribbon.  Community dances brought in people of all ages from surrounding areas to dance to the latest music.  Yelm was a center for running moonshine.  Because of it close location to Puget Sound, many members of the Yelm community were involved in illegal alcohol production.  Of course the most important leisure activity in Yelm was sitting on the front porch and having a conversation any person who just walked by.            

Just like every other part of America, Yelm had a variety of experiences in the 1920s.  Disasters like the tragic fire in 1924 led to the development of the Yelm Fire Department three years later.  Leisure was an important aspect of 1920s as life in Yelm.  Events in the 1920s contributed to make Yelm what it is today.

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