In addition to harvesting Olympia oysters and other forms of sea life, agriculture on the Griffin peninsula has consisted of growing fruit, raising cattle and sheep, dairy farming, and raising poultry. Many early farms were not large commercial operations, producing food for the settlers and some cash crops to supplement incomes.
The first significant commercial agricultural operation may have been a short-lived commercial apple orchard at Hunter’s Point. Other early commercial operations included raising strawberries on what is now called Gravelly Beach Loop and raising blueberries at the Eberhardt blueberry farm off what is now called Steamboat Island Road.
Hunter Apple Orchard
Alfred Allan Hunter and Sarah Emma Daniels Hunter moved from Ukiah, California, and settled on Bush Prairie with their old friend George Bush. In 1887 they purchased a tract of land on the tip of what is now known as Hunter’s Point. The land was purchased for its timber. They built a home, a wharf and sold firewood and fresh water to the steamer ships, ferries, and barges plying the waters between Olympia and Shelton. The boats made a number of stops up and down Eld Inlet, including the Mud Bay Logging Company facilities at the foot of Mud Bay and the infamous Ellis tavern and general pleasure house on what is now Madrona Beach Road.
The Hunters planted some 1200 fruit trees and hoped to make money in the fruit business. Their business prospered for several years but the market dried up with the advent of the Yakima Valley fruit industry. The orchard was reduced in size for home use. Descendants recall an old family story where the Hunters traded a bucket of apples with a Native American for a bucket of oysters.
Their daughter, Georgia, married Frederick A. (Fritz) Schmidt. They built cottages on the beach at Hunter’s Point and rented the cottages during the summer. The resort was known as both the Hunter’s Point Pleasure Resort and the Old Homestead Inn. They catered to visitors and locals alike. An old advertisement described the resort as a place “where the simplicity of the farmhouse extends its restful welcome.” The daily camping fee was 50¢, the weekly vacation rate for a stay in a cabin was $15, and a chicken dinner cost $1.25.
Lea McGaughy and her husband Harry McGaughy, aunt and uncle of long-time Griffin peninsula resident Mike Le May, ran the Hunter farm in the 1920’s.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Jim Tobin, a Native American, had a farm in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s north of Young Cove on what now is called Gravelly Beach Loop. Mr. Tobin grew strawberries and had a mixed orchard of apple and Italian prune plum trees. Tobin’s primary income came from harvesting oysters on oysterlands he owned that extended from the mouth of Young Cove, around Flapjack Point, to north of the present day Frye Cove county park.
Tobin had trouble making mortgage and tax payments and his oyster operations became less productive. He began selling parts of his farm to make his mortgage payments. William Joseph Le May and Dora Drake Le May purchased 20 acres from Tobin in 1923. Their boys, aged 11 and 14, ran the farm. Mike Le May was then 11 years old.
J.A. Melliour also purchased 20 acres from Tobin in 1923. The farm was immediately west of the Le May property. Melliour soon died and his brother Osias Melliour inherited the land and ran a strawberry farm there. Mike Le May recalls that years later when times were hard during the Depression, the “money lender” took over the Melliour farm, subdivided the acreage, and sold lots.
Many of the Griffin area’s older residents picked strawberries as children at the Le May and Melliour farms.
The Almost Cattle Baron
Mike Le May recalls hearing a story that in the late 1800’s E.T. Young attempted to buy considerable acreage in the lower portion of Griffin peninsula and create a large cattle ranch. Although Mr. Young purchased considerable acreage, the ranch never really materialized.
Apparently, Mr. Young had hoped to purchase a large block of land stretching from the foot of Oyster Bay to Young Cove and northward for a considerable distance. He had planned to run a fence from Oyster Bay to Young Cove and let the cattle forage north of the fence.
Bill Durward recalls that E.T. Young owned the end of what is now Keating Road. This probably was the last remnants of the want-a-be cattle baron’s holdings. Mike Le May indicates that in the 1920’s old man Young lived in a float house tied up north of Fourth Street in the vicinity of Jack J. Brenner and Charles Brenner’s Oyster Company. This is the present location of the Olympia Oyster House.
Young Road and Young Cove are named after E.T. Young.
In 1921, Joseph Eberhardt planted 50 acres of blueberries east of the current Steamboat Island Road. He experimented with various different species of berries, finally developing a large berry bearing his name, the Eberhardt Blueberry. The Eberhardt farm was the most successful berry farm in the area.
[Editor’s note added July 2019: Steve Lundin points us to this article in the Thurston County Historical Journal, for more information about the Eberhardt’s and their blueberries.]
Mr. Eberhardt sold his farm to Floyd and Laniera Savage and moved to Santa Cruz, California, where the climate was better suited for his namesake blueberry. The Savages ran the farm for years. The farm produces the delectable blueberries that are consumed with glee at the annual Saint Christopher’s Church Blueberry Bash.
– from original text by Steve Lundin, reprinted from the October 1997 issue of “Neighbors”, the newsletter of the Griffin Neighborhood Association. This is part of a series of articles reprinted from earlier publications in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Griffin Neighborhood Association.
Steve Lundin is a long-time resident of the Griffin community located in northwest Thurston County. He received a B.A. degree from the University of Washington and a J.D. degree from the University of Washington Law School and recently retired as a senior counsel for the Washington State House of Representatives after nearly 30 years.
He is recognized as the local historian of the Griffin area and has written a number of articles on local history and a book entitled Griffin Area Schools, available from the Griffin Neighborhood Association at a cost of $10.
Lundin also wrote a comprehensive reference book on local governments in Washington State entitled The Closest Governments to the People – A Complete Reference Guide to Local Government in Washington State. The book costs $85, plus shipping and handling. It is available on the web from the Division of Governmental Studies and Services, Washington State University, at http://dgss.wsu.edu/ or from WSU Extension at www.pubs.wsu.edu.