Almost Forgotten Sustainability

A portrait of sustainability ca. 1888. I’m marveling at the renewable energy aspects of this great photograph by LaRoche & French taken near the Hanson Ackerson Mill in Old Town. These sturdy teams of draft horses literally did the heavy lifting on Tacoma’s waterfront in the days when steam powered sawmills turned out rock hard ancient timbers like the one in the foreground by the millions of board feet. On summer days like this one the hot sun smells of fresh cut lumber, harness leather and working horses carried on the same wind that drove the three masted lumber ship in the background. Forests for timber, cord wood for the steam boilers, southwesterly winds for the sails and muscle strength for the rest were the inventive energy sources that built Tacoma. No wonder it baffles me why hand made structures built from this era of technology are being replaced with fossil fuel based materials like PVC windows and siding, vinyl floors and finishes and synthetic replacements for just about everything. Its like the wind and wood and muscle were frozen back somewhere in history, lost in another time. All we smell is plastic.


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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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