The Lindstrom Trove

Early last year I met an extraordinary man who had been dead since 1950. His legacy, in the form of documents, photographs, personal papers and private letters were kept by a young woman who cared for him in his last years, was left his beautiful house on Yakima Avenue and lived there by herself until 2014, almost 65 years. I told the story and shared the materials in a series of narrative posts on Facebook and have been planning to repost here on the TacomaHistory blog. So here is the story, as it unfolded beginning in January 2015…



It will come as no surprise to anyone that one of my favorite things is looking at historic photographs and this week I sorta hit the jackpot. Our neighbor across the street brought over the papers and ephemera from Lindstrom House on Yakima Avenue having set them aside with the help of historian minded Mary Sudar, before an estate sale a few weeks ago. Among the letters, business records, legal documents and family paperwork is an amazing collection of about 200 photographs from about 100 years ago (ca.1880’s-1920). The best large format images are from the Tacoma based French Studio, most of which I have never seen before. Once the entire collection is organized, boxed and a summary written they will be headed to the Tacoma Public Library-both the neighborly and appropriate thing to do with Emil Lindstrom’s legacy. In the meantime I have been scanning the images and exploring the details of other times and sometimes familiar places. Here’s a sample or two. More to come.

Pierce County Courthouse
City Hall, NP Headquarters and Commencement Bay ca. 1895
Commencement Bay 1892


More sampling from the Emil Lindstrom materials. First a striking large format camera portrait of the Garretson, Woodruff Pratt Building finished in 1893 at 19th and Pacific. It’s brand new in this shot. Next, the broad amazing cityscape dates from before 1898 looking up 9th where you can see Mayor Hosmer’s house, today the Exley Apartments in the heart of a theatre district still mostly to come. This is a very rare image! Next is an early 20th C photo looking North on Yakima Avenue at the Armory and Courthouse. And then for the last, an absolutely crystal clear glass plate negative print of treasured Chinese tea being unloaded from a steamer down on the waterfront, by weight perhaps the most valuable marine cargo of its day. Look at the riggers on the stack and the leisurely pose of the first class passenger in his straw boater watching the stevedores from the rail. Hard to date exactly but I make it to be about 1900, summertime, mid-day and busy with the waterfront sounds and smells of prosperity.


The Garretson, Woodruff Pratt Building at 1754 Pacific, the corner of 19th. Today its the center building at the University of Washington Tacoma campus. Emil Lindstrom began work as a newly arrived Swedish immigrant working for the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Company first at their massive sawmill on the tideflats and then as a lumber broker in this building.


Looking up 9th from below Pacific Avenue. The point of the Bostwick Building finished in 1889 is just visible behind a sapling tree on the streetpoint. The Pierce County Courthouse towers over the downtown at the left.


The Tacoma Armory was built in 1909 and the Victorian clothes and absence of automobiles suggests this photo was taken not long after that year. Its winter and the absence of leaves on the trees gives us a great look at both the new building and the County Courthouse that was built in 1892.




More from the Emil Lindstrom trove along with a couple portraits of the man himself.
The looming view camera image of the legendary Tacoma Hotel is remarkable for its architectural accuracy achievable only with a quality lens and adjustable camera back for optical correction. I’m scanning at 300 dpi and FB seems to be allowing very high resolution. Check out the fine detail on this image-you could almost use it to rebuild the landmark.
The pathway shot looking south along the G Street edge of Wright Park reveals how much the trees have grown and the towering silhouette once cast by the Pierce County Courthouse.
I haven’t dated the parade view on Pacific but love the linear order of both Tacoma’s bobbies and buildings.
Emil Lindstrom was born in Stockholm in 1862 and died in Tacoma at 88 in 1950. He was a lumberman all of his working life and in the next post I’ll feature some unforgettable photos of the industry and ancient forests he knew so well.


Tacoma Hotel on A Street. The site is currently occupied by the Russell Building.


G Street running along the east side of Wright Park. Pierce County Courthouse tower in the distance.




I knew from the first time I saw them that the Lindstrom materials would be a biography in pictures and letters. Here are some views from the early PNW chapters for the young Swedish immigrant, the settings for his adventure and the sturdy faces and steam age contrivances of his day. He was among the first cutters of the ancient forests around “The Mountain”, arriving on the transcontinental Northern Pacific railroad in 1887. Emil was born in Stockholm in 1862 and by the time he was in his late 20’s he was renting a room on G street in Tacoma when not living in the logging camps. To the best of my knowledge he is not in any of these breathtaking photos but he would have recognized every detail, sound and smell of the natural surrounds and conifer forests, of the hot fire handles and treacherous winch mechanism on the yarding donkey and the distant sound of a loaded steam locomotive working out of the deep cuts.
Check out the details in these images, the oxen teams and pail yokes being shouldered, the hand axes against the massive dimensions of the rock hard Douglas firs, and the clean proud, almost pristine condition of the engines and tools. Each of these pictures is an epic story in itself worth a close look. Stories Emil would soon leave as his language and business skills lead to advancement on the payroll of the St, Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company. More to come…



Great shot of a steam donkey on a corduroy road. Basically this is an upright steam engine and heavy winch mounted on a sled made from stripped logs. The skid road is also made from short logs set like railroad ties across the path. Picture from about 1890, no gasoline, zippers or chainsaws.


The dirty dozen, a donkey crew near The Mountain about 1890.




A little help from someone who reads Swedish? I think I am looking at Emil Lindstrom’s travel papers, perhaps a passport, birth record or maybe just a school report card. His papers are sketchy in the early years but this folded, official looking document was in a well worn leather wallet with a tiny envelope with two words in English written in pencil on the outside “mother’s hair”. I haven’t opened it.
Early view of Tacoma from the western edge of McKinley Hill. Old City Hall is there so its after 1893. Emil is working as a shipping clerk at the Elk Mill, run by St, Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company, living in Tacoma full time at 748 E Street but that is about to change. An economic depression is making things tough but up North a gold rush is about to happen…








Another group from the Lindstrom collection and thanks to those that helped translate the confirmation certificate I posted. It gave me both Emil’s date of birth and immigration date.
In 1895 Emil is living at the Bostwick Hotel (TPL image) and working as a shipping clerk at the St. Paul & Tacoma lumber company who at the time were operating perhaps the largest sawmill in North America on the Tacoma tideflats (Murray Morgan says the world in his “Mill on the Boot”). These photos record the the transformation of the Puyallup River delta from tideflats to industrial landscape and eventual seaport. Again the sharp images on the glass negatives provide the fine details of Emil’s workday, the omnipresent Northern Pacific Railway that created and controlled Tacoma in the 19th Century, the way steam power, draft animals and wagons lifted and moved the heavy loads before gasoline engines and the way people stopped to pose for a cameraman a century before selfies.
A couple oddities. Emil’s papers make several references to golf but I can’t quite pick him out of this great group shot. If he’s there its the earliest photo of him in the collection. By 1899 he’s living at 411 South G Street and it just dawned on me that his home was on Wright Park. That explains the park pathway photo I ran from the collection last week!
The next batch of photos are beautiful and rare and to my eye some of the best in the collection. They will show the waterfront, armadas of tall ships and the busy parade of maritime phantoms that made Commencement Bay one of the Pacific’s busiest seaports. Emil is starting to think about Alaska..








Bostwick TPL
Bostwick ca.1990



And I will end this post here and pick up Emil’s story in the next episode.

Lindstrom Trove Part Two…..


  1. Hi,

    just in case you still need a translation of the papers posted. It is in Swedish but an old dialect. Its Gustaf”s conformation and holy communion papers.


  2. I am the nephew of the woman who cared for Mr. Lindstrom and thank-you for his history.
    It appears that she was somewhat close to him, caring for him for many years.
    If you have any letters naming Irene,I would appreciate a copy of them.


    1. Hello
      After reading through the letters, papers and photos I tried to put tha materials in good order before trusting the collection to the Northwest Room at the Tacoma Public Library. I think you will find a treasure of letters and papers from and to Irene. Though I never met her I came to know and like her very much. Good luck.


  3. Who wrote this story? Who do I contact about a photo I have. I do not see a date, but it says Thompson Photo Co., Tacoma, WN. It also has Lindstrom-Handforth Lbr Co.
    Ushered are 58 people in this picture including women and one child. It was in my grandmothers belongings.


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