The Lindstrom Trove, Part Two

Here is the second part of a story I introduced like this..


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…



Like still life masterpieces, this group of waterfront views from the Lindstrom portfolio captures the seaport of Tacoma at the end of the 19th century. The age of sailing ships and square rigged masts survived for a generation on Commencement Bay after dying out in most of the world’s ports.Though steam was revolutionizing marine propulsion on passenger vessels and driving the locomotives reaching Tacoma over land and mountains, the ships carrying hard wheat and non perishable lumber continued to rely on wind and sail. Ships made from the renewable timber they carried, running on the dependable power of the wind, on journeys across the most expansive distances on earth in their time. For Emil Lindstrom, working for the tideflat based St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company in the late 1890’s, daily routine would have been backdropped by swaying masts, loading booms and the smell of salt water and fresh cut timber.
The sailing ships in Tacoma’s harbor on any given day at the turn of the century would easily travel 500,000 miles a year collectively-a distance that would reach the moon and back. As word began to trickling in about a gold rush in Alaska Emil began considering a moonshot of his own. While he didn’t keep a diary and no letters exist recording his journey north, a series of photos with his handwritten captions appear in his papers. They come next..


Steamships crowding Tacoma’s docks with the ghost-like silhouettes of sailing ships anchored in the distance. My choice for the best image in the collection.
There is a narrative here about the passing of the age of sail and the self importance of new technology elbowing its way to the eager, waiting crowd. Look at where the darks and lights fall in this composition. This paper print from a glass plate was scanned at 300 d.p.i. and probably displaying at a much poorer resolution. The original is crisp and simply beautiful.



Demonstrating a new electrical contraption for replacing dock workers. I see skepticism in the body language on board.



Forgive this maritime digression taken from the Lindstrom materials. As promised the Alaska photos are next but just take a moment and check out these images of the USS Baltimore and Charleston on Commencement Bay in 1892. Called dreadnoughts, these navy warships were in between major moments in American history when these photos were taken. Just a year before, the Baltimore was moored at Valparaíso during the Chilean Civil War protecting U. S citizens as a squadron flagship. On October 16, 1891, a mob attacked a group of sailors on shore leave from the USS Baltimore outside a bar called the True Blue Saloon.Two sailors were killed and eighteen were injured in the chaos. The diplomatic incident between Chile and the United States became known as the Baltimore Crisis and it would have been the subtext everyone in Tacoma knew when the ships sailed into the harbor.
Five years after these photos, the Baltimore joined Commodore George Dewey’s fleet during the Spanish American War and on the morning of May 1, 1898 entered Manila Bay and destroyed the Spanish fleet stationed there. USS Baltimore was second in line behind Dewey’s flagship, the USS Olympia. But no one in Tacoma watching that summer day in 1892, including the photographer taking these pictures, could have known what was ahead-that war with Spain in the Philippines would be happening at the same time prospectors were finding gold in the Klondike and that soon ships departing Tacoma would be carrying passengers to and from both destinations. Sometimes history just sails into your harbor.
Emil Lindstrom would choose Alaska and in the coming photos we’ll see what he did…




Almost hidden within the hundreds of photos in the Lindstrom collection were a small group of images of Alaska during the era of the gold rush. The pencil written captions on the backs in his recognizable hand suggest to me that Emil headed north sometime around 1900. The images are a mix of quality commercial photos and raw shots taken through a cheap lens. A connection with Alaska will reappear in Emil’s life later on but from the coastal Southeast locations in these photos it seems like he was traveling for curiosity and adventure rather than goldseeking. The route closely follows the voyage of the famous 1899 Harriman expedition that included John Muir and the Seattle photographer Edward Curtis. Henry Harriman was the Paul Allen of his day, a railroad bizillionaire who could buy a ship, trick it out as a yacht for celebrity scientists and writers and then take the whole floating geographic society on a two month excursion.
Maybe the publicity, published photos and lectures that followed the Harriman journey drew Emil toward his own adventure. He was almost 40, unmarried and living alone, with a steady job but looking at his bank accounts one year was alot like the one before. Everything in Tacoma started to change after Alaska as we shall see….


Emil certainly wasn’t the only Tacoman to visit Chilkoot Pass and the Klondike beyond. This may be an image from French studio based in Tacoma and the tramway advertised in the sign on the right was built and operated by Nelson Bennett, who dug both the Stampede Pass and the Pt. Defiance tunnels and who’s big house on North Broadway was a Tacoma showplace.







In 1905 Emil Lindstrom got married. He was 44 years old and his bride Henrietta (Hattie) was just a year younger. A century ago 44 was not a young age but for Emil it was the beginning of the busiest time of his life. The newlyweds bought a fine Victorian cottage on the corner of 3rd and Yakima in a very tony neighborhood and Emil began operating a lumber mill in Rainier, just off the Northern Pacific prairie line between Tenino and Yelm. Prosperity had come to the Swedish immigrant and the small luxury of a camera recorded many of the details of his and Hattie’s life together. Here are some early images from the first decade or two, Emil with boxcars and Hattie with the Lewis and Clark Apartments in the background kitty corner from their home, the house at 224 North Yakima, an image of St. Peter’s Church in Old Town and a restful photo of the fountain at Pt. Defiance Park lodge where they regularly took their dogs. Seemingly in every photo they are accompanied by their dogs and Emil’s cigars and pipes. Interesting times just ahead…




The 1910 U. S Census shows that the Lindstrom household was outgrowing the house at 224 North Yakima. In addition to Emil and Hattie, there was 19 year old Henrietta, a daughter from Hattie’s first marriage, a live in housekeeper and John Bush, a 58 year old retired carpenter who was both a boarder and onsite construction manager. Emil’s booming business, the Lindberg-Hanforth Lumber Company did not keep him too busy to plan the addition of a full second story on the house and by 1912 the polite Victorian cottage was transformed into a full scale corner mansion complete with elegant gardens and landscape. Tacoma was entering the fastest growing decade in its history and the demand for finish grade VG Douglas fir, specialized in by the Lindstrom mill, made Emil both a rich man and an elite merchant in the lumber trade. By 1917 the Lindstrom-Hanforth mill in Rainier was cutting 18 million board feet a year, was operating its own railroad and had burnt to the ground twice only to be rebuilt bigger in the aftermath each time. A century after Emil had every bit of trim, baseboard and window casing in the house remade with the best clear finished, straight grain fir from his mill, the inside of the 224 Yakima house is still most memorable for its woodwork. The house was like a diary and together Emil and Hattie were still very much filling in the pages.


I’m working on the next chapter of the Lindstrom saga but in the meantime an interesting tidbit. Susan Johnson, locally famous music devotee, bought the piano from the Lindstrom house at the estate sale. Inside the instrument she found a few more photos and among them this charmer. It shows a horse and buggy on the 3rd street side of the house before the addition of the second floor. I’d date it from about 1905. Might be Emil since the composition of the photo clearly is intended to include the house.

House and buggy


Among the Emil Lindstrom’s photographs were a small group of 4×6 safety negatives, slightly warped by moisture but with the images still intact. These are the earliest views of the interior of the house probably taken just after the second floor was added but early enough that Hattie was still wearing Victorian era cloths. I guess they are 1912-14. Its rare to see interior photos from this time because camera technology and film sensitivity could barely capture images at such low light levels before flash bulbs.
Since the elusive qualities of time and technology have kept these images just out of reach for a century I wanted to post them as I found them-as negatives. I’ll run the positive prints soon. If you can’t wait, go to the settings on your iphone under General-Accessability-Invert Colors, switch on and then view the images or take a photo with the camera. Emil would be amused.







Here are the positive prints from the group of interior photos of the Lindstrom House from about 1912. Mrs. Lindstrom was about 50 in these photos, a formal even regal woman with German parents and mid western upbringing. While Emil’s lumberman aesthetic is evident in the woodwork and fixtures it would have been Hattie that chose the furnishings and objects in the room. Her tastes ran from fresh flowers to stuffed herons, crisp linens and plush oriental rugs, French clocks and Stickley style chairs. She and daughter Hentrietta would have just voted for the first time in a Tacoma election in 1909 and then probably again in a most unusual recall vote of Mayor Angelo Fawcett in April 1911. The thrown out
Mayor was far too liberal in his open city approach to the bars and brothels downtown, and when the proper ladies and fine households of the city got the vote, Fawcett was history. Tacoma and the country was changing fast in the years just before the first world war but the living room of the Lindstrom house had a distinct conservative feel, almost old fashion before its time a century ago.

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





  1. Great to find out more about this house. You could tell at the estate sale one family had lived there for a very long time. So many interesting photos to be seen from the early days. Was very surprised that the photos weren’t given to the museum or historical society. I bought a small postcard book of images from Sweden. I collect postcards so these were fun to see and to have especially since I am of Swedish descent. I didn’t know anything about the Lindstrom family. Thanks for so much great info. I have printed it and put the pages with the Brevkort (postcards) This was one of the last estate sales my father was able to go to–too many stairs and a little challenging to get around in. He got me started on these crazy adventures. I go to see the houses as much as for the sale!


  2. Had the opportunity to tour the home during one of the Historic Home Tours offered by Tacoma Historical Society. A real treat. I wish I’d come across the Lindstrom story beforehand. Thanks for sharing these photos.


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