Rasar Park/Kemmerich Homestead Tour May 18, 2002
B. Halliday tape recorder notes
10 AM --Met at Day Use area of Rasar St. Park, in Birdsview, WA.
Introduction of those attending:
Descendants of August and Barbara Kemmerich:
01 Pat (Ackerman) Napier
02 Joe Napier
03 Mark Napier
04 Roa (Mrs.) Mark Napier
05 Barbara (Kemmerich) Halliday
06 Karen Halliday
07 Mark Stupfel
08 Dorothy (Stupfel) Duyck
09 Beatrice (Stupfel) Peters
01 Kevin Kratochvil, Rasar St. Parks Manager (360) 826-3942
02 Ted Smith, Historian/Nat. Resources, WA. St. Parks Regional Office
03 Noel Bourasaw, editor of website, Skagit Journal
04 Barb Thompson, lives in Birdsview area, descendant of Savage, pioneer family
(360) 826-3792, e-mail: Bpineywood@aol.com
05 Lois Thompson (Pat’s friend) joined us for dinner Sat. night 360-853-8382
06 Glenrose Williams, Box 392, Goldbar, WA 98251-0392 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (descendant of the King family)
In 1917-1918 Monte & Rena King lived on Kemmerich ranch while building their home just east of Russell Road on Hwy 20.
Discussion before starting tour of park
Pat Napier was born on the August Kemmerich ranch in 1930. She was 15 years old when she left her home on the Ackerman place. It’s been 57 years since Pat was up here.
Pat was 4 years old when the Kemmerich. ranch house burned down. Pat and her parents had gone to Hamilton for groceries. While they were gone, some hired hands fired up the stove to heat water for baths. Apparently this started a chimney fire. As Pat and her parents returned, they saw the house all in flames. All they saved was a trunk with papers and the stove. Ackermans had to sleep under the fruit trees the night after the house burned. There was a good-sized orchard near the ranch house. The Ackermans later built a new home on the west end of the property (where Day Use Area of Rasar Park is located).
Indians built wooden houses on the sandbar by Skagit River. The traded salmon for Ackerman’s produce.
(Noel) In research in Bellingham, I learned that there was a small Indian cemetery “somewhere west of the sandbar.”
(Pat) I remember when I was a little girl (in the early 1930’s) the Indians were going through this area, going up the valley to pick berries. They had horses, with objects (cooking ware) dangling off the horses’ saddles. I remember our mothers gathered all the little kids in the houses because they were afraid the Indians might steal us.”
(Noel) Did you go picking salmon berries?
(Pat) I remember when Mom and I would go across the river on the ferry to pick wild blackberries on that hillside just south of the river.
The closest ferry? Not the Pressentin ferry. There was also a Birdsview ferry closer to Ackermans.
(Barb Thompson) Families living on the south (“uncivilized”) side of the Skagit in Birdsview were:
Karl von Pressentin, Savages, Boyds and Minklers.
Kemmerichs, Bernard von Pressentin, and Grandy lived on north side.
(Noel) Grandy, A. Kemmerich and Minkler all met in Port Madison while working in the mills about 1876. They all went to Seattle together, decided they didn’t want to settle there, and came up here.
(Beatrice Peters) according to our family history, Minkler was here a year before the other two, and on his recommendation the other two came up here.
(Barb Halliday) I think my great-grandfather, Karl v.Pressentin and Birdsey Minkler came up to Birdsview together one year before August Kemmerich.
(Noel) I’m surmising that the reason for coming up to Birdsview was related to clearing the logjam in the Skagit just above Mt. Vernon. In 1876, the pioneer settlers of Mt. Vernon tried to get Congress to give them money to clear up the logjam near Mt. Vernon. The logjam completely choked off the river--there was no way to get a boat up the river through the jam. They tried to get $75,000 from Congress; Congress would only give them $25,000 and it was impossible to do it for that price. The settlers in Mt. Vernon all owned lots in Olympia or Seattle. They mortgaged those lots to raise funds to clear up the logjam. I think what happened, after the logjam was cleared, the Mt. Vernon settlers went down to Olympia to pay off the mortgages and clear their property. Others in Seattle and Olympia got wind that the Skagit river was now open and that’s when everyone started thinking about the Skagit for settlement. Up until that time, nobody wanted to try to live above the logjam because you had to portage three miles around the jam, carrying everything on your back.
(Noel) When Wilhelmine von Pressentin and her small children came out to join Karl on his homestead, the logjam was still there. She had to carry a small infant and lead a four-year-old along the portage around the logjam. Everything she brought, including the sewing machine she bought in Mt. Vernon, had to be carried around the barrier.
(Noel) I really think that’s what happened. August Kemmerich and Mr. Grandy heard the logjam was gone and were attracted to the Skagit area. Seattle was too civilized for them (or the good land was already taken).
Comments during tour of park and adjoining land
Hay Meadow is being farmed as one piece by a Mr. Jim Bates. He plans to put some cattle on the meadow later this year.
At present, there are two fences running side by side north to south, separating the park property from the other half of the homestead property. The reason? perhaps due to misplaced boundary lines in earlier years. The fence to the east will be removed by Mr. Bates. After that, they will be bringing in livestock. (Kevin Kratochvil was not sure if Mr. Bates is the owner of the eastern half of the homestead, but he farms it and the park’s meadowland.)
Locating site of Kemmerich ranch house:
(Pat) There was a garden in back of the house. The orchard was on the west side of the house.
[Two old fruit trees were visible.] The group found a slight depression just east of the fruit trees and concluded that the ranch house must have stood about where the depression is located. Ted Smith took GPS readings at this spot.
(Noel) I’d like to get a good idea of the house location. I have a man who makes a living finding old bottles, shards, etc. with detectors.
(Barb H) We think the house was just east of the orchard. Going farther east, was the potato shed, then the big barn. The barn would be almost back to a big maple tree. We surmise the Kemmerich family would let the cattle out of the barn, and the animals would go down to the lower (river) level to a pasture.
Walking along the Skagit river edge, due south of the old fruit trees:
Ted Smith noticed a large Black Locust tree and smaller saplings on the edge of the lower pasture land. He said that when you see an old Black Locust tree, you know that there must have been a homestead nearby. The trees were not native, but were a desirable tree, so were often planted by the pioneers.
(Mark Stupfel) Black Locust makes excellent fence posts--which can last for 75 years.
(Ted) The Black Locust are a common sight on old homesteads in eastern Washington. They don’t require a lot of water, but are slow-growing.
(Mark) Once you get the wood dried, they will last “forever.”
The group noticed a fair amount of Scotch Broom plants in bloom along the river edge. Ted suggested a method for getting rid of Scotch broom: In August, when the plant is starting to send nutrients to the roots, go down below the leaf nodes at the base of the stalk and lop off the stalk at that point. That should keep it from re-sprouting.
Pat and her mother earned some extra money by cutting Cascara bark in the wooded area at the western end of the property. They also found an operational moonshine still in the area to the north (where Mark Kemmerich’s land was.)
Noel surmised that August must have lived in some small shelter while building the ranch house and barn. Barbara commented that according to a note attached to August’s will, he had built the house before going to Chicago and marrying Barbara Hommerding in 1883. He took up the homestead claim in 1878, so he had five years to work on the ranch before marrying.
(Beatrice) I was told they dug a well up there.
(Ted) The elevation difference between the ranch house site and the river bar is only about 20 feet. You wouldn’t have to dig a very deep well. All that ground is sitting on top of a gravel bar--you could get all the water you wanted.
Background on Mr. Dan Rasar, donor of the park property:
Mr. Rasar had a chain of pizza restaurants in northwestern Washington. He sold out at a good time and purchased this property with the goal of setting up a little resort with a campground. Apparently it turned out to be more than he wanted to invest, and at some point he decided to donate the park to Washington State Parks.
(Barb H) Mr. Rasar told me that he had a friend in the Washington State Parks administration who wanted to create a park in the Skagit Valley as his last project before retiring. He ultimately persuaded Mr. Rasar to donate this property for that park.