‘I am now glad that we came’: Life in Poulsbo in 1889

What was life like in this area in the 1880s? What did it take to get here from places like Birkevold and Ferdefjord, Norway? In a July 16, 1889 letter home, Thina Høstmark, Adolf’s wife, writes in detail about the ship voyage from Norway to New York, the train trip from New York to Tacoma, and her impressions upon arriving here.

Thina Høstmark joined her husband

Thina Høstmark joined her husband

The first Norwegian to settle in what became Poulsbo was Ole Stubb in 1875. Other non-Native settlers had moved in earlier, drawn by the area’s resources and climate, as well as land made available by the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855.

But Stubb, who came here after stints in Michigan and South Dakota, was the forerunner of a Norwegian wave that would begin in 1883. Among them was Adolf Høstmark, who established a store at what is now the corner of Jensen and Front streets (the building still stands and is the home of Thor’s Needle & Hammer tattoo studio).

What was life like in this area in the 1880s? What did it take to get here from places like Birkevold and Ferdefjord, Norway? In a July 16, 1889 letter home, Thina Høstmark, Adolf’s wife, writes in detail about the ship voyage from Norway to New York, the train trip from New York to Tacoma, and her impressions upon arriving here.

The letter was translated and contributed by Holm Anders Hostmark of Pine Mountain Club, Calif., Thina and Adolf’s great-great-grandson.

In the letter, she expresses amazement at the size of the “Thuja’s plants,” likely red cedars. She tells of arriving in Tacoma and meeting people from Staughton, a Wisconsin city with a large Norwegian immigrant population at the time of this letter.

Here is the letter from Thina Høstmark to her sister in-law, Caroline Høstmark of Birkevold, Kleive, Norway.

* * * *

Dear Caroline,
I have been here for 10 days now but we have been so busy figuring things out and organizing our new home that I have only just written my parents and children.

Our journey must be considered fortunate as we have arrived with our lives and in good health but it was a rather slow and painful trip.

We experienced an extraordinarily powerful storm crossing the Atlantic and were practically at a standstill for two days out to sea with the machine on the vessel working hard as we were virtually submerged by the ocean waves. The cries from the women and children were great as the ship rolled so severely that it was impossible to stay in the bunks and many prayers were made to God. We understood we were in grave danger by the serious looks on the ship’s officers’ faces who stated we were safe as long as the machine kept working.

We finally arrived in New York 16 days after leaving Kristiania (Oslo) where they had started worrying about the whereabouts of our ship “Hekla.”

We promptly located our lodging at “Pilgrims Hjemmet” — a quite nice hotel where there was a Norwegian priest and interpreter (the house is a German home). We were treated to great service, wonderful food and good beds for $1.50 per person a day.

The next day we boarded the railroad and after three days journey arrived in St. Paul, where we switched railway to the Northern Pacific that goes night and day until arriving in Tacoma. This train has sleeping cars, or more correctly has berths in the passenger compartments, but one has to pay $2 to rent a mattress of straw and a pillow, something I did not want to do so we slept directly on the planks with some throws and small pillows. We were sore but dollars were saved, as there were many of us.

When we left St. Paul our travel pains started for real as we journeyed for four and a half days through desert and remote locations. How terrible it was. We crossed parts of Dakota, Montana and Washington Territory that were completely desert with one or another oasis containing a town. We looked at all the sand, mountains of sand, plains of sand and pyramids high and low, all made of sand, and the heat was merciless. This went on day after day and when it continued into the highly praised Washington Territory, my spirits you can imagine were very low as I felt regret and guilt for having brought my children into such misery.

The joy was great when we woke the last morning of our journey to the most stunning vista you can imagine of large lakes and rivers with magnificent vegetation. Thuja’s plants as tall as pine trees (I recall the small one you have growing in the green pot at Birkevold as I think of you and all that is there every day).

Well, we arrived finally at Tacoma on the July 8 at 9 a.m. where we changed clothes instantly and were in Seattle the same morning at 10:30 a.m. where Adolf met us. He had been waiting for four days due to our delay. We were friendly greeted by a family from Staughton who now lives there and where I met more acquaintances from the same town. We sailed by Adolf’s sloop the next day and arrived in the evening to our new home out here so far to the west.

Thea’s mother in-law and Auntie Wilhelmsen greeted us. They had been here a few days visiting some family and were very helpful assisting us in washing our dirty clothes and other chores and have stayed up until today. Old Madam Eriksen was the same as always, the time had not done her any ill. Thea is well and thrives as she is contemplating children.

Well, I should tell you a little about the conditions here. First, I find the climate wonderful and it can hardly be better. No troubling heat and we have comfortable cool evenings and mornings. We feel light, healthy and adjusting so well out here that I am now glad that we came. Our house is small and primitive, but looks nice and contains a living room, kitchen, storage room, utility room and two bedrooms. We don’t have much furniture, but enough with a large bed, three single beds, two large tables, four chairs and a rocking chair. Sigurd is constructing two small tables and foot stools so we are well provided for and it is nice.

I have not been here long enough to say much on the subject of our business, but we have all kinds of merchandise: conveniences, foot wear for work and leisure, clothes, flour, corn, etc. Adolf is naturally in debt but has credit in Seattle and properties in the sloop, this house and the house on the farm, and the horse and the cow. Trading looks to be varied with some days $30 to $40 cash sales but others, like yesterday, only $13. We have, however, much outstanding from wealthy customers. All extras are spent on the farm as it is the most important in case something goes wrong, and it will in time be worth thousands. In the meantime, it is not going to be so easy for little Anna and myself who must live there all alone soon, as the law requires that the wife live on the homestead unless they take it back.

The farm is located three miles up from here surrounded by dense forest far from other people … I will be heading up there next week to put things expeditiously in order.

I am in good spirits and as long as God lets me have health I will work up there with the people who are breaking new ground and turning the soil, while remembering that it is for our future and our children’s future we are working. How I wish you were around, I know I would make a good life of it.

Abel’s business is 16 miles from here and he is doing very well, it would be fun to meet him soon. Our church is only a few steps from our house and is small but nice. The priest was the groom in a wedding on July 4 and we were pre-invited, but it is good that we did not have to go. His bride was from here and we visited with her parents last Sunday.

Bjærmeland from Romsdalen is our closest neighbor, and is as close as L. Wig is to you.

Today, Sigurd traveled a mile from here to seek employment at the sawmill with Adolf following him to assist.

Dear, live well and remember me often. I wish Sverre was here, and let him learn a craft if he is thinking about America.

Let grandmother know of this letter and how we are. I will write her soon.

Best regards to your mother.

Yours truly,
Thina Høstmark
Write soon and plenty!


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