YelmHistoryProject: NVN Unveils New Valley History Page


Traditionally, one of the popular items found in a community newspaper such as the Nisqually Valley News is a section devoted to the past.

Soon after my arrival to Yelm I began searching for a source of information so I could launch a weekly Valley History page.

One of my first visits was to the Yelm Historical Museum located in the heart of the city on Third Street (open noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 360-970-8036). I discovered Yelm’s strong connection to Mount Rainier — the first known man and woman, for example, to summit the mountain were P.B. Van Trump and Fay Fuller, both from the Yelm area. An exhibit at the museum titled “The Bloomer Girl and the Mountain” is worth the visit to the museum.

The staff at the museum was most helpful, and it was clear Yelm and the Nisqually Valley would provide plenty of interesting accounts from the past.

Yelm history starts with the original inhabitants of the prairie — the Nisqually people who still hold a prominent place in today’s Nisqually Valley. The word “Yelm” comes from the Nisqually Indian Tribe ancestors who in the Salish language called the area “shelm” or “chelm,” which means “heat waves from the sun,” according to various sources.

Yelm was an early center of transportation crossroads. Today’s highways are a reminder of past trails, including a pathway over the Cascade Mountains that went through the Yelm area.

The prairie was an attractive place for early settlers, including James Longmire, one of Yelm’s earliest non-indigenous inhabitants, who helped Yelm claim its destiny as the gateway to Mount Rainier. Yelm started to quickly prosper with the coming of the train in 1873, and soon was an economic center for agriculture and timber.

I find such history fascinating and overall just a good read.

About six months ago I first heard of Ed Bergh from one of his many adoring former students — Tyler Whitworth, a Nisqually Valley News advertising consultant who has since left us to become a fancy financial advisor (for the record, Tyler is very much missed).

Ed is the longtime history teacher at Yelm High School, who has spearheaded the “ — The History of Yelm Washington” — a valuable website that collects the stories and photos featuring the rich past of this vast prairie/valley.

Ed and I pushed the idea back and forth, and finally settled on the direction the content would take. Ed will provide the readers of the NVN items from his project, along with my assistance.

Today I am proud to unveil the first such section, found on page 4 of the Valley Life section.

Ed introduces the page with a column, which includes a request for those with old stories and photos to pass them along so Ed can make them part of the effort.

Ed and I hope those old boxes hidden away in the attic won’t be thrown away, but through the project be preserved. Our history is a valuable and entertaining look at where we’ve been, our roots that make us who we are today and Yelm unique.

For the first issue, we highlight a letter from a young mill worker in McKenna to his mother, penned in the 1920s. His description of his fellow Wobbly workers tells us more about the workers’ revolutionary movement than many scholarly accounts can offer.

We also run two Yelm High School photos side-by-side of the 1968 and 1975 senior classes. In the first photo, the students for the most part wear matching clothing and cookie-cutter haircuts. Fast forward through those tumultuous times to 1975, and the hippy influence from the ‘60s is most apparent.

One lesson from the past that these photos illustrate is cultural change can be swift.

I hope you enjoy this look back as much as I find pleasure in putting it together, along with Ed, for the NVN readers.


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