Much of the story of Vashon during the 20th century was the story of consolidation.
A narrative of moving, sometimes slowly and other times more rapidly, from the many to the few. The consolidations range from ferries to schools, to post offices, and to stores. All are significant and all reflect an island transformed by the automobile and improved roads, but also transformed by modernity and the perceived “improvements” brought by centralization.
Perhaps the most dramatic and most influential transformation was the ferries. In 1920, Vashon had three car ferry docks and 32 Mosquito Fleet steamer docks, all serving privately owned ferries except for the King County ferry Vashon Island that served the Portage-Des Moines route. In the span of thirty years, the island was reduced to two car ferry docks and no Mosquito Fleet docks, and the ferries were all publicly owned by the newly created Washington State Ferry System.
Vashon schools underwent a similarly dramatic transformation, from more than 25 different schools organized into 13 school districts, to one school district by the 1940s, and four schools by the end of the century. Post offices also saw a consolidation as the 16 individual post offices in each community finally became one central post office in Vashon’s town core, with a sub-station in Burton.
Other sectors also saw consolidation as the island moved from 17 greenhouses to four, from 11 gravel pits to one, and from 16 gas stations to four. Even more dramatic was the decline from nine brickyards to none, from nine boat builders to none, and from 23 sawmills to none, now that the Forest Stewards sawmill has closed.
For shoppers and communities, one of the most significant transformations was the consolidation of 16 community stores located in virtually every waterfront settlement, to the two that remain today at Burton and Center, with all the remaining shopping concentrated into Vashon’s town core. Each waterfront community on the island had what was essential for a community to thrive and survive before roads and the automobile began to connect the island: a post office, a store, and often a community hall, church or school. Those stores, often with the post office located in the store, were the true heart of the community.
Heights Grocery Co., in the 1930s, was typical of many of the community stores on the island, not only carrying a full range of food and supplies but also having a gas pump and a public telephone.
The list of community stores is impressive, and some continued to serve as stores into the 1990s.
Going from north to south on the island, the first store visitors encountered was the Height’s Grocery, often called Broussard’s, after the owners. It served as a store into the 1940s and was rebuilt as two stories after it was damaged in a storm. The building became a series of restaurants until its current incarnation as the Wild Mermaid.
Jack’s Market, which was originally a small coffee shop on the North End dock, was built in 1948 and is now the location of John L. Scott Realty at Carrier’s Corner.
The Colvos Store, located just north of the Colvos-Y, was built in 1923 by J. Tronas and J Parker and was later the Kress Store, with a Shell service station and garage attached. The store closed during WW II and the building has most recently housed Karen Pruett’s Karen for Hair.
Mackie’s Store, on the Westside Highway at Cove, was operated by Charlie and Gert Mackie from the 1950s to the 1970s. Mackie’s replaced the Rindal Store, which opened in 1907 at the Cove Dock and closed in the 1940s. Both buildings are now residences, with the Rindal Store now part of what is popularly known as “The Cove Motel.”
The Lisabuela Store opened in 1902 in the home of Emma and Anton Baunsgard. The Baunsgards built the large two-story building in 1912 and it became the center of the thriving Lisabuela Resort with cabins, a boardwalk, and boatsheds for rental fishing boats.
The Ellisport Store began as a small shop run by Maude Fuller at the foot of the Ellisport Dock, and a large, two-story building sitting on pilings over the beach at the south end of Ellisport was constructed in the 1910s and demolished in the 1950s.
The Fuller Store at Center, and the Rodda Store right across Cemetery Road, were the anchor for the developing community at Center. Both buildings are still in commercial use.
The Portage Store and Dockton Store, both of which were opened in 1903, were both important to their communities and both continued to operate as stores into the 1990s when the Dockton Store closed, and into the early 2000s when the Portage Store closed.
The Burton Store, which was built in 1908 and known as Harbor Mercantile, continues to be a centerpiece of the Burton community.
The Magnolia Store was opened in 1907 as part of the Marjesirta Inn, and continued to supply the residents of Shawnee, Indian Point, Harbor Heights and Magnolia into the 1950s. The Manzanita Store was only a summer store and was located just south of the Manzanita Dock on the sandspit. Tahlequah is the final community store on the island; it was built in 1920 and continued to serve the South End community until it closed in 1999. It was demolished in 2006.
The former Heights Grocery building, which is now the Wild Mermaid and Seagull Lounge, is representative of the changes these former stores have undergone in the past 100 years. Of these 15 stores, only two now remain as stores — Harbor Mercantile in Burton and Rodda Store, at Center, which is now the Minglement/Coffee Roasterie. The remainder has become homes or other businesses, and four of them — the Lisabuela, Ellisport, Manzanita, and Tahlequah store buildings — have been demolished.
What is interesting about the Wild Mermaid Coffee Shop is the introduction of the Mermaid Market, the Seagull Lounge, and a Farmers Market, which suggest the possible return of the concept of the community store.
Bruce Haulman is an island historian and Terry Donnelly is an Island photographer.