Frank Ross

Caroline Kellogg, "Frank Ross, a developer with vision," The Tacoma News Tribune. January 13, 1980.

Tacoma was a village of 750 people when, on a day in 1879, over 100 years ago, a young man of 21 arrived from Pittsfield, Illinois to investigate for himself reports that the town, still in dense forest that fringed Commencement Bay, was about to experience big developments.

Frank C. Ross was an early day Tacoma pioneer who had much to do with the development of Tacoma and was also very active in transportation routes.

When Ross first came to Tacoma, he liked what he saw and decided to stay. By the time he was 80 years old, in 1938, in a newspaper interview, he appeared to be just as full of plans to aid Tacoma's development and expansion as he was on the day he arrived.

After his arrival, he held several positions before opening a real estate office in 1883. Ross sawed the logs on South 9th Street from St. Helens Avenue to E Street so he could run a wheelbarrow up the hill to where he cleared the first lots he bought in Tacoma which he purchased from the Tacoma Land Co. in 1881 for $225 and afterward sold for $1,000.

In that same year, he and his brother, Charles K. Ross, bought the southeast corner of Pacific Avenue and 11th Street (where Peoples Store stands today) for $750. A few years later the property was sold for $10,000.

Ross was born March 20, 1858 in Pittsfield, Ill., the son of Marcellus and Martha A. Kellogg Ross. He first visited the West when he went to San Jose, Calif. on a visit. Two years later he came out to Washington Territory to the hamlet of Tacoma.

By 1889-90, Ross was president of the Tacoma & Lake City Railroad and Navigation Co., a road which he built for a distance of 12 miles from Tacoma to American Lake. The line went from North 26th Street and Union Avenue to the north side of American Lake. He and his partners later sold the railroad to the Union Pacific for a handsome sum.

Considered in 1891-92 but never actually constructed was a railway from Gig Harbor to Port Townsend via Hood Canal and Bremerton. The Union Pacific about that time went into the hands of a receiver.

Then Ross began grading for a railroad to Seattle. It was on this project that he got into a little argument with the government, so hot that he defied troopers from Vancouver Barracks in their efforts to eject him and Indian workmen who were grading the line across the Indian reservation. The Indians drove off the soldiers with picks and shovels and the officers threatened to return the next day and fire on the party if it was still there. 

Eventually the case went to court, going through three courts. Ross won the first two rounds but the government won the last and final one. That ended the plans for the railroad.

Col. Ross (he acquired the "Colonel" in the aforementioned altercation) named many of the streets east of the Puyallup River on the Tideflats, including Sitcum Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, Puyallup Boulevard. Many streets were given Indian names.

Ross was active, with Fremont Campbell, Jerry Meeker and George Taylor, in platting the Hyada Park area at Browns Point. He also sold land near Fort Lewis to the Dupont Powder Works.

In 1905, Col. Ross and Allen C. Mason sold to the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad Co. 90 acres of ocean and rail terminal tidelands for $90,000. This was the first purchase made by the railroad company after it decided to build to Puget Sound.

Ross was instrumental in getting plank roads on Lincoln Avenue and Sitcum Avenue and also in the building of two Puyallup River bridges, one at 11th Street and one at Canal Street.

He also owned considerable property in Gig Harbor where he lived for some time with his mother.

At his death on Jan. 4, 1947, at the age of 88, The News Tribune and Sunday Ledger noted that Ross was proud of the fact that when he came to Tacoma in 1879 it had a population of less than could be seated in a downtown movie theater "but far more prideful that he had had a part in the development of early-day transportation routes and the fact that the Tideflats had been changed from a wild duck marsh to the site of dozens of diversified industries.

"Kind, gentle and always careful of his appearance even to the flower he habitually wore in his lapel no matter the time of year, Frank C. Ross will be missed not only because he was an original source of information on much of the city's early history, but because he always faced forward and rejoiced in every step which would make Tacoma a better place in which to live."

Caroline Kellogg, "Frank Ross, a developer with vision," The Tacoma News Tribune. January 13, 1980.

E. T. Short, "Frank C. Ross and the Tacoma tideflats," The Tacoma Times.

One day early in 1904 Frank C. Ross came to the Old Times office on Commerce St. with a roll of maps and blueprints. He spent nearly two hours pointing out strategic situations on the Commencement bay tideflats and showing how they tied in with vague rumors of new railroad developments.

As he was leaving the office he said, "Boy, you watch the tideflats. Before long you will hear of something doing over there! You'll see bridges over the waterway and Puyallup river, and the flats way over to Hylebos creek will be covered with docks and warehouses and factories!"

At that time there was nothing much east of the waterway except the St. Paul & Tacoma mill, Wheeler Osgood factory, Carstens packing plant and a few other plants. Looking across the flats, particularly on a foggy morning, the picture wasn't alluring. Then one day about the middle of June a reporter came in with a story about Jack Fitzgerald, one of the city detectives, having sold a piece of tideflat property.


The Next day Frank Ross poked his head in the door again and said, "Watch the tideflats." We did, and by putting two and two together on June 22 we were able to publish the fact that railroad interests were buying property for terminals on the tideflats. The next week we connected the transactions directly with the Milwaukee.

That was the beginning of the end of Tacoma as a one railroad town. It also was the beginning of the industrial development on the tideflats. The bridges are there and the factories and docks now reach Hylebos creek!

The other day at the meeting of the Pierce County Pioneers association at Steilacoom, Frank Ross, looking a little older but just as optimistic as he was 30 years ago, again talked of the tideflats.

"Remember how I told you to watch the tideflats?" he asked.

"Been a lot of development hasn't there? Well, just watch over there a little longer and you'll see something more."


Coming from Frank Ross that ought to be interesting. He knew what he was talking about 30 years ago. He ought to know what he is talking about now. At least it won't cost anything to "watch the tideflats" and at the same time keep an optimistic eye on some other potentialities in Tacoma.

County commissioners are in a quandary over a difference of opinion on a piece of road at Lake Steilacoom. One group petitions to have the road closed because of too many automobile "necking" parties and too much speeding to and from the road houses. Another group petitions to have the road kept open as a public convenience.

We used to read that "Napoleon turned his Simplon road aside to save a tree mentioned by Caesar." The seeker for new worlds to conquer might have changed the course of an important thoroughfare as a matter of sentiment, but if he were here today it is doubtful if he would close a public highway solely because it was improperly used. More likely he would call out the beheading squad and start after the root of the trouble.


Reference a few days ago to changes in the K St. district in 30 years brings from George Blake, Olympia, comments which further emphasize the development in that district. Mr. Blake says:

Having arrived in Tacoma on the first of January, 1889, I lived in your fair city over 30 years, since then in Thurston county. During that time I surely have "Watched Tacoma Grow!"

To prove the wonderful growth of the city I might mention that in February, 1889, while renting a room from the then chief of police, Mr. Chesney, who lived, I believed, where the federal building now stands, I took a cross cut saw and cut up a log into rounds for firewood right where the K st. Totem store opened for business last Saturday. All the way from there west to salt water was virgin forest with nothing but a "tote road," where 11th St. now is.

There was only one house on K St.-the one I lived in-until about 20th St., and only one north of 11th and K Sts. till you reached Division Ave. There was no development on the flats and the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Co. was just starting to drive piles for the saw mill.

E. T. Short, "Frank C. Ross and the Tacoma Tideflats," The Tacoma Times.


Frank Ross, who dropped in yesterday on one of his periodical trips from Olympia, also did some reminiscing about the old days and he doesn't want to see them back, either. Not because of any misfit trousers he may have had in his young days but just on the general principle that these times are better, the depression notwithstanding.

Frank brought with him a map made by Frank W. Harris, of Olympia, showing the proposed new Naches Pass highway that makes almost an air line from Tacoma to Yakima, a route he has been talking about for 40 years. He walked over the route the first time just 40 years ago next month. 

That was one of the rare occasions when he went into the woods without compass or grub and of course he got lost. Nothing serious happened but he wandered about quite some time until the sun glimmered through the clouds and told him which way was out. 

Ever since that trip he was been talking about the short route over the mountains, and now something actually is being done.

When Tacoma and Yakima first began to exchange visits, a good horse and rider could make the trip in eight to ten days. About the best time that could be made with a pack train was two weeks. 

Over the Naches cutoff the distance to Yakima will be only 130 miles instead of 173. The highest elevation will be 4,900 feet-500 feet lower than the present Naches route over Chinook Pass and it will be open for travel during the winter months.

That's one of the reasons Frank Ross is glad the good old days are gone forever. The remembrance of the old trails and roads, which meant days of slow and uncomfortable riding to go a few miles, doesn't inspire any desire to go back.

E. T. Short, "Frank Ross and the Naches Pass Trail," The Tacoma Times.