THE EVOLUTION OF SALTAR'S POINT
"The evolution of Saltar's Point," Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly, XIV (Summer, 1985) p. l, 3-6.
From the splash of the Indian paddle to the shriek of the Amtrak train whistle, Saltar's Point has witnessed many changes. This popular Steilacoom beach was first recognized on navigation charts as Gordon's Point, probably in 1848 when nearby Commorant Passage was named for the "HMS Commorant", a steam sloop which put into Fort Nisqually. An officer on board was George Thomas Gordon. Maritime maps to this day use the name.
When John Chapman filed his Donation Claim next to Layafette Balch's in 1851 the "Point" was included. Land records indicate Chapman was continually selling and sometimes buying back his land in the 1850's and 1860's. The names are familiar ones-Keach, Gove, Wallace, Orr and Chambers. It was not until 1869 that John Saltar's name is recorded. In a brief period of time he had purchased the majority of the property along the beach and built a two-story house. Sometime after that the area became known locally as "Saltar's Point".
Captain John Saltar, born in 1814 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had a varied career. Serving first as a soldier in Illinois, he moved on to lumbering, then to trading on the Mississippi. He built a ship in Maine and spent many years on the sea. After coming around the Horn and almost losing his ship, he decided to come North from San Francisco and settled in Steilacoom after 1860.
As the years passed, property was sold and a few other structures were built. Captain Samuel Averill's name is recorded as buying property from Saltar in 1871 and 1874. In 1883 Arthur Burnell built a home facing First Street. It was later sold to the Misner family and now it is referred to as the "Claussen House". In 1953, over sixty years later, Myrtle Misner Claussen described the area when she moved there as a young girl.
"Saltar's Point was vastly different in 1889,when my parents came from Illinois to locate in Steilacoom. A grassy turf, dotted with wild rose bushes, sloped gently to the beach no trestles, no railroads, no shrieking trains. The beach then was covered with agates of many hues, also large fan-shaped shells with lovely pink edges. The water is very deep at Saltar's Point, and in the earlier days sailing ships had no trouble docking at Saltar's Point. In shore a little way was a pond that came and receded with the tide.
"Here children bathed, or floated on rafts made from driftwood. There was even a good supply of this driftwood for huge bonfires at night. Time and tide made their inroad on the beach during the years.
"The Point used to be a favorite camping spot for Indians, on their way to visit other tribes, going as far as Bellingham and British Columbia. Long before they were in sight, we could hear their monotonous sing-song rhythm as they plied their paddles in big native canoes. Finding this a good camping spot and a cool spring near-by, their small shoddy tents were soon erected, fires made and much activity, which included hordes of youngsters and dogs. Those nights father made sure the chicken coop was tightly locked.
"Now we will go up the grassy slope to the two large white frame houses belonging to Captain Saltar and his friend, Captain Averill. These homes stood side by side on the bank ... They were picturesque houses, with wide verandas and long French doors, and of course, commanded a magnificent view of the water and the Olympic Mountains. Captain Saltar was an outstanding figure-tall and erect, with his wide felt hat and longwhite sideburns, flowingtie and courtly southern manners.
"Diagonally across the way stood the modest white English-type cottage (406 First) where my folks decided to locate. It was the only home along that western bank. Beyond was the virgin forest. The house was built by a young, cultured divinity student from Maine. He was the Rev. Burnell, preacher and teacher. He and his artist wife conducted a scholarly Academy in Steilacoom in the former Court House building which later became our public school.
"First Street, in front of our house, was just a narrow country road which soon dwindled into a cowpath and led into Light's Swamp."
Captain Saltar died in 1898, having served his community well. He was clerk of the U.S. District Court for 16 years, as well as being Collector and Assessor of the United States Internal Revenue for Idaho and Washington Territories.
Around the turn of the century there was a structure where the present cook shed stands today. People would come to camp in the building, which also served as a boathouse. The natural beach, built up by the current, was an attractive place for camping, picnicking and boating. Nick Doering would drive his team of horses down to the shore to haul gravel for construction work.
A railroad survey map of 1906 shows the shoreline and the structures of that time. They included "dwellings, windmills, chicken houses and barns". The survey was needed before property could be purchased for railroad right-of-way. On June 6, 1910 Ordinance #85 was passed by the Town Council granting the Northern Pacific the right to construct the railroad through Steilacoom.
The Tacoma Daily Ledger reported the changes occurring in 1912, "Saltar's Point, a beauty spot of the Sound, will soon see decided changes in railroad right-of-way. The old Captain Saltar house, the Averill house and the Slayden house are to be taken away. Peter David's will be moved back; fruit and shade trees are being cut, but the beach outside the grade and its resorts will remain." "The music of the pile driver now breaks the quiet of Saltar's Point."
After the "music" of the pile driver, quiet disappeared with the rattle of the wheels and the whistle of the train. The gentle slope of the land had been replaced with a steep bank necessitating the need for a bridge to connect First Street to the beach. Residents continued to enjoy the beach.
A few years later Mamie and Charley Green built a boathouse near where the present marina is today. The structure housed the Green family on the upper story. The first floor accommodated boarders. A sign read "Mr. C. H. Green-Meals Served-Family Style Rooms". A picture has a sign reading "Soundview Inn".
A natural depression at the beach where water seeped through the gravel became the "duck pond" where Mamie kept the ducks which provided the main course for the family style dinners she served.
Green's boats were known as the finest on the Sound. They were clinker built and made to last. Naturally, they were painted green. The rental business was active as summer people and families of Steilacoom enjoyed a day at the beach.
Another attraction during the 1920's was the Deep Sea Aquarium built by Ed Bair, brother of druggist W.L. Bair. Located near the base of the stairs it was a long rambling building. Lynn Scholes recalls, "The aquarium was a fascinating place with its pickled and live sea creatures gathered from the neighboring waters by Mr. Bair. Whale vertebrae adorned the front of the building which was shaped not unlike a Mississippi river steamboat. The paintings which covered the sides of the stranded ship were some of the most unusual ever seen until the advent of Salvador Dali.
They were drawn by a patient at Western State Hospital. There was a seal, too. The seal was caged under the aquarium porch which extended slightly over the "duck pond". Twice a day, the seal enjoyed a swim as the tide rose and inundated his quarters."
Bair always the promoter, had brightly colored signs throughout the Western states advertising the Aquarium. Edna Dyer remembers seeing such a sign, probably in Wyoming as the Dyer family moved West to Steilacoom in 1929.
Changes were to come to Saltar's Point in the 1930's. During this time the Aquarium was closed. Mr. Bair died and Eudocia Bair Leech inherited the property. According to land records she sold it in 1937 to the Town of Steilacoom. In 1938 other property on the beach was sold to the Town by the Scallan heirs. This established Saltar's Point as town property and future park.
In 1938 the wooden and stone cook shed was built by the W.P.A. Rest rooms were added at a later time. The bridge over the tracks was replaced once. The need arose when a construction crane, neglecting to lower the boom, came through taking out the bridge.
After Green's boathouse burned in the 1930's, the family purchased land on the corner of First and Champion and built the "Green Lantern." The boarding house became a popular spot and Mamie again served Sunday dinners. Charley started building another boathouse. This time with only one floor. After he died it was sold several times.
In 1959 Chet Palmer bought the boathouse, expanding it to the present Steilacoom Marina. The purchase included the tidelands, the last such sale the State of Washington permitted in South Sound.
Today the ownership of Saltar's Point is a hodgepodge of property lines. Burlington Northern, the Town of Steilacoom, private ownership and the tidelands of Washington State all mingle together.
Though the sound of the canoe paddle is gone, families still picnic, boats are rented, children alternate between freezing in the cold water and roasting on the hot pebbles and local residents breathe a sigh of relief when September comes and they can reclaim Saltar's Point again as their own.
"Evolution of Saltar's Point," Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly, XIV (Summer, 1985) p. 1, 3-.