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Skagit River Journal

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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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The Castle Tavern has been restored in Sedro-Woolley
A century of history of the building, tavern and bakery

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2001, updated 2011
(Castle, 1960)
This photo from 1960 shows the Castle building when a barber shop still occupied the north half of the present tavern space.

      As of the New Year of 2011 the old Castle Tavern has been restored to the original Castle name. It is located in the same space on the north side of the alley, on the west side of Metcalf Street in the 700 block. That was the heart of old Woolley when P.A. Woolley set up his company town in the 1890s. In the early days before the turn of the century, F.A. Hegg opened a grocery on the lot, the first Woolley grocery store, in about 1895. A 1939 history of the town in the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times notes that a man named C.T. Mescher opened the Vienna Bakery there in 1904.
      The accompanying photo shows the remains on the lot after the great July 24, 1911, fire roared through Metcalf Street. All that was left after the fire was the stone oven at the back by the alley. The story in the Skagit County [Sedro-Woolley] Times of July 27 that year lists the owner as A.B. Campbell, who bought the bakery from Mescher in 1907 when the latter moved to Everett. Arthur C. Seidell, whose namesake building stood a half block north at the northwest corner of Ferry Street and escaped the fire, then owned the building.

(1911 Fire)
      This photo from the afternoon of July 24, 1911, shows the aftermath of the fire that burned many businesses on Metcalf Street in the heart of old Woolley. The photographer stood on the top of the Wixson Hotel, now the Gateway, which was constructed just 16 months before that. The hotel was spared in the fire, partly because young men used wet gunny sacks to stomp out the cinders that flew onto the hotel roof. The view here is to the southwest. The present post-office site is at the back. To the left is the site of Fritsch Hardware, where the fire began. All that remains of the Vienna Bakery is the stone oven in the center of the photo. The woodframe structure housing the bakery burned to the ground as did many other wood buildings on the street. Unknown photographer, possibly Annie Pilcher, whose photo studio is one of the wood buildings on Woodworth, at the rear in this photo.

(Vienna bakery)
This beautiful photo of the Vienna Bakery dates from circa 1912 according to a note on the back. This would have been the southern half of what is now the Castle Tavern. A couple of old-timers suggested that it could have been called the Vienna Castle, and thus the tavern was named for it. But we cannot find any such record and others recalled that the Castle name was an invention of one of the owners after Clyde Minkler. We do not know the source of the photo, only that the girl was a daughter of the Charles and Louise Lillpop family, pioneers here from the 1890s. We hope a reader will know more. We have found one other photo of the Vienna, a blurry copy from the 1921 Courier-Times that shows a completely different layout at that time. Note too that the photo above does not show the oven from the 1911 fire photo.
      The fire started in the early morning hours in an oil barrel in a small shed behind the Fritsch Hardware store at the northwest corner of Metcalf and Woodworth where the florist shop is today in 2001. Ironically the primitive fire department was located across the street. If the department had been trained properly, the volunteers may have nipped the fire in the bud. But in their haste they laid the fire hose along the sidewalk on the Woodworth side of Fritsch and the hoses were burned clean through before they could be effectively used. Strengthened by southwest wind, the fire leaped from Fritsch to Theodore Bergman's Star Grocery, then across the alley to the bakery and the Union Mercantile to the north on the block.
      Those were rich and heady days in Sedro-Woolley, which was growing rapidly towards 2,000 population, and merchants wasted no time in replacing the buildings, this time with brick to satisfy the insurance carriers. Five fires had visited old Woolley from 1890-1911 but the latter one was by far the worst. By 1913, a brick building housed the Vienna Bakery again on the same lot, but the owners were listed in the Polk Directory that year as Carl Breivig and John Sindvig, of Arlington. We do not what relationship they had with Campbell, but we do know that Campbell died in Sedro-Woolley on Feb. 4, 1915. The same 1939 Courier-Times story noted that Mescher returned to town sometime in the teens and took over the business again when Campbell's son moved to Anacortes and operated a bakery there.

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      A fading photo from an old newspaper shows Oscar Strand serving Sedro Ice Company ice cream behind the counter in 1921; ice cream and soda counters were big items in those flapper days. Mescher, who was identified in that photo as the owner, then sold the business to Ray Leeman in 1922; The Skagit Baking Company bought the bakery in 1930.
      Clyde Minkler was apparently a good businessman because he made enough money to buy out Skagit Baking Company and then buy the north part of the Fritsch building by 1935, where he opened a new bakery. The 1939 Courier-Times story notes that Clyde had a fountain, ice cream and confectionery department in the bakery, his own ice cream machine and a delicatessen. He also sold bread wholesale and owned a truck that served food stores in the upper valley.       Perhaps he built that new bakery because he had converted the old Vienna Bakery site into a new tavern. Those were Depression times and storefronts were closing or changing hands up and down Metcalf in the early '30s. The only relief came when Prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5, 1933. Researcher Roger Peterson discovered that Mount Vernon had the first taverns in Skagit county because Sedro-Woolley would not grant a license until the city council met and authorized it. Only 3.2 percent beer was served at the beginning, but happy days were here again, and wine was soon added to the mix. According to researcher Roger Peterson the B&A Tavern (southwest corner of present Metcalf and State streets) was the first tavern licensed in town, in December 1933 or January 1934. Soon afterwards the present Castle was opened by Clyde Minkler as the Minkler Tavern.
      After a couple of years, Minkler sold the tavern to Harry Mullen Jr., whose father owned the historic Capital Bar, a block to the south, at the turn of the 20th century. Mullen sold the business to Lyle Cornish in an unknown year, but retained ownership of the building. The late Clark Francis Zook bought the tavern from Cornish in 1966 and then also bought the building in 1969. Zook was the first owner to substantially change the layout. Up until 1969, the tavern was in the south half of the building and the Huston brothers barber shop occupied the north half from 1943 onwards. Zook decided to fill the whole building, so the Huston brothers moved across Metcalf Street, as did the Sporting Goods shop that occupied the southern portion of the building just north of the Castle building. Dick Shelley then bought the building and business from Zook in 1976. In 2000, he sold the Castle business to Michelle "Moe" Keenan-Anderson, but she did not buy the building. That version of the Castle closed its doors in January 2005 and was then reopened on April 22 that year by brothers Jim and Jerry Meiers, former owners of the Four Aces Tavern. They operated under a number of new names from Cues & Brews to the most recent, Dusty's.
      In 1940, Minkler sold out his bakery business to Hugo Eger, who renamed it Tip Top Ovens. In 1950, Eger moved the bakery down to the Devener Building. a block south and across Metcalf, where Janet Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery is today; he replaced Harry Cary's Cascade Cafe. The Castle expanded its tavern location to occupy the whole building sometime after 1969, when the Huston brothers moved their barber shop from the north half of the building to the corner across the street.
      On a personal note, your editor remembers well his first drink at the Castle. Back in 1961, when I was 17, I used to buck bales of hay for a crew working for the old farmer, Otto Strom, who lived in the Utopia district, where I grew up. On the last working day that summer, he took us all to the Castle and the Four Aces for rounds of beer; I can't remember which was first. I can still remember the foam of the head. I imagine that other guys my age experienced this reward that was big-time in those days. That informal rite ended not long afterwards when the liquor board clamped down on it. But it a lovely rite, much as when really old-timers will tell you about when they learned to swim in a ritual at Bottomless Lake, near the home of the Duke of Duke's Hill.
      On another note, we want to thank the Meiers brothers for their remodel in 2005, when they went to great lengths and expense to clean the ceilings and walls, much of which remained from the very early days. We visited one day that spring when they were scraping layers of soot, cigarette smoke, grease and tar from all the surfaces. In some sections, the gunk and old wallpaper was half an inch thick. With the advent of no-smoking laws for bars, their investment has led to a much cleaner atmosphere, with knotty, or Pacific pine on the walls, a new bar/counter built of the same material that dominated the south side of the room, a brand new carpet that covered the front floor, and the dance floor all shined up and ready for dancing.
      Now it is your turn. Can anyone help us fill in the gaps between the '40s and now about the Castle Tavern and bakery businesses, or help correct our cobbled-together story? We need photos from different times over the century, along with names of owners of the businesses and details about them. Please email or mail us any information you might have or copies of photos, especially of the interior of either the bakery or the tavern anytime in the building's history. Most important: can anyone tell us who coined the name for the dance step called the Tarheel Stomp and who carved the sign in the Castle and when? Enquiring minds would like to know.

The passing of an era
      Since the Meiers brothers' purchase of the Castle also led to a new Class-H business, which allowed them to serve cocktails as well as beer and wine, that spelled the end of the beer/wine taverns in Sedro-Woolley. The old Castle was the last holdout. That was truly the passing of an era that began 72 years before when Prohibition was repealed. In the mid-'90s, there were four taverns downtown; 20 years before that there were as many as seven at one time; 90 years ago — before Prohibition, there were as many as a dozen saloons at various times; now there are no taverns at all.
      We should explain that bars in Washington state were only allowed to serve spirits and mixed drinks after the vote in 1947 to authorize selling mixed drinks to the public, instead of just at private clubs. Starting first with the Old-Timers on State Street in the early 2000s, all of them have switched their licenses. The Schooner Tavern on Metcalf Street, now closed, followed that process in 2003. Gloria Jean's, now called the Overflow, followed soon thereafter. That Ferry Street location was called the Four Aces for 50 years until Gloria Jean Meiers changed the name in the mid-1990s. She closed the tavern for a couple of years and her sons, the Meiers brothers, reopened it as a cocktail lounge in 2004.
      The day of the beer/wine tavern in eastern Skagit county also soon drew to a close over the past five years. Evelyn's Tavern in Clear Lake changed over to a class-H license soon afterwards, followed closely by the Lyman Tavern. As far as we know the last beer/wine tavern east of Burlington and Mount Vernon is still the Rockport Pub.

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Story posted on April 1, 2001, and last updated on Jan. 1, 2011
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