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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
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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Paul Rhodius, pioneer druggist and postmaster

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2003
(Paul Rhodius 1939)
Postmaster Paul Rhodius in 1939

      Born and raised in St. Louis in a family of physicians, Paula Rhodius came to Sedro-Woolley on Dec. 13, 1901, sort of on a lark but he stayed for the rest of his life. He moved here to manage the J.F. Mott store in the Donnelly Block at the corner of Metcalf and Ferry where Don's Sporting Goods is located today. Mott, a childhood friend from St. Louis, also owned another drug store in Seattle with his father. Several important pioneers moved here from Missouri at almost the same time, including the Renfro family and Wallace Butler Pigg. Our almost-centenarian, favorite Sedro mailman, Harold Renfro, still lives in the Warmer street house that his father James built in 1905.
      Rhodius later bought an interest in the Mott shop, but in January 1914 he left Mott's employ and bought out competing pioneer druggist F.A. Douglass. This was just a little more than two years after the July 24, 1911 fire that destroyed the Mott shop and half of downtown Woolley, after which they had to start all over again in a new building. A little thing like a fire didn't hold down Paul Rhodius for long. Their loss was $5,000 and they were insured for $3,500. In an extra edition of the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times that day, the reporter noted that Rhodius had already set up shop in the Opera House on State street. Two weeks later a report said that that they were set up in a temporary wooden building located south down Metcalf where the Red Front stood before the fire, now the nucleus of Small Planet Foods and Cascadian Farm. The new Mott-Rhodius store was open for business by Dec. 14 that year in the brick building at the southeast corner of Ferry and Metcalf streets known as the Swastika Block.
      Within a year after Rhodius left the partnership, Mott closed his business here. In 1920, Rhodius moved from the old Douglass location at 616 Metcalf and took over Mott's old corner spot at 701 Metcalf and renamed his business Paul's Corner Drugs. It soon became famous for a $1,175 soda fountain, "worthy of a metropolis;" the elaborate wood furnishings were from the mill of Paul's best friend, Homer H. Shrewsbury. How I wish I could have seen that counter and soda fountain. Imagine the bobby sox on the girls and the corduroys on the boys as they whiled away afternoons with banana splits and sundaes. After selling his drug business in 1922, he started the Sedro-Woolley Florist business on Puget street, which he sold to Harry Moritz in 1934. He was well known for his roses and hyacinths, and he became famous socially for introducing the game of pinochle to Sedro-Woolley salons.

Mr. Democrat and postmaster
      Along with wearing his trademark derby hat, Rhodius was best known both as a city booster and "Mr. Democrat." The 1904 Anacortes Sentinel reported that Rhodius was very active as a younger delegate to the Democratic convention there: "an ardent Democrat, Rhodius supports [Senator George] Hearst [for U.S. president], whom he resembles." The next week, in the local Skagit County Times, Rhodius denied that report and insisted that he was backing Alton B. Parker, who was nominated by the Democrats that year and lost to Theodore Roosevelt. In the first half of the century, postmaster appointments were most often based on political patronage. After Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, Rhodius took over as postmaster from his friend, David Donnelly, a Republic patronage choice. When Rhodius started, the post office was located in Charles Wicker's Skagit Realty building on Metcalf. Wicker was a fellow Democrat and his partner, Harry Devin, was an ardent Republican. Rhodius supervised the construction of the present post office building, which was completed in 1939 for $70,000, with a mural honoring the working woodsmen, which still graces the east lobby wall. He continued in that post for nearly 17 years.
      Rhodius was the first initiate in the reorganized Knights of the Pythias lodge here in 1902, and was elected grand chancellor of the state lodge in 1928. He was a charter member of the Rotary Club in 1921 and was its first president. In civic affairs he was elected mayor in 1919, right after World War I, and he and his friend Shrewsbury were the force behind the Fourth of July carnival, starting in 1914, which made Sedro-Woolley famous even before the Loggerodeo. In 1915 Rhodius led the Knights of Pythias in organizing a drive to assemble hundreds of packages of toys, fruit and gifts to need families throughout the district, a program that was adopted by other lodges up and down the coast. After retiring in 1948, he became manager of the Skagit Chiefs, the local independent baseball team. Paul died in 1951, a year after Madge.
      Catherine McIntyre McClintock, Sedro-Woolley's cultural epicenter from the 1930s to '50s, wrote of Rhodius in the Oct. 27, 1935, as part of her magnificent series of profiles of Sedro-Woolley pioneers who were still living. She was a marvelous interviewer. I remember her so well from the 1960s and 1970s when my mother met her after we moved into town from Utopia to Central Avenue, right across the street from where her sister, Marjorie Hoyt, lived. I thought I was a fair journalist until Catherine shamed me. Over a daiquiri or martini, she could not only conduct an interview but spin a yarn right in the middle of it that you just knew was dead-on accurate.
      She got Rhodius to tell her why he moved way out to the West Coast wilderness from his semi-plush digs in turn-of-the-century St. Louis. Although the story may be apocryphal, it turns out that four young men in St. Louis in 1900 wanted to go as far as they could west, but still in the U.S. One got out a map, threw a dart and it landed in Seattle. Paul Rhodius & Joe Mott were two of them. Joe Mott went first to Seattle with his father, where they opened a drug store with a branch in Sedro. In May, Joe sent for Rhodius to manage the store. Paul became the most famous of the two in the pharmacy field; Mott sold out his business the year after Rhodius began competing with him.
      Throughout their school days together in MO, Paul centered his attention on Madge Carroll. He married her in 1900, soon after arriving in Seattle. Her grand-uncle was Dr. John T. Hodgen, the inventor of the Hodgen splint who co-founded the St. Louis College of Physicians and Surgeons with Paul's grandfather. She was also a direct descendent of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, signer of the Declaration of Independence. She was the regent at the local installation of the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, in March 1922, whose lodge was named for Mr. Carroll. Two other DAR sisters were equally famous. Though their first names were not given, as was the tradition of that day, we knew they were the wives of H.A. Reynolds, the grocer, and Dewey Day, the jeweler, who had the little cubbyhole office in what is now Bus Jungquist Furniture on Metcalf. The grandfather of Mr. Reynolds fought in the Revolutionary War, and the national body recognized Mrs. Day for her genealogical work. Those three women joined those from other county clubs to donate a fountain at the Peace Arch in Blaine, which opened the year before. Paul and Madge had one daughter, Anna Margaretha, who died in Feb. 1930, at age 16.

Rhodius and Alaska Gold
(1911 Fire)
Paul Rhodius, in the dark suit a few days after the 1911 fire, strolls Metcalf street across from the temporary Mott drugstore. The photographer was standing where the Hammer Heritage Park is today.

      Through the internet we found something that has never been included in profiles of Rhodius. In 1919, Rhodius and Ben Vandeveer, also from Sedro-Woolley, provided financial backing for the July Creek Mining Company in Alaska. The mine was in the drainage area between Eagle and Circle creeks in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. In various histories of the Klondike, that area was considered one of the vilest backwaters, but in 1916, the United States Geologic Service reported that plans were underway to develop a hydraulic system to replace the less efficient and more costly open-cut methods being used on the creek. Vandeveer had been active as a prospector in the Klondike since the original gold rush of the late 1890s. Vandeveer returned to the merged towns and opened Van's Place, a saloon that evolved into the famous old B&A Buffet at the southwest corner of State and Metcalf streets. In 1911, Vandeveer and George R. Clark ordered the first steam donkey made by the Sedro-Woolley Iron Works designed to scrape gold-bearing gravel. From an advertisement published that year by the company, we find that the manager for the Alaska operation was J.M. Taylor, who was also installed as president of the later 1919 company. We are still researching to find when Rhodius first became involved with mining operations in Alaska.
      We should also mention, regarding the internet, that when you search for the name of Paul Rhodius, you will find many links to a Paul Rhodius, who was a famous Lutheran preacher in Stettin, Poland. So far, we have found no connection or relation between the two men.
      Finally, Mrs. McClintock sized him up thusly: "dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, never swerved an inch from the party, even when in distinct minority. Paul without his derby would be like the Statue of Liberty without her torch."

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Story posted on April 1, 2001, Jan. 29, 2003, last updated Feb. 18, 2009
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This article originally appeared in Issue 3 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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