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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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George Hammer, living in the
shadow of a famous father, and doing quite well

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal ©2011

(George Hammer)
      George Hammer astride his favorite horse, in front of the Hammer Mansion on State Street, in 1918 as he wears his Army uniform.

      George Hammer is known to most as the partner in Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop, Sedro-Woolley's most venerable store. We are pleased to have had an opportunity to learn about one of our genuine pioneers, from two expert observers of him. He was truly here from birth, born in Clear Lake on June 9, 1889, not long after his parents arrived via steamboat on the Skagit River. They were part of the amazing migration of more than 75 people from the tiny town of Lincoln Center to Sedro and the Skagit County, in the 1890s, as they followed George Green, Lincoln's founder, and his son-in-law, Emerson Hammer. We will profile that migration in a story this summer.
      But in order to understand George's real importance to the town, you need to realize that he was growing up in the shadow of State Senator Emerson Hammer (from 1898 onwards), partner in the Union Mercantile. Think of the McIntyre family and Skagit Steel, or think of the Janicki family and their 21st century technology. It is a challenge to grow up and develop your own identity in such a shadow. In all three of those families one or more did. George Hammer went to work in the woods, and rose to lead the crew at his father's Finney Creek shingle mill, by his own brawn and leadership, not nepotism. You can see in his photo back in 1918 when he posed astride a horse in front of the Hammer Mansion that he was an outdoors guy. His, son the late Wyman Hammer, told us about how the whole Finney Creek crew slept and lived in tents, even during the winter rains.
      In April 2002 we mourned the death of Wyman, one of George's sons, grandson of Emerson Hammer, and great-grandson of George Green. Wyman was the last of his generation in his family, and a benefactor to both the Journal and Hammer Heritage Park, as well as being a dear friend and mentor.
      Three years after he returned from the Army, George stepped tentatively out from his father's shadow and formed a partnership with tailor Joe Oliver in the Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop. George Hammer wanted to make it on his own and Oliver erected the shop building that was between the old Courier-Times shop and the Video Depot on Metcalf. After 1958 it was the L&M grocery. It was a solid partnership with Oliver running the back and Hammer greeting customers in the front, always remembering their names and what they liked. Researcher Roger Peterson discovered that Oliver was the stronger of the partners in the early days and thus his name came first. Joe Oliver was an Italian tailor who had fitted hundreds of townsfolk since early in the 20th century, when loggers bought wool and silk right off the bolt so that Oliver could create a suit for them from scratch when they planned to marry, everyone from loggers to businessman in their Sunday suits. George had learned the dry goods business at times when he was not logging for his father and of course had the cachet of the family name.

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We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds & duvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.

      Wyman, who was born two years after the store opened, remembered his father as loving the outdoors, golf, camping, and deer and bird hunting. As he became a stronger partner, it became a store for loggers who wanted to look fine. Wyman also recalled that he and his father both had classes taught a generation apart by the 45-year teacher, Mary Purcell.
      After the lean years of the 1930s Depression era, Joe Oliver moved to Pasadena, California, in 1939 and bought a liquor store, selling out to George. George then displayed what might have been his strongest managerial talent: finding the right employees. He hired two ace salesmen from the J.C. Penney store at the south end of the 800 block of Metcalf, Pinky Robinson and Greer Drummond. Pinky was the son of North Carolina Tarheels. His father, Joe, was originally a blacksmith at the old Cokedale Mines after moving his young family, including the related Stiles branch, to Skagit County in 1917. Greer's father, David Drummond, was a longtime logger who died when Greer was eight years old. When both Robinson and Drummond went away to The War in 1942-43, Greer's wife, Edna, took his place with George Hammer.
      The two veterans returned to the store after their enlistment ended and helped Hammer rebuild the business after wartime shortages. Ten years later they were eager to go into business on their own and George Hammer wanted to retire. The Safeway store management decided in 1957 to move from 817 Metcalf Street and build their own new store on the north side of Ferry Street where old hotels such as the Keystone, Pioneer and Forest House once stood. George's mind was away from the business by then. He had lost his beloved wife that year and Wyman recalled that he spent a lot of time alone out at the motel and Scotty's Restaurant west of town that he and partners, Sig Berglund and Stan Nelson Jr. built on land they bought from the Holtcamp family. The late Howard Miller bought George's Talcott Street house in 1958 and recalled that George told him he rarely slept there anymore because it was too big and lonely. He moved to Samish Island and by the early 1960s was living on Mercer Island too.
      But back at the store's new location at 817 Metcalf, the boys were eager to get started on their own. A. Bingham of the old Bingham Bank made them an offer in 1958 on the old Safeway building that they could not refuse. The old Livermore Ford building needed a lot of sprucing up but Robinson and Drummond re-opened in the new location and they never looked back. Greer eventually decided to open his own hardware store across the street and now is a partner in the store again, at age 94. Pinky died in 1993. You can read Journal profiles of both the original and present stores.
      Finally there is the hilarious story of George's actual birth year. Almost 20 years ago, at the beginning of this project, we read a tiny story in an old Courier-Times that included a quote from Emerson Hammer: "We came to Washington Territory in 1889 on March 1. I started running the Skagit Railway and Lumber Co. store in old Sterling. Mortimer Cook had just bought the stock." Like other youngster arrivals before and after him, Albert E. Holland and William T. Odlin, Emerson entered local business by clerking for the founder of Sedro. Also noted was that George born at Clear Lake, possibly his grandfather George Green's home already, on June 9, 1889.
      To some back home and maybe a few here, the young couple, Emerson and Isabel (Green) Hammer seemed like they were sure moving in a hurry; within a month after their marriage back in Kansas they boarded connecting trains for a long ride out to the Skagit River. And we may have discovered the reason for their rapid departure. As in other cases, because they wanted to get away from people who talked, especially those who knew calendars and math pretty well. We suspected the reason, but we really put two and two together ourselves when we read the SVGS Sedro-Woolley burial book later and we were surprised to see that George was born on the same date, but in 1891. We wondered if that was a typo, but we soon discovered that Isabel and/or Emerson had somehow changed the record. A February wedding and a June birth did not fit the societal norms at the turn of the century. You can read more about Isabel and the Hammer mansion here.
      After a brief partnership with Frank Bradsberry, in 1891 Emerson Hammer established a store in Burlington where he remained until 1897 when he moved to Sedro-Woolley to enter the mercantile and shingle business. In 1903, the Union Mercantile Co. was established with Emerson Hammer as president. It was located appropriately across the street to the south from Hammer Heritage Square.

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Story posted on March 27, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 53 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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