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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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Frederick A. Hegg and family
— Sedro-Woolley's premier grocers

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2001 (updated 2008-09)
(Young Fred Hegg)
F.A. Hegg, college student. Photo from Diane Marinig

      F.A. Hegg has never been properly recognized as one of the half dozen most important pioneers in Sedro-Woolley. He was well educated and he was certainly a spiritual force as well as being involved with nearly every industry here as a participant or investor, in a mill, a general store, a grocery store and a bank. He is best remembered as a grocer but his influence was felt citywide. On the sad occasion of three of his grandchildren dying within a month, we revisited this profile and extended it into a two-part exploration of this key pioneer family. And now we share the entire story on the site, eight years after introducing the family to readers.
      Frederick Anton Hegg was born on Dec. 22, 1860 — just before the dawn of the Civil War, at Washington Prairie near Decorah, Iowa, the state that claimed the largest number of early Sedro pioneers. His father's farm was near the upper Iowa River in Winnesheik County at the northeastern corner of the state near the Minnesota border. Decorah grew to about the size of Sedro-Woolley and hogs were the main industry along with the corn to feed them. Decorah became famous regionally for its brickyard, which was built by Norwegian immigrants, and for Luther College. From now on we will refer to him as Fred and we will be careful to differentiate him from his grandson Fred, who died in November 2007.
      Fred was born six years after his parents, Anton and Gunhilda (Olson) Hegg, emigrated from Lier in the Drammen district of Norway via Quebec. Anton's parents, Ole and Kari Hegg, emigrated in 1853, along with most of the younger children, while Anton, the third child of ten, married in Norway, as did his sister, and then both families followed the parents. Ole's original surname was Jonsrud, a very common name in his district. He changed it to Hegg, the name of the farm where he worked. Hegg cousins still own the farm and have contributed to our story.
      "We guess that those pioneer Norwegians chose the remote location because of the springs and streams running through the property and perhaps because the church site was nearby," Ilene Hegg Pavelko explained. "This farm is now being run by my 50 year old brother, John. Its future is uncertain, but we hope it will remain in the family for years to come."
      After completing grade school, Fred showed intellectual promise so Anton sent him north to St. Olaf's School, a college preparatory school in Northfield, Minnesota, that was founded in January 1875 and later evolved into St. Olaf College. The town became nationally famous for a dramatic bank robbery on Sept. 7, 1876, which led to prison for Cole Younger and his brother, and Jesse and Frank James may have robbed the bank with them. Fred would have been 16 at the time but there is no story in the family that he was there during the firefight. Fred later told his children that Anton wished for him to train to become a minister but that he never felt worthy nor did he have the calling, although he was a lifelong teetotaler and a devout Lutheran. Instead, he graduated with business training at age 18 in 1878 and then returned to Decorah where the worked four years as a clerk in a general store. We can imagine how he stood at the counter day after day hearing tales of the railroad companies building across the plains, just as Sedro pioneer Harry Devin did further south in Ottumwa, Iowa.

(F.A. and Mollie wedding photo)
F.A. and Mollie Hegg's wedding photo 1887. Photo courtesy of Patricia Hegg Brown, daughter of Earl "Fuzz" Hegg

Shearing sheep and panning for gold and a bride in Oregon
      Eventually Fred succumbed to restlessness and headed west, stopping first in Colorado in 1882, but a year later he wound up in Oregon, where he hired out on a farm and learned to shear sheep. His daughter Frances Hegg Moody recalled in a 1975 letter that he settled in about 1885 near the John Day River, a northeastern Oregon tributary of the Columbia River, where he learned to pan for gold, a talent he would call on a decade later. Always frugal, he saved his money and soon met a pretty farm girl named Mollie Douglas. O.T. & Elizabeth (Moore) Douglas had followed the same westward trek from Minnesota, where Mollie was born. They took a liking to their young neighbor and when he asked for Mollie's hand in 1887, they consented. The couple married on Nov. 6, 1887, in Arlington, Oregon, on the south shore of the Columbia River in Gilliam County, as the west recovered from a nationwide financial panic. Nine months later, William Anton Hegg was born on Aug. 22, 1888, at their home on Willow Creek in Heppner, fifty miles to the southeast.
      Within a year, Fred was restless again and as soon as the baby was old enough to travel, he headed towards Puget Sound, which was then booming with news of railroads real or imagined. We know from Col. William F. Prosser's 1903 book, A History of the Puget Sound Country [hereafter "the 1903 Prosser book], that they first landed in Fairhaven, which was on the northern end of the first railroad north of Seattle in the new state of Washington. Crews were laying tracks for the Fairhaven & Southern Railway [hereafter F&S] southeast to the Bennett coal mines (later called Cokedale) near the town of Sedro and hundreds of railway builders and loggers needed to be fed, so Fred opened his first business, a grocery store. Fairhaven was experiencing a boom frenzy at the time with coal bunkers going up on Bellingham Bay and corner lots sold for more than $1,000, just as they did on the other end of the line in Sedro. Mollie must have been thrilled because stores were selling fine silk goods from China and the most beautiful building north of Seattle, the Fairhaven Hotel, was built just a short walk from their store.

The Skagit River beckons
      The Fairhaven boom subsided in 1890-91 when James J. Hill decided that Fairhaven would not be the terminus for the railroad line he was building west from Spokane Falls. Business action soon centered on Skagit County where three railroads would soon cross. Fred decided to buy a laundry business in Mount Vernon, which was on the route of the Seattle & Montana Railroad, another of Hill's holdings. The Heggs' second child, Henrietta May, was born there on July 22, 1891. Their stay on the horseshoe bend of the river was apparently a short one, however, because by 1893 at the latest, he sold out his business and moved Mollie, William and baby May 12 miles east to Sedro on the north shore of the Skagit River.
      Hegg's life in the period from 1893-96 is difficult to assess for a combination of reasons: the sources that cover it are all somewhat vague, almost all of the local newspapers of that period burned in assorted fires, and Fred's 1890s diary has disappeared, so we will probably never know for sure what transpired. Therefore in some cases we will have to deduce. We know that nearly two dozen logging camps had formed upriver on the Skagit by 1893. Logging operations were moving away from the shores of the rivers and creeks because the stands of fir, cedar and hemlock near the water had mainly been felled by then. The camps receded into the woods and corduroy roads were laid with halves of alder imbedded into the ground and covered by gravel. After trees were trimmed and cut into a fairly uniform size, loggers "skidded" them to log dumps on the Skagit by dragging the logs behind oxen. During the drier months of May through October, loggers worked seven days a week and usually 12 hours a day.
      The camp cook bought supplies and food in large lots, by the barrel or sack, so a store like Hegg's had regular customers as long as he was competitive. From the 1903 Prosser book and other family sources that sometime in 1893, Hegg built or bought a building between the two towns of Sedro, probably on Jameson Avenue, which then acted as the unofficial county highway and was platted as the widest street in both Sedro and Woolley. Jameson crossed F&S rail line, which terminated at Mortimer Cook's store on the north shore of the Skagit River. Hegg's general store would have been one of three; he competed with William Helmick, who delivered goods to the Cokedale mines from his store at the corner of Jameson and Third Street, and with the Paulson brothers, who had opened in old Sedro by the river in 1889 when the railroad crews were their main customers and then relocated to old Woolley where Hammer Heritage Square now stands. All three firms had to guarantee sufficient stock and follow the shift of business towards the company town of Woolley, where up to eleven trains crossed daily on a triangle of tracks.

Hegg joins Green and Hammer
      The 1903 Prosser book states that in 1893, Hegg branched out and bought an interest in the Green Shingle Company. We know from our research that George Green did not launch that company in old Woolley until 1897. Green was a wheeler dealer and famed as a stock raiser and Indian fighter back in Kansas, where he founded the town of Lincoln in 1870. Green had two daughters and he moved to the Skagit in 1891 to help set up his sons-in-law in business. His daughter Isabel married Indiana native Emerson Hammer in Kansas in February 1889 and they immediately boarded the train to move out to Clear Lake in Skagit County, where Green's brother-in-law John Dart homesteaded in the 1878, three years before his death. Green followed with his other son-in-law Dave Parker and their wives in 1891 and they soon established a shingle mill at the foot of Third Street in old Sedro and in Burlington and he and Hammer established a mercantile store, also the small village of Burlington, where two other railroads crossed. Green soon built a second mill northeast of Sedro where the F&S line turned north to the foothills to service the Bennett mines at Cokedale, which were producing coking coal from more than two dozen ovens.
      By the time that Fred met Green, they both realized that the logging camps upriver created a need for a mill where timber could be assembled for further shipment down the river or milled into lumber for the settlers who were arriving daily by sternwheeler, canoe and railroad. They chose a clearing on the north shore of the Skagit about 30 miles east of Sedro, north across the river from where the town of Sauk City formed in 1889 on the way into the Monte Cristo mining district. The Skagit went on a tear nearly every year, flooding the Sauk region every November after warm Chinook winds blew over the year's earliest snow packs in the foothills of the Cascades. The original town of Sauk City felt the brunt of the annual floods. The area where the partners started their mill in 1893 would eventually be named Sauk for the nearby mountain and the Indian band of the area, but with no "City" on the end. Hegg could have settled near the mill but that area was still wilderness and we assume that his wife did not want to live there so far from any amenities. The railroad would not arrive there until 1900 and the first crude wagon road was not even cut through until 1895. A brief note by the late Wyman Hammer on the back of a photo also noted that the partners' mill was originally located on Phinney Creek, on the south shore of the Skagit.
      Frances Hegg Moody wrote in a 1978 family profile that Fred decided instead to started a combination grocery and feed and grain store in Sedro. She documented his early store here with a sales slip she found that was dated 1896. In fact, we found one of those sales slips tacked to the wall of the general store setup in the excellent Main Street exhibit in the Sedro-Woolley Museum. Even more interesting was the logo at the top, which read "Hegg & Fritsch" groceries. We have now concluded that this store was located in old Woolley in the 700 block of Metcalf street, about where the old Castle Tavern stood decades later.
      Their Sauk mill was slow in getting off the ground, however; because of bad timing. After five years of railroad boom, a nationwide financial panic started in the spring of 1893 and then spread around the world, leading to three years of Depression. The panic resulted partly from the overvaluation of silver compared to gold, which led foreign investors to withdraw their capital investments. Stocks plummeted and by June 1894, 194 banks were bankrupt, 2.5 million workers out of a population of roughly 65 million were unemployed and more than 600 banks failed. For the next two years, prudent men like Fred Hegg, George Green and banker C.E. Bingham, who had sufficient cash reserves, bided their time while dozens of others in the Northwest pulled up stakes and abandoned their homesteads and businesses. From 1893-96, the mills that survived operated only sporadically.

(F.A. and Mollie wedding photo)
Fred in unknown year

1896, a pivotal business year and for the Hegg family
      In 1896, Fred Hegg's business prospects improved considerably as the national economy improved. Back East, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that Jim Crow laws that advanced the separate but equal doctrine were legal if equal facilities were offered to both races. Democrats closed ranks behind spellbinder orator William Jennings from Nebraska in his run as a dark horse for the presidential nomination and Republicans liked William McKinley from Ohio. In April, the first moving pictures on a public screen were shown at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York City. On June 3-4, Henry Ford kept his associates up all night to finish the first Ford automobile. Ford was about to go against type by cracking a smile until he realized that the car was wider than the door and his men would have to chop out some bricks from around the opening before they could prove that the car could run.
      Out here in Sedro, Fred Hegg felt on top of the world, with his business booming and four healthy young children at home in Sedro, including two sons who would one day take over the store. Sedro-Woolley and the Puget Sound area recovered earlier from the Depression of 1893 than did most areas of the country. That was mainly due to the need for lumber for new houses, and promoters with dollar signs for pupils were confident that we had an unlimited supply of such timber. Agriculture also became a significant factor in the local economy as farmers discovered rich soil where the dense forests had been logged.
      The Sterling area is a good example. Farmers such as Italian immigrant Joseph DeBay and German immigrants John Egelkrout, William Holtcamp and Henry Dreyer yanked hundreds of stumps out of the ground with only horses to aid their backbreaking work. Another factor was the string of fish canneries that ringed the Guemes channel from the old town of Ship Harbor to Anacortes. The farmers provided fresh vegetables and fruit for Hegg's grocery store and butchers such as David Donnelly provided fresh meat. Fred had dabbled in selling hardware for a while just as the panic set in but he soon decided to leave that business to Herman Waltz down in Sedro, and the Fritsch brothers, German immigrants who moved to Sauk City from Texas and were in the process of moving to P.A. Woolley's company town to get away from the roaring, bucking Skagit.
      Fred attended weekly meetings of the Twin Cities Business League, which was pushing for a merger of cities of Sedro and Woolley. Another referendum vote on the proposed name was scheduled for that summer. The name Sedro had won the first such vote but P.A. Woolley held out for his namesake through multiple straw polls and refused to merge under the Sedro name. The Hegg family had grown quickly, first with the birth of Mildred, whom they called Midge, on August 18, 1893. She was born in Mount Vernon, so that season may mark the end of the Heggs' residence there. Two years later, Earl Anton Hegg was born on Oct. 10, 1895, in an unrecorded town, so by then Fred and Mollie had four children. The only worry that crossed Fred's brow was Mollie's extremely pale countenance. She had not recovered as quickly after Earl's birth as she had with the first three children; he looked forward to the imminent arrival of his in laws, the Douglases from Oregon, who could tend to the four children who ranged from the newborn Earl to eight-year-old Bill.
      When the Douglases arrived, Fred dove back into his work. The mill was running smoothly and he was considering a proposal that George Green made for both of them to centralize their business hub in the heart of Woolley town and form a partnership where they would link their stores under the rubric of Green Shingle Company. By the end of the Depression, Sedro had faded and Woolley's company town had emerged as "Hub of Skagit County," as P.A. Woolley named it on his 1890 plat. The prime residential district was centered on Talcott and Warner streets. Over the next three decades, many beautiful homes would be built there. Sometime in 1896, Fred moved his young family into a large home at 315 Warner on the south side of the street, which was lined with maple trees. Although he did not direct the construction himself, Fred thought it looked much more solid and conservative than the Bingham place at the northeast corner of Fourth and Talcott streets, which had grown topsy turvy as their three boys were born in the 1890s. The home was what some now call a Victorian Farmhouse in style, possibly derived from a pattern book such as the Barber volume that was the rage at the time.
      Although they lived just a block apart, the Heggs and the Binghams did not move in the same circles. Fred was a prude and proud of it. He disapproved of the spirits that Julia Bingham served after dinner in a crystal decanter that Charlie ordered directly from Tiffany's in New York City.

Click on these thumbnail photos to see the full-sized photos
(Interior Hegg Grocery 1899)
(Exterior Hegg grocery and Union Mercantile)
Far left. This photo is very rare, taken circa 1899 in the interior of the original Woolley grocery of F.A. Hegg, a building that burned in the great fire of July 1923. Note the fine wood of the staircase and the period dress.
Center: This exterior photo of the Hegg grocery on the left and the Union Mercantile Co. on the right is also circa 1899. Photos courtesy of Sue Parker Swetman, descendant of George Green and Dave Parker, Skagit County pioneers. Green was a business party of F.A. Hegg.

Mollie Hegg died and Fred treks to the Klondike
      In the summer of 1896, Hegg's in-laws watched the children and tried to nurse Mollie back to health. Over the next few weeks Fred put the idea for the new store building on the back burner. He worked hard so as to not worry about Mollie, overseeing the new stock that they were putting in for J.T. Hightower's new lumber camp near Birdsey Minkler's old upriver property at Birdsview. But he actually left the store early every afternoon and forced a smile onto his broad face when he arrived home so that Mollie could not see how concerned he was. And then it was over. Mollie slipped away on Aug. 20, 1896, just days before her 35th birthday. The young town turned out in droves for the funeral and her burial in Charlie Wicker's small private cemetery on his homestead northeast of Woolley.
      The next few weeks passed in a blur. Fred's life changed radically. Mollie's father left soon after Mollie's burial to oversee his sheep ranch down in Oregon. Luckily Mollie's mother stayed to care for the children. Fred woke up every morning depressed. He thought about the young shepardess he met next door 12 years ago, but even the memory of their joy together could not overcome his panic when he wondered what he was going to do about the children. He continued to keep a daily journal and kept careful record of both the house accounts and those of his business. Many of those records were destroyed by a family member after the death of Fred's second wife many years later. But there is a family story that he started following the news from the Klondike gold fields, where excitement was building towards a major strike that was just a year away. In the days around Mollie death, he might have read the small story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about a promising discovery of gold on the Klondike River, three miles from Dawson in the Yukon Territory of Northwest Canada. The rush had not started yet, but he might have heard details about it from friends who hopped aboard a steam freight ship to see for themselves what was transpiring 1,200 miles away in another wilderness.
      Fred's mother-in-law soon became impatient to return to Oregon. Fred spent part of every day now looking for a nanny for the children. He met the Bishop family in Mount Vernon when he was involved with the laundry there and now he realized that they had a daughter who could work as a housekeeper for him. Frances Jean Bishop was nicknamed Fannie and she was born on June 11, 1871, on her parents' farm near St. Joseph, Missouri. John V. and Catherine (McClelland) Bishop moved to Skagit County in 1892. Catherine's parents were from Ohio and Illinois and she was born in Indiana. Her father, John McClelland, was born to a Scottish Highlands family and he emigrated to the U.S. through Toronto. The Bishops were of German descent. Fannie's father, John, served in the Civil War, probably enlisting from Illinois, and Diane Marinig (Fred's granddaughter) thinks that John and Catherine married soon after the war. At the time that Mollie died, Fannie worked as a cook at Brann and Moran's Mount Vernon House hotel in Mount Vernon.
      Fannie was nearing the age when she would be called an "old maid." Frances Hegg Moody described her as being in those days "a very attractive young lady, intelligent, strong character, capable and confident." The children bonded with her immediately and after an initial interview, Fred apparently hired her as a live-in housekeeper in late 1896. From then on, she acted as a nanny while Fred followed his business interests. Fred became more and more inclined to join the argonauts to the Klondike [then often spelled Klondyke]. But first he wanted to make sure that the children would feel safe and secure and loved while he tried to earn the family a nest egg. As he observed Fannie and saw how the children were taken were taken with her, he began to realize that he had feelings for her, too. A story passed on in the family tells how Fred apparently made a pact with her. When he finally decided in early 1897 to follow the gold rush,. Fred asked Fannie to forget any other suitors and to wait until he returned from Alaska before she decided to get married. He may, in fact, have traveled back and forth to the Klondike more than once. We are unsure who ran his store here while he was gone. It stood next door to the building that George Green established on the southwest corner of Ferry and Metcalf streets for his Green Shingle Company.

(Fred and Fannie)
Fred and Fannie at the Warner House

Fannie kept her promise
      Although we do not know exactly when Fred was in the Klondike, we do know that he came back with enough money to live comfortably and open the new store in Woolley town. Some writers have mistakenly assumption that Fred Freg and one of the most famous photographers of the Klondike gold period. E.A. Hegg of Fairhaven became famous for his photos of the challenges and hardship of the miners, just as Clark Kinsey did, the brother of Darius Kinsey, who had just set up shop in Woolley in 1896. The similarity of their initials led some writers to confuse the two men with each other. Others saw their common last name and their residence in both Fairhaven and the Klondike in the same years and then assumed they were related. But they were definitely not related. E.A. Hegg was born in Bolmax, Sweden. Consider that case closed. In hindsight, we hope that E.A. did photograph F.A. and that someone has a copy, because we have never been able to find a photo of Fred in the gold fields.
      When Fred returned for the last time sometime in late 1898 he was pleased to discover that Fannie kept her part of the bargain and he soon proposed formally. They married on March 8, 1899, in Mount Vernon and the weather must have been horrid because he told Frances Moody that the carriage ride home took eight hours. The exceptionally long ride is understandable because there are many stories about how awful the roads in the county were then, especially during the drizzly winters. Cook Road and the present Highway 20 were mere trails at the time. The only road from Mount Vernon to Sedro was actually a crude wagon road that hugged the north shore of the river that crossed one swamp after another after starting where a ferry crossed the Skagit at Riverside, about where the Mount Vernon-Burlington bridge is today. That carriage ride may have been one of the factors that led Fred to later become a key member of the Good Roads movement in Skagit County, working throughout the decade of the '20s towards establishment of a highway across the Cascades.
      Fannie was already in charge of the household and her transition from nanny to stepmother seems to have progressed smoothly. A family letter hints that friction had occurred between Fred and his Douglas in-laws and after they departed for Oregon for the last time, Fred's new mother-in-law became a key member of the family and stayed that way until her death in 1942. For the next 60 years, Fannie would be one of a group of four women in her immediate neighborhood who would be social leaders. Across the alley to the south was Minnie Batey, who was born to the Lederle family of Utopia and married John Henry Batey, a son of the pioneers, David and Dr. Georgiana Batey. John Henry was the bridge tender on the old Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern train trestle that still stands just to the east of the Hwy. 9 Clear Lake bridge, back in the days when it swung open for steamboats. Next door to the east was Susie Alverson, who came to Woolley in 1894 with her parents, who owned the Osterman House, the building that burned in 1909 and was replaced by the present Gateway Hotel. And around the corner on Fourth Street at State was Isabel Hammer, who was the wife of Senator and Judge Emerson Hammer and the daughter of George and Josephine Green.

Frances Hegg's memory of the 315 Warner Street house
      Frances Hegg Moody was born into the second family but her recollection in detail of what their Warner Street house looked like when she was a child will help us get a mental picture of the house at the turn of the century:
      It seemed so large and I felt so small. Two bedrooms downstairs, four up and a front and back stairway. A parlor, large dining room and even large kitchen [was downstairs]. People used to tease Mama about needing roller skates to get from the sink to the stove. The house was painted a medium brown with dark ivory trim. The front had two entrances; one for visitors and VIPs. That opened into a hall with a door opening into the red carpeted parlor. In the hall was a table that held one of those old fashioned oil lamps with red roses painted on it. And beside it a silver bowl for calling cards. The latter posed a lot of questions to my young inquiring mind. I could understand those left for Pappa by important business men who sometimes came for a conference, but Mama's friends? She knew who they were at times probably knew too much about them, and certainly she had a memory and was aware of their visits. (I hadn't read Emily Post yet).
      On a Sanborn insurance map from 1899 we found the layout for the 300 block of Warner. There were only three structures at the time. The Vandeveer mansion, a rare three-story structure in town that still stands at the southwest corner of Fourth and Warner streets, was not yet built; Ben Vandeveer would build it at the turn of the century with his profits from the Klondike and he also built Van's Place saloon (later the B&A Buffet) in 1899 at what is now the southwest corner of State and Metcalf. We imagine that he and Fred Hegg traveled up there at the same time, maybe together. A small cabin stood at the southeast corner of Third Street, which would be replaced by the present house in 1903; Fred's daughter Florence lived there in the 1930s. That is east across the street from the present Lemley Mortuary where the Sanders bicycle shop was located in 1899, next door to the Standard Grocery. A warehouse was south of the cabin on the alley. The only other structure on the block was the Hegg house.

Continue on to Part Two

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Story posted on Dec. 1, 2001, last updated Feb. 16, 2009
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