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Albert E. Holland and Holland Drugs

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore ©2003
(A.E. Holland)
A.E. Holland, circa 1910

      Update October 2010: Old timers in Sedro-Woolley are still trying to adjust to the drawn curtains and the Closed sign on Holland Drugs, after more than 120 years. Joe Nemo, 97 this year, recalled for us at the Senior Center how the store was one of four pharmacies up and down Metcalf Street. But just like all the grocery stores that dotted the town when I was a child in the 1950s, there are no drug stores or grocery stores on the main drag anymore. We have moved our extensive profile of Holland and the store to this new domain, while we lament the fact that our last tie to old Sedro of the 1880s is now gone.

      Until it closed in October 2010, Holland Drugs of Sedro-Woolley was the oldest continuously operated business in Skagit county outside of LaConner. Its roots began in 1889 in the old town of Sedro on the north shore of the Skagit river as one of the first businesses near Mortimer Cook's original general store. Seventeen-year-old Albert E. Holland arrived in old Sedro on July 15, 1886, and was immediately hired by Cook to be his clerk.
      We can pinpoint the day that 17-year-old Albert E. Holland arrived in old Sedro because of an item in the diary of Nina Cook, daughter of old-Sedro founder Mortimer Cook: "July 15, 1986. There is a new clerk at the store — Albert Holland, I think. I guess he will be pretty good, though is most wonderfully independent." Holland came here from Philadelphia, where he was born on Sept. 28, 1868. Within five years the young man established Holland drug store, which still stands as oldest business in Skagit county under the same name, and he built a fortune by investing in local acreage and timber.
      He started the first Sedro-region ferry across the Skagit River with another partner, possibly A.F. Means, right next to the present Riverfront Park. It was a crude gravity affair, with winches on both ends that attached by cables to onto another cable that was strung between trees on opposite sides. The swift water current propelled it. When the Cook family visited Riverfront Park as honored guests for the first Founders Days in 1994, we found a thick, rusted cable imbedded into a massive cedar on the north shore of the Skagit. The tree has long ago grown around it and this is possibly the north anchor for the ferry. Holland originally charged tolls until 1891, when he sold the ferry to the County and it became a free conveyance. The ferry was eventually moved to the southeast corner of Hart's Island, near the original Joseph Hart farm at the southern dead end of Third Street, and operated there until the first bridge was built across the river in the same area in 1912.
      Sometime in 1889 Holland became a partner with A. Amott Tozer in an old-Sedro drug store in the block across from the Fairhaven and Southern Railroad depot and bought him out completely in 1894. The business was originally called Sedro Drug. Holland affixed his name to it when he became full owner; and that is why 1894 is used as the beginning date in the logo for the present store. The account in Holland's Courier-Times obituary of July 5, 1923, explains that Holland began as a silent partner with Tozer and eventually took over the stock and 100 percent of the business. Tozer effectively left town for good by 1891, setting up retail drug stores in Leavenworth, Cascade Tunnel and Everett. One couldn't blame him with the depressed state locally by 1893, but Holland stuck it out and parlayed his original drug store into one of the largest pioneer fortunes in Sedro-Woolley.

Partnership with "Dr." Tozer
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      Tozer affected the name doctor but we could never find his name listed as a physician on any official records. Then we found a document at the LaConner Museum that illuminated this pioneer character. Written by Mrs. John W. Hall, this history of Avon explains that Tozer set up his first drug store there at the bend of the Skagit river above Mount Vernon in 1889. He even advertised himself in the Skagit News with "Dr." affixed before his name, but Mrs. Hall says that he never received medical training and was considered "peculiar" by his peers. Perhaps he wanted to create respectability with a title, as many legendary "colonels" did. Others on the frontier called themselves doctor for slightly more carnal reasons at that time, as in the "laying on of hands." Whatever his reasons, he proved to be very accomplished at accumulating wealth. Mrs. Hall notes that he carried his lunch in his pocket every day and hung around the courthouse looking for abandoned claims, then bought up timberland for as little as possible.
      Fifty years later, he was diagnosed with cancer and, having no family, he traveled to Ellensburg to visit two nephews he barely knew. He asked them to care for him and in exchange he would give them all the unencumbered property he owned. The nephews were aware that he was a bit crotchety, so they offered to build him a cabin on their place but they decided that actually caring for him was not worth any amount of money. Maybe they did not know how much he owned, because after Tozer was rebuffed, he traveled back to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota and made the same offer to doctors there. The doctors checked his bona fides and discovered that he was worth well over a million dollars. They accepted his donation and cared for him until he died there. We found this story in the undocumented manuscript about Avon and wondered if it might be too good to be true. Sure enough, there is a Tozer Foundation in Stillwater, Minnesota. We are waiting for word about whether it was inspired by our country "doctor." We do know that David Tozer was a very wealthy timber man in Stillwater and David Tozer's name shows up on dozens of sections of Skagit valley land in the 1920s and '30s so he could have been a brother or another relative.
      After a flood and fire caused considerable damage to the original village of Sedro in the early 1890s partners Tozer and Holland moved their business to new Sedro, where Norman Kelley based his plat of new Sedro on high ground where the high school stands today. They set up shop in a wood frame building along with C.E. Bingham's bank. After an 1894 fire destroyed the bank and drug store in what was called the Pioneer Block, Holland and Bingham moved temporarily to the northwest corner of Jameson and Third Street. By that time, Tozer had left the partnership and the business became known as Holland Drugs. Apparently both Bingham and Holland moved their businesses to the newer town of Woolley sometime by the end of 1896, where they reopened in another woodframe building on the corner of Woodworth and Metcalf.
      Holland and Bingham prospered as Washington recovered from the 1890s depression with the help of Klondike cash, and they became powerful countywide after the towns of Sedro and Woolley merged in 1898. In 1905 they moved their older building from the corner on log rollers and built the brick Bingham-Holland building that still stands on Metcalf today. The old building stood across the alley, just south of the present post office, and was finally torn down when Thrifty built the grocery store that was called the Marketplace until recently. The new stone building opened for business on the Fourth of July of 1906 and survived a fire that gutted both businesses in January 1909. Over the years, Holland was very active in civic affairs, serving on the first city council in 1891. He was a member of United Lodge No. 93, F. and A. M. [Masonic]; the new Whatcom commandery Knight Templars; and the Nile Shrine Temple.
      Researcher Roger Peterson found an obituary from 1911 for Holland's uncle, Donald McLaughlin [sometimes also spelled McLachlin], who died here on Sept. 28 that year at age 78. The obituary says that McLaughlin had lived here 25 years, so he may have accompanied Holland. McLaughlin married Margaret D. Monroe, from another old family, in 1888. Another relative, E.R. McLaughlin, owned a hardware store in old Woolley. They may have also been related to Thomas McLaughlin, who was Sedro constable in 1891.

(Bingham-Holland Building)
      This is a 1909 photo of the Bingham-Holland building, including the original Holland Drugs location.

Deathbed, miraculous recovery and wedding bells
      Holland died in 1923 after having invested in the real estate and timber business for many years. The story of Holland's second marriage seems as if it could have been a plot line for a Gothic novel. The year before his death, his personal life was subject to a scandal that the National Enquirer would love.
      His first marriage was to Lily (or Lilly) B. Hartley on May 9, 1901, according to county records, and they divorced sometime after the 1915 City Directory was published and before the 1920 census. We found in the 1920 Federal census rolls that he was divorced and he had a live-in housekeeper named Charlotte M. Gross, who was born in Illinois in 1890, 22 years Holland's junior. She and her daughter, May, were listed as his "cousins." In the summer of 1923, Holland took seriously ill, but a visit by Ms. Gross to his Seattle hospital room seemed to work miracles towards his recovery. The July, 1923 Pacific Drug Review noted:

      A. E. Holland, pioneer druggist of Sedro-Woolley, where he has closely been identified with the lumbering interests of the upper Skagit for many years, was united in marriage on May 9 to Mrs. Charlotte Gross. Mr. Holland, who has been in excellent health for many years, was taken seriously ill about two weeks before.
      "He was conveyed to Providence Hospital in Seattle, but grew worse. Mrs. Gross accompanied him and was constantly at his bedside. Mr. Holland's physician said that he would probably die before morning as his heart could not stand the strain many hours longer.

      Local wags made a toast to Holland's miraculous bedside recovery, but alas, it was not to be, as Holland died a short time later. The Courier-Times obituary mentions Holland's vast wealth, which was estimated to have been well into six figures, a grand sum at the time, possibly close to $300,000. Holland's first wife and his cousin contested Holland's new will but lost in court. The newly rich Mrs. Holland and her daughter May, by a previous marriage, lived in style in Holland's old home. The widow inherited most of the south half of block 11, Grand Junction addition to Sedro, a prime piece of real estate where their home stood. In the late 1930s, a new doctor named Harold Hopke moved to Sedro-Woolley and he bought the old two-story Holland home, which old timers will remember as Hopke's office and clinic. The editor had his tonsils removed there, as did Joe Nemo.
      Walter Cottingham worked for Holland since 1911 and managed the store during Holland's illness. We found him recorded in the 1910 Federal Census as living with the Hollands; he was a cousin of Lilly's from her native Ohio. He continued managing the store after Holland's death and Holland's original will bequeathed half the business to him. Many locals assumed the widow Holland would sell the store to Cottingham or give him part of it, but she held out for several months. Finally, a delegation from the local Ladies Club visited her and urged her to sell the remainder to Cottingham. She finally sold her interest to Cottingham and moved to Seattle with her new husband, a local logger named Al Stendal. Sedro-Woolley old-timer John Stendal recalled that Charlotte's daughter, May (or Mae) moved to Hawaii, but we have been unable to find any record of her. Cottingham continued in business as the Holland Drug Co. until 1950, when he sold out to Dr. J. W. Doughty, who had just retired as superintendent of Northern State Hospital. In less than two years, Doughty sold it to the late Ernest and Maxine Breier, who are responsible for bringing the business into modern focus.

(Bingham-Holland Building 2)
      This is a photo from later in 1909 that shows the Bingham-Holland building in all its finery after the fire damage was repaired. The occasion was Dr. Mattice's purchase of a new Winton 6 automobile.

The Breiers moved Holland Drugs
      "I can remember boxes on display in the old store location that were dated in the teen years," recalls Roger Peterson, the local historian who frequented downtown in the 1940s when his grandmother owned a boarding house here. "When Ernie [Breier] got involved, he began clearing the dead wood and began introducing up-to-date lines."
      Old-timers will recall that a mural depicting local logging was painted on the interior back wall of Holland's original store in 1962 by an art class from the high school. The pawn shop now there has preserved the mural. Sometime before 1919, Holland constructed the one-story annex to the south, but it may have been initially used mainly for storage, according to Roger Peterson.
      That has been the home of the Skagit Surveyors since the early 1990s. Our first actual record of a tenant was that in 1919 of the J.C. Penney Co., which operated nationally under the name, Golden Rule, first began renaming its stores with the eponymous name in 1913. The stores in Skagit County eventually switched the name over too; Gus Gilbertson, one of Penney's first managers, opened the Penney store in Sedro-Woolley in 1915. The original location ws almost across the street from the annex, on the east side of Metcalf Street where R&E Engineering is located in 2010. By 1919 Penney's expanded so much that they needed more room, so they moved to the Holland Annex that year. Penney's moved for the last time, to the northeast corner of State and Metcalf streets in 1939 and operated at that location until its closing 43 years later. The Ely Dry Goods store then moved into the annex. In a Sept. 10, 1951, Courier-Times article, about the grand opening of the Charles Johnson Appliance store in the building, Ely Co. was recorded as the former tenant.
      Peterson also notes that Holland Drugs never had a soda fountain, which was a common feature of early drug stores. At least 80 percent of the business until the 1960s was in dispensing drugs prescribed by doctors who had their offices in downtown Woolley. The Breiers introduced gift lines and Jerry Willins, the subsequent owner, expanded that line in the 1980s and '90s.
      Ernest Breier was a son of C. J. Breier, the patriarch of a chain of 70-plus dry goods stores that dotted the northwest states. The home base was in Lewiston, Idaho, according to the late Maxine Breier, Ernest's widow, in a 1994 interview when she lived near the Greenstreet addition. "He was caught by surprise by the crash of 1929, and he couldn't withdraw his funds before his bank experienced a run. He eventually lost the stores, but kept the home building," she recalled. C. J. Breier and Sons stores were once represented in Sedro-Woolley in the 1920s in two different locations on Metcalf Street. Maxine Breier died here in the spring of 2002.
      When the Breiers took over the store in 1952, they were still doing business in the original location in the Bingham-Holland Building. By the mid-1960s they needed more space so they bought the two buildings south of the alley next to the Annex. That was historically the location of the Capital Bar at the turn of the 20th century, and most recently before the purchase the home of Pete & Bob's café and Gampps' confectionery and newsstand. They tore down one building and erected a new one in its place, which they opened in 1967. They soon tore down the other building and added an addition.
      When the Breiers opened their expanded store in the summer of 1967, every kid in the county seemed to show up for balloons and hot dogs and their parents came along for bargains that imitated prices of olden days. Ed and Beverly Preston bought the expanded business later that year, and when Ed became ill, they hired Jerry Willins as treasurer and manager. He later became president in 1980 and under his ownership over the next 25 years, the store became part of the countywide Holland Services group of stores that specialized in pharmaceuticals and health products and equipment.
      The strength and endurance of the business in the 20th century was obvious since four or more drug stores once competed within two blocks downtown and Holland was the only one still there. Willins celebrated the store's centennial in 1994 and remodeled the store in 2003. Rainier Home Health Pharmacy Inc. of Seattle purchased Holland Drugs in Sedro-Woolley in September 2005. They closed the store on Oct. 15, 2010. At this time we do not know of a future tenant for the building. Holland Drugs joins a group of longtime downtown businesses that have closed in the decade, including Jungquist Furniture, Skagit Realty, Valley Hardware and Allen Jewelers.

Old Holland bottles can be valuable
      Just as a sidelight, if your property once had an outhouse on it, you could be standing on top of history. Folks often took bottles of one kind or another into the privy with them and often threw them down the hole when they were empty. Collectors gravitate to these areas for their most fruitful searches. A local collector has been probing the back yards of old Sedro and Woolley residences with a long wooden pole with a metal strip on the end that detects and roots out the bottles in the soil. If they do not have great value on the open market, they will certainly be treasured by the Sedro-Woolley Museum. Call (360) 855-0638 if you find any of the bottles or if you can share any other Holland history with the museum.


Holland's Ferry
      In our photo feature about Old Sedro (This story will soon be changed to this address. If neither file connects, please email us), we included our research into the ferry:
(Old Sedro Map 1891)
Click on thumbnail above to see the area of the ferry and the original F&S railroad route on Albert Mosier's 1891 map of old Sedro.

      We found the information about the 1891 sale of Holland's ferry in volume 2 of the Skagit County Commissioners Records, which are available at the Washington state regional archives in Bellingham. Also in that volume we discovered information about the first county road along the north shore of the Skagit. When you click the thumbnail at the right, you will see Mosier's 1891 map that shows the route of the ferry and the initial route of the road. Today's Railroad Street runs at a diagonal on the old roadbed of the F&S Railroad and continues as the Minkler highway. Clear Lake historian Deanna Ammons discovered that the ferry license was numbered "8."
      Neither of those roads existed back in the days of old Sedro. You will see a hand-drawn "county road" that parallels the rail bed a few hundred feet to the south. It continued on a diagonal up to what is now the Hoehn road, which was planked by pioneer Frank Hoehn in the early 1890s. The road authorized by the commissioners ran along Cook avenue, just north of Water avenue, on which Mortimer Cook's store fronted. The main street of town — actually the only one, was eponymously named Cook Avenue. Today's River road follows old McDonald avenue and then turns south, just east of Riverfront park, and then follows the winding route of the early 1891 road until it turns north at Fruitdale road.
      Another road was also authorized by the commissioners in 1891 connected with Holland's Sedro Ferry on the south shore. It was petitioned by Holland and A.F. Means, who we presume to be his original partner in the ferry business. There would be no bridge over the river for passengers or wagons until 1912 when the original wooden bridge crossed at the foot of Third Street. An iron bridge replaced that one and stood until about 1965 when the present Clear Lake bridge opened. A trestle bridge for the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railroad line, which had a swing span operated by John Henry Batey, crossed the river to the west of Third Street and still stands today in 2003, but without its approaches. [Return]

Holland's Timber investments
      This story about Holland's role as both investor and banker comes from an unpublished manuscript by the late Alfred McBee, the long-time Mount Vernon attorney. He married a daughter of Charles J. Wicker, who was one of the earliest pioneers in the Skiyou district and a founder, with Harry L. Devin, of Skagit Realty, [which dominated the real estate business in the city and county for much of its life from 1902 to 1998]. Wicker hated banker C.E. Bingham, over a real estate transaction, and he sought another source of quick capital whenever he needed to buy a quarter section of land. Although Holland had been Bingham's partner, he agreed to become Wicker's banker "on the side" and may have maintained those investments until his death in 1923, with or without Bingham's official knowledge.
      The details of Wicker's and Holland's financial agreements in McBee's manuscript reveal how land was appraised, priced and resold from 1920 through the Teen years of the 20th century, especially through until Prohibition was voted in for 1916. Later in the 1930s, Wicker's market sized up to make Wicker's ideal customer a farmer who moved here from the Dust Bowl, seeking rich topsoil that wouldn't blow away. But earlier in the century, Wicker targeted the Scandinavians and other farmers, especially from Wicker's native Midwest, who were infused with the Protestant ethic and would work slavishly to get to great soil. Wicker knew from experience while homesteading with his brother that underneath the stumps that just the soil they sought remained underneath those stumps. He combed the county for sections of 160 acres or 40-acre-quarter-sections, tracts that he sometimes bought for as little as $100-200. He then divided the quarter-section property, for instance, into four 10-acre tracts and sold them for $500. As an added incentive, he gave terms of $10 down and $10 per month, with no interest.
      Wicker's ideal customer was a farmer who moved here from the Dust Bowl, seeking rich topsoil that wouldn't blow away. Wicker knew that underneath the stumps that remained from logging on land all around Sedro-Woolley was just the soil they sought. He combed the county for 40-acre tracts and usually paid $100-200. He then divided the property into four 10-acre tracts and sold them for $500. As an added incentive, he gave terms of $10 down and $10 per month, with no interest.
      10 p.m. back then after the turn of the century. Wicker would show up, they would go back to Holland's office and their transaction would be conducted quickly, with a minimum of conversation and nothing in writing. "I need $1,000." Holland would open his safe — for many years the only one in town except for Bingham's — and count out the cash in gold pieces in the earlier years of the century when paper money was still distrusted. Wicker scooped up the money and put it in a chamois-skin bag and off he would go to buy a farm or logged-off timber tract.
      When he returned, he and Holland retired to the back again, where Wicker counted out the coins in repayment of the $1,000. Then he emptied out all the proceeds from his sale of the farm. And he slid over a $20 gold coin for every one he kept for himself. When they were down to change, or "leavings" as they called it, they repaired down to the Blackburn & Adams Saloon (B&A), where they drank up whatever was left. Although McBee made some crucial errors — about spelling of names, the wrong decade in one case and small details, he noted that Ikey Blackburn, the owner and bartender of the B&A, filled in some of those details four decades after the fact and that he confirmed Wicker's story, having witnessed the process many times.[Return]

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