Ohlson family enjoyed unique summer homes

Janice Smith lives in a fairly new home on land that a fifth generation now enjoys.

Her grandfather, Anton Olsson, arrived in the United States in 1895 at the age of 19. With many other Olssons also emigrating from Sweden, Anton changed his name to Ohlson. He chose to live at the YMCA in Chicago in order to be forced to learn English.

He met and married a second generation Swedish girl, and with a family of three children, the telephone company he worked for sent him to Tacoma about 1905.

In 1944, he was “constituted a Life Member of the Telephone Pioneers of America.”

Ohlson, a previous state legislator, headed the committee to recall Governor Hartley for getting University of Washington president Henry Suzzallo fired in 1926.

Ohlson owned Belknap Glass in Seattle that provided windshields for planes built in World War II.

His surviving daughter, Alice Capp, nearly 90, who lives in Tacoma, says her father put in a lot of telephone lines around Gig Harbor. He also worked on the Key Peninsula, and found a piece of property north of Vaughn Bay he wanted.

Owner William “Bill” Patrick gave him a 99-year lease on a piece where he built “The White Cabin” in 1936.

After Anton died, his only son struck a legal bargain with Patrick. Wesley Ohlson would build Patrick a decent house to replace his run-down dwelling, and would receive first option to purchase the Patrick property at fair market value when the last Patrick was gone.

Patrick also had a long chicken house and a shed set out over the lagoon where boats could come in at high tide and unload chicken feed and other supplies.

Ohlson brought his family to the cabin on weekends and summers. Smith and her sister, Barbara Bordeaux, recall waiting in line to catch the ferry home on Sunday evenings.

In 1941, local handyman Warde Whitfield built Ohlson another summer cabin, with double brick walls and no insulation. Bordeaux believes the bricks were from a building torn down in Tacoma. This is “The Brick House.”

The four Ohlson children, Richard, Barbara, Janice, and Christine, grew up, married, and had children. Ohlson, to have some privacy from the noise and laundered diapers in the two cabins, changed the shed over the lagoon into another residence. Called “The Lagoon House” because it nearly overhangs the lagoon. It is full of Ohlson’s signature cabinetry talent.

He owned Coast Sash & Doors in Tacoma, the largest supplier of millwork, paneling, and doors in the region. During World War II, it was an essential business for the war effort, as it provided sash and doors for barracks built by the government.

Some family members made temporary homes in the various houses over the years. Smith and her family lived there while their Fox Island home was being built. She insisted on having a telephone line in the early 1970s.

“Then we wondered how we got along without a phone all those years,” says Bordeaux.

At Wesley Ohlson’s death, the property was left equally to all four children.

Smith and her husband built their new home where the former Patrick house stood. They bought the lot for their home, and each house now stands on its own lot, but the joint ownership remains.

The family is in process of restoring the white cabin, and considering a new heating system for the brick house.

Three generations gather regularly to enjoy the lagoon, their own sandspit, and a perfect view of the Olympics across Rocky Bay.

 

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William Patrick was an engineer and mechanic in the Alaskan gold fields, and an inveterate inventor. One of his creations was a wire recording device. A process of creating many small magnets of the wire so a mile of wire could record four hours of sound. Local families who visited could talk and listen to their voices. Dulcie Schillinger reports that the whole Vaughn Church choir recorded some music in about 1939 on Patrick’s wonderful machine.

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