26 March 2008

Seattle: Schwabacher & Co.

Lyn Blyden, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State, read my post on the Jewish presence in California's Santa Maria Valley.

Recognizing the name Schwabacher as prominent in Seattle history, Lyn pointed me to the following three-part article on the Schwabacher family in Washington, their role in the Klondike Gold Rush and more.

Although the second article includes a family tree focusing on the Seattle branch, I could not immediately determine how Lewis in California was related to several other Louis in the northern branch. In California, according to a Santa Maria Times newspaper article, Lewis Schwabacher and Sam Coblentz were partners for more than 40 years. Lewis died February 19, 1939.

In any case, the northern Schwabacher family's story is fascinating. It was written by Jean Roth of the Seattle Genealogical Society and reprinted on the JGSWS website from the SGS Summer 1997 bulletin

Among the most popular Klondike outfitters patronized by the prospectors who went to the Yukon gold rush was Schwabacher Bros. & Company. It was at Schwabacher's dock on Seattle's Elliott bay that the steamer Portland arrived on July 17, 1897 with her "ton of gold" that electrified the world and sparked the Klondike gold rush. Soon thousands would leave that dock and others on their way to Alaska.

For many years a marine landmark at the foot of Union Street, it now is a waterfront park.

This pioneer Seattle merchandising business was founded by three brothers in Washington Territory in 1869, and they built an empire selling clothing, groceries, building materials and hardware.

The three who eventually made their way to the territory were Abraham, Sigmund and Louis Schwabacher. They joined the thousands of emigrants who left Europe during the 19th century. Born in Germany of Jewish heritage, the young men fled to America to escape the oppression under the rule of Bismarck, prime minister of Prussia, who was know to be a violent anti-Semite.

The article is a great read and details the brothers' history. Louis Schwabacher was the first to come to America, settled in Missippi, went to San Francisco in 1858, and to Washington Territory in 1859. He sent for his brothers from Germany, and on September 1, 1860, opened a store in Walla Walla.

In 1876, they erected a two-story brick building there which was described in newspapers of the day as "the finest building north of San Francisco, its front resplendent with massive iron columns and arches; its seven entrances each with double doors, the outer ones being iron, the inner cedar…. The interior was 16 feet high, painted white. Its six iron pillars were painted and gilded. In the northwest corner, there was a glass space of 12x16 elevated with a fireplace where Mr. Sigmund Schwabacher could observe and direct the activities."

In 1909, a group of businessmen purchased the Schwabacher store and it became Gardner's Department store, closing in the 1970s after 122 years in business.

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin noted at that time, "Sales were often by the barter method and housewives usually exchanged eggs, butter and milk for coffee, sugar and dress goods. Goods were also sold on credit, with year-long accounts — a common financial arrangement. Settlements were made at year’s end when a farmer sold his crop or livestock. At the settling-up the customer would demand his paid-up ledger account sheet and would then burn it in the big pot-bellied railroad stove at the rear of the store. Then, as a cap to the whole business, he was taken to the basement to share a bottle of wine."

After Walla Walla, the Schwabachers went to Seattle as it was becoming a major port. They set up a wholesale business, Schwabacher Bros. & Co., as a hardware, saddlery and ship-chandlery business.

For their opening, the October 1869 newspaper advertisements announced "To the Inhabitants…An Immense Attraction… Monster Opening: and a line of merchandise which not only included groceries but dry goods. The Schwabachers had opened their “new and commodious premises in Seattle … as a general store … where they trust to receive that patronage from the public which their large well-selected stock will justly merit."

They built the first brick building in Seattle, and remained in business for more than 100 years. An 1871 ad claimed the store sold everything "from a needle to an anchor."

Historical ads indicate: 1878: "anticipating the wants of the public during these hard times, Schwabacher Bros. And Co. offers all kinds and classes of domestics regardless of cost…. We still give as an inducement ten per cent off for cash on Dry Goods, Clothing, Boots and Shoes." 1881: "leading mercantile house in the Northwest," advertised "dry goods, clothing, fancy goods, hats, boots and shoes, carpets, oilcloth, groceries, liquor, paints, oils, agricultural implements, crockery, flour, feed, shingles, doors, windows, iron steel, wallpaper…. Everything a specialty, one price only, the largest stock of dry goods ever brought to any interior town."

The store's Seattle wharf became the city's first customs house, offering businessman a convenient way to pay import duties.

Do read the complete article with information on the 1880 Skagit River gold rush: "On a single day, stores sold $500 worth of supplies; by April $50,000, had been grossed. In one eighty-day period in May—some 400 men left Seattle on their way to the Skagit area."

Their pier was the only one to survive the 1859 Seattle fire and became temporary headquarters for the railroad and steamships into the city, as well as trans-Pacific trade. The family also owned land and other companies dealing in real estate and hardware. The company's name changed to the Pacific Coast Wholesale Grocery firm and Schwabacher hardware, later known as Pacific Marine Schwabacher, Inc. and served eight western states. "The Seattle Times of 4 Jul 1976 claimed it was the largest wholesaler of hard goods in the Pacific Northwest."

Part 2 is the Schwabacher Family Tree; click here, for genealogical details on the family with roots in Regensburg and Schwabach. The family's papers and records are held in the Seattle Jewish Historical Society collection, University of Washington Library Manuscripts and University Archives Division.

Part 3 includes a biography of Bailey Gatzert (born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany) and married to Babette Schwabacher; click here.

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