Northeast Tacoma History
Including Dash Point and Browns Point
[This is an abbreviated review of our history. For more information two books: Two Points of View and Points Northeast Photo Album and Scrap Book fill in much more of the whole story. Both are available in our Sales Center.]
Northeast Tacoma which includes Dash Point (on the North side) and Browns Point (on the West side) is located across Commencement Bay from downtown Tacoma. The southern part of Northeast Tacoma stretches along the bluffs which overlook the northern sides of the tide flats of Commencement Bay and the Puyallup River.
The history of this area goes back many centuries. Indigenous people whose descendents now make up the Puyallup Indian Tribe along with other groups of Northwest natives, visited the shores of Dash Point and Browns Point especially in the summer time.
Besides being a vacation in a beautiful spot, it also was a good place for gathering and obtaining food for the winter. Salmon and shellfish were abundant and easy to obtain. While the men carried on the collecting of seafood and the hunting of forest animals, women dug for edible roots and picked berries for drying.
"Points Northeast" refers to an area of Pierce County, WA, on Puget Sound across Commencement Bay from downtown Tacoma
It includes the areas of Browns Point, Dash Point, and Northeast Tacoma
Role of Exporers: English and United States explorers named many of the geographic locations along Puget Sound. George Vancouver sent by King George III of England first explored the Sound in 1792. He named Puget Sound and Gig Harbor among other places. He re-named Mt. Rainier which native peoples simply called “The Mountain” or Mt. Tahoma. Charles Wilkes explored for the United States in 1841 and gave our Browns Point the name Point Harris. By 1877 both Dash Point and Point Brown (replacing the name Pt. Harris) were named on official maps. In 1901 Point Brown was officially renamed Browns Point (no apostrophe) by order of the U.S. Dept of Commerce and Labor.
Indian Treaties: During the mid 1800s as a result of the arrival of pioneers from the east and middle west migrating into the area, the Medicine Creek Treaty was signed, followed with more negotiating with the native tribes. The result was the creation of the Puyallup Indian Reservation. By 1886 individual Indians received patent deeds to specific pieces of their own private property within the Reservation. There were thirteen natives who received plots of land in the western parts of Northeast Tacoma including Big Head Bob, Charley Satiacum and Joe Douette, George Tichinahon, George Bird, Criss Laughlet, John Cook, Joseph Peasup, William Tocahun, Jim Sitwell, George Johnson, Sampson Zahuheus and Sam Squatahan.
Mosquito Fleet: Beginning in the mid to late 1800s cargo ships exporting lumber, canned fish and other local products out of Commencement Bay resulted in tremendous growth of the small settlement of Tacoma. The waters of Puget Sound became the main means of transportation due to the lack of roads through dense forests on the mainland. Large steam ships carried cargo and passengers in and out of Tacoma, small boats carrying 30-60 people served small beach communities up and down the Sound and pleasure boats and fishing boats added to this panorama of boats and ships called the “Mosquito Fleet”, a universal name for this kind of maritime activity.
First Light: In 1887 due to the increased maritime traffic, a kerosene lantern was installed on a post on Point Brown warning maritime traffic to make the turn around the point into Commencement Bay. Even with the lantern light some serious accidents and near misses during foggy weather became a big problem. By 1901 the property where the lantern had been installed was purchased by the United States government from the heirs of Joe Douette, the native who received the property in a patent deed signed by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. The plan to build a lighthouse with a fog bell on Point Brown had begun. Finally in 1903 the first lighthouse was built. Oscar Brown and his wife Annie arrived on May 26, 1903. He lit the lantern that evening for the first time and at that moment the name of the point changed to Browns Point. It is noted that by coincidence that its first keeper was named Brown.
Development Begins: Within the first decade of the 20th Century large parcels of land in Northeast Tacoma were purchased and platted by partnership entrepreneurs; namely, Hyada Park in Browns Point and in Dash Point the Dash Point View Addition, Arthur’s Sound View, Dash Point Palisades and Fairview Park Tracts. Soon people were camping and building small cabins for summer vacationing. Permanent homes were the next step of building and developing these small communities. Captain Mathew McDowell, the owner of a small fleet of boats that serviced communities up and down the Sound, purchased and platted the quiet cove and adjoining land between Dash Point and Browns Point. He called it Caledonia. He built a dock where he moored his D Fleet at night for protection from the Puget Sound weather and other boats. The name of each of his boats began with the letter “D”.
In order to accommodate these small service boats on the Sound every community built their own dock. This made loading and unloading cargo and passengers easier and safer. Through the years Dash Point has had four docks; the first in 1907 which disintegrated, the second in 1912 which also disintegrated and finally the third dock in 1917 that was built on steel enforced concrete pilings. The latter lasted 80 years when it was replaced in 1997 as a fishing pier. There was another dock called Fairwood built between Dash Point and today’s Dash Point State Park. Little is known about this dock or what its major purpose was. Something to research.
Schools Established: By 1914 Dash Point had enough permanent residents to require a school that was located in a house close to the beach at the bottom of today’s Markham Ave. Browns Point built a small building for their school on Tok A Lou. Each community also had a grocery/mercantile store and each also incorporated their own improvement club; Dash Point in 1907 and Browns Point in 1919.
The development of the rest of Northeast Tacoma began when Fred Phohl in 1914 purchased and platted a large pierce of property on the south side overlooking Commencement Bay which he called Crescent Heights. Large ½ acre lots were sold to families. Soon a school was built in 1919.
In these early years of development several men contributed much to each community. In Dash Point James Churchill, one of the Dash Point developers was also the realtor and the first store owner. His store burned down in 1920. In 1910 another store had opened by Ernest Day (today the Lobster Shop building). Others contributing were Harry Johnston, Lloyde Eberhart, R.P. Milne and Claude Austin to name a few.
First Lightkeepers: In Browns Point the light keeper Oscar Brown and his wife Annie, who were the first white residents coming to Northeast Tacoma in 1903, served as the light keepers for 36 years. They became active and prominent in the community. Jerry Meeker, a Puyallup tribe member and one of the owners of Hyada Park development named all the streets with Indian names. He was well educated and accepted in both the Puyallup tribe and the white man’s world. As a realtor and full time resident of Browns Point he became a highly respected community leader. His “end of the summer season clam bakes” were enjoyed by all and evolved into today’s Salmon Bakes. His was often called the “Father of Browns Point.”
First Roads: By the 1920s many roads were being built which required fewer and fewer boats servicing communities on Puget Sound. By 1919 McDowell had sold all of his D Fleet having seen that roads would soon take over transportation options. He retired to run his own real estate holdings. He founded the McDowell Water company for his residents in 1944, the same year the Hyada Water Company and the Dash Point Cooperative Water Company were founded.
First Churches: St. Theresa’s Catholic Church was built in 1924 accommodating people who had been opening their living rooms for Sunday Masses. A Sunday School, the forerunner of the Marine View Presbyterian Church met in the first Dash Point School beginning in 1922.
Schools Development: A new Dash Point school was built in 1924 on property originally owned by Claude Austin. He had swapped this property with the Tacoma School District for property it owned higher up the Dash Point hill. Soon after in the 1930s some changes came to the schools. Browns Point School’s increased enrollment demanded a portable addition in 1932 only to be closed in 1938 with Browns Point students sent to Dash Point, Northeast Tacoma and Federal Way schools a dark time for the Browns Point community. The old Browns Point School became the Browns Point Improvement Clubhouse. Also in 1938 Northeast Tacoma Improvement Club built their clubhouse.
New Lighthouse: The 1930s were important years contributing many other changes to the Points. Electricity arrived in the early 1920s, so that Oscar Brown no longer had to turn a crank to keep the fog bell ringing or light the lantern every night. But the old, wooden lighthouse built in 1903 was being damaged and threatened by the continued washing away of its foundation by the tides. It was seriously damaged and its equipment outmoded. In 1933 the United States Lighthouse Service replaced it with a concrete, art-deco style lighthouse. For a short time the two buildings stood side by side, but when the new was put into service, the old building was razed and burned. The United States Lighthouse Service was terminated in 1939 with the United States Coast Guard taking responsibility for all lighthouses and lightships. Oscar Browns retired that same year at the age of 70 after 36 years at Browns Point.
Community Celebrations: A small community celebration that began in 1927 in Dash Point called the Hoop-te-doo evolved into ham and scalloped potato dinners and finally the Dash Point Beef Barbecues. In 1934 the Dash Point Dock Dinners had become a two day affair with many water sport events. In Browns Point Jerry Meeker’s Clam Bakes had evolved into the Browns Point Salmon Bakes featuring Indian dancing.
A major improvement occurred in 1933 with the opening of the road to Federal Way. A bridge was built over the deep ravine separating King County from Pierce County. Northeast Tacoma was then less secluded having another major road besides Marine View Drive in and out of the area.
War Years: The early 1940s, the War Years demanded much from Northeast Tacoma: the draft taking its young men to fight in Europe and the Pacific and people at home contributing to the war effort. Seventy-five residents from all of Northeast Tacoma manned the Crestview Observation Post 24 hours a day looking for enemy aircraft. The road leading to the watchtower is now called Watchtower Road. There was some degree of normalcy during this period with the founding of two garden clubs, the Madrona Garden Club and the Dash Point Garden Club in 1940. Perhaps they were inspired by the Browns Point Garden Club which had been founded in 1932. The first preschool was founded in 1943 which eventually became and still exists as the Northpoint Cooperative Preschool.
By the 1950s Northeast Tacoma was a quiet place made up of three small communities. The war had brought a slight increase in population due to increased ship building in the tide flats during the war. There were two outlets via main roads and a dirt path at Julia’s Gulch. Moderate growth did include the opening of Browns Point Elementary school on 51st Street NE in 1952 with the Meeker Jr. High School opening adjacent to the elementary school in 1958. Major additions were made to Northeast Tacoma Elementary School in 1958 and again in 1979. In 1958 a second building was built next to Dash Point School to accommodate more students at Dash Point Elementary. But a drop in enrollment in the early 70s required that Dash Point School to close in 1973. All Dash Point students went to Browns Point School until 1977 when students in kindergarten to third grade from both Dash Point and Browns Point were temporarily sent to Dash Point School, and students in fourth through sixth grade were sent to Browns Point School. One wonders what could happen next. The answer… a few paragraphs down.
Businesses Develop: The Crestview Shopping Center (later called Browns Point Shopping Center) was built and opened in 1946. It included a grocery store owned by Charles Jackson, drug store and ice cream fountain (the Yukon Fountain) owned by Jack Robinson, a hardware store, a dry cleaning store and barber shop. Ernie and Marie Burton opened a gas station across the road. In 1956 the Browns Point Medical Center was built on Wa Ta Ga street with Dr, James Hazelrigg and Dr. Leonard Loflin providing medical and dental services. The Cliff House Tavern a popular meeting place for locals burned down in 1953. It was built back in 1955 by W.P. Keyes. By 1957 the Cliff House property was purchased by H.O. Smith who built the Cliff House Restaurant, a two story structure in 1958. Guido Brendicke leased the business in 1976 and eventually purchased and remodeled it in 1986. In Dash Point Denny Driskoll purchased the Beach Hut from Al and Verna Hanson in 1977. He remodeled this building that was built in 1910 into today’s Lobster Shop. It had been a hamburger shop, grocery store, post office and telephone office, and had many owners throughout the years.
Crescent Heights Grocery was built by Warren and Betty Larson on the south side of Northeast Tacoma overlooking Commencement Bay in 1953. A year later they sold it to Betty’s parents, Royal and Margaret La Plante who had the business for several years. In 1961 the grocery store was sold to Al Nix who owned the ground on which it was built. The store still exists today.
Churches Grow: The new congregation of St. Mathew Episcopal church began holding services in the Browns Point Shopping Center in 1951. Their new building was opened in 1952 on Eastside Drive next to the shopping center. Browns Point Methodist Congregation held their first service in the Meeker Jr. High School in 1958, and in 1961 dedicated their new church on Browns Point Blvd. Resurrection Lutheran Church opened their new building in 1961. Marine View Presbyterian (previously a Sunday School and then the Dash Point Community Church) expanded their building on Eastside Drive also in 1961. The small St. Theresa’s Church could not meet the needs of a fast growing congregation being increased by residents from the western part of Federal Way. Their new church was built and dedicated in the Twin Lakes residential area in Federal Way in 1980. The 1924 building was sold to a private owner. Today it is a residence that has maintained the lovely look of a small country church.
The Browns Point Salmon Bake resumed in 1946 in order to make money to build a new clubhouse and it continues to this day in even numbered years providing services to the community. The Browns Point Improvement Club dedicated their new clubhouse on the beach next to the lighthouse in 1955. Jerry Meeker, one of their most avid boosters, died that same year at the age of 93. The Dash Point Beef Barbecues began again in 1947 in odd numbered years to also provide services to its community. In 1981 the Dash Point celebration came to an end due to demanding county requirements and lack of parking for the event. When a large tree fell on the old clubhouse, it was decided to sell the property. It was sold in 1984 to a private owner who built a house on the property.
Crew Quarters Added: At the Browns Point Light Station, a crew quarters building was built in about1953 next to the light keeper’s cottage in order to house two men who assisted the light keeper in maintaining and monitoring the lighthouse and its other buildings. In addition they had the added responsibility of monitoring and maintaining the lighthouse at Point Robinson and the light at Point Defiance. In 1963 the Browns Point Lighthouse was fully automated with a sun relay cell that turned the light off and on. The fog signal was operated by phone from Point Robinson. The Lighthouse property still owned by the Coast Guard was for a while, maintained as a park by Pierce County and later taken over by Metro Parks of Tacoma who leased the cottage to an employee and later to other renters.
The North Shore Golf Course opened with nine holes on 115 acres in Northeast Tacoma in 1961 with another nine holes added in 1978. In the first decade of 2000, a buyer proposed purchase of the golf course in order to build more houses which inflamed most residents of Northeast Tacoma. As of 2013, the deal is on hold until further decisions are made.
Dash Point State Park: Carl Anderson, who grew up in Dash Point, made a suggestion in the early 60s to the Washington State Parks Department recommending a new state park on property east of the Dash Point residential community. It had an extensive beach at low tides and ideal areas for hiking and camping. It included 272 acres and was dedicated as Dash Point State Park in 1962. When the Dash Point Water Association discovered their water was contaminated in 1972, they switched to Tacoma Water and sold their property in 1979 to the Washington State Parks Department adding another 122 acres to Dash Point State Park. In the 1980s the McDowell (Caledonia) Water Company and the Hyada Water Company also switched over to Tacoma Water.
Businesses Expand: By the 1980s, a great deal of growth had changed the landscape of Northeast Tacoma. Houses were being built in all three communities. Adding to the growth was a new road, Northshore Parkway built in 1986 that connected the area to Federal Way and to Interstate 5. That same year the old Browns Point Shopping Center was razed and a new, larger, concrete structure was built which housed a larger grocery store owned by Art and Darlene Keizer and the Savon Drugs owned by Ron Ayer. Archie’s Diner (now Browns Point Diner) made its debut along with several other small stores. A professional building was built next to the shopping center which was occupied for a time by Multi-care Medical Group until it moved to the new QFC shopping mall and complex on 29th Ave. NE in Northeast Tacoma in 1999. A second professional building was built in 1990. Both buildings provided space for Dr. Zimmer, dentist and Louise Beale, veterinarian, a beauty shop, investment office, and for a time Ron Ayer’s Savon Drugs which he moved from the large shopping center building into the smaller professional building. He closed the store in 1996 after having had the business in Browns Point for 22 years. The Keizers sold the grocery store to Scott and Michelle Yoder. The construction and opening of the QFC grocery store up the road was too competitive. The Yoders who downsized considerably were able to keep it open for a couple years and closed. Today there are still changes of businesses occurring in the shopping center and the professional buildings.
Tribal Lands: Negotiations began in 1989 between local, state and federal agencies with the Puyallup Tribe concerning the tribe’s land claims of Northeast Tacoma properties. It was resolved in 1990 when President Bush signed the land claims settlement, awarding funds to the Puyallup Tribe for their claims to properties they formerly owned in Northeast Tacoma and the tidelands.
And the rest of the School Story: The new Meeker Middle School opened on Nassau Ave. in 1992. In 1993 Browns Point Elementary School was expanded to include the old Meeker Junior High building next door. The Dash Point School buildings were permanently closed. Northeast Tacoma Elementary was remodeled, expanded and was opened in 1993 also. The new Crescent Heights Elementary School was built and opened in 1999 on Nassau Ave next to the Meeker Middle School. For more than ten years the school situation seems to have stabilized.
The old Dash Point School built in 1924 was enlisted on the State and Pierce County Registers of Historic Places by PNEHS. The Marine View Presbyterian Church purchased the Dash Point School property from the Tacoma School District. The church, keeping the newer building for their own classrooms, sold the old school to the Northpoint Cooperative Preschool and with grant moneys, fund raisers and support from the historical society they have been able to provide its maintenance and its preservation. The Principal’s Office in the school is a museum of Dash Point history organized by the historical society.
Metro Parks: In 1923, yes 1923 the Dash Point Dock Park was put under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma. By 1994 Metro Parks had been maintaining the grounds of many more neighborhood parks including Browns Point Lighthouse Park, the neighborhood park (“Curly Slide”) on La Hal Da, Alderwood Neighborhood Park, and the large sports field next to Browns Point School now called Jim Davidson Field. In 1994 Metro Parks opened the Norpoint Recreational Centre on Nassau Ave. N.E. which provides all kinds of indoor and outdoor sports, exercise facilities and space for social functions.
Historical Society: A very important addition was made to Northeast Tacoma in 1986 when Jill Barkley, Patti Hurlbut and Mavis Stears incorporated the Points Northeast Historical Society. Their first important public event, was organizing a temporary museum which they created with many volunteers in an empty space in the new Browns Point Shopping Center. For two weeks in May of 1989 in celebration of the Washington State Centennial, they exhibited local historical artifacts donated for the exhibit from local residents. It was a great introduction to the communities for the Society. In addition funds had been obtained to create and install community signs for Browns Point and Dash Point along State Highway 509 (Eastside Drive) which also commemorated the centennial. During those two weeks in May, all the students of Browns Point Elementary, Dash Point Elementary and Northeast Tacoma Elementary Schools were given field trips on the beach between Dash Point and Browns Point with docents explaining the history of the area and a tour of the temporary museum. That same year of 1989 the Society enlisted the Browns Point Lighthouse Station on the National Register of Historic Places. This was only the beginning of many, many more accomplishments involving collecting and preserving our history and educating our communities here in Northeast Tacoma.