Seattle Now & Then: Prescott-Harshman House in Fall City, 1940

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Signs saying “Telephone Office” and, in faded letters, “Fall City Telephone,” along with the old Bell system logo, adorn this 1904 home along the Snoqualmie River in unincorporated Fall City. The photo, taken May 9, 1940, is hand-labeled “Falls City,” in popular use at the time. (Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives)
NOW: With smartphones to their ears, celebrating Prescott-Harshman House’s receipt of the John Spellman historic-preservation award for adaptive reuse (named for the late King County executive) are (from left) Aroma Coffee Co. proprietors Kelsey Wilson, Sara Cox and Emily Ridout and Fall City Historical Society members Cindy Parks, Donna Driver-Kummen and Paula Spence, along with Sarah Steen, King County landmarks coordinator, and her niece, Ellie Steen. In the background at right is Fall City Library. (Clay Eals)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on April 8, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on April 11, 2021)

Can we talk? Fall City celebrates communication in any form
By Clay Eals

Because of its expense and spam, I’m ready to shed our household’s telephone landline. “It’s about time — LOL,” my nephew Chris chides me. He’s probably right, but as a history writer, maybe I get some leeway.

No question: Landlines were once a big deal. More than a century before so-called smartphones and other technology, and in an era of telegraphs and handwritten letters, a telephone tethered to other phones through switchboards in country homes and wires strung along roadways from pole to pole was … well, revolutionary. People hearing real voices in real time over really long distances? Imagine that.

Our “Then” photo hints at how vital this was for tiny towns like Fall City, 25 miles and two lakes east of Seattle. With laundry rippling on a backyard clothesline and a manual lawnmower leaning against the side porch, this lived-in home also displayed three signs (can you spot them?) that it was communications central.

Fledgling telephones in Fall City date to 1900. By 1905, residents banded together, with $300 from lawyer-lumberman Newton Harshman and wife Julia, to connect phone lines from their stores to the local Northern Pacific Depot. In 1912, the Harshmans moved the switchboard to the 1904 home in our “Then” photo, first occupied by Martin and Parthena Prescott, at River and Mill streets along the Snoqualmie River.

Newton died in 1929, and Julia in 1933, when her Fall City Telephone Company sported 250 customers. Keeping the business afloat were their daughter, Gertrude Harshman, and her husband, George Satterlee, until 1947 when a new dial system soon would eliminate the need for a switchboard and operators.

The house was restored as office space, became a county landmark in 1984 and later hosted a Montessori school. Last fall, after 13 years of planning and hands-on fix-up, the building (known as Prescott-Harshman House and owned by Judy and Emily Nelson of nearby Preston) took on a retail persona that hearkens to its chatty roots.

Run by three local women, Aroma Coffee Co. aims to build connections — even with takeout only during the pandemic — at the busy intersection, now 335th Place Southeast and Redmond-Fall City Road (state Highway 202).

“More communication,” observes Metropolitan King County Council member Kathy Lambert, “is always going to be buzzing through here, and it’s very exciting.” So, too, is the county’s 2020 John Spellman historic-preservation award for adaptive reuse, bestowed to Prescott-Harshman House in December.

Like the rest of us, Aroma yearns for a post-virus day when friends and neighbors can gather in homey quarters for eye-to-eye conversation over a hot drink. Now that’ll be revolutionary.


To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Special thanks to the Fall City Historical Society, the Snoqualmie Valley Museum and the King County Historic Preservation Program for their assistance with this installment!

Below are two video links, nine photos, five documents and seven historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archives (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

VIDEO: Click the image to see the full 24-minute video on the 2020 John Spellman King County Preservation Awards. The segment on Prescott-Harshman House is at time code 6:55-11:50.
VIDEO: Aroma Coffee Co. proprietors (from left) Kelsey Wilson, Sara Cox and Emily Ridout explain how and why they opened a coffeehouse inside the renovated Prescott-Harshman House in Fall City. Click the image to see the two-and-a-half-minute video.
1878 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, squib on “the telephone.” (Courtesy of Ron Edge)
Sept. 15, 1921, Seattle Times, page 15.
Aug. 24, 1929, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 14.
July 23, 1950, Seattle Times, page 78.
The porch of the Prescott-Harshman House. (Fall City Historical Society)
An early view of the Prescott-Harshman House. (Courtesy Fall City Historical Society)
This is the state Historic Property Inventory Form for Prescott-Harshman House. Click the image to see the full pdf file. (King County Historic Preservation)
History of telephones in Fall City. Click the image to see the full pdf. (Fall City Historical Society)
Excerpt from Jack Kelley’s history of Fall City. Click the image to see the full pdf. (Fall City Historical Society)
The telephone chapter of the Fall City oral-history memory book. Click the image to see the full pdf. (Fall City Historical Society)
Obituary of Gertrude Harshman. Click the image to read the full pdf. (Fall City Historical Society)
An early view of Prescott-Harshman House. (Snoqualmie Valley Record collection, Fall City Historical Society)
Newton Roswell Harshman and Julia Gertrune Camp at Prescott-Harshman House, Nov. 17, 1915. (Fall City Historical Society)
Satterlee wedding party, 1919. (Fall City Historical Society)
Undated newspaper ad for Fall City telephone exchange. (Fall City Historical Society)
George Satterlee and Gertrude Harshman wedding article, 1919. (Snoqualmie Valley Museum)
Gertrude Harshman Satterlee with her children outside Fall City Church. (Snoqualmie Valley Museum)
Gertrude Harshman, 1917. (Snoqualmie Valley Museum)
Newton Rosewell Harshman. (Snoqualmie Valley Museum)
Newton Harshman. (Snoqualmie Valley Museum)
Obituary for Gertrude Harshman Satterlee. (Snoqualmie Valley Museum)


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