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(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.