Jane Berry ~ First Businesswoman of Monroe, Washington

Jane Berry bears the distinction of being the first woman business owner in Monroe. Her saloon on East Main Street proved to be a focal point for both gatherings and controversy.

Aunt Jane Berry, as residents called her in later years, was both picturesque and peculiar but not one among the earlier settlers was better known than she. She was born in Newry, county of Down, Ireland in 1843. She came to America as a young woman at the age of 22. She sailed from New York for San Francisco around Cape Horn. In 1869, she arrived in the Monroe area. During her long residence in town, she prospered and acquired eleven different parcels of land. Her estate at the time of her death in 1925 amounted to nearly $40,000, a fortune in those days.

Controversy seemed to follow Aunt Jane. In February 1900, thirty-one citizens signed a petition to the county commissioners citing Berry for using obscene language between 5 and 6 p.m. on January 29 in the presence of women and children, brandishing a gun, and allowing loud and abusive language along with boisterous noise to emanate from her saloon. The petition asked that her license be revoked for the sake of decency in Monroe. It appeared the petition fell on deaf ears since Berry continued to operate her saloon.
Aunt Jane Berry owned a number of property parcels and had built a brick building on her East Main Street site. Rumor had it that she ran a house of ill repute on the upper floor of her building. At one time, mothers petitioned the school board to change the route of the school bus carrying their children past Berry’s saloon to protect them from the seamier side of life. The school bus at that time was a horse-drawn wagon.
Aunt Jane’s next battle occurred when Snohomish County sheriff‘s deputies discovered a large quantity of booze in Monroe. A big crowd dolefully watched the confiscation of the liquor and its trip out of town. Sheriff Donald McRae and Prosecuting Attorney O.T. Webb arrested Berry on the charge of violating the state prohibition law in 1917.
Newspaper accounts said that county officials staged one of the best-attended raids ever held outside of Seattle and they had located 26 bottles of contraband. The officers arrived unannounced and searched the Berry place. They arrested her and the news spread throughout the community. Within a few minutes several hundred people called around to have a look at what the sheriff had in his wagon.
Officers searched several other buildings owned by Berry but located no additional caches. At the time of the raid, Berry had been a resident of Snohomish County for more than forty years, and had arrived in Monroe before the town’s incorporation.
She married Frank Donahue 13 years before her death. He helped look after her properties during the last years of her life. Aunt Jane had a generous, and in her own quaint way, a good heart. She never forgot a friend nor overlooked a slight. She was generous to her friends when they were in need. To point up the respect the community had for this controversial woman, Mayor Bascom asked businesses to close during her funeral services.

Aunt Jane’s death created a legal stir when her relatives contested her will that left most of her assets to her husband. They claimed she was mentally incompetent. In the end, Aunt Jane defied them. In early 1926, the court ruled her will valid.

There was no more colorful character in Monroe than Aunt Jane Berry. For a slight woman, she cast a huge shadow that remained in the community for years. Her building still stands on the north side of East Main Street.

From left to right: Stretch Chop House at the very edge of the photo, Dolloff’s Store, Sanders Hotel, railroad tracks, Mrs. Berry’s saloon, and Vanasdlen’s Store and Post Office, which had been moved from Park Place. Running through the middle is the Great Northern mainline with engines under steam with railroad cars. The current Main Street crossing would be roughly at the center of the photo. The view is looking south and slightly east across the site of what is now the old Monroe Shopping Center.
Photograph Courtesy Monroe Historical Society, Monroe WA.