Walburga Eisen ~ Early Day Entrepreneur

by Betty Lou Gaeng
Nostalgia—a sentimental yearning for the past. To return to our youth is often a cherished wish. For some of the older folks who grew up in southwest Snohomish County, the name Walburga Eisen may invoke some pleasant memories of that lost youth. Well, they may not recall her given name—few knew Mrs. Eisen even had one. She was always just Mrs. Eisen. Mrs. Eisen with the sharp eye for troublemakers. Nothing got past her watch.

Summertime in the 1920s, 1930s and the early 1940s was a more simple time—a time for fun and meeting friends at the beach. It was a time before TV, cell phones, I-Pods, hanging out at the mall or showing off your wheels.

If you lived in the southwestern part of Snohomish County, Washington State, especially Cedar Valley or Seattle Heights, you knew the best place to hang out during summer vacation. Mrs. Eisen’s resort at Hall’s Lake was the fun place to be. Before it closed in 1944, this was where young people of the area kept in contact with their friends from school. They flirted a little, showed off their water skills, or just basked in the sunshine on the float a little way offshore. Some of these friendships lasted for a lifetime, and some young folks even found their marriage partners. Parents didn’t need to worry when their children were at the resort, Mrs. Eisen was always there, keeping her watchful eyes peeled for any hanky panky.

The resort was a favorite spot for group picnics. Because Hall’s Lake had once been a major part of the lumber industry in the area–sawmills had been along its shore. The lake remained a yellowish brown color from the ever present cedar logs. The shingle-weavers who had worked in the sawmills remembered Hall’s Lake and when it came time to hold their annual summer picnic, Mrs. Eisen’s resort was the place they gathered. Sometimes it was a little noisy and rowdy, but it was always a day of joy in remembering old friendships. Many other groups including the Seattle Elks also found the Halls Lake Resort a good place to hold their annual picnics. The resort during the summer months was also a favorite for the county’s politicians to meet and greet, and garner votes for the upcoming elections.

Old Settlers Picnic, click for link to more information

The most notable of the picnics was in August with the long-held annual Old Settlers’ Picnic. These were the old settlers of Alderwood Manor, Cedar Valley, Seattle Heights, Esperance, Edmonds, Meadowdale and all the surrounding area. There were good times for people of all ages, including a variety of contests—three-legged races, swimming races, foot races for different age categories, largest family, oldest person. There was even dancing at night in the dance pavilion—with live music. For many of the young people, this is where they learned to maneuver around a dance floor. The picnic was a fun time in August for the whole family.

Money was scarce, but resorts such as Mrs. Eisen’s were places where you could enjoy a day of getting together with others, sharing your basket of food, and just forgetting the cares of the world. In our busy and changed world of today, these simple days of summer have mostly faded away. Society has lost a great tradition.

Walburga Hagel was born December 20, 1860 in Rogers, Hennepin County, Minnesota, the daughter of Peter and Helena Hagel—one of ten children. In 1882, she married Simon V. Eisen, also a Minnesota native. The couple made their home in Minneapolis, and by the end of 1901, they had eight children: Lawrence, Albert, Frank, Amelia, George, Matthew, Helen, and the baby Carl.

In 1905, the family moved to Seattle. In Seattle, along the western shore of Lake Washington, Simon and Walburga began their career of running amusement parks. Simon became the manager of Leschi Park, a popular spot for the people of Seattle and the communities across the lake. The park was owned by the Seattle Electric Company and they ran a cable car from Pioneer Square to the park. Before the Eisens arrived in Seattle, there was even a collection of animals located at the park. However, in 1903 the menagerie was donated to Woodland Park and became the nucleus of the newly established zoo on Guy Phinney’s land.

Simon and Walburga remained in Seattle until 1913. That year they bought land along the eastern shore of Hall’s Lake in Snohomish County, about a mile east of the highway community of Seattle Heights. They opened Hall’s Lake Resort, and with its close proximity to the Seattle-Everett Interurban, the resort soon became a favorite destination for recreation seekers.

Walburga became a widow in 1919 with the death of Simon. For a time she was assisted by her sons, but she continued as the force in the management of the resort. Walburga Eisen was the mainstay, she was the one always on hand, keeping a sharp lookout over those enjoying the offerings at the resort.

Walburga Eisen took the lead in many community projects for Seattle Heights, often lending her facilities at the resort for fund-raising events. One of her major accomplishments was a volunteer fire department at Hall’s Lake in the latter part of the 1920s. The department was led by her youngest son Carl with volunteers from the area. They had no fire engine, instead using a truck with barrels of water carried in the bed of the truck. This was the beginning of the very first fire department for miles around. In 1929, the operation was moved to Carl Eisen’s garage at 212th and Highway 99. This volunteer fire department gave birth to Snohomish County Fire Protection District 1, and for many years Carl Eisen served as a chief.

Another son of Walburga was well known to the people of the area. Matthew, or Matt, as he was more commonly called, served for many years as a member of the school board for Edmonds School District 15.

Getting on in years, Walburga Eisen sold her resort to the Church of the Nazarene in August of 1944. That month the Nazarene held their first camp meeting as new owners of the resort at Hall’s Lake. The loss of the well-loved public entertainment spot was deeply felt by the residents of the area. After a short illness, Walburga Hagel Eisen died in a Seattle Hospital on Sunday, February 10, 1957 at the age of 96. She is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle. Of her eight children, all survived her except son Matt, who died in 1949.

Sources:
Death Records < http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov >
Obituary for Walburga Eisen, Edmonds Tribune-Review, Edmonds, Washington, Feb. 14, 1957
Edmonds Tribune-Review, Edmonds, Washington, July 27, 1934 and August 3, 1944
1870 U.S. Federal Census–Hassan, Hennepin County, Minnesota
1900 U.S. Federal Census–Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota
1910 U.S. Federal Census–Seattle, King County, Washington
Department of Neighborhoods < http;//web1.seattle.gov >

© 2010 Betty Lou Gaeng, All Rights Reserved

Madame Luella Boyer

Madame Luella Boyer:
Everett’s Pioneer African-American Businesswoman

By Margaret Robe Summitt

Luella Ruth Brown Boyer, probably the first African-American businesswoman in Everett, arrived here about 1902 with her husband John C. Boyer. Soon after they arrived, their marriage broke up, and Luella supported herself and her adopted daughter Esther Marie as a hairdresser, styling herself “Madame Boyer,” and later established a salon in Everett’s theater district.

Luella Ruth Brown was born in either October 1868 or September 1869 in Keosauqua, Van Buren County, Iowa, to Lewis and Elizabeth (Henderson) Brown. Her parents had come from Missouri to Van Buren County in about 1864. Lewis Brown traced his family lineage to the first 20 slaves brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Elizabeth Henderson Brown performed housework for white families, including several lawyers. Her son Samuel Joe Brown, Luella’s younger brother (1875-1950), fulfilled his mother’s dream that he would become a lawyer and went on to a distinguished career as an attorney and civil rights leader. Her mother’s dreams for her children likely also inspired Luella. Both parents, however, were dead by about 1889. Samuel Joe Brown, Lawyer

More information is needed about Luella’s life between the ages of 12 and 26; i.e., between her appearance in the 1880 Census and her first marriage around 1896 to John C. Boyer. She was 25 years younger than her first husband. Born in 1844 to free blacks in Clinton County, Pennsylvania, John C. Boyer moved westward with the frontier seeking business opportunities as a barber, and likely networked with black barbers in the East. He worked in Dakota Territory and in Kansas, and possibly met Luella in Iowa. By 1900 the couple, now married, was living in Lewiston, Idaho. Two years later they arrived in Everett.

Around the time they came to Everett, John and Luella Boyer legally adopted baby Esther Marie. Polk’s 1902-03 Everett Directory lists John as a traveling salesman–probably of hair care products—and Luella as the proprietress of a ladies’ hair emporium at 2928 Colby Ave.; this address was also their residence. After this John C. Boyer disappears from Polk’s Everett Directory. He turns up again in the 1920 Census for Seattle; nonetheless Luella, in the 1910 Census, maintained the polite fiction that she was a widow.

As a single mother in a new town, Luella, however, was not without resources. She must have turned to John Boyer’s business connections, and to her own schooling. The Polk’s Directory entries for the years 1902 through 1912 show how she established and expanded her business:

1902: Boyer, Mme. Luella, ladies’ hair emporium, 2928 Colby Ave., residence same. John C. Boyer, a traveling salesman, res 2928 Colby.

1903: Boyer, Mme. Luella, ladies’ hair emp, 2928 Colby Ave., res same.

1904: Listed in the business section of Polk’s Directory under Hair Goods: Boyer, Mme. Luella, 2928 Colby Ave., Everett.

1905: Boyer, Mrs. Luella, hair gds 2928 Colby Ave., h 3816 Wetmore Ave., res 3615 Lombard Ave.

1906: Boyer, Mrs. Luella, hair gds 2006 ½ Hewitt Ave., h 3818 Wetmore Ave.

1907: Boyer, Mrs. Luella, hairdresser 2006 ½ Hewitt Ave., h 3818 Wetmore Ave.

1908: Boyer, Mme. Luella, Hairdresser and Dermatologist, 1910 ½ Hewitt Ave., home same, Tels Sunset 1645 Ind 521Y

1909: same address, Tel Main 1645

1910: same address, Tels 1645 Ind 521Y

1911: Boyer, Mme. Luella, Hairdresser and Dermatologist, 2923 ½ Oakes Av, home same, Tels Sunset 1645 Ind 521Y

1912: Boyer, Mme. Luella, Hairdresser and Dermatologist, 11 Eclipse Block, Tel Ind 1948Y, Sunset 1645, h 5 Eclipse Block.

Madame Boyer’s obituary indicates that she was well known in the community, yet I suspect that she was following trends developing elsewhere. According to historian Tiffany Gill, “Madame” was frequently adopted by black women hairdressers and came to signify them almost exclusively. The most famous of these “Madames” was Madam C. J. Walker of Indianapolis, who was developing her line of hair care products at the same time that Madame Boyer was establishing her business. One might speculate that Madame Boyer knew, or knew of, Madam C. J. Walker, and may even have sold her products.

Luella also worked as a housekeeper. The Everett Public Library has the receipts that she signed, for $1.00 a night, for occasional backstage housekeeping at the Everett Theatre at 2911 Colby, nearly across the street from her business address. She may also have done hairdressing backstage.Receipt for custodion services for Luella

A peak event in her life must have been the performance, on January 16, 1905, of the first all African-American musical comedy, “In Dahomey,” at the Everett Theatre. The touring company featured show business legends George Walker, his wife Aida Overton Walker, and Bert Williams, song and dance comedians who had recently entertained the King of England in London. Meeting them was a rare opportunity to network and maybe inspired her to expand her business.

Just before she remarried, Luella Boyer was enumerated in the 1910 Census. She was age 42, with her own hairdressing parlor, and she employed a black maid. Her husband-to-be, Bertrand Brent, who was white, was born about 1878 in Missouri, and was working in 1910 as a waiter in a restaurant. In 1911 his occupation was a janitor at the Everett Public Library. They were married just after the census was taken, on April 20, 1910, by Father H. P. Saindon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. Presumably Bertrand Brent was Catholic, but Luella was not, and as a condition of their marriage she agreed to have her daughter Esther raised Catholic. At about this time Esther began boarding at St. Dominic’s Academy, adjacent to the church.

At the time of her remarriage, Luella Boyer Brent was at her most prosperous. It may have been about this time that she and her husband began buying property in Snohomish and King Counties. At the time of her death, they owned in Pinehurst Lot 13, Block 14, and Lots 23 & 24, Block 23; in the Climax Land Co.’s Addition to Everett, Lots 24 & 25 in Block 2, and in Interurban Heights in King County, Lot 13, Block 14. For the Pinehurst lost Luella paid $100 out of her own funds out of a total of $143.95. These were unimproved lots except for those in Everett, for which was paid $894.41, of which the Brents recouped $500 paid by their insurance company for loss due to fire.

Luella Boyer Brent died December 18, 1912 from diabetes. Upon her death Bertrand Brent began the long (1912-1918) and frustrating process of administering her estate. Luella’s only will, drawn in 1909, was outdated; Mr. Brent therefore had Luella declared to have died intestate, and petitioned to be named administrator. After he had paid all her creditors, and the attorneys and appraisers, he declared to the court the necessity of selling Luella’s real property in order to pay his costs and expenses. But none came forward to buy either the real property or the remaining salon fixtures and hair goods. Finally, Mr. Brent declared that since no sale had been made, the balance of the estate should be distributed between the heirs, i.e., him and Esther. On June 14, 1918, the estate was fully and finally settled and closed.Gravestone of Luella Boyer Brent

At this point Madame Boyer disappears from the public records. I am still looking for a photo of her. Her former residences on Hewitt Ave. are now lost to the complex of the Everett Performing Arts Center and Comcast Arena. At the address where her salon was located on Colby Ave. there is today a nail salon.

Sources:
Thanks to David Dilgard of the Everett Public Library for the image of Mrs. Boyer’s signed receipt from the night “In Dahomey” played at the Everett Theatre. Thanks to my husband Christopher Summitt for the photo of the grave marker.

  • 1850 and 1860 Censuses, Woodward Township, Clinton County, Pennsylvania.
  • 1870 Census, Crawford Township, Clinton County, Pennsylvania.
  • 1880 Census: Keosauqua, Van Buren County, Iowa; Central City, Lawrence County, Dakota Territory.
  • 1900 Census, Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho.
  • 1910 Census, Everett 3rd Ward, Snohomish County, Washington.
  • 1920 Census, Seattle 230th Ward, King County, Washington.
  • Polk’s Everett and Snohomish County Directories, 1902-1912.
  • Marriage Certificate of Luella Boyer and Bertrand Brent, Snohomish County, Washington.
  • Death Certificate for Ruth Brent, Everett, Snohomish County, Washington, registered no. 213.
  • Probate file of Luella Ruth Brent, 1912-1918, Washington State Archives, Northwest Regional Branch, Bellingham.
  • Tiffany Gill, Black Beauty Shops: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry, University of Illinois Press, 2010.
  • Biographical Dictionary of Iowa (2008), entry for Samuel Joe Brown.© 2010 Margaret Summitt, All Rights Reserved