"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Calling Wenatchee, in 1928

By on June 26, 2021 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, headquartered in Seattle, brought the first telephone service to Wenatchee in 1900. 

Phones were installed in homes and businesses in the town core at reasonable cost. For ranches outside of the town core, installation and service charges were considerably higher.

The ranch didn’t have to be very far out of town. It could be on Washington Street, Western Avenue, Springwater or Ninth Street, Olds Station or Sunnyslope. They were all faced with exorbitant charges. 

By 1903 the ranchers had had enough. 

They held a mass meeting that resulted in an ultimatum demanding that Pacific Telephone lower its installation and service charges or the ranchers would put in a phone system of their own. Pacific Telephone believed these were empty threats and did nothing. 

They were wrong.

In October of 1903, under the leadership of Zadok A. Lanham, with a ranch on Okanogan Street, the ranchers founded the Farmers Telephone and Telegraph Company with $10,000 in assets. 

The Pacific Telephone equipment was removed and replaced with new phones and exchanges. Eventually a deal was reached that put Farmers Telephone Company in control of local calls and used Pacific Telephone’s lines and equipment for long distance calls.

The December of 1928 Farmers Telephone directory provides an interesting view of life at that time in Wenatchee. 

A year and a half later, in 1930, the federal census would show Wenatchee with a population of 11,627, up from 300 in 1893 when the first Wenatchee City Council met. 

The directory shows both in-town addresses as well as ranch listings. The ranch listings made up 40 percent of all phones.

In December of 1928 the town had eight fraternal organizations and associations including the American Legion, the Eagles and Elks clubs, the International Order of Odd Fellows Hall, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (It was the middle of Prohibition) and the YMCA.

There were 21 law offices with 24 attorneys in town including Sam Sumner, the dean of Wenatchee lawyers. Sumner in his early years served as City Clerk, City Attorney and County Attorney. 

During a short-lived smallpox outbreak in Wenatchee, Sam Sumner officiated at the “smallpox wedding.” He stood outside a quarantine fence with wedding guests and shouted vows to a young couple inside.

In 1928 there were 13 auto dealers of various makes and models including Ford, Hudson-Essex, Nash, Buick and Studebaker. Peck Brothers Motors offered Willys-Knight and Whippet automobiles. 

There was also what must have been the first auto detailing shop in town — Niccum Brothers Auto Beauty Parlor at 331 S. Wenatchee Ave. Eighteen service stations did some auto repair work and kept the fuel tanks full.

Wenatchee was served by four banks led by the Columbia Valley Bank, the first in town established in 1892. It was called “The old strong bank,” one of only two banks in North Central Washington that survived the financial panic of 1893. The other was the Waterville Bank.

There were two billiard parlors, one billiard hall and one pool hall — all four in the area around Orondo Street and Wenatchee Avenue.

The city boasted eight churches; Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Christian Scientist, Free Methodist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army.

There were five purveyors of men’s furnishings led by Mills Brothers along with two women’s clothing stores. The Fashion Shop offering “Ladies exclusive wearing apparel at moderate prices.” And Webb’s Shoppe with “Exclusive ladies wearing apparel and millinery.” There was one corsetiere in town.

Downtown Wenatchee had six department stores including Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney, The Wenatchee Department Store and The Emporium. 

There were seven druggists in the downtown core; Columbia Pharmacy, Mission Drug, Owl Drug, Public Drug, Wenatchee Drug, Wheeler’s Drug Store and White Cross Drug Company. 

Eleven dentists practiced in town along with 17 physicians and surgeons. The list included one female, Doctor Minnie Simmons, the first woman doctor in Wenatchee.

Groceries were available from 32 stores and 15 meat markets including Thompson Grocery offering “Quality Groceries at Right Prices” and phone-in ordering.

The downtown area bristled with 19 hotels. The Wenatchee Hotel at Orondo and Wenatchee Avenue, home to one of the billiard halls, promised a “private exchange with local and long distance telephones in all rooms.” Only the Bruce Hotel remains today.

Seven schools educated the children: Columbia School, Lewis and Clark School, Lincoln, Stevens and Whitman Schools and the High School on King Street.

Fifteen restaurants and cafes kept the citizens fed. That included several locations of Matt’s Filling Stations featuring “Good eats, soft drinks, confectionery, hot tamales and Chile Con Carne.” A guy named Pete operated his own “Filling Station.”

Seventeen Insurance Agencies offered to protect the people and their belongings. The Ferguson–Ross Insurance Company promised, “You won’t have cause to worry when you hear the fire alarm if you have your fire insurance taken care of through our office.”

The Liberty Theatre and the Mission Street Theatre brought movies and live events to Wenatchee. The Liberty remains today.

The Buster Brown Shoe Shop had your feet covered and four shoe repair shops could fix shoes that wore down. One, American Shoe Shop, then on South Mission Street, is still filling that need.

Oddly, it seems, for a rural area, the phone book shows only one veterinarian in town — Dr. C.P. Fay at 327 S. Mission Street.

Seven taxicab companies plied the streets of Wenatchee to get people where they needed to go: J.A. Graham Cab, Owl Taxi, Red Top Taxi, Fred Sheffield and Triangle Taxi Service. 

There were two motorcycle taxi services: Chuck’s Motorcycle Taxi and Taxi 275 that offered “half the price of others” with a $2.25 fare to Cashmere, $1.50 to Malaga or Monitor and $7.50 to Chelan. Patrons could choose between an open or closed sidecar. 

They likely used Indian Motorcycles since the only motorcycle dealer in town was the Indian Motorcycle Sales and Service at 520 S. Wenatchee Avenue.

There were no saloons in Wenatchee though you could likely get a drink in Shack Town — but perhaps no phone service.

Historian, author and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at

shake.speak@nwi.net. His recent book, What They Found, Stories of People in North Central Washington, is available at ncwstories.net and at retail locations throughout the area. 

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