Archived Story

Frank Hall and his Gig Harbor gig

Published 9:52am Friday, August 5, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

During his years as a resident of Gig Harbor, Wash., Dr. Alfred Marcus Burnham sent letters to his friends back in Albert Lea. He wrote about this community and nearby Tacoma, Wash., as great places to live with plenty of opportunities to make money.

One of the people who responded to the doctor’s invitation to move west to what was then Washington Territory was Francis (Frank) Hall, one of Albert Lea’s most prominent citizens.

Hall was born during 1834 in Lewis County, N.Y., His family moved to Beaver Dam, Wis., in 1854, then to nearby Ripon a few years later. In 1858 Hall married Maggie Foster and they came to Albert Lea a few months later. One of his first ventures was opening a general merchandise store.

In the spring of 1862 he helped to organize Company C for the Fifth Minnesota Infantry Regiment, a unit of local volunteers. Hall became a captain and was soon promoted to the rank of major. He was discharged from military service in 1863.

Hall eventually owned a hotel, the Hall House, the mill near the dam at the outlet of Fountain Lake, and started a bank. He became Albert Lea’s first mayor in 1878, serving a one-year term, then was elected to this office again in 1881, 1883, 1884 and 1886, according to a list of the city’s mayors prepared by Linda Evenson, the museum’s librarian.

In 1886, the year that Hall decided to conclude his local business and political activities and move from Albert Lea to Gig Harbor, making this trip was fairly easy. It could be done by rail from the city to La Crosse, Wis., then to the Twin Cities and on to Tacoma by a Northern Pacific passenger train over the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, The 11 miles or so from Tacoma to Gig Harbor would involve a ride in a boat.

He soon became involved in a new business venture intended to convert the amazing number of trees around this part of Puget Sound into lumber. By early 1888 Hall was the president of the Gig Harbor Lumber Co., a firm owned by investors from both Tacoma and Albert Lea.

For a few years this firm did very well. Then, two years later, a fire nearly destroyed the Gig Harbor Lumber Co. And by August 1892 this lumber venture became bankrupted and ceased operations.

As I stated in the previous column, this series of columns about the connection between Albert Lea, Gig Harbor and Tacoma were inspired by the excellent research by museum volunteer Anita Lotts.

While reading over her material, I got the impression that Hall gradually shifted his focus from Gig Harbor to Tacoma. In time, he became involved with a mercantile venture and was president of a creamery firm.

Albert Lea’s first mayor, who now has his name on a city park and two city streets, died on Sept. 7, 1903, as the result of a hunting accident near Gig Harbor.

In the next column we’ll explain why the western part of Washington, especially the area around Puget Sound became a very popular place to live for Scandinavians, including some folks from this area in the late 1800s.

Cornstalk comment

My article in Sunday’s Lifestyles will feature several of the very seasonal products once made by Albert Lea’s American Gas Machine Co. One of those products was the Kampkook stove intended for usage by campers and sportsmen.

While preparing this article I was reminded of my own encounter with this type of stove while serving overseas with the U.S. Army during the first of two active duty periods.

Despite wanting to be in an Army band, and basic training as a radio operator, I ended up as a cook in a quartermaster unit. There were several of these stoves made in Albert Lea in our mess hall. I distinctly recall that they were rather hard to operate and we had to be very careful with their usage.

With just three exceptions, Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.