Lemon Beach: How sweet thy name

Long before it was Lemon Beach, this strip of land in University Place was just a piece of property settled in the 1870s by Baptist missionary Father Rudolph Weston and his wife, who had married in 1851 and crossed the plains from Connecticut in 1852. Their quarter-section claim along the Narrows included most of the waterfront between Point Defiance and Steilacoom.

In addition to his missionary work among the Indians, the father was a skilled carpenter and blacksmith. He felled fir trees, split the wood and built a house with a brick chimney, a barn and a 20 feet by 40 feet. lean-to. He also split cedar for roof shakes. His biggest challenge, though, was how to make nails, since he couldn’t find any at the trading posts. Eventually, he built a forge, found some scraps of metal, heated them and hammered them out. And since he managed to make the nails, he also made his hinges.

Weston also did something that was an eye-opener to most people who were used to fences back east that zig-zagged: He built a straight fence. According to the paper, the fence “was prevented from falling down by upright stakes driven securely into the ground and each side of where the ends overlap, and a wooden peg being placed through augur holes near the top. One end of the pins is left larger than the holes and other end secured by a wooden wedge in the end.”

The Westons had two children — a son, Howard, who moved to California, and a daughter, Minerva. In old age, they sold the land to John J. and Mary Lemon and moved to Steilacoom. Weston died in March 1892. Mrs. Weston died in 1905. Minerva married Calvin Shultz on September 9, 1909 and there is no more information. His buildings stood until 1916, when Lemon started replacing them.

Mr. Lemon was a Civil War veteran, a printer, newspaper man and an avoid horticulturist. When he bought the property, it had over a hundred varieties of apples, pears and plums planted by Father Weston. The land sloped gradually from the bank to the water. According to the Tacoma Daily Ledger, was there was a mile-long stretch perfect for swimming and beach combing. In the 1890s, shells from the Pacific Northwest were popular with East Coast collectors.

Mr. Lemon was enormously proud of his property, which was known as Evergreen, and extremely generous in letting people camp on it. During a typical summer, an average of 200 people put up tents or wooden shelters along the water from Point Defiance to Steilacoom. They dug clams, prepared skits to put on in the evening, and hiked.

Some fished from rowboats anchored off shore. Salmon were easy to catch. A small newspaper article in November 1895 said three steam tugs with scows and fishing boats were catching salmon off the beach for canneries in Seattle. “One haul had 1,500 fish averaging 8 to 15 pounds,” the newspaper reported.

People decorated their rowboats with illuminated Japanese lanterns. In the evening, they baked the clams, sang, told stories, set off fireworks, and sometimes danced. One favorite activity was to douse an old boat with something flammable, push it out in the water and set it on fire.

The reporter who wrote about Lemon Beach was particularly interested in the bubbling sounds he heard the day he visited. He said they were the result of air coming up through crevices in the beach. There was no odor and the water didn’t have an oily appearance, but when he put his hand in, it came out feeling greasy. Another thing he found was a spring onshore above the high water mark with a strong mineral taste. People immediately assumed it had medicinal qualities that would bring in those interested in “taking the waters” and make Tacoma famous. The reporter thought a tourist hotel would be built because of the view, opportunities for boating and bathing facilities and the beach’s nearness to the city. The financial panic of the 1890s put an end to those dreams.

n October 1895, Lemon Beach residents tried to form a school district, but there were problems with Pierce County. The residents wanted to cut off a section of land along the Narrows and include it in their district. A law on the books said no territory could be transferred out of any district if the district had a bond debt. The Tacoma School District had a debt of $31,000, and because of that, Lemon Beach’s request for its own neighborhood school was denied. As a result, instead of walking a few hundred feet to school, the children had to walk either two and a half miles to Franklin School or a mile-long trail to Steilacoom and hope they could catch a street car.

While this problem was going on, Mr. Lemon was actively involved in organizing a county horticultural society so farmers could make money on their fruit. He repeatedly took fruit from his trees to newspaper offices to show it off. Throughout the 1890s, Mr. Lemon was part of the various county and state horticultural societies organized.

In 1995, longtime resident and library patron Virginia Wheelock Marshall made a bequest in excess of $2.4 million to the Tacoma Public Library to honor her mother, Anna Lemon Wheelock, daughter of John J. and Mary Lemon. Thus, McCormick Library became Wheelock Library.