Grays Harbor History: Picnicking in Turn-of-The-Century

When sunny days break through the Pacific Northwest’s usual clouds and rain, the outdoors beckons as a place of relaxation and recreation. Grays Harbor County history shows that people in the first half of the 20th century loved spending a day picnicking. Grays Harbor woods, rivers and beaches made the county the destination that it remains today.

Going on a Picnic in Grays Harbor

Affordable and accessible, picnics were one of the most popular ways to relax at the turn of the 20th century for people across social classes. Clubs, fraternal societies, companies, schools, families and friends would take baskets out to picnic sites in the woods, along the river, the seashore and even simply the backyard!

Picnics often celebrated special events. When the Quinault section of the Pacific Highway was completed in 1915, officials and builders celebrated with a picnic at Lake Quinault, complete with roast elk.

Picnics were so important that Elma created a picnic area on the southwest corner of the County Fairgrounds in 1913, installing tables and benches in an alder glen.

Grays Harbor Seaside Picnics  

With Grays Harbor County’s many beaches, seaside picnics were a popular option for locals and tourists alike. 500 members of the Odd Fellows from across the county and their families, for example, gathered at Pacific Beach in 1911 for a picnic and sports, including a baseball game that pitted married men against single men.

Crowds enjoying a picnic celebrating the completion of the Quinault section of the Pacific Highway at Lake Quinault in September 1915. Photo courtesy: Library of Congress

Pacific Beach’s Civic Improvement Association even organized a cleanup of the community’s picnic grounds in spring 1916 to get ready for such summer crowds.

Westport proved another popular site for seaside picnics. People enjoyed swimming and sports like horse racing and baseball. Others like the Hoquiam Motorcycle Club held a 5-mile race in 1912 at their picnic.

These seaside communities, including Moclips, could be reached by train or boat. Groups even secured special excursion trains or chartered steamships for special events, like the annual Grays Harbor Grocers and Butchers Association picnic.

While Aberdeen’s Franklin School enjoyed many annual picnics in Westport during the turn of the century, their chartered launch, the Kennewick, ran aground on the Vincent sandspit across from Grays Harbor City in 1913. Unable to contact them, their families panicked back home and tugs were sent out to look for them that night. After two hours of searching the Skookum spotted the group of 60 students and their teachers. Transferred to smaller boats, the children arrived back in Aberdeen at 4 a.m.

Ketchum & Chabot offered ‘special rates to picnic parties to the beach or elsewhere’ on the Pacific Beach Stage in this August 21, 1914 Aberdeen Herald ad. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Grays Harbor Electric Park

Electric Park was opened by the Grays Harbor Electric Company in June 1904. Located between Aberdeen and Hoquiam, this “model park” included an enclosed dancing pavilion, baseball stadium, and zoo. Perhaps most popular was the picnic grounds with benches and swings in a shaded grove.

Easily reached by streetcar, its convenient location made the place a favorite spot for local groups to hold picnics, from churches to veteran groups. Labor Day celebrations often capped off a day of parades and speeches with a picnic at the park.

Montesano Merchants Picnic

One of the largest picnics during the era was the annual merchant’s picnic in Montesano. People brought their own silverware and plates, but enjoyed free sandwiches and coffee. Held near an old race track, people enjoyed sports including backwards races and events like milk drinking contests and “soak ’em Louie.” “Montesano was like a graveyard most of yesterday,” reported the Hearld in 1913 as stores and some sawmills closed. 2,000 people enjoyed the picnic.

Grocers like Gabrielson & Holmer (305 E. Heron Street), offered everything ‘from Soup to Nuts’ for picnics and a ‘complete line of Temperance Beverages.’ Ad from the May 19, 1916 issue of the Aberdeen Herald. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Preparing a Picnic

With picnics so popular, suggestions about what to serve at them frequently appeared in local newspapers’ household advice columns. Sandwiches were the most popular picnic choice. On August 1, 1912, The Kitchen Cupboard column listed a variety of picnic sandwich options including apricot, mixed fruit, fig, marshmallow, and honey-cream. A more substantial option was a lettuce and chopped ham sandwich from the July 28, 1914 column, which consisted of pounded ham and chicken mixed with celery salt, paprika, anchovy paste and mayonnaise on buttered bread and lettuce dipped in French dressing.

Other favorite options were sweet and savory pies. The author of the August 26, 1913 “Cookery Points” column suggested taking puff pastry shells and jars of fillings like stewed/fresh fruit and cream or cold leftover vegetables to assemble at the picnic site so the crusts would not become soggy. A riverside picnic favorite, she suggested, was canned lobster with cream.

Watermelons were also a popular picnic choice. Elma bought a ton and a half of watermelons to distribute free for the town’s “monster picnic” in 1911!

Grays Harbor Picnicking Today

With its many beautiful parks, Grays Harbor County remains an outdoors recreation destination today. One way to enjoy this remains a picnic. “Picnic as much as you can,” recommended the Aberdeen Herald on June 20, 1912. This advice remains true today. Have fun picnicking this and every summer! 

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