BACK WHEN: The Beechers continue life in Port Townsend

THE BEECHER FAMILY continued to live in their Walker Street home in Port Townsend for at least part of each year through about 1917.

The registered owner of the house and property was always Mary Hadley Fletcher, the mother of Harriet Foster Beecher.

By the time the house was sold in 1921 to P.J Oeltjen, it had been occupied for the prior four years by Mr. and Mrs. E.P. Elliott.

The house sold again, just a few years later, to William Buhler, whose family lived there until 1967, when it was purchased by Clancy and Betty Fountain.

The Fountains lived there for 38 years, then sold it to the current owners, Harold Nelson and Patti Reynolds.

Nelson is an artist who was attracted to the existing studio space in the house.

Beecher children

The three Beecher children all received their educations in the Port Townsend School District.

Hal (Henry Ward Beecher II) went on to earn a degree in engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1906.

In addition to their painting endeavors, Mary Fletcher and Hattie Beecher were active in the cultural life of Port Townsend.

Mary was among the group of 14 women who signed the official agreement for the incorporation of the Port Townsend Public Library on June 28, 1898.

Hattie was a musician and writer, in addition to her painting career.

One year, James Swan sent for oratorios and sacred songs he had used in Boston, and together, he and Hattie organized a Christmas program for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Hattie also was an active member of the Washington State Historical Society and attended its meetings in Tacoma.

A great blow to the art world of the Northwest occurred March 30, 1915, when she was killed in an automobile accident on her way home from one of those meetings.

At about 5 that evening, the car carrying Hattie and four other “members of prominent families of Washington” back to Seattle on the old Pacific Highway failed to negotiate the sharp turn on the northbound trestle onto the Riverton Draw Bridge and plunged into the 8-foot-deep Duwamish River, a drop of about 30 feet.

Two survived

The chauffeur of the car was thrown clear and managed to save his employer, Emily Carkeet, the wife of a Seattle developer who also was thrown out of the car, but the other four passengers were trapped inside and did not survive.

Those who were killed were: Hattie Beecher; Margaret Lenora Denny, daughter of Seattle founder A. A. Denny, and the person for whom Lenora Street in Seattle is named; Thomas Prosch, the former owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; and his wife, Virginia McCarver Prosch, daughter of Gen. Morton McCarver, the founder of Tacoma.

The Port Townsend Leader article reporting the event indicated that the news reached Capt. Beecher in Tacoma, where he arrived that evening after docking the steamer Robert Dollar, which he had piloted down Puget Sound.

By the time of Hattie’s death, all three of her children were married.

Hal and Mary Eunice were living in Seattle and Trixie (Beatrice) lived in San Francisco.

Capt. Beecher lived in Seattle after her death and was remarried in 1916 to Grace Hogan Ringer, who had a 13-year-old daughter named Dorothy.

They lived in a rented house on Queen Anne Avenue, and Dorothy graduated from Queen Anne High School in 1924.

(Dorothy Ringer Naccarato donated the Harriet Foster Beecher watercolor of canoes and a tribal camp on Point Hudson to the Jefferson County Historical Society in 1964.)

In September 1925, 71-year-old Capt. Beecher was waiting in Port Townsend for the arrival of the Norwegian steamship Remus to pilot her to Seattle.

He was examining the ferry construction work being done on Union dock with W.H. Hill.

A loose plank on which he was standing gave way, and he fell 12 feet from the dock, striking his head on a float being used for the wharf repair work.

He died an hour later at the Marine Hospital.

After his death, in the 1930 census, Grace and her daughter were listed as living with Grace’s sister and brother-in-law in Philadelphia, though Dorothy later moved back to the Pacific Northwest.

Henry Ward Beecher II

Mary Fletcher lived her last years in Seattle in the home of her grandson, Hal Beecher, and she died in December 1922 at the age of 87.

In 1908, Hal married Blanche Cameron, whom he had met at the University of California.

He worked in Seattle as an engineer for the Moore organization, specializing in power plants.

In the late 1930s, he opened his own engineering consulting office in Seattle’s Securities Building.

In 1948, Hal established a fund to help deserving students of mechanical engineering at the Institute of Technology at Washington State College.

He died in 1953, age 70, after being in ill health for more than a year.

His Leader obituary called him “one of the best known consulting engineers in the world.”

Hal and Blanche had two children: Henry Ward Beecher Jr. (known as Ward) and Carol.

Ward and his wife, Doris, lived in Seattle and raised their children, Hal and Josefina, there.

Several of Harriet Foster Beecher’s sketchbooks and some of her art, including a self-portrait from her older years, were inherited by Ward and displayed in his Shilshole home.

As adults, their children owned forested property on Lopez Island, which Ward and Doris visited to engage in their hobby as birders and which they purchased when daughter Josie bought adjacent property for sheep farming.

They placed a conservation easement on the land and then, after their deaths in the 1990s, bequeathed it to the San Juan Preservation Trust to be protected in perpetuity, with Josie being granted the right to reside on it.

Hal’s daughter, Carol Beecher Robinson, married and lived in Schenectady, N.Y.

She and her husband, David, had three children: David, James and Alex.

Carol died in 1996.

For the conclusion of the Beecher family tales, see next month’s column.


Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.

Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.

Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear Oct. 15.

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