ON THE EVE of her 100th birthday, when a Port Townsend Leader reporter asked Chimacum’s Josephine Yarr what she would change if she could live her life again, she replied that she wouldn’t change things a bit.
“I love this place. I know up to five generations for some families, and you won’t find nicer people than in Chimacum. I can’t think of any other place I’d want to live.”
Josephine grew up as a shy little girl on her family’s dairy farm at 3610 Center Road in Chimacum, about 4 miles south of Beaver Valley Road.
Her father, Thomas Yarr, had emigrated from Belfast, Ireland, in the early 1880s, arriving circa 1884 in the Chimacum area, where he found work for a year in a lumber mill, then at a dairy farm in the Chimacum Valley.
When the farm was foreclosed upon, the farmer offered Thomas his cows if he could find a place to put them.
He was able to put the cows on the farm of Edward Strand, a ship’s carpenter from Finland who had turned to farming after leaving the sea.
Tom Yarr met Edward’s daughter, Josephine, at a Chimacum square dance, where she picked him to be her partner.
They were married in 1897.
Josephine Yarr remarked: “[I] was a pretty Indian girl, and you can guess the rest of it.”
Josephine Strand’s mother, Bodha, was a member of the Snohomish tribe.
Thomas found that Edward’s farm was too small to raise the number of dairy cows he wished to own, and in 1901, he purchased the 200-acre farm upon which he and his wife lived for the rest of their lives.
Josephine Yarr is born
Josephine “Josie,” born in 1904, was the fourth of six children of Thomas and Josephine.
Her older siblings were Edward “Ned,” Isabel and Grace, and the younger children were Thomas “Tommy” and Marion “Pinky.”
At first, the family lived in a small two-bedroom cabin built by earlier residents.
In addition to the dairy herd, Thomas raised all of his own hay, plus mangels (large yellow beets) and white “cow carrots” to feed the cattle.
In the autumn of 1907, his barn was destroyed by arson, burning all his hay.
Fortunately, none of the cows was in the barn. Neighbors Sen. William Bishop and D.S. Troy from the Glendale Creamery offered to help.
“They drove the cows down to the Glendale, and those cows paid for their way by the milk they produced while they were there that winter.”
The next summer, the cows came back to a new barn and a fresh crop of hay.
Around that time, Bishop became interested in Holstein Friesian cattle and Thomas began to replace his herd with them.
He became a very successful dairy farmer and won awards for his cattle.
When Thomas built the new family home in 1914, he paid for the carpenters with the sale of four Holstein heifers.
For lumber, he used salvaged, good-quality first-growth lumber from cottages in the deserted town of Irondale.
In her 1989 oral history, Josephine Yarr said her father was a frugal man who let nothing go to waste.
The new farmhouse had six bedrooms upstairs and a large master bedroom and sewing room/office on the main floor, as well as the kitchen, dining room and living room.
Unlike most houses of that time, there were large windows on the front of the house. According to Josephine, “Mama wanted the light.”
The house did not have electricity until 1937. At first, they used kerosene lights and later gasoline lights before electricity was available.
They already had a telephone on the farm installed in 1904.
There was running water piped in but no indoor toilet until installation of an electric pump in 1937, increasing the volume of water to the house.
Water for the bathtub was heated on the Monarch wood range in the kitchen.
Children helped out
The children all helped with work on the farm.
Ned started milking cows when he was 7 years old. All of them pulled weeds from the mangel and carrot fields. The girls helped in the kitchen.
Thomas had only gone to school through the third grade, “but he read incessantly, so he knew quite a bit.”
He valued education.
“He thought to be a teacher was the pinnacle of success. He always wanted his daughters to be able to earn their own living.
“He used to say, if he had to choose between the sons and daughters going to school, ‘Let the daughters go because the sons can always farm or log.’ ”
The Yarr children (except the youngest, Marion) started school in the one-room Center School at 521 Center Road, walking there from the farm.
Josephine’s mother waited until she was 7 to send her to school because she felt Josephine was not ready for the long walk sooner.
She started in 1911 and completed her first five years of school there. Then she went to the new consolidated school in Chimacum.
The high school in Chimacum was not finished when Ned and Isabel finished eighth grade, so Thomas hired a tutor for them once or twice a week.
When the high school in Chimacum opened, Isabel started the ninth grade.
Ned went to high school for a year and then, during World War I, was needed on the farm and “he was willing to stop because, when you get to be 17 among people all younger than you are, you kind of want to stay home.”
The Yarr children’s mother died in April 1924 after a lengthy illness due to Bright’s disease and an enlarged heart.
Josephine graduated from Chimacum High School in 1924 in a class including six boys and five girls, the largest class up to that time.
She then attended school at Holy Names Normal School in Seattle, as her oldest sister Isabel had done.
She obtained a teaching certificate after one year there, and the next year earned a lifetime certificate at the University of Washington.
Yarr sisters as teachers
All four of the Yarr sisters became teachers.
Isabel’s higher education had been financed by the sale of some of her father’s cattle and his cashing in war bonds.
She began teaching at Chimacum and helped pay for her younger sister Grace to attend normal school in Bellingham.
Grace then began teaching in Mason County and contributed for Josephine’s normal school expenses.
Josephine then contributed for Pinky’s college at Central Washington College in Ellensburg and helped with her brother Tommy’s college tuition.
Josephine remarked, “Our oldest brother worked very hard here to keep the farm going and keep supplies in the house. … That was our obligation: to help one another.”
Josephine’s younger brother, Tommy, was an athletic prodigy from early childhood.
He captained most sports teams in high school and went on to play center on the football team at Notre Dame University, where he made All-American and was team captain in 1931.
After college, he played one year of professional football with the Chicago Cardinals in 1934 before he was diagnosed with heart disease, to which he succumbed at the age of 33.
Josephine’s first teaching job was at Shine School in 1927.
She was very pleased with the quality of the school building, “which had everything imaginable for the day. … We had a phonograph, a piano and quite modern playground equipment … [and] quite nice books.”
She also had the highest salary of any female teacher in Jefferson County, at $130 a month.
Local school district funding was good due to the Port Ludlow lumber mill paying taxes in that area.
There were 21 students from first through eighth grades.
Many of the students were the children of Finnish immigrants who worked in the lumber mill.
After five years at Shine, Josephine moved on to teach 30 children in the upper four grades at Hoodsport grade school for two years.
Then she taught at several other grade schools in Mason and Clallam counties.
Josephine rose to the demands of teaching children in several grades at once.
She seemed to have few discipline problems and took great pride in the successes of her students.
In the 1940s, she taught in Gorst and Port Orchard, sometimes having as many as 40 and 50 children in her fifth-grade class due to the influx of workers at the Naval Shipyard.
The families came from all over the country.
Josephine remarked that the behavior of the children was excellent but “of course, you had all degrees of advancement in their work. I didn’t even know enough to say, ‘I’m doing too much work here.’ ”
She was there until 1952, when her brother Ned died from a heart attack at the age of 52.
Ned had been managing the farm by himself since the death of Thomas Yarr Sr. following surgery in Seattle in 1939.
Chimacum neighbors, who were concerned about mismanagement of the farm by hired workers, urged Josephine to return to oversee the farm.
She was able to get a teaching job at Chimacum elementary school and worked there from 1953 until her retirement in 1971.
She worked mostly with second- and fourth-graders.
Many years later, Chimacum resident Glen Huntingford remarked to a Leader reporter, “She went out of her way to be a good teacher. She had a personalized touch with every kid.”
While teaching in Chimacum, Josephine also learned to be a dairy farm manager.
The Jan. 15 Back When column will detail that part of her life.
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] olympus.net. Her next column will appear Jan 15.