There, By Grace, Go I -- A Lament For A Town That Came, Went And With Help Of A Few May Rise Again

"About 1906 or so, a new lumber mill was built on Bear Creek, just a little way north of the Snohomish County line. . . . It was a fairly large mill, and that was when the town of Grace was born." ------------------------------------------------------------------- Those words were written in 1959 by the late Mae S. Strobel, a member of one of the pioneering families of a bustling settlement north of Woodinville. Strobel, who was born around 1890, frequently referred to the "Town of Grace" in her 26-page history that fondly recalls the lives of a family as well as a community.

Grace soon had other mills, a school, a general store, a slaughterhouse, post office, train station and surrounding farms, according to Strobel's account.

It had a population of about 300 people, rivaling nearby Woodinville. And although both communities were called towns, neither was incorporated during their years of rivalry. It wasn't until this year, in fact, that Woodinville became an official city.

Grace wasn't as fortunate. Auto-recycling yards, a self-storage complex and a few other businesses have covered the townsite. Gone is everything that made it a town - the mills, the school, the farms and all but a few of the houses. Because there's nothing left, Grace isn't even a ghost town. All it has is a past.

But thanks to one man - and his irrepressible sense of humor - that past is becoming clearer all the time.

A `loony' sense of humor

"Yes, I am the mayor of Grace," quips Terry Jarvis, kicked back in his office chair. With a glint in the eye, Jarvis leans forward to explain his credentials: "I'm arbitrary and capricious, the two most important qualities of a good politician."

One of Jarvis' other important qualities is his good - some would say, loony - sense of humor.

"Terry, serious?" his wife and business partner Cherry asks rhetorically, then bursts into a laugh.

The question was about whether Jarvis really wants to re-establish the town of Grace. He's actually a Woodinville resident, but he owns a vintage-auto-parts store on land where the Grace general store once stood.

As a gag, Jarvis held a ceremony last month to "re-establish" the town. The event attracted about 100 people, including some Woodinville city officials who chuckled through Jarvis' comedy routine, which included a lot of barbs directed at Woodinville, where his wife serves on the planning commission.

"We understand that Woodinville has a stringent sign ordinance," Jarvis told the crowd. "We encourage all signs in Grace to be built in Grace and are willing to give tax credits to whoever can build the most garish sign that can be seen from Hollywood Hill."

Jarvis also has issued decrees: "I've declared the town to be nuclear free, drug free and tax free. To raise revenue, we're going to barricade Highway 9 and set up a toll booth."

He didn't really do that, but Jarvis did put up two signs along Highway 9, welcoming people to Grace. He listed himself as mayor and Don Fitzpatrick, another business owner, as chief of police.

"Don is the best police chief money can buy," says Jarvis.

Gag and signs drew laughs

The gag and the signs drew some notoriety and a few laughs, but some curiosity, too.

What was Grace like? Why did it die? These were the serious questions, and even Jarvis wanted to know the answers.

So out of the stunt to re-establish Grace, he has begun to resurrect its past. Jarvis found a postcard that has a Grace postmark and an old photo of the general store. It was taken by a traveling photographer in 1909. He also has an old medicine bottle, found in the mid-1960s when excavators were clearing the property for his auto-parts store.

Many of the answers about Grace are coming from Bob Crim, a 77-year-old Gold Bar resident who was raised in Grace and has worked in the community all his life.

"It was a lot more wide open than it is now," said Crim, whose uncle owned one of the mills in town. "There was a lot of livestock and pasture land, and you could walk pret' near anywhere you wanted to go."

The landscape was not as thick with blackberry bushes, trees and other vegetation as it is now, recalls Crim. "The cattle would eat it and keep it all down."

The town's two-room schoolhouse was located where the fire station along Highway 9 now is, Crim said.

"One teacher taught all six grades and we only used one room," he said. "The other room was used for storage and community functions."

Although Grace was a mill town, the bulk of its economy was later tied to its land. In the early 1930s, farming turned sour and the town withered during the Great Depression.

"Milk prices went bad so a lot of people just quit (farming)" Crim said. In 1930, his own family turned their farm into Wellington Hills, a public golf course. The nine-hole course was sold in 1982, but Crim still works there as a groundskeeper.

Grace never recovered from the Depression years, and most of the farm land eventually was turned to industrial and commercial use.

"It just never grew," Crim said of the town.

Some of the character of Grace and the hard but hearty life of its people is captured in Strobel's narrative, which she wrote for her children. Her father, George Suttles, died in 1899, leaving her mother Agnes to fend for two young children and a farm.

"Our mother had a very rugged time for a few years" she wrote. "There was no Social Security, Child Welfare, no anything. Bill (her younger brother) and I had one task assigned to us. We had to provide the winter wood."

Strobel also mentions an earlier event that seems ironic, considering what happened to the town of Grace.

A few years after her father's death, a barn fire wiped out all their livestock, a crippling blow to a farming family.

"Neighbors in the country where everyone knows everyone else (and even if they don't) are wonderful in times of disaster," she wrote. "Mill men donated lumber. Men came from all over and built a big new barn. Others came with livestock, chickens, pigs, calves, etc., until it seemed like no time and we were in business again."

A few decades later, such was not the case for the town of Grace.

These are new times

But these are new times, and Jarvis is mayor of a town that exists only in memory. He plans to ensure it's not forgotten again. Last week he jumped in a truck with Crim, who pointed out where many of the local landmarks were once located.

Jarvis says he may make up a map, recreating on paper what the town looked like.

He's also getting calls from people who recall the area, and he's asking for photos or other artifacts that depict what Grace was like.

"I figure it's my obligation to preserve the township of Grace," said Jarvis, sounding serious for once. "I don't want to see it fall into oblivion."

Then there's that glint in his eye again. "And besides that, it gives me a chance to be mayor and make fun of Woodinville."