August Kemmerich (14 February 1845 - 28 January 1926)
Barbara Hommerding Kemmerich (15 April 1859 - 01 August 1903)
August Kemmerich was one of the earliest settlers in the upper Skagit River Valley of Washington Territory. He and a Mr. Grandy came to Birdsview in February, 1878, just a few months after B.D. "Birdsey" Minkler had claimed land in the area he christened "Birdsview." The claims of Minkler, Grandy and August Kemmerich adjoined and for some time they were the only settlers in Birdsview.
August was from the village of Frielingsdorf, near Cologne, in the Rhine Province of Prussia (now Germany) and prior to emigrating to the United States he had worked as a coal miner in the Essen, Germany area. At the age of 24 he left Germany and settled first in Illinois, again working in the coal mines of that state. Two years later he moved to Iowa where he farmed for five years and also received his United States citizenship. A series of natural disasters--crop-destroying hail and grasshoppers--convinced August to seek a more hospitable part of the country, and in 1876 he left for the Pacific Northwest, going first to Port Madison, Washington Territory where he was employed as a logger and in the lumber mills.
In the winter months when the woods and mills were shut down, August and his friends, B.D. Minkler and Mr. Grandy would explore the areas around Seattle for possible homestead sites. Their travels took them to the present-day LaConner Flats, but August ruled out that area since it was subject to devastating flooding in the days before extensive dikes protected it. Perhaps he selected Birdsview on B.D. Minkler's recommendation, since Mr. Minkler settled there just a few months before Mr. Grandy and August Kemmerich. August's claim lay along the Skagit River, which could be an uncomfortable neighbor during floods, but while the river waters once lapped close to his farm home's front door, it never intruded further. Carving a farm out of the dense forest that covered that part of the Skagit River Valley must have been a Herculean task! No roads or trails led to Birdsview, and all supplies had to be brought up the river in canoes, and later small boats, from Mt. Vernon, 25 miles down the river.
August's policy in those early years was not to work out for others, but to put in all his time improving his own land. About 1883, an uncle and aunt from Germany, Augustus and Theresa Kemmerich, joined August on his homestead and helped him develop it and build the two-story ranch house that would serve as the Kemmerich family home for many years, until destroyed by fire in 1932 or 1933. August bought his lumber for his home from Mr. Minkler's sawmill and floated it down the Skagit to his homestead. The uncle and aunt, Augustus and Theresa, moved to Mt. Vernon in 1884 where they lived for the remainder of their lives.
In the winter of 1883-84, on a trip back to Iowa and Illinois to visit friends, August met Miss Barbara Hommerding of Chicago. After what must have been a brief courtship, August and Barbara were married on April 1, 1884 at St. Michael's Church in Chicago. August was 39 years old, Barbara was just two weeks shy of her 25th birthday. We can only speculate on August's powers of persuasion, to convince a city girl from Chicago that she would enjoy life in the deep woods of the Skagit River valley!
Like August, Barbara Hommerding was of German ancestry, but her family had emigrated one generation before August. Barbara's father, Jacob Hommerding, was a tailor from Luxembourg, who came to the United States in 1853, settling in Chicago. Jacob's first wife died, and about 1856 he married Marian Butzen, who had come to the United States from Trier, Germany on the same sailing boat as the Hommerdings. Barbara was one of eleven children, but only five survived to adulthood. Until her marriage, Barbara worked as a seamstress.
August and Barbara set out for Washington Territory on the evening of their wedding, first by train to Seattle, then by a succession of sailing vessels and boats until they reached Birdsview.
Life on their homestead was full of hardships and hard work, probably made even more difficult because of the remoteness of Birdsview from the rest of the Territory. It was eighteen years after August Kemmerich, Mr. Grandy and Mr. Minkler settled in Birdsview before they could travel down the valley by wagon. Road building was an ongoing project for the settlers, and August often paid his county taxes by hauling gravel from his ranch for road construction.
The Kemmerichs were devout Catholics and as their children arrived, it was of great concern to them that they be baptized. Living in remote Birdsview, this was not easy to accomplish. Their first child, Mary, was born in February, 1885 and August and Barbara waited until April, then took her by boat and sailing vessel all the way to Seattle--the nearest Catholic parish--for baptism. Their next three children, Joseph, Anna and John were taken to Mt. Vernon for baptism, but it was not until their fifth child, Katherine, was born in 1893 that a Catholic missionary priest was available and able to come to their home to perform the baptismal rites. August and Barbara ultimately had nine children--the last four, Julius, Clara, Mark and Alphonse, were born between 1896 and 1903. Tragically, Barbara lost her life with the birth of Alphonse on August 1, 1903 and August was left alone to care for nine children and run his farm. Barbara's mother, Marian Hommerding, by then a widow and the grandmother to 28 children, came out from Chicago a few months before her daughter passed away, and she remained with August and his children for the rest of her life. "Grandma Hommerding" as she was known in the upper Skagit Valley, was greatly beloved by all the family and provided the mothering and housewife skills so needed by the younger Kemmerich children.
In his later years in Birdsview, August served as a road supervisor and a member of the school board. He was described as "being an advocate of good schools and willing to pay liberally for their support." By 1906, August's farm was described as consisting of 157 acres, all well improved, with a good orchard thereon. His dairy herd consisted of seven cows, whose milk was separated at home and the cream marketed at Burlington.
In March, 1908, August decided to leave Birdsview and move to Mt. Angel, Oregon in the Willamette Valley where his children could have better educational opportunities. Several of August's older children, sons John, Julius and Mark, and daughter, Anna, lived on the Kemmerich ranch at various times in the next twenty years and continued to farm it. August and his youngest son, Alphonse, returned to his homestead in 1918 when his older sons were serving in World War I and they kept the farm going until John was discharged in 1919. August's oldest son, Joseph, also stayed in the area. He was employed at the Baker Lake U.S. Fish Hatchery in 1906 and subsequently spent his entire career in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, serving at various locations throughout the West, including the Birdsview hatchery.
Upon his return to Oregon, August lived with his oldest daughter, Mary, in St. Paul, Oregon for three years, then he returned to Mt. Angel and remained there for the last years of his life. He became a prominent citizen of Mt. Angel, serving as a City Councilman from 1913 to 1915 and from 1923 until his death on January 28, 1926 at the age of 80.
August's Birdsview homestead was gradually sold off, starting in 1928 and the final parcel left the Kemmerich family in 1946. However, the Kemmerich family ties to the Skagit Valley continued for many years. Anna Kemmerich Ackerman and her husband, Bill, owned a portion of the Kemmerich ranch and lived there until Bill's death in 1944. Alphonse Kemmerich worked at both the Birdsview and the Baker Lake U.S. Fish Hatcheries between 1919 and 1928. Both Joseph and John Kemmerich retired in Sedro-Woolley and lived there until their deaths (1962 and 1987 respectively).
August and Barbara Kemmerich have 59 great-grandchildren, but only one with the surname of Kemmerich. Their progeny have now scattered, but the largest groups live in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Wenatchee--Yakima area of Washington.
In July, 1997 the newest Washington State Park, Rasar St. Park, was dedicated. The park is sited on the western half of August Kemmerichs homestead. To preserve the history of the early pioneers of the Skagit Valley, a large portion of the park is being kept as a hay meadow and farmed much as it was by the Kemmerich family.
--prepared for publication in the book, Hamilton 100 Years.
--updated, June 17, 2002.
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