In 1930 twenty-four-year-old Henry Land and his wife were living near NE 97th Street in northeast Seattle, where Thornton Creek flowed past on its way to what is now Matthews Beach. Henry worked as a mechanic at one of the car companies owned by John Matthews.
John Matthews had come to Seattle in 1910 and engaged in multiple businesses, including logging operations, car sales, and real estate, as well as his original vocation, the practice of law. In 1923 Mr. Matthews moved to a house on Lake Washington and became part of the northeast Seattle community, later to be called Meadowbrook and Matthews Beach.
Henry Land was concerned for his parents, living near Portland, Oregon and struggling with the lack of work during the 1930s Great Depression years of economic difficulty. Henry told Mr. Matthews about his father, Roy Land, who was an experienced teamster. The term “teamster” in those days meant someone who was skilled in harnessing and handling horses to pull wagons, farm equipment, road-grading or excavation equipment. Mr. Matthews agreed to give Roy Land a job if he came to Seattle.
Roy & Anna Land migrate to Seattle
The desperate years of the 1930s motivated many families, like the Lands, to migrate in search of work. They had already lost their farm home and so Roy & Anna Land made their way to Seattle with what they had left: a horse team and wagon, and the four youngest of their twelve children, Howard, 14, Opal, 10, Dorothy, 8, and Maxine, 6. Pet the cow went along, and the family stopped each night, camped, and milked the cow. There was no Interstate-5 freeway and the process of travelling by wagon from Portland to Seattle was a slow one. Many other people who were traveling from state to state, looking for work, were also camped along the roadside.
The Land family lived on the Matthews estate rent-free in exchange for helping with work around the place. It didn’t take Mr. Matthews long to learn that Mrs. Land was an excellent cook. Elderly and alone, Mr. Matthews very much enjoyed sitting around the Land family’s big oak dinner table. Even in such hard times, the table was laden with food Mrs. Land had made, such as jams, jellies, vegetables she had canned, home-made bread, canned meat, and milk and cream from Pet the cow. There were always extra mouths to feed, as sometimes the family had people living with them and they always invited visitors, including door-to-door salesmen and sailors from the nearby Naval Air Station on Sand Point Way NE, to stay for a meal.
The delights of living on Lake Washington
The Land girls liked to take a little canoe out onto Lake Washington and, although they had been told not to, they once paddled all the way down to the Naval Air Station at about NE 70th Street. The sailors took the girls to the mess hall for something to eat. In the lean years of the 1930s Great Depression, the sailors knew that some neighborhood children were probably not getting enough to eat, so they always invited visiting children to come in. They also knew that the Land family frequently entertained sailors in their home for dinner, so they wanted to repay the favor. The girls never told their mother about this little adventure. Mother would have felt humiliated if she knew her girls had received a “handout.”
Every summer Mrs. Land made a big garden and in the fall the family would go to Yakima for fruit and to the mountains for berries. These would be canned and preserved for food for the coming winter.
Dorothy Land recalled her surprise when, as a child, she visited a neighbor and saw only a pot of potatoes in the center of their table for dinner. At that moment Dorothy realized that though her family might be considered poor, her parents were rich in resourcefulness and in trust in God for all their needs. Roy & Anna Land did not hoard their resources and were not miserly, but gave away milk, cream, butter and vegetables to neighbors who had less than they did.
When the garden season was over the Land family would take the bus to the Pike Place Market and fill their shopping bags to overflowing with vegetables and fruit for only two or three dollars. After shopping, Mr. Land would take his wife and daughters to the Balcony Café for lunch for 15 cents per plate. The girls regarded going to the Market as a special treat, so as adults they always held their sisterly reunions there.
The Matthews lakefront estate was full of delights for the Land children. In the summer they spent many happy hours swimming and jumping off a log into the water. They played on the estate lawn, where there was a row of poplar trees in front of Mr. Matthew’s house.
In winter the children loved to slide on the frozen pond made from the Thornton Creek overflow onto Mr. Matthews’ big field at NE 105th Street and 41st Ave NE. That field was the neighborhood playground winter and summer. As late as 1953 when John Rogers Elementary School opened on this site, neighbors still thought of the field as Mr. Matthews’. The school district gave the new school the Matthews name temporarily and neighbors did not like it when the permanent name of John Rogers was assigned. John Rogers was a former governor of Washington State and his name did not have the local associations of John Matthews in Seattle.
The Land children at the new Maple Leaf School
The first Maple Leaf School was located on NE 105th Street at the southeast corner of 35th Ave NE in a three-room building with outhouses. That was similar to what the Land children were used to in the rural Oregon school which they had attended. In 1926, several years before the Land family’s arrival in Seattle, the Maple Leaf School had moved into a large, modern brick building at the northeast corner of NE 100th Street and 32nd Ave NE. For the Land children, entering that school in 1930 was a leap into the modern era. They had never been in a school which had electric lights or indoor plumbing.
Plowing, excavating, road-grading with horse-drawn equipment
With Mr. Matthews’ help and referrals, Roy Land was able to get back on his feet financially. The Meadowbrook area was still so rural in the 1930s and 1940s that house-excavations were still being done using a horse-drawn scoop shovel. Meadowbrook residents might have their driveways graded or have their gardens plowed by a horse team.
Roy Land found jobs to do around northeast Seattle, continuing to work with his horse team into the 1940s. On the census of 1940 Roy Land listed his occupation as “plows with team.”
Census and city directory listings; see background info on the Matthews Beach article on this blog.
Interview with Dorothy Land Sprinkle in 1997; all photos courtesy of the Land family.
Thanks to David Z for help with photos.