Imagine the road; originally a wagon road between Issaquah Washington and the mining town of Ravensdale; how it became a most unusual location for a business normally found in a large town or city. Tucked away off that rural gravel road, midway between Landsburg and Hobart, a glove factory came into being.
In 1935 Waldemar Christofferson and he wife purchased a one hundred acre stump ranch. The property became their family home. Soon a log house was built along with a large chicken house and eventually a building that accommodated the Rainier Glove Factory. It was so named because at the time a clear view of upper part of Mt. Rainier was clearly visible from the log home.
Christofferson learned the skill of glove making while working with his father in Gloversville New York where at age of seventeen, his received his “Master Cutter” papers.
He served in the Army for a few years and then came west, buying the land that would be his home and place of business for many years. Why he and his wife chose this particular rural setting to lay down roots and raise a family is a question with lost answers.
It didn’t take long for the Christoffersons’ to build their business, especially following the War. Beautiful handmade gloves for women found their way to department Stores like the Bon Marche, and Fredrick and Nelson in Seattle, as well as other upscale stores throughout the West Coast. The gloves were often made from rare animal skins from Africa; Chamois, Capes, Antelope, Mochas, as well as soft Marivan skins from Yemen. The younger the animal, the softer the gloves. Very often, a special order would be placed for a specific color and fit for a one of a kind opera glove.
Then there was the steady stream of hunters who would bring their tanned deer or elk hides to have gloves made by Christofferson. An average size deer hide could yield 5 pair of soft but durable gloves. My Dad was a regular customer for gloves made by the factory. Periodically, he would bring a tanned deer hide or two from which several pair of gloves would be sewn.
At one point during the late forties and early fifties, as many as a dozen women were employed at the glove factory. They either worked the sewing machines or completed intricate hand sewing to the back of women’s gloves, using a technique known as ‘French’ seam silking. One of the women invented special nylon mitts to be used to put on nylon stockings without snagging the fabric.
It was common for children of some of the sewers to be allowed to be at the factory to play and be near their moms. On one occasion, Christofferson had a machine moved to the house of one of the women so that she could work from home. He was ahead of his time.
Another unique product turned out by the factory was specialty gloves for police. The gloves, made of durable goat skin, were gauntlet shaped, black in color. Sewn into the palm of the gloves was several ounces of buckshot. The gloves kept hands warm in cold weather and served as weapon when needed. I was once told by a Beat Cop in downtown Seattle that a thump along the temple from the gloves left no marks, just unconsciousness.
(Photo Credit: The Seattle Sunday Times June 4, 1950)
The Rainier Glove Factory remained in business to the mid-fifties supplying formal women’s gloves to a quickly diminishing demand. A centuries old tradition of an elegant accessory to fashion for hands was fast fading, no longer in vogue.
I have a couple artifacts from the Glove Factory in my possession. One is a pair of very long cutting scissors used to cut and trim the skins. The other is a custom tool roll made of canvas and trimmed with deer hide- sewn by Mr. Christofferson for my Dad.
In 1955, during my junior year in high school, my best friend and I used the Christoffferson chicken house to raise one thousand fryers as a FFA project. That is another harrowing story of blind entrepreneurship that could have ended badly, but fortunately didn’t.
During the same period of time in Maple Valley history, there were other businesses scattered throughout the area that represented the post war opportunity and fabric of the greater community. They were iconic in their own way in that they attracted visitors from far and near.
The famed Berry Patch Restaurant drew folks from everywhere to enjoy mouthwatering fried chicken dinners with mashed potatoes and gravy, followed by a huge plate of strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream. The strawberries came from a nearby farm.
Then there was Harper’s Pit, where on Friday and Saturday nights the best barbeque ribs and chicken outside of the big city could be found. Wonderful Jazz and Blues music accompanied the dining experience. As for Mr. Harper, he was a very dashing figure in Maple Valley.
Just down the road from Harpers Pit was Sizemore’s Confectionary and Aviary, an unusual combination…today’s equivalent to beer at a laundromat.
Across the way on Lake Wilderness, was the Gaffney Resort, an amazing place for dining, with overnight accommodations overlooking the lake, an added amenity for those who stayed over, after flying in to the private air strip adjacent to the lodge.
Further down the Whitte Road, was Kingen’s Restaurant, serving the full menu morning until night. The owner was Bob Kingen Sr. His son would own a restaurant business in Renton. Eventually a Grandson would carry on the tradition, building the Red Robin Chain of Restaurants.
Shields Corner, later Flynn’s corner, the Junevich Second Hand Store, and the Valley Sport Shop, along with others, would become part of the marvelous sometimes eclectic flavor of business in the Maple Valley area at the time.
Most of the local lakes had vacation resorts on them catering to the needs of a growing population looking for family recreation and relaxation. Foss’s Shadow Lake Resort was an example, where cabins and boats could be rented for an enjoyable weekend, or longer. At the other end of the lake, Heiser’s Resort was known for a place to enjoy dancing to western swing music every Saturday night. (BYOB)
The private resorts prospered post war, until the emergence of the Federal and State Park systems, opening up a broader selection of recreational opportunities at little or no cost to the user. It was the beginning of the end for private resorts as they were then known.
There were many other small businesses spread out throughout the area, catering to the needs of the community and to visitors alike. A trip to Mt. Rainer, Sunrise side- took you right through Maple Valley. “My, what a beautiful little town, let’s move here.” That same refrain is still being repeated today, like it or not!
Today, with an incorporated population of over twenty seven thousand people, and a similar number outside the City in the surrounding towns, Maple Valley is rapidly changing. Major shopping hubs at Four Corners and Wilderness Village is but one representation of a community in flux, experiencing the dynamics of human movement and subsequent demand for services of all kinds.
Currently the Maple Valley Chamber of Commerce has two hundred ten business members, having lost several during the past year because of COVID. It is estimated that there are as many as nine hundred businesses of all types scattered around the greater community. Just as in the past, people trying to make a go of it.
Then there is of course, the Amazon Fulfilment / Distribution Center now being built in Maple Valley. It may employ up to six hundred people working multiple shifts. The arrival of this major employer will have a profound effect on the community. A good friend commented that the arrival of Amazon in the community brings with it, a set of conflicting points of debate.
For example, many of the workers will be commuting to Maple Valley, and may not have a vested interest in the town in which they work. Consider also: to what extent will a corporation with Amazon’s influence re-order the culture, temper of politics, education system, and the fabric of living in Maple Valley?
A plus certainly is the increased tax revenue for the city.
What are the trade-offs? Time will tell. So will the observers of history, as they have always done.
For sure, the accelerated growth is bringing more houses, apartments, places to eat, a mixture of goods and services… and people: all part of the vibrant, and sometimes worrisome expansion of a once sleepy community that folks would come to visit and then go home.
A lot can happen in seventy years, especially when seen through the panoramic lens of history, formed by human interaction, a desire to establish roots and to forge economic opportunities.
The same desire and vision that Waldamer Christofferson had to build a business on a 100 acre stump ranch in 1938 was not much different than the desire and vision people have today; to take a shot at the American dream to own a business, to serve needs that others have, while at the same time participating and contributing to the richness of a community.
My son and his wife are now beginning their thirtieth year as owners of a successful coffee roasting company located in Maple Valley. The Java Java Coffee Company has become part of a community legacy, following a template laid down by a young man from Gloversville New York many years ago when he started the Rainier Glove Factory off of a gravel rural road with nothing more than a skill and a vision of what could be.
May 4, 2021