Columbia River Valley, WA wine growing region
Wikimedia-share alike courtesy jamidwyer
Around 1885, Hans Pederson, my Danish father, felled some trees on his Woodinville homestead, near Seattle, before he left to spend a few days working on the railroads. He returned to find only a few lumps of charred earth.
“I speculated,” he reported, “On how the fire could have started and realized I had only myself to blame. See, to clear a forest, one generally drills holes in the fallen tree trunks—one every ten feet. You fill the holes with petroleum and burn them to break up the trunks so they can be more easily transported. When I made the mistake of leaving my homestead for two days, the trunks must have burned quietly until the wind came up and blew sparks to my house. With all our privacy here, none of the neighbors noticed.”
His neighbors fared no better. On a 2008 day trip to Woodinville 130 years later, I decided to try and find his homestead.
“Call the town and ask if they have a property record,” Don, my host, suggested.
They did not. “Those Scandinavian immigrant homesteads were all in the Hollywood Hills,” the codes official told me. “There were a lot of fires. There’s no record of those holdings.”
When we visited the Ste. Michelle winery in the Hollywood Hills that afternoon,I wondered if it might have been the site of my father’s homestead. But who knows? That afternoon I just met another roadblock in The Search for Hans Pederson, The Immigrant Who Built Seattle, the title of my coming memoir.