Off Beat: Stitches in the fabric of a history forged by forest fires

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Stories about long days of grueling work, whether it was in a forest or on a farm, reflect common elements of life for a lot of people a century ago.

Many Clark County families were affected by the same natural disasters, like the 1902 Yacolt Burn and other forest fires.But sewing machines?

And to take it another step, sewing machines and forest fires?

That was a story Tom Moberg told last week when he shared some family history about the founding of Venersborg. His grandparents, Jonah and Olivia Forsgren, settled there in 1909. The following year, they had to flee for their lives when a forest fire swept through the area about 7 miles east of Battle Ground.

His grandparents buried as many household valuables as they could before fleeing, but they left Olivia's sewing machine in a clearing, where they hoped it wouldn't be too badly damaged. When they returned, Moberg said, the finish of the wooden frame was blistered, but the sewing machine worked fine.

A sewing machine in the La Center Historical Museum, donated by Tom Wooldridge, has a similar survival tale. When the 1902 Yacolt Burn threatened their farm, the settlers buried some of their most precious possessions before fleeing, including the sewing machine. Fortunately, a shift in the wind steered the flames away from the homestead.

It didn't work out that well for everybody, according to an account of the Yacolt Burn written by Joan and Gene Olson. As the flames closed in, the Graves family ran for the safety of a nearby creek … everybody but Mrs. Graves, who said she'd join them in a bit.

When they returned to the ruins of their home, "They found her in the yard," the Olsons wrote, "surrounded by the blackened remains of her prized possessions. "She died for her Singer sewing machine, and several jars of fruit."


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.