William Jenner Worthington

William Jenner Worthington was born in 1863, the first child of William and Ellen Jenner Worthington in San Francisco, California. His father William (1825-1887) was an English immigrant from the village of Cheadle, just south of Manchester who became a successful businessman in San Francisco. One of his business ventures was with W.P. Fuller who later established the Fuller Paint Company. Will’s mother, Ellen Jane Jenner Worthington (1843-1938), came with her family from the midwest in 1852. Her mother took the family’s 4 children on a train to the Atlantic Ocean, sailed in a ship to Panama, crossed the Isthmus of Panama by mule and canoe, and then sailed in a ship up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. William and Ellen were married in San Francisco in 1861 when she was 18 and he was 36 years old; they had a formal relationship in which she always referred to him as “Mr. Worthington.” They began their married life on Knob Hill in a large Victorian house with servants, and horses and carriages. Their lovely furniture was purchased from a army captain called back to fight for the North in the Civil War. They had two more boys after Will was born: Albert Isaac (1866-1870) and Edgar Kirk (1868-1944) to complete their family. Young Bertie died of pneumonia at age 4.

In 1877 Mr. Worthington had major financial reversals in his investments, particularly in a mining venture, lost his wealth, and was no longer able to support his family. In 1878 when young Will was 15, he left school to work to help support the family by working for a judge for $12.50 per month. For two years he worked for Whittier & Fuller & Co for a wage of $15, then $25, then $35 per month. In 1880 Ellen moved herself and her younger son Ed, 12, to Seattle to settle near her brother Charles K. Jenner, a prominent lawyer, and his large family. Ellen rented a big house in the First Hill neighborhood and established a boarding house to support her family. Young Will joined this mother and brother in Seattle in 1882 and soon found work. Ed did well in school and earned a college education at the University of Washington. This fledgling institution was looking for students and accepted them right out of grammar school. Ellen, Will, and Ed all worked hard to see that Ed had the opportunity for an education that Will had not had. Ellen and her two sons were always a close knit family whose lives and welfare were intertwined, both personally and financially. Mr. Worthington did not follow his family north to Seattle until 1886 and then died a year later in July 1887.

When young Will Worthington was in his early 20s in the mid-1880s he demonstrated his entrepreneurial skills by purchasing a 31 foot trading sloop, the Mary Elizabeth, and selling groceries and provisions from it to settlements all up and down Hood Canal. He had a regular route and came to the Brinnon and Quilcene area once a month. There were only a few docks along the Canal at that time, so he tooted his boat’s horn, and his customers got into their row boats and rowed out to purchase the food and supplies they needed. His business plan was “to buy cheap and sell dear”. This was a rigorous life that Will lived until 1890 when he had accumulated enough capital to establish a store on land. He chose Quilcene as his new home, and he and his brother Ed built their store in the center of town. “W.J. Worthington Groceries and Provisions” supplied the local folks in the very small settlement groceries and provisions for the next 16 years. The inventory in the store besides groceries included hardware, dry goods, paints, oils, boots & shoes, furnishing goods, Mason’s improved fruit jars, and hides & furs. His 1891 advertisement in the local paper, “The Quilcene Queen” stated that farm products were bought and sold there and the straw hats were sold “at cost”. Will was not a man to spend time idly chatting to folks, even his customers; he had no chairs around the wood stove in his store. He wanted his customers to make their purchases and leave quickly. Will Worthington was a businessman who meant business!

Will saw the economic opportunity in the timber business early and in the late 1880s directed his mother to stake a timber claim on 160 acres of old growth timber on the Dosewallips River in Brinnon. Will and his brother built their mother a small cabin which she lived in for the required length of time and then visited often in the summers with her grandchildren or her brother’s young sons in tow. There is an amusing incident told in our family of Ellen’s stay in Brinnon in 1889. One of the local woman inquired as to Ellen’s age; Ellen answered that she was 66 years old. The woman was very surprised and said how young Ellen looked for 66. Ellen just smiled. Weeks later when that same woman came to shop at Will’s sailboat she commented on how well his mother looked for 66 years of age. Will immediately set the woman straight, that his mother was 46 years old! After all Will was never one to let an error go uncorrected. This is an example of the family’s sense of humor.

In 1891 Will felt himself to be well enough established to search for a wife. He found her visiting his first cousin Helen Jenner Legg and her husband Louis Henry Legg in Seattle. The lovely, well educated sister of Louis had come from Speedsville, NY, to look for her first teaching job in Seattle. Grace Amelia Legg was six years younger than Will and one of the sweetest women anyone could wish to meet. Will proposed marriage to her on the second date, and three months later they were married on February 4, 1892 in the Louis H. Legg home. They moved to Quilcene to a small house next to his store after a honeymoon to Victoria, BC. The month before his marriage Will spent $60 on sturdy oak furniture and $27 on carpeting and shades for the house to make it ready for Grace. They soon began their family which came to include two daughters, Grace (1893) and Mariette (1894), and then six sons: William Jenner Jr (1896), Robert Edgar (1900), Harold Legg (1901), Norman Parker (1903), John Clinton (1905), and Kenneth Taft (1909). Willie Jr died in childhood from an infected finger. Understandably it was a family tragedy that the family never got over. Willie was an outstanding young man in every way with great promise. Yet Will counseled his children that “pain was the indispensable ingredient in anyone’s makeup”. The children grew to accept that hard truth.

In 1903 Will built a good sized house beside his store for his growing family and brother to live in. From that year on Will began acquiring timberland when and where he could buy it cheaply, log it, and sell it later on when the opportunity arose. At the time the old growth timber above Quilcene Bay was logged by oxen yielding a price of $1 per thousand board feet: that is $22 is todays’s dollars! Will often bought seemingly inaccessible timberland that no one else wanted; he had the foresight to envision the day when the technological advances of logging would make harvesting those trees feasible, and log prices would go up considerably. The160 acres of timber his mother homesteaded was sold to the big Izett Lumber Company in 1902-03 to be logged by their railroad logging operation. That profitable timberland sale was key to Will being able to launch his next career in the timber industry buying and selling timberland and executing logging operations. Eventually Will Worthington and his brother Ed would own 10,000 acres of timberland in Jefferson County. Will began investing in real estate in Seattle as well, often in his mother’s name to be rented for her support. He made private mortgages to his buyers as needed. Will’s brother Ed was involved in these new business ventures as well. By 1907 Will was ready to sell his store and the adjoining house to his brother Ed; Ed in turn sold it to Grace’s brother Burton Emmett Legg and his family in 1908. Burt, his wife Hattie Hatfield Legg, and their 3 children ran that store for 12 years and were active members of the Quilcene community.

On January 1, 1907 Will moved his wife and 7 children into the 15 year old large Hamilton home which had been standing vacant for years on the edge of town on an acreage on the Little Quilcene River. It may be safely assumed that Will bought it for a most reasonable sum, as Will was not likely to have bought it otherwise. The home would remain “the home place” for the Worthington family for the next 106 years. Two generations of Worthington children would be raised there, one marriage took place there, and four members of the family died there.

Will Worthington was a man who kept a very close reign on his financial affairs and saved money wherever possible. Yet in 1917 he invested $1,400 in a small Pelton Wheel kit which might be able to generate electricity for his home from the Little Quilcene River. His son Harold, age 16, who showed remarkable engineering skills all his life, was keen to try it. The Pelton Wheel is an efficient water impulse turbine which traps the energy of moving water to generate electricity. A large one was in use at the Tubal Cain manganese and copper mine nearby in the mountains. Unfortunately Harold’s Pelton Wheel did not work because there was not enough of a drop in the flow of water in the Little Quilcene River. It was an interesting experiment costing $31,000 in today’s dollars that is still remembered in the family, and its wood drive wheel is still in the family.

The Will Worthington family had a tremendous love for hiking in the Olympic Mountains and went on hiking trips each year from 1910 onward. Even the women were included on these trips, and the hiking groups often included cousins and friends. At times someone in the family rode their horse, May, and they took pack animals; other times they all hiked under their own power and carried packs. Favorite destinations included Marmot Pass, Tubal Cain Mine area, Constance Pass, Mt Townsend, Dosewallips Meadows, and the Royal Basin. Will continued these trips until his health failed him, and his sons carried on the tradition well into their 80s and passed the love of being in the mountains on to the grandchildren and great grandchildren. There are actually two mountains in the Olympic Range named for the Worthington family: Mt. Worthington which is the location of the Tubal Cain Mine, and Wellesley Peak to honor his oldest daughter Grace who went to college at Wellesley College in the east.

A love of reading and a desire for a good education are family values instilled in our family from Will Worthington and his mother Ellen Jenner Worthington. All of Will’s children who grew to adulthood earned college degrees, and several of time earned graduate degrees. He paid for their first college degree and loaned his children money for graduate work. Will solved the housing issue for his children who attended the University of Washington by buying a large house for his mother, Ellen, adjacent to the campus in Seattle. All the children roomed and boarded with their grandmother while they attended the University.

Will was a self educated man who had a real thirst for learning and reading. He borrowed books regularly from his brother-in-law, Louis H. Legg, and made it a point to always return them. Will gathered a large family library of books over time. His wife, Grace, a trained teacher, tutored their children at home at the living room table even before they went to school. Most of the children were reading at four years old and demonstrated a love of books all their lives. The letters that were exchanged between the Worthington children as adults often report on the books they are reading and book recommendations to their siblings.

Will believed in participation in the affairs of the Quilcene community. He served on the school board and was instrumental in establishing a high school the year his two daughters needed it in 1907. He served several terms as a county commissioner and as a justice of the peace; the family still has his official seal. Will and Grace were actively involved in the First Presbyterian Church in Quilcene where Grace played the organ for services and even donated her own organ to the church. Both Grace and were officers in the church, and Will was treasurer for 27 years.

Will, his mother, and his brother believed in being involved with family members in business affairs and did so successfully. Will’s estate formed a company, the W. J. Worthington Company, to the benefit of all his children. His holdings in real estate, mortgages, notes, stock, and bonds provided a modest income for each of his seven children for decades. Family letters of the siblings demonstrate that although two older siblings managed the business affairs they always polled all the siblings and heard everyone’s opinions on decisions to be made. Any documents that needed to be signed were signed in their birth order. Many of Will’s children chose to invest that money each year and sometimes bought timberland together which they managed jointly for decades. Will Worthington’s family fared well in the depression era because their assets were largely in paid for timberland and real estate and diversified enough so not as subject to failure at the fall of the stock market. Will and Grace Worthington departed from this earth nine months apart in 1935 and 1936, but their historic home and the strong family ties among their children were an important legacy of their lives.


Ellen Worthington Jenner, December 30, 2013

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