Fall brings change to the landscape of most areas. Leaves turn. Temperatures drop. Elections bring in new leaders.
The first notable November came when the City of Tacoma incorporated on November 12, 1875 by act of the Washington Territorial Legislature. This official declaration was a big deal since the area’s early history was marked by failed homesteads and failed starts that included a short stint of what is now “Old Tacoma” or “Old Town” starting out as Eureka. The November 12 territorial law created Tacoma City. But the troubles didn’t end there.
“New Tacoma” sought to incorporate in 1880 in a political battle between county and territorial laws. New Tacoma, first established in 1874, was controlled by the Northern Pacific Railroad. It determined that the creation of its own “Tacoma” would be more profitable than dealing with an established one. It had put its sights the waters of Commencement Bay as the terminus for its transcontinental railroad back in 1873, after all.
So, there was a time when there were two cities right next to each other with essentially the same name: Tacoma City and New Tacoma, its much larger sibling. New Tacoma became a city on November 5, 1881, and was already the new seat of Pierce County. It had taken the reigns of county government away from Steilacoom in a public vote on November 2, 1880, as a show of its rise in stature.
The shuttling of the county seat from Steilacoom to Tacoma in 1880, therefore, made New Tacoma the railroad, shipping and political hub. The first meeting in New Tacoma of the Pierce County Board of Commissioners happened on November 15, 1880.
That shift in the body politic brought the conflict between the battling Tacomas to a head and was finally settled in 1883 when the cities consolidated, two decades after Jobb Carr settled along Commencement Bay.
One of the darkest times in Tacoma history occurred in November. It was on the night of November 3, 1885, that a mob that included leading business and political leaders marched on the Chinese settlement along the tideflats and forced its residents to leave the city. The terror was known as the Tacoma Method.
Tacoma mayor Jacob Robert Weisbach had called the Chinese “a curse” and a “filthy horde” during rallies against the immigrants, who had largely come to the city to work on the railroad. With that work done, they were scapegoated for low wages and poor working conditions in the area. Rising labor tensions led to the orchestrated forced evacuation. More than a hundred Chinese people fled before the fateful day, but about 200 remained only to be forced to leave their homes and possessions as the rains began to fall. It wasn’t until 1993, also in November, that the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution to apologize for the former city leaders’ actions and to set a goal to “promote peace and harmony in our multicultural community.”
During November of 1912, Tacoma halibut fishermen joined with their Seattle crews in a strike for an increase in the price paid for halibut from one cent a pound to one and a half cents per pound. The strike would ultimately last three months and settled on a new price of 1.25 cents per pound.
It should also be noted that, while the fishermen were battling for halibut prices, Tacoma’s LaGrande Powerhouse on the Nisqually River delivered its first electricity. That happened on November 6, 1912, and is still in use today, providing 24,500 houses with power.
The parade of November notables doesn’t end there. The future of the region as a trading hub was set when Pierce County voters created the municipally owned Port of Tacoma on November 5, 1918. It was a date that the Tacoma Daily Ledger editorialized as “one of the most important elections Pierce County has yet seen.”
The port now supports 29,000 jobs and generates nearly $3 billion in economic activity around the state each year.
And the one event that is still studied by engineering students around the world to this day – the collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge – happened during the city’s most notable month. Galloping Gertie fell into the waters of Puget Sound on November 7, 1940.
The area’s largest air disaster occurred in, yep, you guessed it, November. A U.S. Air Force Douglas C-54G Skymaster was coming in from Alaska on November 28, 1952, when it crashed around Ward’s Lake in South Tacoma. It was trying to land at McChord Air Force Base and the pilot got disoriented in thick fog. The pilot made a last-minute decision to abort the landing, but clipped a cluster of trees. The plane crashed, killing 37.
From creation to destruction, Novembers have always been turning points for Tacoma.