Earlier this year when I was writing about the south Thurston County schoolhouse in what used to be the town of Gate, I was approached by one of the citizens who works toward its maintenance.
Her name is Donna Weaver and she suggested I could also write about another structure that is still withstanding the passing steps of time in the town of Rochester.
I’m referring to “Swede Hall” — and I wonder how much time it will take for someone to object to that name, claiming it to be degrading by today’s standards?
But it’s not the original building, by the way.
The first one was located on Independence Road in the Independence Valley and was built by volunteer members of the Swedish-Finnish Temperance Association, which received their charter over 100 years ago on March 12, 1911.
Records show that Alfred Ericson and Margaret Forsman were married there in 1912. At the same time, there was a local benefit organization whose mission was helping those who suffered accidents, illnesses and death.
Neither group prospered by themselves and they joined into a local lodge of the National Runeberg Society in 1926, a temperance society whose mission was to, “Unite persons of Finland-Swede origin to promote educational and temperance work, to collect funds for sickness and funeral benefits for its members.”
In 1935, the local members bought 2 acres on Albany Street in Rochester where the present facility is located. Construction began by buying two old warehouses, tearing them down and hauling the lumber to the new site. They tore down the old Swede Hall and made use of that material as well.
When completed, the new building measured 50 feet by 120 feet with a dance floor of 60 by 40 feet and a good sized stage for musicians and stage productions. The dedication ceremony for the building was held on Dec. 1, 1939.
All this was done in those days for a total of only $5,000 for the building and the land it sat on — and in four years that amount was paid off.
Back in 1935, the Rochester Order of Runeberg had 140 members. That grew to 177 by 1950, but membership then started to slowly decline until the building and property was sold for $25,000 to a newly formed Grand Mound Citizens Group, which still owns the property.
The group’s name was later changed to Rochester Citizens Group and it continues to maintain the property.
The original need for protection for the members no longer exists, but the building is still there to serve. It can be rented for various activities. Dances with live music are held there three times each year and it’s a centerpiece when an annual Swede Day Midsommar Festival is held, with its parade through the unincorporated town of Rochester.
The building is still used today for various other activities and I can vouch for one of them, having officiated at weddings back when I was still being labeled as Lewis County’s “Marryin’ Sam” (after a character in the old comic strip, “Li’l Abner”). I may have officiated at more of those held in the building, but my declining memory can only recall two of them and I don’t feel up to finding out the actual number by searching through the more than 1,000 wedding documents I still keep in a box in the room I’ve declared “my office.”
I particularly want to thank Donna Weaver for all the information upon which this column was based on the history of Swede Hall.
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.