Elbe Market Country Store’s giant new Bigfoot statue welcomes visitors to the 118-year-old building

Owners seek help piecing together building’s history


While the small, unincorporated community of Elbe has only 53 current residents who call it home, the cozy mountain town now has a giant new greeter welcoming visitors passing through on their way to Mount Rainier — a giant Bigfoot statue named Howard.

Howard the Bigfoot stands in front of the Elbe Market Country Store and is approximately 14 feet tall, according to Elbe Market owner Frank Razo.

“The ‘Mount Rainier Bigfoot’ is his official name, but around the Country Store we call him Howard,” Razo said. “His cowboy hat is removable. We’ll change it out for different holiday themes and stuff like that.”

With the country store’s building originally being constructed in 1906 as an International Order of the Odd Fellows (IOOF) meeting hall on Berlin Avenue, the building still has much of its original wild west architecture.

From an open wooden deck and awning and pointed building face to its original wooden floors, Howard was carved to match that wild west style.

“It was our gift back to the community,” Razo added.

He and his wife purchased the country store last year after the building had been for sale for four years. Though they know a lot of the now 118-year old building’s history, there are still many missing pieces they are trying to collect.

Located along the Road to Paradise on the way to Mount Rainier, the community of Elbe was originally founded in 1888 along the Nisqually River and was originally known as Brown’s Junction, though it is not known exactly why the name was changed.

It is believed that since many of the town’s original settlers were German immigrants who hailed from the Elbe Valley in Germany, its name was changed as the Nisqually River reminded them of the Elbe River back in their homeland — though the original German pronunciation of the name has been lost.

By 1904, Elbe was connected to the Tacoma Eastern Railroad network, and two years later the IOOF built their meeting hall in the town.

Just one year after, in 1907, construction began on the road that would eventually become the Road to Paradise, after residents in the area lobbied for a new road connecting Tacoma to the Mount Rainier National Park.

The Road to Paradise was completed in 1911, according to the National Parks Service website. The section starting in Elbe leading to Mount Rainier was renamed to state Highway 706 in 1964 by the Washington state Department of Transportation.

It is not known exactly when or how, but sometime after this road’s completion, the IOOF meeting hall was moved from Berlin Avenue to its current location to be directly on the state highway.

The building also used to have a full second story, but was modified at some point, and most of the second floor was replaced by an angled roof and attic space, though Razo doesn’t know exactly when that happened.

Many of his neighbors in Elbe, though, have shared stories with him about attending dances and other events in the Elbe Market Country Store throughout the years.

Razo invites any historians who might be able to help him fill in the missing pieces of the building’s full history to visit.

Elbe was a booming town with a population of more than 400 people during its peak, but, following the Great Depression, many left and the population dwindled.

Despite having less than an eighth of what its population was at its height, the tiny riverside community now seems to be experiencing a small tourism economic boom, with the return of the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad after its pandemic-era closure and, now, Howard’s arrival.

Now, along with enjoying food from the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Co. and staying in an actual caboose at the Hobo Inn, tourists visiting Elbe can also take their photo with the Mount Rainier Bigfoot Howard while enjoying some ice cream from the Elbe Market Country Store.

The Elbe Market Country Store is located at 54209 Mountain Highway East in Elbe. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, follow the country store on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/elbemarket/ or on Facebook at https://bit.ly/3XdWLcL