Dick Erickson is steeped in the stories of Independence Valley.
Erickson’s family, including both sets of grandparents, once called the rural South Thurston County outpost home, so when he decided to write a book on the history of the agricultural valley, it was an undertaking that he pursued with zeal.
The first copies of Erickson’s new book, “Immigrants of the Independence Valley,” are hot off the presses, but curiosity already has reached Scandinavia, with Finns perusing the digital copy online.
Erickson, 74, and his wife, Nancy, live in Federal Way, but they still own the old Erickson family farmstead near Helsing Junction. The property, which has been on the historic register since 2002, still looks much as it did in the 19th century, with the original farmhouse and big barn still standing. Erickson said that it was his connection to the old farm that originally piqued his interest in the area.
The sizeable book is written through the prism of Nordic immigrants to the area, not the wider spectrum of the first pioneers.
“There were lots of people here first,” said Erickson, noting the James family, the namesake of James Road, as one example. “But (the book) still covers a lot about the community regarding school and churches.”
Between 1890 and 1940, a wave of Nordic immigrants washed over the United States, establishing about 85 distinct communities around the country, including about a dozen in Western Washington.
In Rochester, the Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish populations became an integral part of the fabric of the local community.
“I knew there was a lot, but I ended up with about 1,100” Nordic immigrants in the Rochester area, said Erickson, who is a member and former president of the Swedish Finn Historical Society.
Erickson and his family participate in the Swede Days parade in Rochester each year as the Independence Vikings.
But life was not easy for the newcomers, Erickson found.
“The immigrant struggle is probably the biggest thing,” said Erickson of the stories he encountered while researching the book. “They all left to find this better world, but boy, there were some tough times ahead.”
Research for the book took about a year, with Erickson churning through church and census records for details. The author also spoke with local descendants to glean as much hand-me-down knowledge as possible.
“Talking to people was the fun thing, because each family brought their own heritage and experience along with them,” Erickson said
Through his research, Erickson said he learned about the many incarnations of Swede Hall in Rochester. He also developed an appreciation for the way the local landscape unfolded and shifted as various logging camps and railroads made their inroads through the area.
“It was fun,” said Erickson about writing his first book. “You go in one door and you have no idea where it’s going to lead you.”
Erickson is not sure what will become of the book now that it has been published. They now are being sold for less than the cost of printing.
“Every book we sell we’re losing money,” he said.
“The intent was not to make a best seller. It was to get the history out there.”
“Immigrants of the Independence Valley” is being sold for $30. To order a copy, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Digital copies of the book are available at http://www.swedishfinnhistoricalsociety.org/.