WA Secretary of State Blogs

Dry Utopia in Mason County

mason 3From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

We are in the upper lefthand corner. We are on the edge. We are an experiment.

Compared to the rest of the Lower 48, Washington State has always been an inviting place to start anew and try out ideas that would not be allowed elsewhere.

The book Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915 by Charles Pierce LeWarne outlines the collective settlements of Freeland, Home, and Equality.

And here on this very blog we have highlighted the history of Burley.

Not all the cooperative colonies turned out so well. The Newell Colony of 1880 didn’t survive very long:

But one colony, very different than all of the others, apparently never broke ground. It was to be a Dry City, the brainchild of a prohibitionist, and to be set in one of the most two-fisted logger counties in Washington State. The following article was found in The Olympia State Capital, Oct. 12, 1906, but was also run in several other regional papers.


 Prohibition Colony to be Established by Wealthy Architect.

 “Tacoma, Oct. 8. — A city without a saloon, brothel, theater or Sunday cigar store is in process of incubation for the state of Washington. William Arthur, an architect, of Omaha, Neb., intends to establish a city in which the prohibitionists will control and he has selected this state for his colony.”

Mason 1

“In a letter to Rev. Mr. Ketchum, of this city, Arthur says he is negotiating for land in Mason county, which he expects to secure, and he will then proceed to organize his colony and city. Every deed for land will contain a clause forever prohibiting its use for any saloon, brewery or distillery. Municipal ownership of all public utilities, including street railways, will be the order and other advanced ideas of government will be incorporated in the new community.”

“Arthur is a man of considerable means and he is enlisting citizens in the project all over the United States.”

The history of prohibition in Washington State is covered in a most excellent manner by my former faculty colleague and acquaintance Norman H. Clark (1925-2004) in his work The Dry Years. But William Arthur came in under Norman’s radar and was not documented in his works. As far as I can ascertain, Arthur’s plan for a Mason County community never went beyond the concept stage.

Mason 2Most of the Washington State Prohibition Party activists in the late 19th/early 20th century were educators or ministers. August Bernhardt Louis Gellerman, who established Peninsular College in Oysterville, 1895-1897, came the closest to establishing a place to make the dry vision come true.

William Arthur was born in Scotland in 1860. He immigrated to the United States in 1881 and settled in the area of Omaha, where he apparently joined relatives. He earned a living in the building contract trade and wrote books on the subject such as The Building Estimator, The Contractors’ and Builders’ Handbook, Estimating Building Costs, The Home Builders’ Guide, The New Building Estimator, and Appraisers’ and Adjusters’ handbook. Apparently Mr. Arthur was  not really an architect, he was an engineer.

About the time of the news article above, Arthur wrote The Well-Ordered Household, reissued as Our Home City in 1911. These are the works outlining his vision for a new urban way of living through his planned communities. In the early 1920s in the wake of the Great War he issued a couple books promoting English as the world language in the road to international peace. He died in Omaha July 26, 1945.

A city of 5000 prohibitionists deep in Mason County during the early 20th century would have been a major counterbalance in the history of that area if it had actually happened. Mr. William Arthur deserves a whole chapter in the Washington State book of intriguing historical “what ifs.”

Thanks to Mr. Bill Arthur, grandson of William Arthur, for providing valuable background information for this post.

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