The Browns Point Improvement Club was organized in 1919. At that time, the community consisted mostly of summer homes and beach cabins, with relatively few permanent residents braving the long winters in the isolated community. Travel to and from Browns Point in that era was by the boats of the “mosquito fleet,” which arrived several times each day at the dock near the lighthouse.
The first official business meeting of the Browns Point Improvement Club was held in January of 1920. Minutes of this meeting indicate that the purpose of the BPIC was “to advance the interests of the community and provide for the social benefit of its residents.” An initiation fee of $1.00 was assessed to all new members. Dues were set at 25 cents per month, with a 50-cent penalty for anyone who missed a meeting.
Meetings were frequently held in the dock’s waiting house or in a member’s residence, depending on the season. Items on the club’s agenda included development of a water system, bringing electricity and phones to the area, purchase of a fire alarm, and making improvements to roads. Early BPIC social functions and dances were held in the second floor of Gus Schuitt’s store, Hyada Mercantile, which was located just up the hill from the dock. From the beginning, BPIC members recognized the need for their own community meeting hall on waterfront property. Club members worked tirelessly toward achieving that goal for several decades.
Jerry Meeker, a Puyallup Indian, regularly spent time at Browns Point beginning in the 1870’s. Jerry was an active promoter of the Browns Point community, moving permanently to Browns Point in 1904. In 1907 Jerry helped lay out the building lots and gave community’s streets their Indian names. Jerry was one of the first members of the BPIC and he remained a strong supporter of the club throughout his long life. At the end of the summer, Jerry hosted traditional-style clam and salmon bakes on the beach just as he had with his tribal family prior to settlement of Browns Point by Europeans. These popular events rounded out the social activities for the citizens of Browns Point, and were the precursor to the famous Browns Point Salmon Bake.
In 1928, the BPIC was incorporated as a non-profit organization. This was done to allow the BPIC to hold legal title to land for the planned meeting hall. In 1938, a 35-ft wide parcel of waterfront property became available next to Jerry Meeker’s dock. A community salmon bake was held to help raise the necessary funds. The waterfront site was eventually purchased by the BPIC for $300. Fundraising activities continued while plans for the waterfront property were discussed. Given the narrow width of the waterfront property, it was difficult to envision how a meeting hall suitable for BPIC’s planned activities could possibly fit on that lot.
Next door to the waterfront property was the U.S. Lighthouse Station. The south side of the government’s property was in a state of neglect, and most of it had never been used for lighthouse purposes. At the recommendation of Oscar Brown, the Browns Point lightkeeper, a decades-long attempt to obtain some of the lighthouse property for the BPIC’s use was initiated.
Initially, the Federal government informed the BPIC that the property not surplus to the needs of the government, and that there was no possibility of transfer of any of the land. BPIC members refused to take no for an answer, and they contacted our congressional representatives to ask for their assistance. Again the government officials refused to cooperate. Repeated attempts were made to change the government’s opinion, but to no avail. After WWII began, efforts to obtain additional property were discontinued.
After the war, momentum was once again gained for the construction of the waterfront meeting hall. In 1946, the first “open to the public” Browns Point Salmon Bake fund-raiser was held with Jerry Meeker once again handling the cooking. Thanks to an ambitious publicity campaign, the event was a tremendous success. Sufficient funds to begin construction of a meeting hall were nearly in place.
In 1950, the club made one final push to obtain additional property from the government. This time, freshman Congressman Thor Tollefson was contacted and asked if he would help. Club members explained their many years of failures trying to obtain additional property for the club, and they described their ambitious plans for a new waterfront building for the benefit of the residents of Browns Point. Congressman Tollefson was eager to help, and he began researching the issue.
While meeting with Admiral Richmond in Washington, DC to discuss the matter, Rep. Tollefson finally received assurances that the Coast Guard would support a direct transfer of the land to the club. After exploring the procedures for making such a transfer, Tollefson was informed that under Federal law, it would literally take an Act of Congress to make the transfer happen. Tollefson agreed to sponsor a bill in the House of Representatives authorizing transfer of the land directly to the BPIC. Senator Warren Magnuson was also contacted, and he agreed to provide the necessary support in the Senate.
Tollefson’s bill passed the House without objection in October of 1950. However, when Magnuson’s bill was introduced within the Senate Ways and Means committee, the committee chair refused to advance it to the Senate floor. Oregon’s Senator Morse objected to the transfer of Federal property to any entity without full compensation being paid for the property. Morse vowed to keep the BPIC property bill in committee unless his terms for payment were met. Things were once again looking bleak. The BPIC could simply not afford to pay full value for the property and also for a meeting hall of the scale they had envisioned.
As Congress neared adjournment, Magnuson’s stalemate with Senator Morse continued to make the transfer doubtful. Senator Morse was steadfast in his opposition. However, Senator Magnuson was a skilled politician, and he had a reputation for finding clever ways to get his business completed. A few days before Christmas in 1950, Senator Magnuson was presented with an opportunity to out-maneuver Senator Morse. Magnuson was informed by an aid that Senator Morse was to be unexpectedly absent from the Senate floor due to an early return home to Oregon for the Christmas holiday. Senator Magnuson promptly seized the opportunity, bringing the bill forward to a vote on the Senate floor without including any language requiring compensation.
Lacking Morse’s objection, the bill passed the Senate on December 27th, 1950. The President of the United States signed it into law a short time later. The bill authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to make the transfer of 50 feet of the Coast Guard property for the use of the club. The deed was received in 1951. No Compensation Required!
With the additional property from the Coast Guard, the BPIC increased the intensity of their drive for a new building. Bonds were sold to club members to raise enough money to begin construction, and the famous Salmon Bakes continued. Volunteers donated time and building materials to reduce the cost of the project. In 1955, the new building was formally dedicated and presented to the community. Sadly, the Father of the Salmon Bake Jerry Meeker, died less than 2 months after dedication of the new building at the age of 93.
Since that time, the Salmon Bakes have continued and the Browns Point Improvement Club has continued to serve the community as an independent non-profit organization. The BPIC has provided free use of the facility to countless community groups. Funds raised by the BPIC are used to sponsor scouts, kids fishing derbies, youth sports groups, holiday celebrations, and other events for the benefit of the Browns Point community. The BPIC building is made available for public use as a rental hall for weddings and other celebrations. Just as our founding members did, today’s BPIC members still share a strong sense of community. Our members recognize the value of volunteering our time together, and we continue to work toward the goal of helping to make our community a better place to live.