Each month, Amber Raney at the Washington State Archives publishes an online newsletter, appropriately titled Out of the Archives. The November issue featured a great photo of a mountain lodge, and challenged viewers to identify the lodge’s location. When I saw that photo, I knew I’d seen a copy somewhere at the Schmidt House, so I went digging through our archives. What I found surprised me, and led both Amber and me to exclaim “It’s a small world!”
The lodge turned out to be the Mount Baker Lodge, built in 1926. I found a color postcard of the building in our collection of Schmidt family memorabilia. Along with the postcard were other photos of the lodge, surroundings, and even Schmidt family members at Mount Baker. A little more digging revealed documents proving that not only did the Schmidts visit the lodge, they invested in it.
In the early 1920s, an enterprising group of men, primarily from the Bellingham area, came up with the idea of building an inn on the slopes of Mount Baker. The area would be advertised as a grand place for outdoor activities: hiking, canoeing, viewing wildlife and wildflowers, and just plain soaking up the magnificent scenery (recreational skiing had not yet become the draw that it is today). The Mount Baker Development Company was formed to bring a road to the site, build the lodge and other structures, and promote the heck out of the whole enterprise. Investors were eagerly sought.
One of those investors was Henry Schupp, the manager of the Hotel Leopold in Bellingham. And the Hotel Leopold was owned by the Schmidt family. After Prohibition put an end to brewing beer at the Olympia Brewing Company in Tumwater, the Schmidts had turned their prodigious capitalist talents to other ventures, including building, owning and managing hotels in major cities in the Northwest. So they were a natural for investing in the inn at Mount Baker.
The Development Company established its headquarters at the Hotel Leopold. Schupp became a member of the Company board, and invested a large chunk of money, all or part of which was quietly provided by the Schmidts in their own names or names of their various corporations.
The development of the lodge site is too lengthy to go into here, but several books have been written about the subject (see list below). The lodge business went well, despite setbacks including greater-than-normal snowfalls, cantankerous bears, rough roads, and supply difficulties. The scenery made the hardships worthwhile, though, and the completed lodge was a winner (in style and grandeur, very reminiscent of Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier).
However, in 1931, disaster struck when the inn caught fire and burned to the ground in less than two hours.
The Development Company at first considered rebuilding the huge lodge, but instead concentrated on upgrading the remaining smaller buildings to handle overnight guests. Bonds were sold to raise money for the needed upgrades. Schupp again acted as a front man for Schmidt interests, buying $22,000 in bonds to keep the enterprise afloat.
In one document in our archives, Schupp is noted as acting as trustee for: Peter G. Schmidt (head of the Schmidt family interests); Frank Kenney (longtime Schmidt employee); Schupp himself; Schmidt Estate Inc.; Pacific Coast Investment Company (a Schmidt enterprise); J. R. Speckart (a Schmidt in-law); and A. Gamer (longtime Schmidt friend and business partner). Another document shows that Adolph Schmidt (Peter’s brother) was a board member of the Company.
Over the next several years, the Great Depression took its toll on the tourism business. The Company did have some good years, particularly when two major motion pictures (including “The Call of the Wild” starring Clark Gable) were filmed at Mount Baker. Winter recreation also became popular and increased the seasonal draw to the area. Essentially, though, the Company was running on borrowed time. And the last blow came when World War II shortages of gasoline forced highway crews to curtail snow removal on the road to the mountain, thus severely limiting tourist access. The Mount Baker Development Company finally threw in the towel and sold its holdings in 1943.
Following the war, other companies saw the recreational potential at the site, and after decades of development, Mount Baker today is a prime winter skiing facility. But the beautiful Mount Baker Lodge is just a memory.
To learn more about the Mt. Baker Lodge, and see some fantastic photos, check out these books at the Washington State Library:
The Grand Lady of Mount Baker: A History of the Mount Baker Lodge from 1927-1931, by Michael G. Impero (2015)
Images of America: Mount Baker, by John D’Onofrio and Todd Warger (2013)
Mount Baker Ski Area: A Pictorial History, by Mount Baker Recreation Company (1980)
You can participate in future State Archives photo challenges by viewing the Out of the Archives newsletter at https://archive.constantcontact.com/fs171/1112428091554/archive/1115479403533.html . Sign up to receive a free subscription.
article by Karen L. Johnson, Curator