The sounds surrounding Tenino City Hall were quite different once upon a time when it served as the Hercules Sandstone Company Office. One hundred years ago the office was situated near the imposing cliffs of the Hercules #1 Sandstone Quarry at Lemon Hill on the southeast end of Tenino. The din of steam channelers and gang saws harvesting top grade sandstone from the earth rang out against its four walls all day long. Near the quarry everything was bathed in gray dust, and the office stood solidly as an example of what could be created with Tenino Sandstone.
The Hercules Sandstone Company Office was originally designed by Walter Scheel, son of Hans P. Horepower Scheel, who was the mastermind behind Hercules. Hans, who was a stonecutter by trade, was also a gifted salesman and an investor. The Scheel family reached such a height of prosperity that they lived on Prospect Hill in Tacoma in a mansion with room for four servants and a steam-heated green house.
A number of calamities, including Tenino’s Big Blast, led up to the demise of the Hercules Sandstone Company, but the final blow, detailed in Scott McArthur’s book, The Decades of Boom and Bust, involves an amusing story about young Walter Scheel. On a hunting expedition outside of Tenino, Walter, aged 23, came across a deposit of granite. There was a demand by the Army Corp of Engineers for more durable stone than sandstone, and Walter felt he had hit pay dirt with the granite discovery.
McArthur explains, “Just getting to the site of the proposed new quarry was a challenge. The rough trail from the end of the county road crossed the river several times. Walter Scheel, a bear of a man, picked up the experts and government engineers who went on an inspection tour and carried them one by one piggyback across the river.”
This became Quarry #6, which seemed promising with a government contract in hand at the time of its inception. However, the expenses kept mounting since rail lines had to be expanded and temperamental rivers bridged. When World War I was declared and government spending froze, the Hans P. Scheel family, who had personally guaranteed the company notes, lost everything. With their businesses and the mansion in Tacoma in possession of the bank, the family moved to their farm in Tenino which was owned by Hans’ wife Frances. Frances did not seem to mind the change in circumstances and cheerfully went about raising their eight children in a barn.
When the Hercules Stone Company went bust, the office building was purchased by the City of Tenino for use as its City Hall. Then in 1921 the monumental task of moving it to the center of town began.
Walter, who had worked on the original construction of the Hercules office, helped to dismantle it stone by stone and moved the building to its new home on Sussex Street. Each stone was numbered, and the numbers can still be seen carved into the blocks inside the Records Room on the first floor. According to Keith Phillips, Tenino stonecutter and historian, Walter said it was the only building he ever had to build twice. One has to wonder how he felt about dismantling his father’s old office.
Some alterations were made to the exterior. Originally there were two staircases that led to the front door of the office, but now there is a single staircase. The words “City Hall” were carved over the front door and the cornerstone was altered to state the year of construction as 1922 and list the mayor and city council members of that time.
Since its move to Sussex Street, the building has served many purposes. In addition to city offices, the basement became the police station which included a holding cell. In 1925 a library, organized by the ladies of the Tenino Home Study Club, was added on the top floor,. Grace Engle was appointed librarian and served in this post until 1960.
As a small child in the 1980s, I remember playing on the steps of the Tenino library. I liked these steps because they felt important, and you could actually run around underneath them too. I thought it odd that the library should have the words “City Hall” carved over the front door.
Today, City Hall has resumed its original purpose and is abuzz with city employees dealing with the day in and day out of running a municipality. But there are also big plans for the future. Step into Mayor Wayne Fournier’s office, and you will see all the renderings for potential future projects about town. The City Treasurer, John Millard, shows an example of preservation work that has been ongoing within City Hall itself in the Records Room, which was in desperate need of resealing and weatherizing.
Tenino City Hall is on the main street running through town at the corner of Sussex and Hodgden Streets. It is hard to miss with the iconic “Tenino” sign constructed of sandstone blocks sitting right out front. City Council meetings are now located where the Tenino library used to be, and since the public is welcome it is a great opportunity to see the inside of this historic building.
For further reading:
McArthur, Scott, Tenino, Washington: The Decades of Boom & Bust (Monmouth, OR: Scott McArthur, 2005).
Dwelley, Arthur G., Prairies & Quarries: Pioneer Days Around Tenino 1830-1900 (Tenino, WA: Independent Publishing Company, 1989).