Katherine Knowlton: Timberline Kate | History Files

By Betty Lou Gaeng | Jul 07, 2017
Edmonds’ Kate Knowlton starred in a movie called “Clothes and the Man,” which debuted at the Princess Theater in Edmonds.

Even though (or maybe because) longtime Edmonds resident Kate Knowlton remained single and alone, she lived a full life. She was a World War I Army nurse, a silent-film actress, a private nurse, a real estate agent, the proprietor of a tearoom, a mine-owner, and prospector.

Kate’s story has its beginning in Minnesota, where she was born Aug. 26, 1880, the eldest of the seven children of Lyman Ezekiel Knowlton and Eleanor Adella Stone. Her father was from a prominent Canadian pioneer family in South Stukely, Quebec.

In Minnesota, the family lived on a farm in LacQuiParle County. When Kate was 10, the family moved to her father’s hometown in Quebec. South Stukely, located near Magog in the southern part of Quebec, has an interesting history. Founded in 1855, the area was actually settled in the late 1700s by New England Loyalists.

The Knowlton’s family tomb is a prominent one in the old South Stukely Cemetery across Highway 112 from St. Mathews Methodist Church. Built in 1852, it was cemented shut in 1906; a monument gives the names of those entombed. The grave of Kate’s father is outside, but near the tomb.

Kate lived with both parents in Quebec during her school years and nurse’s training. However, in 1910 her parents separated and Kate, her mother and her siblings returned to the states – this time to South Dakota.

With the onset of WWI, now living in Oregon, Kate enlisted as a Red Cross nurse in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She served until she was discharged in September of 1919.

Following her Army duty, Kate lived for a short time with her mother in South Dakota. Later, she was living in Southern California when she was noticed by Walter Reece, a resident of Edmonds.

Producing and directing movies in Hollywood and Edmonds, Walter Reece was becoming well known in the silent motion picture industry. This meeting led to a role for Kate in one of Reece’s productions.

After five months filming, the two-reel light comedy drama made its debut in Edmonds. Locally, the Edmonds Tribune-Review announced that the Hollywood motion picture “Clothes and the Man” was to be shown Thursday evening, May 1, 1924, at the Princess Theater in downtown Edmonds.

The article went on to say that Miss Katherine Knowlton, a character actress in the production, would appear in person to give a talk on the filming of motion pictures in Hollywood.

The movie was well attended by local residents. For 43-year-old Kate Knowlton, Edmonds became her hometown for the remainder of her life.

An article in the May 1972 magazine, The True West Frontier Times, reported that when Kate first visited Edmonds, she liked the salt air, the green foliage and the mild climate so much, she made the decision to remain.

In Edmonds, Kate worked as a nurse and a real estate agent, and in 1927, she purchased the former Stevens Building on the northwest corner of Fifth and Main in Edmonds. There, she began her own real estate business in what became known as the Knowlton Building.

Later, deciding the real estate business was not for her, she exchanged her building for the Brookside Inn north of town. Her old friend Walter Reece had operated a roadhouse in the large and rambling structure. Brookside Inn became Kate’s home, and for a short time she operated a tearoom there.

In the meantime, Kate still worked as a private nurse. Her last patient was Edmonds real estate and insurance man Frank Peabody. In the late 1920s, with his health failing, Peabody hired Kate to care for him at his home in Edmonds, and also at his cabin located at Monte Cristo, Snohomish County’s old mining town.

In 1889, Peabody, along with Joseph Pearsall, had been the first to make the discovery of gold ore and to stake claims at what became the mines of Monte Cristo. Even though the glory days of the mines had long faded, Peabody maintained ownership of his claims and his onsite cabin.

While caring for her patient at Monte Cristo, Kate often hiked its trails and she fell in love with the mountains. Eventually, Kate’s enthusiasm for Monte Cristo earned her the affectionate title of “Timberline Kate.”

When Peabody died in 1930, Kate continued to spend time at Monte Cristo with Kittie Peabody, his widow. Kittie died in 1946 and, following her death, Kate inherited the Peabody’s Monte Cristo properties.

Those properties consisted of 17 mine claims, several town lots, and the cabin.

Her hair now white, Kate dressed in boots, knickers or jeans and a wide-brimmed hat; her favorite red jacket became a familiar sight in Edmonds. Kate never owned a car – her method of getting to Monte Cristo was by walking and hitchhiking. Kate’s usual schedule was to stay at her Monte Cristo cabin during the summer and her Edmonds home during the winter.

True to her Timberline Kate nickname, she never gave up on prospecting for riches and her belief that Monte Cristo would prosper once again.

Meanwhile, back at her north Edmonds home, the uncared-for building was deteriorating around her. Kate moved to a small house behind the large structure.

As Kate aged, she became almost a recluse, only leaving her home to buy groceries or to complain about neighborhood children.

As mentioned in the Feb. 28, 1957 issue of the Edmonds Tribune-Review: “During her declining years, Miss Knowlton was at perpetual war with the neighborhood boys, who soon discovered that she reacted violently when they pestered her – they seemed to make a career of it. When she came to town, it was to protest to the police, the newspaper office, the schools, or anyone else who would listen that something should be done

One evening in 1954, still alone, 74-year old Kate Knowlton suffered a stroke – she managed to crawl across the road to a neighbor’s home, and a doctor was called. She survived, but was unable to care for herself.

She became a patient at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Seattle for seven months. The newspaper reported she died at the hospital on April 9, 1955, alone and friendless.

A few years ago, I visited Kate Knowlton’s grave in Eugene, Oregon. A regulation government-issue military marker located at the lovely Rest-Haven Memorial Park identifies her burial spot. She is buried on the hillside at Rest-Haven next to her mother, a brother, a sister and other family members.

Sitting empty and decaying, Kate’s old home, the former Brookside Inn, had become a victim of unrelenting attacks by vandals. Eventually, every window was smashed and the doors hung crookedly from their hinges.

The end came on Wednesday night, Feb. 20, 1957, when what was described as a spectacular fire burned the 30-by-70-foot, barn-like structure to the ground, leaving only a huge fireplace and chimney standing.

It was soon learned that the fire was an accident – one caused by two young boys playing with matches. Years of history were lost that night, as Kate Knowlton’s collection of curios from Monte Cristo and her nursing days went up in flames.

Longtime local historian Betty Lou Gaeng is a member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.


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