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Remembering Leavenworth pioneer Amanda Wilson, area’s first funeral home owner

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Last month I wrote about Leavenworth pioneer Amanda Martin Town Wilson (born Amanda Dye), who came to Leavenworth with her husband and two young daughters in 1897. After establishing the town’s first millinery and dress shop, she studied the mortuary business and in 1909 became the first Leavenworth owner of a funeral home.

Her daughters recalled her hitching up the horse to drive the hearse way out into the countryside in all sorts of weather to pick up a body. She was a kindhearted woman whose attentions to the bereaved were much appreciated.

Amanda’s older daughter, Mary, married Frank Hennessy, who joined Amanda in the funeral business. Mary was a member of the Leavenworth Women’s Club. When she heard that the Great Northern Railway was moving its Cascade Division headquarters from Leavenworth to Wenatchee in 1923, and that trains would be rerouted up Chumstick Valley instead of through town, she petitioned railway president Ralph Budd to deed the vacated Leavenworth depot building to the women’s club. He complied.

This came as a surprise to the rest of Mary’s club, but the members were delighted. With the help of other social clubs and the chamber of commerce, they immediately began to remodel the old depot into a clubhouse. Frank Hennessy supervised, with a Mr. Hansen in charge of carpenter work. Amanda Wilson prevailed upon her many friends and acquaintances to donate furniture; what she couldn’t beg, she purchased. She also made all the draperies.

Many hands helped in the repurposing of the building, and the Leavenworth Women’s Club spent many happy years there. Later the building was sold to the Chumstick Grange – with paperwork signed by Mary Hennessy, who held the lease. This necessitated moving the former depot from Great Northern property on today’s U.S. Highway 2, where seven sets of tracks once ran, to its current location on upper Front Street.

Amanda Wilson lived at Eighth and Commercial streets, across from the mortuary, with her yellow-headed Mexican parrot, José. She made quite a companion out of the parrot, teaching him to talk and feeding him toast and coffee for breakfast.

Leavenworth artist Carl Bergren recalls passing her house on the way to swim in the Wenatchee River with his brothers, when he was seven or eight years old. A voice rang out from the kitchen: “Where are you going?”

“Swimming,” the boys replied politely. This happened three or four times before they realized it was José calling to them.

Space does not permit me to share other anecdotes about the popular Mrs. Wilson, whose own funeral services (in Wenatchee and Leavenworth) drew hundreds of people with 250 floral offerings blanketing her mahogany casket at the old Leavenworth Cemetery. Look for a complete biography of the pioneer woman dubbed the “Mother of Leavenworth” in the spring 2014 edition of The Confluence, the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s historical quarterly magazine. It will be sent free of charge to museum members and sold in the museum’s gift shop.

Chris Rader, former KOHO news director and Wenatchee Valley Museum public relations coordinator, is a freelance writer who contracts with the museum for research, writing and editing. She may be reached at crader@nwi.net.

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