Advised by her doctor to seek a drier climate, a frail Amanda Martin came from humid Missouri to Leavenworth in 1897 with her husband Andrew and their two daughters. The sunny weather and beautiful scenery cheered her up, and she soon recovered her health. Amanda, or “Mandy,” established the first millinery and dress shop in Leavenworth.
After a few years she began nursing for famed pioneer doctor George Hoxsey and studied the funeral business. She became a “lady assistant” to Wenatchee’s first undertaker, Ernest Sprague, and by 1909 was managing his Leavenworth mortuary. (Sprague brought the first horse-drawn hearse to Wenatchee around 1904 and, in 1910, its first motor-driven hearse.)
Mandy and Andrew Martin divorced in 1911 or 1912 and he moved to Cashmere. By this time Mandy was the sole proprietor of the Leavenworth mortuary, a two-story building on the corner of Eighth and Commercial streets. Over the next few decades the business went by the names of Martin & Kuelbs, Leavenworth Undertaking Co. and Cascade Undertaking Co. Her ads in The Leavenworth Echo promised, “Embalming guaranteed. Night or day calls promptly attended; prices and terms reasonable.”
Willie Dee Martin, her eldest daughter, got a job in the Lamb-Davis Lumber Co. store in June 1909. She later married Dale Marble and moved to Seattle. The younger daughter, Mary, became the wife of Frank Hennessy. Meanwhile, Mandy married David C. Town in December 1912. This marriage did not last long, but she kept his surname until she married John A. Wilson in 1923. A highly respected citizen, he served as Chelan County commissioner from 1924 to 1930.
Mandy taught Frank Hennessy all she knew about mortuary science and by 1920 they were in the funeral business together in Leavenworth. She later helped him establish his own funeral home on North Wenatchee Avenue.
Clarice Ingebretson, a friend of the late Leavenworth mayor, Lorene Young, worked in the mortuary for a few years and got to know Mandy Wilson very well. Clarice told of a young man Mandy had tended to after he was killed while working on the 7.8-mile Stevens Pass railroad tunnel. No one knew his background or whom to contact about his death. Some three years later his East Coast family tracked him down and came to move his body back to the family plot. Clarice was present when Mandy opened the coffin. She told Lorene, “You would not have believed that he’d been dead three years! It looked as if he’d been prepared for his funeral that week!”
Mandy was active in the Methodist church and enjoyed a busy social life. Her name often appeared in The Echo as the high scorer at card parties. Lorene Young remembered her as a “very colorful character” who had a parrot. One day Mandy’s next-door neighbor had ordered a load of firewood. Mandy’s back door was open when the man came with the wood and called, “What should I do with the wood? Where should I put it?” The parrot, who was in the kitchen, yelled “Put it there! Put it there!” So he dumped the load in Mandy’s back yard.
Amanda Martin Town Wilson was kind and generous, known as the “Mother of Leavenworth.” In my next column I’ll tell you how she and her daughter Mary Hennessey saved the town’s railroad depot from destruction.
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 email@example.com