No. 9 | May 29, 2019
The Homestead as an ATM
The pioneers who built the Eastside were all diligent, sober-minded souls dedicated only to creating wonderful communities for their families and for future generations. Right? Well, most were, but for this edition of Eastside Stories we have a tale of an enterprising pioneer of a different sort.
Robert Gerrish, a board member and volunteer at the Bothell Historical Museum, has traced the machinations of a slick operator who also happens to be his grandmother’s first husband. The story—it gets a bit convoluted, but stay with it—goes like this:
Henry Rosenburg was baptized Wilhelm Henrich Rosenburg in 1852. In various documents he lists his birthplace as Stuttgart, Alsace-Lorraine and Paris. He arrived in the United States in 1876, and by 1883 he was in Deadwood, South Dakota (of course!). There he met Christina Reagan, (Robert’s grandmother) and in April of 1883 they were married in St. Patrick’s church in nearby Lead, South Dakota. In 1884, Christina and Henry, along with Thomas Reagan, Christina’s father, migrated to Seattle.
In 1885 Henry and Christina bought a house in Seattle and had their first child, Agnes. In 1886, Henry applied for Naturalization. That year he also claimed a homestead outside Bothell. Henry and Christina soon sold their Seattle house to Christina’s brother and moved in with Christina’s parents before settling into the Bothell homestead in 1888. They had had two more children, Martin and John, and all seemed well by 1889.
Within a few years, Henry needed capital, and in January of 1892 he took out a $500 mortgage on his homestead (about $15,000 today). Only problem was that he still did not have full title to the homestead, which he would not get until April of that year.
Five quiet years passed until January 4 th of 1897, which was a busy day for Henry. He paid off the 1892 mortgage and immediately took out a new mortgage for $142. He used $100 of the proceeds to purchase Christina’s share of the property. Christina is now listed on the deed as “Christina Rosenburg of Seattle, Washington, former wife of William Henry Rosenburg.” After the purchase was complete, Henry, now described as a “single man,” took out a second mortgage for $65. He paid off this latest mortgage in 1898, but took out yet another mortgage of $275 in 1901.
Then he disappears until 1904. Family legend was that he had run off to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and never returned. But that legend appears to have been a spin to cover up the scandal of divorce in a Catholic family. Henry did venture to the Yukon, but not in 1897. He turns up in Whitehorse in 1903, where, true to form, he filed for a mining patent for 160 acres.
By 1904 Henry was back wheeling and dealing in Bothell. He took out a mortgage from the wonderfully named J.W. Nipple for $1,000 and paid off his 1901 mortgage. He paid off Mr. Nipple in 1905 and sold “All of the timber of whatsoever kind or nature standing or fallen” on his property to Woodinville Lumber Company for $2,700.
Henry would not let his Bothell homestead be debt free for long, and on February 10 th 1908, he took out a $500 mortgage on it and, ten days later, started selling it off in chunks to a buyer who paid for it one piece at a time. A month later he paid off the most recent mortgage and assigned his remaining interests to a Seattle attorney. The saga of the Bothell homestead that he had treated as an ATM, was over.
By 1908 it appears that Henry had decamped again, this time for Soap Lake, in Central Washington, where he was still listed as a bachelor. In 1915 he married again, and passed away in 1927.
In addition to the multiple mysteries of this story (why lie about his birthplace? Why a divorce when such practice was strictly prohibited for Catholics? Where did he get the money to pay all those mortgages, and, for that matter, what did he do with the money he borrowed?) is the curious way in which Henry was able to find people to lend him money on a property of dubious value (it was quite remote for that time) for perhaps unknown purposes.
During the run-up in property values and debt of the early 2000s, Americans were roundly chastised for borrowing excessively against their homes. But the Henry Rosenburg story shows that this was not a new practice. In fact, 19 th century literature is full of references to properties that were overly mortgaged.
Yes, the Eastside was built by Sturdy Yeomen tight with a dollar, but also by more than a few Henry Rosenburgs.
Thanks to Robert Gerrish, of the Bothell Historical Museum, for this story and the accompanying photos. If you have a compelling Eastside Story, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about the Eastside. Books available from Eastside Heritage Center include:
Lake Washington: The Eastside
Bellevue: the Post World War II Years
Our Town, Redmond
Bellevue: Its First 100 Years
Our Mission To steward Eastside history by actively collecting, preserving, and interpreting documents and artifacts, and by promoting public involvement in and appreciation of this heritage through educational programming and community outreach.
Our Vision To be the leading organization that enhances community identity through the preservation and stewardship of the Eastside’s history.