Christmas in Conway!
A Hallmark TV movie sparks a weekend of celebration in tiny Conway, Wash.
Mount Vernon, Wash.
Marilyn Tangen, who resides in Norway Park just east of Conway, was watching a movie on television. Words flashed across the screen: “Christmas in Conway!” She couldn’t get those words out of her mind. Why, there was a Conway nearby, where one finds Sons of Norway Abel Lodge. Marilyn thought about it in the evening. She thought about it at four o’clock in the morning! Conway with its two-block business area was on her mind constantly. Creative as she is, Marilyn said, “All that is needed is inspiration. A merchant’s village decorated with lights!”
Thomas P. Jones and Charles Villeneuve settled near the site of Conway in 1873. As early as 1886, Villeneuve established a pioneer store and plotted the town site of Conway. Conway, like a number of small hamlets on the South Fork of the Skagit River, had a certain charm. In the early days, the streets were muddy. In 1891, the Great Northern Railroad came through, designating Conway as a station (the sign along the tracks says Fir). Memories remain in the lives of those who lived or worked in Conway long years ago. There was a hotel next to the train track, a wooden building where Ole Noste had his paint store, and two saloons. A ferry connected Conway with Fir across the river.
Ole C. Noste was Postmaster of Conway from 1933 to 1961. His daughter, Dorothy Noste Johnson, recalls helping her mother carry mailbags to the train. He also helped found the American Legion Post 147 Mason McConkey and the Abel Lodge in Conway. Under his direction, lodge members formed a marching drill band that was recognized all over the state of Washington.
Another landmark was the Finstad and Utgard Creamery. John Finstad and P.K. Utgard owned and operated two creameries in Wisconsin. Dewey Utgard was the youngest licensed cheese maker in Wisconsin. He moved to Washington at the age of 18 and a new creamery came to be. The creamery in Conway was known for primost and Rainbow cottage cheese, as well as butter.
Remnants of the past remain. Ann Lamb’s uncle owned the John Skrondal General Mdse. Store building (one-time site of the post office). Later, this building became Tony Tronsdal’s garage. Tony is remembered for his interest in the area history as well as constructing a sternwheeler on which many had the privilege to travel. Sonja Ranes Miller is now deceased. Her parents owned the Ranes and Co. general store where one bought clothes, shoes, dishes, and material. Bob Sund’s grandparents owned Sund’s Conway Meat Co. Well remembered are the trophies of deer and elk on those walls. Community members had their meat wrapped and made ready for storage in the lockers.
A number of lodge members grew up in Conway. Janet Utgard’s father was born in a house next to the lodge. Joan Bjorgen Johnson, whose father was a carpenter, helped build many houses in Skagit County. She grew up two houses away. Sonny Wisner’s grandparents came west from Wisconsin and eventually settled along Britt Slough, where they built the “Gossen” Church. Solveig Lee’s grandparents settled a couple of miles north of Conway in 1876. Her father, Oscar, and uncle, Peter, used to see who could run to the railroad track first to pick up the mail when the train passed by.
Conway still has its charm. On November 7 and 8, 2014, the merchants in the village of Conway opened their doors. Lights were lit. It was, indeed, “Christmas in Conway.” In the Conway Post Office was Heidi Riley, granddaughter of Ole Noste. One can see that the Noste family is continuing to take care of the mail. At the end of Second Street is the Abel Lodge. What better place to have a cup of coffee, buy some goodies from the bakery, and shop at the many tables (a crafts boutique)?
Christmas in Conway! Marilyn’s dream came true. We can only wait until Christmas in Conway comes in 2015 when Conway shows off to the greater community what this village has to offer.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 12, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.