On December 10, 1921, shortly before the first paved county road came through, the Longbranch Improvement Club (LIC) was incorporated to “purchase real estate for recreation and for a consolidated school.” The club purchased ten acres adjacent to the new road and, in the following year, cleared and leveled an area between a salmon-running stream and the new highway.
In Longbranch, as in much of rural America in the 1920’s, baseball was a popular social event, bridging religious and language differences of immigrant settlers, and a welcome diversion from endless labor. Each community fielded a team—the Longbranch team quickly became the pride of the Peninsula. The LIC built a baseball field and grandstand on their cleared acreage, then donated three adjacent acres for a two-room consolidated school.
“To encourage any activity for the betterment of Schools, Homemaking, Roads, Marketing, Dairy, Poultry and all its branches” was the founders’ vision for the Longbranch Improvement Club. Over time, the need has shifted to general community betterment through recreational, social and financial means.
In 1939 the Works Progress Administration built a timbered A-frame gymnasium adjacent the schoolhouse. Built of hand-mixed concrete and local stone, the building bears log rafters and immense beams. When the school district consolidated to a larger site, the LIC purchased the land and buildings. In 1956 rest rooms, upgraded kitchen facilities and a wooden floor were added.
The Clubhouse has fulfilled many roles in its history. High school basketball, wartime bandage rolling, huckleberry festivals, fund-raisers, basket socials, Sunday schools and funerals along with highly popular dances and community theater events kept the LIC true to its founders’ goals.
Longbranch is a community, not unlike many other communities, that can use some betterment. On an isolated and naturally beautiful peninsula, lifestyles split in two strata: sprawling vacation beach homes and affluent retirees vs. back road cabins, mobile homes, and children who receive their only nutrition from meals at school. Bridging the disparity is a vital interest of the LIC, and through the years it has sponsored food drives, blanket drives, reading programs, direct and indirect support of children’s learning and enhancement programs through individual scholarships to deserving local high school graduates and block scholarships to Evergreen Elementary School’s science/ecology Outdoor Education Camp held each spring.
Longbranch’s Tie to the Water
Located at the south end of heavily forested Key Peninsula, early settlers reached the outside world by boat. Roads were non-existent, Indian trails skirting ravines and swamps were slow and treacherous. Until the roads were improved, concurrent with development of the automobile, travel was by foot or by boat – rowboat, canoe, sailboat or steamer.
Pioneers in the latter 1800’s used Filucy Bay as a protected harbor for itinerant logging camps built on floating barges. As the land was logged, ambitious immigrants settled the remote area, depending on boat traffic to and from Olympia, Steilacoom and Tacoma for trade, mail and connection with the outside world.
The naturally protected waters of Filucy Bay provided an ideal location for Longbranch’s first wharf, built in 1885 to serve the south end of the Puget Sound. The same location serves boaters today, now as a service of the LIC owned Longbranch Marina.
Early sternwheelers served as grocery boats as well as transportation for the agricultural products of the Peninsula including eggs, milk, plums, apples, cherries, strawberries and wild huckleberries.
As the Puget Sound area began its growth in the early twentieth century, Longbranch gained a reputation as a pristine, quiet location for summer homes, recreation and retreat. The famed Mosquito Fleet brought families from the mainland to rustic beachfront summer homes, from simple cabins to elaborate lodges and even an ill-fated resort development platted in 1895.
Even as the automobile became popular, the wharf at Longbranch continued serving the community and the local farmers who needed to transport fragile fruit to the mainland markets. Even though the county hesitated at building a new ferry to serve the south Peninsula, they proceeded and commissioned a Gig Harbor boatyard to build the 82-foot diesel-powered Elk. Planning the new ferry and the four county landings was accomplished by a partnership between the county commissioners, the Skansie brothers’ boatyard, and the leadership of the Longbranch Improvement Club.
When the Elk arrived in Longbranch on its inaugural voyage, the LIC arranged for a day of celebration. Fried chicken was served to 250 guests as dignitaries spoke the praises of modern transportation and commerce.
The Longbranch landing remained in service until the early 1950’s when the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge (“Galloping Gertie’s” replacement) made ferry service obsolete. The county commissioners refused to lease county tidelands and ferry dock to a private, for-profit venture, commenting, “if anyone is depriving the public of facilities to which the public is entitled, the practice should be stopped.” Members of the LIC rallied support for a new public pier.
The county engineers supplied plans for a suitable floating dock, but had no funds for such a project. The LIC called upon its members for cedar and fir logs, sawmilling, labor and cash donations. By late spring of 1959, the LIC had built and attached a 168-foot floating dock structure to the county’s wharf. Later that year, the county commissioners praised the LIC for its initiative in providing a much-needed facility.
By 1981, the county’s desire for a marine park in the area and the LIC’s continued willingness to operate such a facility led to a formal agreement. The lease specified public access to the facility and allowed members of the LIC reserved moorage. In 1992, the LIC was granted additional easement in consideration of recreational use by the public, the public general welfare and the county’s desire to provide public access to marina facilities.
With two-thirds of the floating dock dedicated to public moorage, the Longbranch Marina provides residents and visiting boaters a unique recreational facility, at no cost to taxpayers. Following the policy of regional state and county marine facilities, guest moorage is allotted on a first-come basis. In 2005, the Marina moored over 1500 boats overnight with hundreds more day users, who use the facility for fresh water, garbage disposal and restrooms, all at no cost to taxpayers.
The Community Grows
As the country grew, so did Longbranch. Roads were improved, land cleared and homes built. As in the past, the LIC provided leadership and resources for improving the community.
The Clubhouse was used for potluck dinners, benefit dances, local theatre groups, continuing education and fundraising events for local organizations. It was home for the Longbranch Arts and Music Association and the Longbranch Nursery School. The 1976 Bicentennial Fair opened with a Civil War recreation on the Clubhouse grounds. The two-day celebration included a baseball game on the original field, dinghy races from the Marina, sky divers and antique stunt planes.
Later that year, the LIC provided funds for an ambulance to provide emergency medical care. After providing the property, building and water supply for Longbranch’s volunteer fire department, the LIC formally deeded the property, for $1.00, to the new Fire District 16 in the late 1980’s.
In 1987, the LIC’s building was added to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the “tangible reminders of the history of the United States and…a cultural resource worthy of preservation.”
During the 1990s the LIC dedicated its energies to upgrading the dock facilities, adding a covered public picnic area, and renovating the kitchen and restrooms in the Clubhouse. Significant improvements continue to be made including a new wharf in 2012, replacement of creosote piling and upgrading the floating structure in 2019.
Since the LIC is well regarded as a civic resource, it was asked to help found the Livable Community Fair in 2001. The Fair celebrates local agriculture, youth activities, business and service organizations while providing a true community event supported by thousands of volunteer hours. More recently, the LIC has become an integral part of the Key Peninsula’s Annual Farm Tour with its showcase event, the Fiber Arts Festival, which is generally the first Saturday in October.
A History of Service
The club’s founders would be proud of the LIC today. With more than 200 members, the LIC provides a meeting place for community interaction, a site for fund-raising and celebrations and the stewardship of an historic building. The club’s Marina provides the public with marine park moorage, recreational opportunity and services—at no taxpayer expense.
The volunteer efforts of the LIC members make perhaps the greatest contribution to the community. In recent years, the LIC membership has donated more than 5,000 volunteer hours annually to staff the community fair, clean up the highways, provided meals and Christmas gifts for disadvantaged children as well as maintaining and preserving our historic facilities.
In January 2016, the Longbranch Foundation (TLF) was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization affiliated with the LIC. TLF is the vehicle to raise money through grants and donations for the purpose of preserving and investing in the South Key Peninsula community in a number of ways ranging from historic building preservation to environmental and public safety improvements at the Longbranch Marina to scholarships for children in the community, and many other things. To learn more about the TLF’s mission and how you can help, please visit its website for more complete information: https://longbranchfoundation.org
The LIC offers marine facilities to visiting boaters to enhance recreational opportunities in the South Sound area. Moorage revenue will continue to support the LIC’s activities and public service projects. Rental income from the building and grounds has increased through improved marketing. As good stewards of our historic Clubhouse, the LIC is committed to maintain and restore the building to its original rustic glory.
The Longbranch Improvement Club, founded in 1921 for the betterment of the community, earns its middle name each year anew as its members provide service, support and leadership to its community.