History: The Nile Shrine Center at Lake Ballinger, Part 1

One hundred years ago, in May 1924, the Nile Shrine purchased a large parcel of land abutting the eastern shore of Lake Ballinger. Before we explore that purchase and the subsequent 100-year history of the Nile Shrine at this location, let’s take a quick look back at the history of both the lake and the Nile Shrine prior to 1924.

Lake McAleer – The Bartholomews – Lake Ballinger

Prior to the earliest settlers’ arrivals in South Snohomish County, the land was owned and inhabited by Salish tribes. However, no evidence exists that the tribal people ever had a village or settlement near the lake. The land was eventually acquired by the federal government via the Point Elliott treaty of 1855.

Following the Salish tribes’ ceding of the land, the first two groups of settlers who were interested in the dense forests and the lake were Hugh McAleer, and Ira and Julia Bartholomew. McAleer was a very successful owner of a large logging operation, which had extensive land holdings in Whatcom, King and Snohomish County. McAleer acquired approximately 250 acres of dense undeveloped land on the east side of the lake via a timber claim in 1870.

The Bartholomews conversely had traveled to the Northwest after owning a large farm and operating a successful hotel in Pennsylvania. They had no interest in the dense cedar forests or logging.

Julia and Ira Bartholomew arrived in Washington Territory in spring 1887 along with three of their five children — two of whom were already married. At the time Julia was 55 and Ira was 69.

Three years later, in 1890, the elderly Bartholomews chose a very unusual place to homestead, an approximate three-acre island in the middle of a lake. After moving onto the island, Ira tried to file a homestead claim, but was told the island had never been surveyed, and as a result wasn’t available for homesteading.

Undeterred, the Bartholomews continued to live on the island with only squatter rights. They built a house, barn and several other buildings, while planting large vegetable gardens. Within two years, they additionally opened a fishing and hunting lodge, taking advantage of the lake and the undeveloped thick forests.

The September 16, 1893 edition of the Everett News included the following article describing the island’s existence.

VALUABLE ISLAND – IT’S OWNER REFUSES $1,250 an acre in Snohomish County:

“There are probably very few people outside of Edmonds and the immediate vicinity, who are aware of the fact that there is such an island as Bartholomew, and although situated in Snohomish County, close to the east line of King, the history of its discovery, settlement and habitation is known to comparatively few. 

The island is owned by Mr. Ira Bartholomew, who claims to have been its original discoverer in 1890, and at the time it was covered with small trees and underbrush and inhabited by not a living creature. The island is formed by Lake McAleer, located nearly in the center, is one-half to three-quarters of a mile from the mainland, is almost round in shape and contains about four and one-half acres.

When Mr. Bartholomew first visited the island, about four years ago, he saw at once the possibilities of making of it a beautiful as well as valuable little farm and summer resort, and at once set to work clearing and improving it. When it was burned over and cleared off it was found to be as level as a floor and the soil very prolific. Every foot of it is now under cultivation, and at the present time it is producing as fine a garden as one would wish to lay eyes upon, of all kinds of vegetables. Sweet corn and popcorn will grow to maturity without any trouble. 

Lake McAleer, which surrounds this miniature farm, is only two miles from Lake Washington, which receives its surplus water. It abounds in fish and at certain times of the year the finest lake trout are caught. Although the resort is not widely known, its fame for beauty and a place to camp life and recreation is spreading.  For there is scarcely a day that there is now from one to ten people enjoying themselves on the lake and rambling around the island.”

Eleanor Sill Milholland, granddaughter of Edmonds founder George Brackett and his wife Etta Brackett, wrote in her memoirs:

My mother recalled how her sister Nellie and the Deiner girls would walk over to Lake McAleer (now Lake Ballinger) to pick berries and visit Mr. and Mrs. Bartholomew.  He would meet them on the shore and row them out to the island on which they had built a log cabin. When he rowed the boat, he did it standing up, as he had hurt his back and couldn’t row sitting down. They had a large garden, chickens and even a cow on the island.”

In May 1902, a land patent was issued for the island in the name of Ira Bartholomew, giving them ownership.

Lake McAleer, the Bartholomew structures and the dense forest on the lake’s eastern shore. (Photo courtesy University of Washington Digital Collections)

One of the avid fishermen who often frequented the lodge was Col. Richard Ballinger, a Seattle attorney. Shortly after the land patent had been issued, the Bartholomews told Col. Ballinger that they were going to retire and move off the island, and were looking to sell the property. Col. Ballinger persuaded his son, Judge Richard Ballinger — a well-respected justice in Seattle — to purchase the island. The purchase, according to legend, was done with the exchange of an unknown amount of $20 gold pieces.

Judge Richard Ballinger circa 1904. (Photos courtesy Wikipedia)

After the purchase, Col. Ballinger moved onto the island and lived there year-round until he passed away in 1906. By 1906, his son Judge Ballinger had also acquired the title to Lake McAleer and over 400 acres bordering the lake to the east from the heirs of Hugh McAleer, who had died in 1888.

After his father’s passing, Judge Ballinger had the name of the lake formally changed to Lake Ballinger in remembrance of his father. The judge and his family continued to use the island home as their summer residence, and in 1910 he started logging off some of the acreage bordering the lake.  He also made plans to develop some of the acreage into home-sites, while forming the Lake Ballinger Land Company.

But due to a busy life involving public service and practicing the law, Judge Ballinger did not have much time to work on the development of his Lake Ballinger properties. After retiring, he sadly had a heart attack and died at the age of 63, on June 6, 1922.

After the judge’s death, his widow moved from their Seattle residence on Capitol Hill to a house on the western shore of Lake Ballinger, where she lived with her son.

The land owned by the family on the eastern shore of Lake Ballinger was subsequently put up for sale in early 1924.

The Nile Shrine – The Early Beginnings

The Shriners is a fraternal organization based on Masonic principles, fellowship and fun. Their mission is for self-improvement, philanthropy and community service. Shriner’s Hospitals for Children is one of their crowning achievements.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Seattle-based Shriners were members of the Afifi Temple of Tacoma. By 1907, the number of Shriners in Seattle had grown to nearly 500 and traveling to Tacoma for meetings was becoming very problematic.

Given the growth and travel difficulties, the Seattle Shriners asked for dispensation so that they could form a new temple in Seattle.  Dispensation was granted in summer 1908 and “Nile” was selected as the Temple’s name. The first ceremony was held in the Moore Theater in December 1908.

Initially, the Nile Temple met in either the Elks Club or the International Order of Odd Fellows Hall at 10th Avenue and East Pine Street in Seattle. After 1916, meetings and events were primarily held at the I.O.O.F. hall, or the Seattle Masonic temple as the membership grew.

Seattle Masonic Temple circa 1916.

By 1923, with the Nile Temple membership exceeding 4,000, the leadership team began looking for a possible site for picnic grounds, a country club and a future golf course.

Multiple properties within 30 miles of Seattle were inspected over the next 12 months. After extensive study and inspection — including a visit and walk-through of the property by the Temple’s leadership team –a proposal was submitted to the membership for the purchase of 92 acres along the eastern shore of Lake Ballinger, with an option to buy another 60 upland acres.

The Purchase and Early Activity

At the meeting, the proposal was enthusiastically endorsed, and the purchase was culminated. The Edmonds Tribune Review announced the purchase in its March 21, 1924 edition.

Edmonds Tribune Review article announcing the purchase. (Courtesy Sno-Isle Genealogical Society)

The initial purchase was for 135 acres. It included the original 92 shoreline acres, costing $25,000, and another 43 acres further upland from the shore, which were purchased in April.

The Temple’s leadership quickly organized committees to help clean the grounds, identify picnic areas and other tasks so that a celebratory picnic could be held later that summer on the newly acquired grounds.

Picnic tables set up between the trees in the 1920s.

On August 9, 1924, the inaugural Nile Temple picnic was held, with 3,500 fraternal members, their wives and children attending the day-long celebration.

During the remainder of 1924 and the first half of 1925, extensive work was done on the grounds to clean up underbrush, thin out unhealthy trees and to make the grounds easier to navigate. With the larger cleared area, a Nile Basket Picnic event was held on July 11, 1925, with an attendance of 3,744 members, families and friends.

In 1926, the temple acquired an additional 20 adjoining acres to the east, bringing the total acreage to 155 and a total investment of $33,200. Looking to move forward with their initial plan regarding the use of the property, late in 1926 the Nile commissioned a preliminary survey and design for a country club house. The design team was the Olmsted Brothers, designers of Woodland Park in Seattle and Central Park in New York City.

End of Part 1. This article was researched and written by Byron Wilkes. Full credits will be given at the end of Part 2.

  1. All those trees… And it must have been so peaceful.

    We must do all we can to protect our PNW native trees and forests.

  2. Such a great article! I was out on Lake Ballinger just last night as were many others who enjoy this amazing amenity to paddleboard, kayak, fish, swim, or just sit on the shore, and the history behind this area is so interesting. It would be great to learn more (and see pictures) of the shingle factory that was once located on the western shore, and about the farms that occupied the area that is now the Lake Ballinger neighborhood. I once saw a 30’s era aerial picture of the lake and surrounding neighborhood, and it was cool to see 76th as a dirt road, see the Interurban, and identify some of the still standing original houses in my neighborhood. Thanks for all this research and looking forward to learning more!

    1. Tom there were mills at two different times. The Great Western was first, and it burnt to the ground in 1906 and then the Chippewa Mill was built on the same location or nearby and it too burnt to the ground in 1912. I have a few photos of the Great Western Mill which are not included in this 2 part article. If you would like copies please respond to this message, providing me with your email address and I will forward them to you.

      1. Byron – thank you so much for the info! I would love to see the pictures. I will ask Teresa to send you my contact information. Interesting that the fate of both of those mills was the same.

  3. What is on the island now and who owns it? Is it open to anyone with a boat or is it private property? A flat 4 acre island, sounds like a fun spot.
    Anyway, interesting article and wasn’t aware Shriners property covered so MANY acres.

    1. The island I believe is part of the Edmonds side of the like since it is joint ownership (this I am less clear on), but I know that you are not supposed to be on it due to the fire that happened a few years ago that burned for multiple days.

      1. The city of Mountlake Terrace website says this: “Lake Ballinger is a 103-acre lake with a 3-acre island, jointly owned by the cities of Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds.” My kids used to swim out to the island when they were teens but my understanding is that it’s not a hospitable place for visitors these days — mostly goose droppings and muck. — Teresa

        1. Clarification from the City of Mountlake Terrace: the island itself is 100% owned by Mountlake Terrace. The lake is 2/3 MLT and 1/3 Edmonds.

    2. The island now is totally overgrown with trees and brush. There apparently are bog like conditions around a part of the perimeter of the island. The island is owned by the City of Mountlake Terrace and I have been told that people are not allowed on it, for safety reasons.

      1. Edmount Island (as the island is officially named) seems to have a bit of urban mythology attached to it. For instance, there have long been stories that the house that once existed on the island hosted regular booze-filled drinking parties during Prohibition, but I have found no evidence to back this up. Great write-up, btw. I had no idea that the Olmstead Brothers were involved in designing this property. Super cool!

        1. Thanks Brad for the additional insights. Edmount Island…I believe came from the combination and Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace but I have not been able to document when that name came about or who named it that.

          In regards to the house hosting regular booze-filled during Prohibition, may be true. During both the Bartholomew and Ballinger period there was a small hunting and fishing lodge on the island. Hunters stayed there overnight and took a boat across the lake to the east side to apparently hunt in the dense woods. Given that boys will be boys….I definitely expect there was a little illegal drinking going on, on a property that could not be easily accessed by the authorities. I have not found any documentation or stories to that affect though.

          Lastly according the Nile Shrine’s historical records, it was indeed the Olmstead Brothers who did the original plans for the property. More on that, in Part II

  4. Great article. Can’t wait for Part II. Would be fun to spend time on the island with a metal detector knowing its history.

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