The Klicker Family and their relationship to Mill Creek history:
Strawberries, Blueberries, Christmas Trees, and more
By: Joey Bristol
In 1843, the first representatives of the Klicker family made their way from Germany to the United States. And in 1895, when Almina Klicker (maiden name Almina Garland) obtained homesteader’s proof of her stake in the Mill Creek watershed, she began a long legacy of the Klicker name in the Walla Walla area. While many of the descendants of the Klicker family have dispersed, and are living in Seattle, Portland and other metropolitan areas, there are members of the original homesteading family of Mill Creek, who still live, own, and utilize much of the headwaters area. The following is first, an abridged history of the Klicker family, and second, a synopsis of current Klicker businesses in the Mill Creek area. My primary sources of information include interviews with Del and Don Klicker, two brothers who still live and remain active within the Walla Walla community. They are two who remain out of the original six children (including Jake Klicker the 12th, Ruth, Bob, Don, Del, and Dave) born to Almina’s eldest son, Jake Klicker the 11th.
Lifelong local Del Klicker graduated with the 1956 class of Whitman College holding a degree in Business and Economics. Presently, he lives up Mill Creek just 1.5 miles beyond the Washington/Oregon border where he owns and operates a U-pick blueberry business and a Christmas tree farm. In the estimation of Del, the family still lays claim to “somewhere between 12 and 15,000 acres” spread out through the Walla Walla valley and Mill Creek area. While much of the original family land has been sold, divided and developed, land currently in the possession of the Klicker family has a variety of uses including grazing, logging, strawberry, blueberry and Christmas tree growing.
Don Klicker attended Washington State University and now lives with his wife Jackie in the Walla Walla valley just ¼ mile from the Klicker Fruit Stand (located at 3300 East Isaacs Avenue). His family owned an original 300 acres of land in this location of which 85 were sold to the Walla Walla Community College. Don operated the fruit stand for 40 years, but was involved with strawberries even earlier. While Don no longer operates the fruit stand (his wife is still involved), their son Ron Klicker will soon be the sole manager. The Klicker Fruit Stand is well known for its fresh strawberries, antique furniture and reindeer, but offers a variety of other products, including fruits and local produce.
Don and Del’s grandmother Almina Klicker was an original homesteader on Mill Creek. She arrived in 1891 as a widow and spent four years developing the land where, after establishing her intention of working and living on the land, she received a “homesteader’s document” in 1895 for the ownership of 160 acres. With the help of her Uncle Jimmy Woodyard, Almina developed a hotel and piped mineral springs across Mill Creek to be used at her bathhouses. The one-inch steady stream of mineral spring water was rich in sulphur, soda, iodine and iron; and as a result it was also used to make a variety of spritzers and various soda drinks popular in Walla Walla. The hotel was located on present-day Straw Spring Lane (previously known as Cold Springs), precisely where a small one-room cabin known as “Uncle Marion Garland’s Cabin” is now situated. The cabin is currently undergoing renovations and is still held in the Klicker name.
After establishing a homestead, in the early 1900’s Almina Klicker helped establish a school next to the hotel, called the Klicker School. Since it was not feasible for families living in the Mill Creek area to commute all the way down to the Walla Walla Valley for education (and because the trip would entail crossing the border from Oregon to Washington; and Washington could not offer public school to Oregon residents), a school was a welcomed amenity. The school (one tutor) offered classes for first through eighth grade. Don remembers the community as very tight-nit: “Everybody helped each other. It was a wonderful community.”
As early as 1919 the Klicker family (Don and Del’s father and uncle) began to farm and sell strawberries, which have since shaped the Klicker family reputation in Walla Walla. At its height, the strawberry business occupied 175 acres and required as many as 1250 employees (1100 pickers) working during the busiest days. Don recalls a time during the Great Depression when profit from strawberries saved his family when even cattle and timber brought little money. He says of his family’s strawberries: “They were the best strawberries in the world. I still believe that.” During this time strawberries were sold throughout the Pacific Northwest, most commonly in Seattle, Spokane and Portland. But due to the large amount of required inputs including sprays and water and imposed government restrictions, the strawberry business has greatly scaled down. Kirk Klicker now owns 35 acres of strawberries; about 7-8 acres on the top of Klicker Mountain, two 5-acre plots on the way down Mill Creek and the remainder in the valley. The Klickers have traditionally had a strong relationship with DeSales High School students because they get out early during prime strawberry picking season. The high school students and Klicker strawberry farm mutually benefit, as the students earn spending money and the Klickers have consistent seasonal employees.
Del, his wife Kim, and partner/brother Dave Klicker own and operate a Christmas tree and U-pick blueberry business located right on the Oregon side of the Washington/Oregon border toward the headwaters of the Mill Creek watershed. His rows of blueberries occupy approximately 2 acres, selling for $1/pound if you pick them. Del owns a total of 21 acres of Christmas trees, fifteen of which are located along Mill Creek coupled with another six acres located further downstream in the flats. Del, Kim, and Dave do the majority of the required labor themselves. For example, his wife plants and manicures a grass/clover mix beneath the rows of blueberries in order to choke out weeds while Del handles watering. They do, however, hire approximately 10 seasonal workers throughout November and December to both sheer the trees (trim them for shape and density before selling) and help with marketing.
Inputs required to harvest blueberries and Christmas trees are minimal. The Christmas trees located up Mill Creek are simply planted as seedlings and then harvested when they reach the appropriate height (no water or tending is required). The blueberries are slightly more involved because they require some fertilizer. Del performs a PH soil test, checking for nitrogen and trace minerals. Attempting to achieve the 4-5 PH level recommended for blueberries, he then applies ammonium sulphate if the ground is acidic or lime to neutralize the soil.
In both the past and present, the Klicker family has been an integral part of development in the Mill Creek headwaters. From logging to grazing, strawberries to Christmas trees, hotels to real estate, Klickers have made use of the Mill Creek area land.
Note: I would like to extend a warm thank you to both Don and Del for spending so much time volunteering their version of the Klicker story and revising my interpretation of their provisions. Regrettably, the story presented here is only a partial representation of the Klicker family and Mill Creek history. This tidbit is meant to be primarily informative and somewhat entertaining (but in no way are my intentions to provide misinformation).
Primary Sources of Information:
Klicker, Del. Personal Interview. 26, October 2000.
Klicker, Don. Personal Interview. 30, October 2000.
Other sources of interest: