Book Review: Trying Home: The Rise and Fall of an Anarchist Utopia on Puget Sound

  • Posted 2/28/2017
  • Essay 20306

By Justin Wadland
Oregon State University Press, 2014
Paperback, 180 pages
Photographs, Sources, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-870 71-742-0

Justin Wadland, a librarian, historian, and storyteller, paints a haunting portrait of an anarchist utopian community on the Key Peninsula of western Pierce County, which despite its founders' hopes failed to last more than 25 years.

In the late nineteenth century, utopian communities sprouted up around the Puget Sound region: Burley on Kitsap Peninsula, Equality on Skagit Bay, Freeland on Whidbey Island, and the Puget Sound Cooperative on the Olympic Peninsula at Port Angeles. Then in 1896, three men from Glennis, a failed utopian colony near Tacoma, made their way to the Key Peninsula and established the anarchist utopian colony of Home. Oliver Verity, George H. Allen, and Frank Odell hoped that this would be a place for individual freedom from laws and a place with as little organization as possible.

Newspaper ads brought people from radical circles to the colony and by 1898 the community had grown to 23 people; a decade there would be 200 people and 50 houses. The colonists felled the trees, planted gardens, and built houses on the two acres each family was allowed. Soon Liberty Hall was built, a venue where many dances were held, talks were given, and bands and singing groups performed. A library was established with books of literary and political interest. Depending on the viewpoint of the visitor, the colony was variously described as "apostles of the gospel of nonresistance," "an abode of free spirits," "a motley assembly," "a reeking hell hole," and a "colony of cranks."

In 1901 President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. The Home colony responded with much apprehension and some predicted that the assassination would lead to persecution. They were right. A group of citizens from Tacoma boarded a ship to go to Home and attack the colony. The ship's captain forestalled the attack when he pretended, in the middle of the bay, that the ship was malfunctioning.

Newspapers played an important part in the history of the colony. Discontent: The Mother of Progress was published at Home and lasted until 1907. It was distributed nationwide and anarchist writers as well as residents of Home were encouraged to submit articles. In 1910 Jay Fox, a prominent anarchist from Chicago, began publishing The Agitator. Around this time individual liberty became an issue in the colony when some residents chose to swim in the nude and other residents disapproved of the practice. Fox's article "The Nudes and the Prudes" and his defense of individual liberty prompted his arrest on charges of publishing matter to encourage disrespect for the law. Many pages of Trying Home are devoted to Fox and his problems as well as to Donald Vose, a young man who grew up in Home and became a spy for the Burns Detective Agency, whose testimony helped convict anarchists who dynamited the Los Angeles Times building.

The demise of the Home colony was caused by many factors, including extensive lawsuits and the withering and eventual death of a dream.

That this book was a labor of love is evidenced by the author's deep research and his many visits to the site by boat and by car. With narrative skill he delineates the place and its people, although a definitive time line as well as a map of the region might have been helpful additions for readers. There are numerous photographs, an index, and a selected bibliography.

By Mary T. Henry, February 28, 2017

Submitted: 2/28/2017

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