Biography of William H. Fife

WILLIAM H. FIFE. – This gentleman is a native of Otonabee, Petersburg county, Ontario, and is the third child of William and Mary Beckett Fife. He was born on the first of October, 1833. His father was a native of Kincardine, and came to Canada in 1820, following farming in that country. His mother was born January 20, 1811, in Ayrshire, Scotland, and came with her parents to Canada about 1820, and is still living with her youngest son on the old homestead in Petersburg county.

Our subject resided on his father’s farm until he became sixteen years of age, and then went to Keen, Ontario, where he entered a general merchandise store as an apprentice, serving three years. He then clerked for John Ross & Co. in Port Hope for a year, and then entered into business for himself in Norwood, Ontario. He afterwards sold out and moved West, and, on hearing of the great gold excitement of the Caribou mines in 1862, came West to British Columbia via New York and the Isthumus of Panama. He arrived at the Caribou mines in June, 1862, and there followed mining for three years, after which he returned to Canada.

After a short time he removed to Michigan, locating at the town of Vassar, where he engaged in the mercantile, hotel and lumber business for five years, after which he moved to Cherokee, Iowa, and again gave his attention to a merchandise store on an extensive scale. In 1873 he came to Washington Territory on a prospecting tour; and with keen foresight as to what the future city of Tacoma would be, although at that time there was not a house on the present site, he invested largely in real estate. Returning to Iowa in the fall, the following April (1874) he brought his family by way of San Francisco to Washington Territory, and located on the present site of his magnificent structure, the Fife Hotel.

Houses were very few at that time; and Mr. Fife found it necessary to erect one for the accommodation of his family, and did so in two days’ time. He immediately set to work to build a store one hundred feet long, it being the first general merchandise store in Tacoma. In July, 1874, he was commissioned the first postmaster of Tacoma; and the first mail consisted of six letters which his son W.J. delivered free.

He conducted his tore until 1882, and in the meantime bought a fourth interest in the Tacoma Coal Company’s mine at Wilkinson, in which he is still interested. He also conducted a store at Ainsworth for two years, and afterwards one at Spokane. In 1887 he built his present beautiful hotel at a cost of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollar, which he now conducts, besides owning extensive property on Pacific avenue. He has been for several years the largest taxpayer in the county. Mr. Fife is a liberal Republican; and everyone knows him as a straight and honorable man.

He was married to Miss Harriet A. Johnson, a native of Colburn, Canada, in Buffalo, New York. They have two sons and two daughters living, death having claimed one child.

Mr. Fife is assisted in his business by his two sons, William J. and George W., the former being now Captain Fife of Company C, National Guard.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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