The first Jewish Mayor in the Northwest.

Posted 8/5/12

Israel Katz


For almost a hundred years people have speculated on what happened to Israel Katz. His disappearance in early 1917 was written about in the Leader for a month or so with …

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The first Jewish Mayor in the Northwest.


Israel Katz


For almost a hundred years people have speculated on what happened to Israel Katz. His disappearance in early 1917 was written about in the Leader for a month or so with the prominent headline "Prominent Man Has Disappeared." His son's posted a $250 reward for information on his whereabouts, dead or alive. But after a few months there was nothing more written. A women declared she had seen him downtown boarding a boat, Fred Dobbs a local man claimed to have seen him in Seattle, but most felt Israel had drowned that fateful morning. A search was done of the beaches around Port Townsend by the police but that was soon abandoned. It would be seven years before his two sons William, and Edwin could settle his will. Meanwhile everything in his two stores, Waterman & Katz on Water Street and the Toggery on Lawrence were sold as well as the furnishings of his large home on Maple [Tyler] Street.

1915 was a time of change in America, the World War was about to begin for Americans. The United States had a isolationist approach to wars in Europe, but in 1915 when the German U Boat sank the British Liner the Lusitania, killing 159 Americans things began to change, when Mexico was contacted by Germany offering a large slice of the U.S. if they joined the war, the government caved. On April 6, 1917 just two and a half months after Israel Katz disappeared the U.S. was in the war. Soon over a million American soldiers would be fighting.

The build up to the war took the form of strong anti-German sentiment. Oscar Klocker the mayor previous to Katz returned to his homeland of Norway in 1916, fearing for the safety of his family that remained there. He managed to leave before the outbreak. He may have had a dislike of Israel, who was German born.

Israel Katz was born in Germany June 10, 1851. He came to this country in 1866, landing in San Francisco where he stayed for a time. In 1868 he came to Port Townsend where his brother Solomon Q. Katz was in the mercantile business with Sigmund Waterman. He started as a clerk, but in 1871, he purchased an interest in the store. A branch store was opened on the South end of San Juan Island, near the American fort, Israel became the manager. William Katz, Israel's brother, emigrated in 1870, working as a clerk at Waterman & Katz. In April of 1881 while William was boarding a boat he fell into the bay and drowned, four months later Sigmund Waterman died in San Francisco after a short illness. Katz bought out Waterman's portion of the business and was then sole owner. In 1889 he closed the store on San Juan Island, but still owned property there when he died in 1917.

The Mercantile Store was a very successful enterprise and Israel was a shrewd businessman. Many local people borrowed money or ran accounts at the store, mortgaged property and took out loans on personal items. He was a hardnosed business man, when people couldn't pay he took them to court. Many had to forfeit ownership of their land & property. The newspapers always called him a fine citizen of the town, but you wonder if there wasn't some bitterness toward him. When Charles Coon opened the Port Townsend Mercantile just a few blocks from Waterman's Israel probably wasn't at all friendly to the man.

Originally the Waterman & Katz business was housed in a wooden building on the corner of Water and Quincy. In 1885 the brick structure that still stands today was built. What is now known as the Cannery building, was originally a storehouse for store supplies, and a dock extended out from the building.

In 1887, Israel was a very successful man and made a trip to Wiesbaden Germany where he was married to Adele Maas who was seventeen at the time. Israel was thirty six. It probably wasn't a love match, Adele had been engaged to a young soldier, but he was of a different class than her and her family would not allow them to marry. They returned to Port Townsend, Israel built their home, indulging Adele's whims. They became part of the social scene, four children, sons William, Edwin and Milton and daughter Sylvia were born soon after their marriage. On July 9, 1892 their daughter Sylvia died still an infant. Son Milton would follow on October 20, 1899, while on a visit to Germany with his mother.

One of the big changes came in the late 1890s when the government built the forts at Worden, Flagler and Casey. Soon soldiers would become part of the local social life. In 1902 Adele met a young soldier named Herbert Millar and fell in love. In 1907 she and Israel were divorced, he was crushed by her betrayal but always helped her when she needed it, even giving the young couple enough money to relocate in California. Millar was expelled from the Army because of the scandal, and he turned out rather badly for Adele, but that's another story.

Israel kept the two boys, and they occasionally visited their mother in California. Israel seems to have spoiled the boys, paying for their entertainments, trips besides the basic necessities. When Israel was elected mayor in January of 1915 the town was in the midst of a debate over whether the state of Washington should remain "wet or dry" by his second term the vote went to "dry." On January 6, 1916 the Leader proclaimed, "Saloon Business Ends Tonight, Local liquor dealers prepared for burial of corpse. Stocks have been sold at cost. Police force will be doubled to keep order."

[The U.S. wouldn't go dry until 1921]. California voted to go "wet" and moonshine stills went into production, so liquor was available, just not legal.

The local saloons shut off their lights, sold their furnishings or changed businesses. The Delmonico, a popular saloon for many years became "a resort for the disposal of light refreshments, cigars and tobacco." Korter and Johnson, local liquor retailers sold to the Sands brothers who opened a general notion store and small cafe. The Milwaukee Bar was converted into a restaurant, the fixtures of the Axtell Saloon were sold to John Douglas, of Friday Harbor, who used them in fitting up a soft drink emporium. As one local put it "the change wrought by the closing of the thirst emporiums has been noticeable, particularly during the night hours, as a result of the cold, uncompromising darkness prevailing in places which for years have been brilliantly lighted."

A poem published in the Port Townsend Weekly Leader went:


Good-bye, old can, we two must part;

You're voted out-I'm on the cart.

The State, I say, is going dry-

The gate, therefore, for you - good-bye!

In days agone, at evening's close,

I've held you underneath my nose,

And from your brim, in flowing floods

received the satisfying suds.

Accessory before the bun,

It looks as if your race is run;

But, maybe, in a moister clime,

We'll meet and I will have a dime.


Another change in the city was the increase in automobiles. In February of 1916 the city council created an ordinance setting speed limits and other laws for automobiles within the city limits. 12 miles an hour on Water Street, downtown and Lawrence Street. Four miles per hour in Chetzemoka Park [yes there was a road and camping at the park at the time] and 12 miles per hour near schools. Other streets the limit was 20 mph.

Mayor Katz second term began on January 6, 1916. He gives a glowing report of the city ending with, "In conclusion Gentlemen of the council, let me remind you to use all possible economy in the conduct of our affairs, for the coming year, be ever zealous of the taxpayer who pays the bills, remember that a large portion of our yearly revenues have been eliminated from our budget, and things are not what they used to be, but withal that, I can see no reason why the coming year should not be a prosperous one for Port Townsend, and I trust that as far as it lies within our power that we will endeavor to make it so."

In January of 1917, Israel's old competitor Charles Coon was elected Mayor for a second term having served from 1902 to 1906.

So what did happen to Israel Katz? We may never know, speculation goes from murder, being a spy and returning to Germany or a simple drowning. But if he drowned why did he leave home in his night clothes, without his glasses or shoes? If he was a German spy, which seems a possibility since the area was the fortification to stop German entrance into Puget Sound. Israel was also the first Jewish Mayor in the Northwest, antisemitism may have been a motive.

I have begun to do some research using current information now available that wasn't in 1917. Personally I think Israel may have just returned to Germany. If so there are trails to follow. Sometime after his disappearance his family changed the name to Katt, perhaps to avoid antisemitism during World War II. Whatever happened to him we may never know, but there are always people willing to speculate.

To be continued.


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