The Eye 1891


J. S. White, Our First Architect
White’s Surviving Structures from 19th Century Snohomish

Written by Warner Blake
Edited by Susan Geib, PhD
Photographs with Notes by Otto Greule

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Preface   |   David Dilgard, Northwest Room, Everett Public Library


Prologue: February 1884

Color Plates | Essays
Methodist Church, 1885
Odd Fellows Hall, 1886
Getchell House, 1887
Elwell House, 1888
White House, 1888
A. M. Blackman’s Store, 1889
Wilbur Block, 1889
A.M. Blackman House, 1889
Crossman House, 1890
Burns Block, 1890
White Block, 1893

Epilogue: October 1920




g horton snohomish wa

Epilogue: October 1922

Above, on the left, is the earliest photograph of the White Building found to date. It was taken on a Monday afternoon, July 13, 1908, either “at 2:16 o’clock sharp,” or “at 3:25 P.M.,” reported the Tribune, covering all bases, in the Friday edition. “The official photographer was on hand, and was ready to do his duty, but someone stole his flash light, and he was constrained to use the sun,” the story continued, without mentioning that Gilbert Horton was the photographer in question.

The event shown in the photo is the ceremonial laying of the first brick of the new pavement “to decorated Front street,” as the writer put it. The ceremony was held in the intersection of Avenue A, where “the town turned out,” the account claims, when clearly it was only half the town. The wooden planks have been removed, soon to be replaced with the cobble stones lining the street in neat stacks. This occasion was certainly worth the talents of Horton, Snohomish’s pioneer photographer emeritus, who had retired to open a store in the Burns Block with his brother.

We assume that the billboard on the side of White’s building is promoting the current tenant’s stock of the hot products of the day: Kodak cameras, phonographs, sewing machines, and bicycles.

In the February 21, 1908, issue we read that council members are talking about moving, we assume from the second floor of the White Building. If this report is correct, they have occupied the large room in the back for 15 years. “It appears that the building […] is in a bad condition and a new building is necessary,” reads the report. The proposal under consideration was to move to the Otten Block at First and Avenue B, which did happen, as later accounts confirm. These accounts often mention in the same breath the Otten Block was the first building in Snohomish with a flush toilet — though the Tribune did not make a note of it.

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Front Page, October 21, 1898

J. S. White’s name no longer appears in the news by the turn of the century. A five-page booster edition of the Tribune, published on October 21, 1898, praised the growth of Snohomish, which then numbered “about 3,200 souls.” Page two featured, “Our Progressive People […] Her Leading Citizens and Representative Men.” White is not listed, nor is he mentioned in five pages of copy — even in the list of the first councilmen elected when Snohomish approved incorporation only eight years earlier.

White still had 22 years to live before the grim and silent reaper again entered a Snohomish home, removing a highly respected pioneer from amongst us – as his obituary will begin when it’s published in the Everett Daily Herald, October 20, 1920, three days after his death in the family home on Avenue H – after a protracted illness.

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Moehring House 1900C. F Moehring, “Boot and Shoe Dealer,” headed nearly four inches of copy in the booster edition. “About ten years ago,” began the account, [he] “established the first exclusive boot and shoe store in the city.” Moreover, Moehring manufactured the footwear in his store at 1200 First Street, the beginning of a business that became the Washington Shoe Company. Located for years in Seattle, the manufacturing facility is now in Kent, Washington, with Karl Moehring as the CEO. White built Charles Moehring’s two-story home during the building boom of 1891, and the growing family moved in the following year. Its formal features echo the Crossman House, including a multi-gabled roof, two-story window bay, and small entrance porch. Over the years, the structure has been extensively modified inside and out, but the addition of asbestos siding and a tall hedge make it impossible to include a color portrait of the handsome structure with this account.

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js white story imageHon. E. C. Ferguson, “Mayor of Snohomish,” is given a long column on the final page, opposite the Time Table of the Local Railroads and Steamboats. “The very name Ferguson binds the present to the past,” begins the October 21, 1898, account. “A pioneer settler, where he was married and where his children were born and still reside.” White built the Ferguson Residence in 1889 for $6,000, doubling up on the two story window bays, each with its own gable. Ferguson’s house was located so far northwest of town that the street had yet to be named. The property eventually included a farm with a large barn, which today is the site of Snohomish’s Aquatic Center. E. C. died in 1911, long after his wife, so his daughter Sylvia, married to Elmer Lenfest, moved in with their young son Norman. By 1946, however, a renter was living in the large structure, which was badly in need of repairs, according to the newspaper account that reported a second fire, which so severely damaged the grand structure that it had to be destroyed.

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js white story imageMary Low Sinclair was more progressive than many of the men featured in the booster edition of 1898.But her name was not mentioned, nor was the name of any woman. White built her stately Italianate-style home in 1888, and it was featured, along with the Ferguson Residence, in the August 1890 issue of “Northwest Magazine.” When the house was built, Mary Low was still married to M.L. Packard. She divorced him and then added to the gossip by taking back “Sinclair,” the name of her first husband, who had died. Lynda Schuler, in her history of the Snohomish School District, “And We Will Not Forget,” calls Mary Low the “Mother of Snohomish Schools.” She opened the first classroom in the Sinclair’s first home — “a 12×16 shack,” to use her own words — and later donated land for the first school building. Working with children of mixed native and white marriages, Mary Low grew conversant with the native language and was often called upon to translate. She died in her majestic home; we do not know when or how it was destroyed.

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js white story imageFrances Wood and the Drift Inn.
Around 1910, White was commissioned by Ben and Nettie Morgan to design and build a beach cabin on Whidbey Island. The story is told in the endearing memoir, “Down to Camp,” by Frances Wood.

By 1890, it was the summer tradition among several Snohomish families to shutter their city home and board a steamship loaded down with enough supplies to last a generous part of August camping on a beach across Possession Sound. Since, for many years, the journey began by going down the Snohomish River, the annual event became known as going “down to camp,” well into the age of the automobile. At first platforms with tents were set-up on a relatively narrow shelf of land between the water and a steep bluff, then modest cabins sprouted up year after year, all in row, along a foot path still referred to as “Camper’s Row.”

Ben and Nettie purchased a lot in 1902 and around eight years later, commissioned White to build a cabin to replace their tent, a choice perhaps based on his association with Ben’s father. They christened the structure “Camp Illahee,” a word of the indigenous people carrying “a sense of home, and connections between people and living place,” according to Frances.

Three decades later, Frances tells us, her grandparents purchased Camp Illahee from Nettie, then married to a Taylor, who described the cabin in a letter: “… it could be rolled over and over and not come to pieces.” Regardless of this vivid pitch, Frances’s grandparents got the cabin for a low-ball offer of $1,100, and renamed it “Drift Inn.”

Fast forward through a childhood of summers spent at the beach cabin to the 1970s, when Frances and her growing family are spending summer months at Drift Inn and discuss modifying the cabin. The conversation involves three generations, including her grandmother Inez, the daughter of Nina and Charles Bakeman, who owned the furniture building that burned in 1893, sending the homeless city council members to White’s then-new building.

In a telephone conversation, Frances shared with us the family lore that White was given the commission because he was down on his luck and needed the work. She also remembers Inez advising the grandchildren, when remodeling, to not change the “lines” because it was designed by the famous Snohomish architect, J. S. White.

. . . .

John S. White died on Sunday, October 17, 1920, in the family home on Avenue H. Funeral services were held on Tuesday morning, under the auspices of the Odd Fellows’ Lodge. The pallbearers were a who’s who of Snohomish’s pioneer leaders: Samuel Vestal, E. L. Mallett, Lot Wilbur, William Whitfield, C.H. Crippen, and Henry Spurrell.

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White’s last will and testament, signed on March 28, 1917, left Delia, in addition to property, the household goods and one cow.

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Edited by Susan Geib

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11. White Building, 1893

Color Plate 11: White Building Photographed by Otto Greule ©2011. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

There is promise of quite a building boom in this city this season. So far it is principally in the residence line. Mr. White, the architect, alone having made plans and specifications for quite a number of residences to cost from $2,590 to $5,006. The Eye, May 30, 1891

Councilman-at-Large White came next. He lives in Claytown and carries a lantern. The Eye, January 23, 1892.

White’s corner lot next to the palace saloon is being graded for a shooting gallery. The Eye, December 22, 1892.

“Corner lot next to the palace saloon” is not much to go on. We were in the dark until we read: “A scow load of stone for the foundation of J. S. White’s building at First street and Avenue A has arrived from the Chuckanut quarry,” in the April 27, 1893, issue. Looking back to 1888, we found the mention of White’s purchase of First Street footage from Ferguson. Four years later, a load of Chuckanut sandstone has made the long, slow journey from Fairhaven to enclose the first shooting gallery that we’ve ever read about in Snohomish.

The first floor of the White building is a restaurant these days, and the lone morning kitchen worker let us in to check out the basement. It is a full basement, with at least nine feet head clearance, a dirt floor, but it was graded and level. No sign of old targets, and it was too dark to look for bullet holes, but we returned to the surface convinced that we had discovered the White Building.

js white story imageWhite Building, 1973. The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places, describing the inventory of our Historic District application, listed the building as “Number 5. This building was built as the Princess Theatre in the early 1900’s. The theatre was on the first floor and there were apartments on the second floor.” It was an antique store when the nomination was submitted. There were so many antique stores on 1st Street at the time that this one adopted the meta name of “Another Antique Store”– no evidence of a theater remained.

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The structure was referred to as the Princess Theater building, circa 1900, in all historical accounts of Snohomish because of this small, blurry photograph published in the Snohomish Historical Society’s “River Reflections, Part One” in 1976, with no source listed.

“Attorney Hart appeared on behalf of J.S. White, stating that the Palace saloon was four inches on his lot at First street and Avenue A, and asking the city to remove the same. The council were not convinced of their duty to do so and instructed Mr. Carothers to survey First street from D to A and fix the corners.” The Eye, May 4, 1892

White was not re-elected to the city council in 1891; but served again in 1892, which was a troubled time for the city — and, reading between the lines of the news reports, as the one quoted in full above, a confusing time for White.

The City of Snohomish was broke. The vendor would no longer feed the city’s prisoners without payment “in coin, warrants would buy neither grub or coal,” reported The Eye on January 23, 1892. It took several meetings to set the salaries of city officials, only to have the salary ordinance vetoed by Mayor Ferguson at the next meeting. Changing the topic, Councilmen White and Buck tried to get a discussion going about the cow ordinance after it failed to pass — it was “against milch cows running at large […] and Ferguson declined to listen to them,” wrote The Eye on February 3, under the subhead: “Councilmen Chew the Rag and Do Nothing.” (Readers should know that White’s family had a “milch” cow.)

The subhead on Saturday, March 26, 1892, suggested further disfunction: “Unparliamentary Language by the Councilman.” It seems White set the scene in motion by taking his time to stand when Ferguson asked for the “ayes” to rise. “Councilman White, who is sometimes absent-minded, got on his feet,” said the report, and Ferguson thought White was against the motion. Then, as White was taken to be opposed, Bowen stood to be counted. Ferguson, catching the mix-up, told Bowen to sit down. He refused, the mayor asked for order, and Bowen demanded his rights. Then the mayor said, “(with asperity)–I don’t want any of this kind of work.” Bowen reportedly replied, “(coolly)–I don’t care a damn what you want.”

Ferguson returned the focus to the committee’s report, which favored a dam that a private citizen wanted to build if the city furnished the materials. The project was accepted. Councilman White left , concluded the news article, picking up his lantern, we imagine, for the long, dark walk home.

The summer brought the “great smallpox scourge” of 1892, to use William Whitfield’s description. According to his account, the railroad camps were blamed for bringing the plague into the county, as there was no way of enforcing a quarantine — the common treatment at the time. Pest houses were established in the city for the stricken, and one was burned to the ground by fearful neighbors. The city was in full panic mode within a month of the first recorded case, on June 4. Schools were closed, public meetings were forbidden, even church services were postponed. On June 30, The Eye had this observation describing the unhealthy practice of dumping human and animal waste into the river: “We do not need to mention the state of the north bank of the river, except to say that the filth it shows would nauseate an Indian going down the river in his canoe on the tide.”

Meanwhile, White’s peculiar claim of a four-inch encroachment on his lot was back in the council chambers with the results of City Engineer Carothers’ survey of First Street. As expected, the “City Fathers,” as the paper refers to the councilmen in its August 10, 1893, report, took no action except to order the city attorney to draw up an ordinance according to the facts — each block is 336 feet long and some odd change. Certainly, the Palace Saloon was not ordered moved.

But the same issue had good news for White: “The City of Paris moved into White’s new building Saturday night.” Further, we read about the “arrangement of the rooms in the second floor,” especially the large one in the back with “two bathrooms, a kitchen with a place for a range, a dining room, ample closets, all necessary accommodations for housekeeping on a large scale.” White gave the Eye-man the inside story that a city physician wanted to occupy it as a hospital but then changed his mind, so “any responsible party who wants to rent a hospital is invited to call and inspect the premises,” White reportedly said.

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Today, this large, second-floor space is an artist work/live loft. At some time over the years, a bedroom was added within the large studio space, together with a spiral staircase to the roof. The remaining layout is original.

A solution to White’s dilemma of this plus-size space was found in the disastrous turn of events for his city council colleague, Charles Bakeman, when his three-story furniture building burned to the ground. This event was reported under the headline: “Bakeman Burned Out. A Fire of Unknown Origin Destroys the Furniture Store,” in the September 18, 1893, issue of The Eye. Three days later, the headline is straightforward: “The City Council Meets in the White Building.” It was before the age of the tabloid when today it might read: “City Councilmen Admitted to White’s Empty Hospital.”

As we come to learn, city council had been meeting the city clerk’s office in Bakeman’s building, and their first meeting on the second floor of the White Building on September 21, had a full agenda: “A Whole Lot of Work Cut Out for Street Committee,” read the subhead in part. “Minutes of the previous meeting were read out of the record book, which bore evidence of having been through fire and flood,” continued the account. A motion was approved to pay rent for $15 per month for two rooms in the White Building, and the clerk was authorized to replace the damaged record books.

On October 21, 1893, The Eye provided this graphic glimpse of the damage suffered by City Attorney Coon: “His hundred dollar type-writer is a bunch of twisted wire and broken iron.” Note the eye-popping cost of a “type-writer” in the 1890s.

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Aftermath of the Bakeman Furniture Building fire, 1893. Pictured across First Street, to the left, is the two-story Penobscot Hotel, built in 1888 and destroyed by fire in 1911. The Rockefeller people investing in the new town of Everett stayed here, as it was the only first-class hotel in the area, the first notes of Snohomish playing second fiddle to a town named after a kid.

It was not until March 1, 1894, that we come across White’s name in the paper again, and curiously enough it’s for a job connected with the Bakeman fire. The Bruhn & Henry firm, a grocery store operation that came to town catering the railroad workers, purchased the Bakeman lot at First and Avenue B with the reported promise to erect “as fine a building as the one which was burned.” Twenty-eight days later, The Eye reported: “Contractor White and a force of workmen are rapidly raising the Bruhn & Henry building.”

White’s eldest daughter, Linnie, still in high school, was mentioned in The Eye in the March 10 issue as taking a temporary job in the post office “during the absence of Postmaster Ames on matrimonial business.”

js white story image“Bruhn & Henry have removed to their new quarters.” The Eye, May 3, 1894.

It must have been bad news for White to learn that his anchor tenant, the City of Paris, would consolidate its Snohomish business with its Tacoma operation on August 1. “The entire stock here will be sold at auction, commencing Saturday,” reported The Eye, July 5, 1894. Taking advantage of the empty store front, the ladies’ organization at White’s Methodist Church held a fundraising “crazy dinner” on Tuesday, September 18, from 5 to 8 p.m. — for only 25 cents. There was a follow-up mention after the event on September 20, but no description of what made it “crazy.”

White was elected to the city council in 1895 and again in 1896. Newspaper coverage was sparse, perhaps fortunately so, given his rocky term in 1892. According to our historian, William Whitfield, with the back-and-forth news of elections created by Everett’s petition to wrest the county seat from Snohomish, “there was not a great deal to chronicle as to other events,” he writes on page 252.

Our old friend O. E. Crossman’s name resurfaces in the news with his intention to move his store into the “White brick block,” as it’s referred to in The Eye. On January 31, 1895: “O.E. Crossman has moved his store into new commodious quarters in the White building, where he is opening up a fine new stock of dry and dress goods.”

Later that year, on October 21, The Eye reported, “J.S. White, chairman of the board of school directors for this district, has resigned….” As we didn’t catch the announcement of his appointment, we have no idea how long he served. In 25 years, the number of school children in the county had grown from 22 to 602. White’s daughter, Linnie, was in the high school class of 1896, with three other students. The class motto read: “Launched but Whither Bound.”

As a city council member, White played a part in the story of Snohomish’s first reported gunfight: “Shot in Cold Blood,” shouted The Eye’s headline on October 31, 1895. The report went on for three columns about a midnight shooting outside the Gold Leaf Saloon, on the east end of town, where the owner, called “Omaha Bill,” killed a patron known as “Texas Jack.”

Councilmember White, along with his colleagues, became involved when 677 citizens petitioned them to revoke the license of the notorious Gold Leaf Saloon, which was “a sign of the new era in public morals,” according to Whitfield. The matter was referred to a committee headed by White, which at the next meeting recommended revoking the saloon’s to the full council. The recommendation was tabled, and then rejected at the next meeting. This action was met with vocal indignation by an active group of citizens lead by the pastors in town, raising fear among council members of a lawsuit. That didn’t come to pass, and an editorial published in The Eye on February 25 put it this way: “The council will probably not reconsider their action of the 18th, and the matter will become a part of history.” Indeed, J.S. White’s marginal participation brought his name at least 15 words of fame in the history pages.

The year 1896 began with the Snohomish River on a rampage, reported The Eye, January 1. But it brought good news later in the month, noting that White was “putting the finishing touches on a handsome new home” for E.D. Sutton on Avenue D. An extensive description of the home in the January 28 issue ends with a tribute to J.S. White, the architect and contractor, who “takes as much pleasure in the building of the house as Mr. Sutton will take comfort in living in it, and shares with him the credit for putting up so handsome and creditable a residence.”

Downtown Snohomish, on the other hand, was looking a little worse for wear, according to the diaries of Philip Clayton Van Buskirk, a United States Navy career man. Arriving in Snohomish in 1896 with the intention of retiring in the area, he found the place had changed dramatically since his last visit six years earlier.

“Walk along First Street to its west end. This is the main business street of Snohomish; save here and there a group of vicious looking youngsters, very few people are in the streets. The west end is a picture of wreck and ruin. Cathcart’s Hotel–the Snohomish Exchange–is windowless and boarded up [….] Wilbur’s Drug Store, a fine brick building, appears alone to have held its own in the general dilapidation and decay which marks the Business quarter of Snohomish, altogether a woebegone, run down town.”

Van Buskirk goes on to give the “Residence Quarter” a better review, mentioning the many fine homes and well-kept yards; two very fine, large and elegant school buildings; and “quite a sprinkling also of very presentable churches….” From his diary, we learn that the cost of the largest, front room in the Penobscot Hotel was 75 cents. And a full dinner at the hotel costs a third of that.

The new year of 1897 began with four inches of snow that was gone in two days, thanks to a warm chinook wind from the south. And from the southwest, under cover of darkness, 37 horse-drawn wagons arrived to carry away the county records from Snohomish’s ten-year old courthouse to an up-to-date Romanesque-style brick structure in Everett. The Eye published the obituary on January 28 under the head: “Good Bye County Seat.”

“The undue haste in making the transfer,” the account theorized, “arose from the fear that Snohomish ‘conspirators’ were hatching another plot to frustrate a removal.” It had been a bitter, three-year contest of civic wills fought in smoky backrooms, voting booths, and the state’s Supreme Court. The Eye-man penned the iconic analogy of the wagons pulling out of town as “a huge funeral train laden with their dead hopes and blasted ambitions….” In Everett, the caravan was “hailed with the same degree of delight and quality of joy as the ancient Romans were wont to exhibit on the triumphal return of conquering heroes laden with the spoils of foreign conquest.”

Following years of discussions, a group of Snohomish residents finally filed a petition with the city council for reducing the city’s boundaries. Attorney W.P. Bell provided the small audience with the details of the reduction, as reported in The Eye, January 14, and noted that most businessmen of the city were in favor of the proposition, which would shrink the city to exclude the expensive bridges. “The Tribune has raised its voice from the beginning in favor of this change,” boasted the second voice in town on December 8, unable to dampen its mocking tone when observing that in 1890 “the town was looked upon as a future Chicago….”

On March 31, John S. White and his wife, Delia, signed a warranty deed selling the White Building at 924 First Street to the First National Bank of Snohomish for one dollar. And a bill of sale signed by John S. White enumerated the contents: “All of the counters shelving and other store furniture and fixtures connected with and containing in what is known as the ‘J.S. White Building,’” also for the amount of one dollar. A search of newspapers and court records revealed no details.

In the July 14, 1899, issue of the Tribune, Linnie and Elsie White were listed among the 250 bicycle riders in Snohomish who paid a dollar for their bicycle tags.

. . . .

NOTES: “Field Guide to American Houses,” Virginia and Lee McAlester, p263

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

A key consideration in photographing the J.S. White building at 924 First St. was to highlight the restored brickwork of the west elevation. The textural qualities of masonry can often best be expressed by oblique sunlight raking across its surface. In this case however, that approach would have been too harsh.

The primary exposure was made just before sunset, as the sun dipped behind low lying clouds. This softened the light but maintained its directional quality, lending some modeling to the upper and middle friezes, and helped to define the recessed windows.

Supplemental tungsten lighting was added to the interiors of each upper story room, the windows of which were composited into the primary exposure from a file made approximately 35 minutes after sunset.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5,
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/2 second @ ƒ11, iso 50.

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Burns Block Greule 2012

10. Burns Block, 1890

Color Plate 10: Burns Block Photographed by Otto Greule ©2011. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

“S.J. Burns has several teams at work this week hauling brick for the erection of a fine brick block on Front street immediately east of Otten & Mohering’s boot and shoe store. The building will be 60×100 feet in size and two stories high, the lower story to be used for stores and upper part to be made into offices. The work on the excavation for this building is partially done and work on the brickwork is expected to be commenced in a very short time.”
The Eye, May 24, 1890

“About 150,000 brick are now on the ground for the new Burns’ block and the work of laying them will commence in a very short time.” The Eye, June 7, 1890

“Work on the Burns block has been somewhat delayed during the past week, owing to water in the excavation, but all further trouble in that respect has been overcome by the putting in of a drain which carried the water across Front street and into the river. Work will be resumed at once and ere long the masons will be laying brick on the best building yet put up in Snohomish.” The Eye, June 21, 1890

Thursday, June 26, 1890, was a special election day in the Village of Snohomish. When the day was done, it was a City. Incorporating as a city of the third class passed, 360 votes to 21. Even bigger news–the town had gone Democratic! Founder and Republican player in territorial politics, E. C. Ferguson lost the mayoral seat to Hycranus Blackman, who “will make an excellent officer,” wrote The Sun on July 4, 1890, “it regrets that the father of Snohomish could not have had the honor of being her first mayor.”

Indeed, what a blow to the man who was mayor from when he platted his claim in 1871, and then, at the first go at incorporation in 1883 as the Village of Snohomish. His opposition to the expanded boundaries of the city, that included his undeveloped lots, tagged him with the implied label of “tax-dogger.” Heading its report, The Sun claimed in a sub-subhead: “Democrats Took Advantage of the Petty Spites Against the Hon. E. C. Ferguson and Come Within a few Votes of Electing a Solid Democratic Council.”

In fact, only two Republicans made it, and one of them was J. S. White, representing the west end of town, who won with 222 votes. At a mass meeting held in the Odd Fellows Hall, he won the nomination over two other candidates by a wide margin. Mr. Clay, from whom White purchased his two lots, received only two votes. H. Blackman was put forward in opposition to Ferguson, and won the nomination by five votes. “After the result was announced there was an exodus of Ferguson boomers,” The Eye reported on June 28, 1890. “The open caucus held by the people at Odd Fellows’ hall nominated the successful ticket, and not the convention ‘held last week’ –in the saloons.”

Reporting on the first meeting of new council, held in the county clerk’s office in the Odd Fellows Hall, The Sun proclaimed in the July 4 issue: “Snohomish should be exceeding glad and celebrate the day of Independence with great rejoicing for it marks the end of the chaos that for the last four long months has been a millstone about her neck.”

The Eye, on the streets the following day, July 5, 1890, emphasized of the city’s need for fire protection: “A good engine is the safest, best and cheapest protection that can be secured, and is what the city needs and by all means should have.”

The Sun on July 12, 1890, picked up the argument: “Should there be a fire call tonight there would no doubt be fifty men run for the hose cart. Now four or six men is all that are required […] the other forty-five men would only be wasting precious time.” Most worrisome was the report that insurance companies were cancelling policies and instructing agents “to take no more risks on the property on Front street,” reported The Sun.

Fire prevention is the theme for 1890 in the new city. The wind in the sails, of course, is the memory of the Blackman Mill burning to the ground in September of the previous year, and of our hoseteam travelling to Seattle to fight the losing battle against the great fire there in June. Then too, a frontier entrepreneur with the Dickensian name of Burns commissioned White to create a three-story building of fireproof brick–which one day will stop a fire.

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Bird’s Eye-view, 1891.

On July 13, 1890, J.S. White turned 45, his golden birthday, matching the year he was born, most likely celebrated by only this writer–but what a year he was having. He was a newly elected council member of his adopted city, which had graduated to Third Class status in the new state of Washington, and was on a building boom.

At the corner of Front and Avenue B, the furniture maker and undertaker Charles Bakeman was building a majestic three-story building, but of wood. Six blocks north of Front Street, up Avenue D, on land donated by E.C. Ferguson and his brother Clark, ground was broken for a new county courthouse, designed by a Portland architect with several handsome courthouse structures to his name. In September, the council approved the purchase of a lot on Avenue A for the city’s first engine house, which assumes they also approved the purchase of our first fire engine, as recommended by both newspapers. In its October 11, 1890, issue, The Eye reported that, “a little over $85,000 awarded by this city in contracts for street improvements this season.” Then the writer asked, “Can any city on the sound, of 2000 people, beat it?”

“The Burns block is fast nearing completion and the storeroom will be ready for occupancy in a very short time. Horton Bros. will remove their stock of notions and stationery into it as soon as completed.” The Eye, October 18, 1890

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Palace Floating Gallery at Snohomish by Gilbert Horton c.1885.

Gilbert D. Horton was once the imaginative owner of the Palace Floating Gallery that he built in Tacoma in 1884. “It was sixteen feet wide and sixty feet long and contained a skylight operation room, dark room, two state rooms, kitchen and dinning room,” he reminisced for a Tribune story published November 8, 1928. In addition to a robust portrait business, Horton documented the development of many places around the Sound, none more so than our riverside settlement in its first bloom of wooden wharfs and early streetscapes of dirt paths and white picket fences.

Originally planned for only two stories, but on September 20, 1890, The Eye reported on the Burns Block: “This handsome, three-story structure will be occupied by an Olympia firm as soon as completed.” The owner, John Burns, was building a three-story brick building on “spec” in the nineteenth century. But less than two years later, a subhead in The Eye on March 3, 1892, read: “A Man Who Loves Money More than Comfort.” “John Burns, the long-haired old fellow, with unkempt beard and a small dog, who has been a familiar figure about Snohomish for a longer time than most people remember, is at last off the streets,” the story began. He surrendered himself to the care of others with symptoms similar to those of paralysis. “Messrs. Getchell and English have taken him in hand,” the compelling details unfold, “provided him with what is probably the first decent suit of clothes he ever possessed, and given him, for once in his life, sanitary treatment and clean linen.”

Burns was on the ground in the early years of Snohomish, earning money in the logging camps that he either loaned at high interest rates or invested in real estate. “He never spent it for personal comfort or adornment,” The Eye’s account continues, “Clothing that a poor man would throw away has always been good enough for Burns.” He owned buildings on both sides of Front Street, and was known to have blocks of business buildings in Olympia, “and how many elsewhere no one but his agents can tell.”

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Ad for Horton Bros. 1897

Both newspapers mentioned Horton’s move into the Burns Block–first was The Eye on December 6, 1890; then on December 12, The Sun reported: “Horton Bros. have moved into their fine new store in the new brick Burns’ block. They have now one of the finest book and stationery stores on the Sound.”

Only 28 feet wide, the facade has graceful proportions, repeated in each of the gently arched windows like eighth notes playing the top two floors, while supported by the bass clef of full-height storefront windows and double glass doors. This first-floor space is remembered by long-time residents as the popular Schott’s Meat Market.

The upper floors are just under 2,000 square feet each, while the first floor is a little larger to accommodate a rear entrance and staircase. Between the first and second floor is a 1,500- square-foot mezzanine overlooking the main floor with a staircase running along the west wall. This is a graceful, light-filled space, which we assume is original, and we enjoy imagining how it looked when stocked with the Horton Bros.’ goods and filled with over-dressed shoppers–as nineteenth-century fashion appears to us.

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#7 Primary Building Historic District Nomination, 1973

Today, the second floor is still divided into two front offices a large rear office, and a central space, windowless except for a skylight over the staircase. The Eye reported in February 22, 1894, that “Miss Gilbert, an employe at the Penobscot hotel, while washing windows of the building, fell through the skylight of Crossman’s store last Thursday, breaking one of her arms. The third floor was gutted in the 1990s by the then [?] owner, who also renovated the first two floors by exposing the red brick walls and giving the original molding a thick coat of white paint.

As fall turned to winter in 1890, Snohomish residents were once again called to vote. First for county office holders, then on December 2, a regular municipal election (as opposed to the special election held five months earlier for incorporation) was held. Ferguson regained the mayor’s chair, and White went home–now, at least, there was sidewalk planking along Second Street, no longer a muddy path of humiliation.

Speaking of planking, Front Street was finally being graded, then covered with thick wooden planks. “The work of planking First street goes bravely on,” reported The Eye, November 11, 1890, “and in a very short time we will have at least one good thoroughfare in Snohomish.” It seems that with incorporation, the village term of “Front” street is being phased out and replaced with the proper name for a city: “First”–as it is called today.

Before the final adjournment for the year the council came to an agreement on the assessment of property owners on First Street for the costs of grading and planking. It was a struggle, judging by the amount of ink given to the issue by both newspapers, but most interesting for us who are looking backward for clues, is that White’s assessment was increased from $6.70 to $10.00, reported in the November 22, 1890, issue of The Eye. We didn’t know that White still owned property on First Street–where, and what was on it?

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Looking East on First Street, Snohomish, by William Douglas, 1911

“DISASTROUS FIRE VISITED SNOHOMISH TUESDAY,” read the headline in Friday’s issue of the Tribune on June 2, 1911. Every great city has a “great fire” to mark its initiation into cityhood, and this is the story of ours.

The fire broke out in the basement of a restaurant on the south side of First, referred to as “Block 2,” where the wooden buildings were constructed on poles–some 20 feet long–to bring the structures up to street grade from the riverbank below. “In thirty minutes after the fire was discovered,” the June 2, 1911, Tribune account read, “it had leaped across the street to the old Blackman building in which were located the Post Office, the Penobscot Hotel and other business places, which burst into flames….” The detailed account continued: “Heroic efforts on the part of our splendid volunteer fire department kept the flames confined, that it was hot where they were working may be judged from the fact that part of the fire hose was burned in two while in use.”

Fortunately, there was “not a breath of wind was stirring,” and the westward movement of the fire on the north side was easily stopped by the three-story Burns brick block. Unfortunately, the excellent work of the volunteer fire department soaked much of the Horton Bros. inventory on the ground floor, which “cleaned me out,” as Gilbert Horton told the Tribune 40 years later.

. . . .

NOTES: “Field Guide to American Houses,” Virginia and Lee McAlester, p263

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

I timed this photograph so that oblique sunlight would grace the south facing elevation of the Burns Block building, emphasizing the handsomely crafted brickwork. The perspective view relates the building’s dimensions, and shows the faded remnants of a mural on its east side.

By positioning the camera about ten feet above ground, the street was slightly de-emphasized, imparting a more stately feel to the building. The camera’s carefully chosen viewpoint also aligned the hanging lamppost plant against the darkened stairway door, and kept the streetlight from merging into the transom window.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Lens: Canon 45mm Tilt/Shift, Exposure: 1/40 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

. . . .

OE Crossman House

9. Crossman House, 1890

Color Plate 9: Crossman House Photographed by Otto Greule ©2011. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Published in the Sun, 1891.

Published in the Sun, 1891.

On Saturday, May 31, 1890, The Eye published this local news item at the top of page 3: “O. E. Crossman removed his family into his new residence on Avenue B on Monday.” The Sun had come out a day earlier with no mention of the Crossman family.

Snohomish was a two-paper town in 1890 with one uniting issue: incorporation. Adding to the confusion was that the town has been incorporated since 1888, but under the laws of Washington Territory, which were thrown out by the newly formed Supreme Court of Washington State.

Residents were divided over whether to reincorporate as a town of the fourth class with the same boundaries as the territorial incorporation, which was favored by town founder E. C. Ferguson, or to incorporate with expanded boundaries as a third-class city. Each faction found a voice in one of the two weekly newspapers: The Sun, which saw things Ferguson’s way; or The Eye, which spoke for expansion.

Describing the 1890 incorporation proceedings some 30 years later, William Whitfield wrote: “Then for the first time in its history Snohomish enjoyed all the thrills of city politics.” We imagine that full enjoyment depended on taking a side between the dueling editors.

Both papers do cover the delivery of bricks to the site of John Burns’ brick block on 1st Street. The Sun takes the opportunity to remind readers of the larger issue: “As soon as the town becomes incorporated no doubt many fine buildings will be erected.”

A week later, on June 7, 1890, The Eye publishes an editorial urging the construction of brick business buildings, citing the great Seattle fire of the previous year that destroyed some 64 acres of wood frame buildings. (Even a hosecart team from Snohomish was shipped by rail to join in on the losing fight.) The editor, C. H. Packard, goes on to praise the efforts of Mr. Pearsall, who with limited means starts a brickyard in town and calls for a dozen business leaders to follow John Burns’ example and build with brick made in Snohomish.

Published in a Supplement to the
Snohomish County Tribune, March 7, 1902.

The Crossman Family Moves In.

O. E. Crossman moved into his new home with a family numbering three. He had married Bertha L. Elwell, the 22-year-old daughter of Tam and Sara Elwell (Essay #4), on April 26, 1887, at the Methodist Church (Essay #1). At the time of the move, the couple had a 2-month-old daughter, Gladys Fay.

Oscar E. Crossman was born 37 years earlier in Illinois. His parents moved with their three children to Wisconsin, where their father was a wagon builder and sometime merchant. He died young in Dell Rapids, Dakota Territory, where his two sons, Oscar and Walter, were living and working as merchants.

The Eye man was agreeably surprised on Thursday to see, among the Nellie’s passengers, the face of Mr. O.Crossman, one of our old-time River Falls (Wis.) friends. Mr. C. will make Snohomish his future home, have been engaged as salesman in the store of Blackman Bro’s.” —The Eye, May 16, 1885.

Crossman Ad

Once settled however, Crossman revived his former firm, O.E. Crossman & Co., with his, brother, Walter. For two years they carried a full line of groceries, crockery, and dry goods, according to an account in the March-April 1891 issue of The Northwestern Real Estate Building Review, published in Seattle. The article detailed Crossman’s decision to sell only dry goods, clothing, boots, and shoes. “Their large store, twenty-two by sixty feet, is literally packed from floor to ceiling with a full and varied assortment of everything to be found in their line,” the account explained. Their business model of “quick sales and small profits, and the excellence of their goods,” resulted in “extended patronage for twenty miles around,” claimed the journal.

It was surprising to read, then, in the May 20, 1895, issue of The Eye: “O.E. Crossman returned last Thursday from California to dispose of his stock of dry goods and all his property here, having decided to become a permanent resident of San Jose.” According to census records, it appears that his brother, Walter, left the Snohomish business and took up real estate sales in San Jose, California, 1891.

The following week, we read in The Eye: “My house and two lots for sale, also my safe, and all store fixtures for sale and must be sold within 60 days. O.E. Crossman.” In the neighboring column, we read: “If you want a nice profitable job, go to O.E. Crossman & Co’s. and assist them in converting their $15,000 stock of dry goods, boots and shoes, etc. into cash. They are going out of business and are giving their patrons the benefit of the greatest bargains ever offered in Snohomish.”

However, in the October 10 issue of the same year, Crossman ran an ad that mimicked a news story–then a common practice–with the headline: “Here’s A Hummer.” Then a subhead: “O.E. Crossman & Co., Make a Very Sensational Announcement.” The first paragraph begins, “We have not as yet disposed of our home, hence we have concluded to stock up our store ….” The news-style advertisement continues for several inches and ends with the promise, “as long as I remain in Snohomish we will sell [to] you cheaper than any other firm.”

This ad was repeated for several weeks in 1895, even with the same example of prices: “Outing flannels at 5-6-7-10 and 12c. per yard: ginghams, sheeting and calico in profusion at 5c per yard.” A mysterious one-line mention appears in the February 2, 1897, issue of The Eye: “O.E. Crossman & Co. handle the San Jose Clothing.” The Eye’s final edition was published four months later on June 10, 1897.

Turning to census records, in 1905, Oscar’s mother Amelia, now a widow, was listed as living with the family in the Avenue B home. In 1920, the Crossmans were still living in Ward 2 and Oscar was still running his dry goods store at 1104 1st Street, in the Blackman Building which is still standing. He died five years later survived by his wife, Bertha, who was listed as living alone at 329 Avenue B in 1930. Her telephone number was 81. Bertha died four years later at the age of 69, survived by her daughter, Fay, who was living in Seattle near the beauty school where she worked.

GD Horton photoDancing on a Cedar Stump, c.1885. An iconic Snohomish photograph by Gilbert Horton.
L to R: William and Delia Deering, Oscar and Bertha Crossman, George and Laura England, Ruth Elwell and Omar Moore; above on the fiddle, W.P. Bell, and Harvey Horton, playing banjo.

O.E. Crossman House Today.

The three-bedroom Crossman home over 2,000 square feet of interior space on two floors–was converted into a rooming house during the Depression. It remained in that condition until purchased in 2000 by the current owners’ who are diligently returning the handsome structure to a single-family home.

With the Crossman House, White returns to the Queen Anne style: “Steeply pitched roof of irregular shape, usually with a dominant front-facing gable; patterned shingles, cutaway bay windows, and other devices used to avoid a smooth-walled appearance, asymmetrical facade with partial or full-width porch.”*

The exterior is excellent shape, as shown in Otto Greule’s late- afternoon portrait. Unfortunately, Crossman’s second lot, to the south, was eventually purchased, and a dwelling was added in 1941. This structure, along with the foliage that has grown up over the years, completely blocks the southern exposure of the Crossman home, which features a two-story window bay topped with a gable shown in the 1902 photo illustration.

Many of the homes in the neighborhood of the Crossman House carry the Queen Anne label–perhaps leading you to think you’ve spotted another home by J. S. White – and you may have! But without construction records, of which there are none, it’s impossible to know. For this account, we have depended entirely upon a process of connecting circumstantial dots between 19th century news items.

. . . .

NOTES: “Field Guide to American Houses,” Virginia and Lee McAlester, p263

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

The Crossman House is situated in close proximity to three deciduous trees along its west elevation, and a neighboring house to the south. This perspective view showing the north and west sides of the house, was chosen to reveal the scale of the house, and to best distinguish it from adjoining structures.

Photographing in late march ensured that the gables and chimney were visible behind the leafless branches of the trees, and added some color to the foreground foliage. The tree trunk at left helps to frame the house, and conceal the visually competing shape of a background church steeple. A forty inch silvered reflector was employed to bounce some fill light back into the shadowed porch. The wicker love seat was repositioned.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5,
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/15 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

. . . .

AM Blackman House

8. A.M. Blackman House, 1889

Color Plate 8: A.M. Blackman House Photographed by Otto Greule ©2010. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Following the opening of A. M. Blackman’s Grocery Store in the summer of 1889, J.S. White must have turned his full attention to the construction of Wilbur’s Drug Store. As The Eye reported on August 28: “The brick on Wilbur’s new store was completed this week.”

Yet we learn in the September 7 issue: “Work upon the foundation of E.C. Ferguson’s new residence is underway.”

Three weeks later we read: “The handsome new residence of Adam [sic] Blackman is fast nearing completion.” No wonder the typesetter confused “Adam” for “A.M.” – White turned over three buildings (that we know about) to their owners in 1889.
blackman house 1908
“The beautiful home of Postmaster A.M. Blackman, Snohomish, Washington. — Photo by Blackman.”
Published in “The Coast,” November 1908, for an article about Snohomish written by A.M. Blackman.

The Blackman Family Moves In.

Blackman’s home was most likely the second structure to rise up on Ferguson’s 2nd Addition, the plat of lots between Avenues D and G to the west. The first was the Elwell home, also designed by White.

Built only a year later, yet chapters apart in historical style, the Blackman House design tells a story of White’s temporary abandonment of architectural restraint.

Once upon a time, as all unsourced stories begin, Arthur’s home was intended to be a vision located on the highest point of the settlement, four blocks from Front Street, and up against the woods–the structure would be a promotional vision of red cedar shingles.

Arthur’s cousins, the Blackman brothers, built the largest mill in the young county alongside the Snohomish River in 1884, at the western end of Front Street. There they introduced the tripper machine that, using a ratchet mechanism, could cut a shingle from a block of wood with each pass of the circular blade. By the time the train arrived four years later, the Blackmans were ready to ship kiln dried shingles to the east coast by the boxcar load.

This abundance of product leads us to wonder if the storybook tale of promotion connected through the years to the Blackman House might be instead a prosaic reality of overproduction? An example of contractor White’s nose for a bargain, perhaps? We know only that the unique home was built.

All four facades of the structure are individual compositions that share in common second-floor dormers of various depths, where the side walls slope up to meet the moderate pitched roof. To this writer’s eye, the slightly pitched walls become the second pitch of a gambrel roof. Moreover, the dormers do not project vertically from a sloping roof, as in the usual definition; rather, the large, full story dormers project from a sloping wall that reaches to the multi pitched roof. From there, two towers with conical roofs project opposite each other of the hybrid gambrel roof.

The face of each dormer features a variety of window combinations, the set of three, as shown in Otto Greule’s house portrait, is the most elaborate. A second set of three windows is repeated in the tower on the left, which faces southeast, toward town. This tower marks the corner of the structure, along with the wide porch below that wraps halfway around the north facade, out of sight in the portrait.

The tower on the right is actually built into the sloping walls of the second floor. It features a whimsical arrangement of a long, narrow window paired with smaller rectangular windows with diamond-patterned mullions on either side. What room lies behind this playful exterior treatment must be left to the reader’s imagination.

It would have taken heroic effort for White to have the house ready for the Blackman’s second wedding anniversary on October 6, the date recorded in Whitfield’s biographical sketch of Arthur. But there is another source for the Blackman’s wedding date. Arthur’s niece, Frances, his sister, Nina’s, daughter, writes in an undated account that Arthur was married in “November to Adeliza (Budd) Elwell.” This date would have given White another month to finish the home.

It’s a healthy six-block walk to the Blackman Grocery Store from the home on Avenue D and 4th, but we imagine the distance seemed longer as the debts increased. After closing the grocery store in 1894, Arthur turned to logging work, but only for a couple of years. Arthur was appointed postmaster in 1896 and, by all accounts, served with distinction until 1913.

Shortly after Arthur’s appointment, the childless Blackmans adopted Kathryn, a child born in 1905. She died only 14 years later and is laid to rest alongside her adopted mother, whose red marble marker reads “BUDD” across the top. Adeliza died in 1925, and Arthur followed four years later.

Blackman Bros millBlackman Bros. Mill, c.1885. Photo by Gilbert Horton. Courtesy Northwest Room, EPL.

“THE FIERY DEMON, not content with his ravages in many other towns of the territory has at last paid us a visit”–so begins The Eye’s September 21, 1889, account of the fire that totally destroyed the Blackman Bros. sawmill.

The “continuous shrieking of a whistle” eventually stopped the speaker inside Cathcart Hall (also referred to as the Atheneum) at the corner of Avenue D and Front Street, just a block west of the mill. “Fortunately the hall was quickly emptied without accident,” continues the account.

Outside, the growing crowd milling about in the central intersection of town “quickly surmised the truth – that the largest enterprise upon which Snohomish is dependent for her prosperity and well-being was to go up in smoke.” Illuminated by the rapidly spreading flames, most watched as the hosemen pulled back from the heat, while others joined a bucket brigade – “150 or more men formed two lines to the river and worked like ‘Turks,’” wrote the Eye-man.

Work to prevent the fire from spreading continued for three hours until all danger had passed, especially on the west side of the mill, where the workers’ tenements were located. Two cabins that had caught fire were pushed over the bank into the river to save the rest.

One eye witness account reads: “Al Wilson worked like a hero, and led on the crowd which saved the tenements in the rear of the mill. Overcome by the heat at last he fell into the arms of one of the men, and was taken home insensible.”

The mill, capable of producing 50,ooo feet of lumber and 125,000 shingles, was a total loss estimated at $100,000, which included new machinery, along with customer orders ready to ship. Blackman Bros. carried no insurance due the high rates.

In closing, the account reminds the reader of the community’s loss: “About 130 men are thus temporarily thrown out of employment just at a time when all they can rake and scrape is needed in preparation for the winter season.”

blackman brothersLithograph, Blackman Brothers, 1889. Courtesy Northwest Room, EPL.

Seven Months Later.

By the time White turned over the O.E. Crossman House to the family, the Blackman Bros. Mill was rebuilt.

“A Gigantic Industry of Vast Importance to Snohomish,” read the subhead in the June 6, 1890, issue of The Sun.

“It Gives Employment to Hundreds of Workingmen, and Will Run Night and Day,” read the second subhead.

And yet a third: “To be Lit up by Electric Light, and Run to Its Fullest Capacity. For Completeness and Practicality it Excels Anything in the State of Washington.”

The lead paragraph sets the scene: “But to be upon the grounds when the whistle blows for work to begin, and to see the wheels begin to turn, and the saws commence to whirl strikes one with a kind of awe….” Then the three “monster engines” are described, “one at 15×20 feet upright, one 18×24 feet upright and the other a horizontal one 24×30 feet.”

All the sawing was done in the nearly 60,000 square-foot main building. The mill had one double circular saw that could divide a log into lumber twice as fast as a single one, and more accurately than “gang saws” that used reciprocating blades. The 340-foot-long building also had a “re-saw,” or bandsaw for cutting veneers, and “gang edgers” for milling the Puget Sound country’s ubiquitous tongue-and-groove fir sliding.

Reading on down the full front-page story, we learn that the Blackman brothers “are no fine-haired theoretical machinists, or adventurers in the lumbering business, but they have been raised in the woods […] with coats off and sleeves rolled up […] one of the Blackmans will always be at the front.”

Finally, the reader is reminded of the great fire that consumed the brothers’ mill less than a year before: “but through the most indefatigable perseverance, and by the indomitable will power which they only possess, they have surmounted every obstacle, and have arisen from the ashes in a manner that seems almost miraculous,” says The Sun on June 6, 1890.

. . . .


Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

For the Blackman House, a perspective view from the southeast was considered, but was deemed unacceptable due to the close proximity of mature foliage (and an ill-placed telephone pole) which obscured the home. The alternative view of the east entry, required that the camera be elevated high enough to see over the hedge. This viewpoint also best expressed the relationship between the twin hexagonal towers, and allowed the foliage to both frame and soften the geometry of the house.

The direction of the slightly diffused, early morning light helped to emphasize the double columns against the recessed shadow area of the porch.

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II, Lens: TS-24mm ƒ1:3.5,
Exposure: 1/20 second @ ƒ14, iso 100.

. . . .

lot wilbur drug store

7. Wilbur Block, 1889

The Only Two-Story Brick Building in Snohomish County.

“In the spring of 1875, Lot Wilbur, the pioneer druggist, came from Minnesota, and on Thanksgiving day of that year located in Snohomish, then a small place containing less than a score of buildings. He immediately commenced business with a stock of druggists sundries, in the building from which he removed this week to the handsome quarters in his new brick block, which occupies the original site of the old building.

His brick block is the first ever erected in Snohomish county for mercantile purposes. It is a handsome structure having a frontage of 24 feet; is 65 feet deep, two stories with a basement nine feet in the clear under the entire building. The store room in the first story is 14 feet in the clear, and the second story 12 feet. The latter is divided into six commodious rooms; W.P. Bell occupying the two in front as a law office and Dr. Starr and family the remaining rooms for office and residence.

The brick work on the building was done by E. Bast & Son in their usually substantial and permanent manner. The carpenter work was done by J.S. White, the well known contractor, who fitted up everything in a skillful and elegant manner. The store room front is of galvanized iron, with plate glass doors and windows. The two larger windows are each composed of one piece of solid plate glass 146 inches by 64 inches in size; the glass alone for the front costing $340.

The store room is not excelled in convenience or in its style of finish by any drug store of the northwest. It has shelves and counters along each side, with prescription case of ample dimensions across the back end. The shelves, counters and case have an oil finish, done on native woods, and present a fresh, neat and attractive appearance. The painting, varnishing, gilding and oil finish was done for the whole building in first class style by Bunsow & Martill. The total cost of the building, including shelving, counters etc., for the drug store, will exceed $7,000. Mr. Wilbur is putting in some $600 besides that in new shelf bottles and other fixtures needed in his store. He is now opening up in his new quarters, with at least twice that carried in the old building, and has conveniences for carrying a stock many times greater than that formerly carried by him.

Mr. Wilbur is to be congratulated in having earned and secured such splendid quarters for business. He has not only well earned but amply deserves them by his skill as a druggist and his many good qualities as a business man and public spirited citizen of this community. His many friends rejoice with us over his good fortune.”
Published in The Eye, November 16, 1889.


lot wilburJennie and Lot Wilbur were married in 1868 in Michigan and found their way to Snohomish selling insurance. Instead, they were sold on Snohomish and opened their first drugstore on December 18, 1875, recording $2.50 in receipts. Their union produced no children; but 13 years later they commissioned White to build the first two story brick building in the county as home to Wilbur’s Remedies, which were known throughout the area. Around the turn of the century, the Wilburs built a new building at the corner of 1st and Union and joined the Rexall chain of drugstores. Jennie died in 1919 and Lot followed 11 years later.

Right. A prescription written by Dr. Folsom for Geo. Blackman, Arthur’s father, on January 8, 1879.

milwaukee road depotGoodwill Tour, 1912. “You can’t miss Snohomish if you come over the Milwaukee,” read the white ribbons worn by members of the Commercial Club inaugurating passenger service.

Wilbur Block’s Second Life as a Depot.

It was supposed to be a temporary depot until the Milwaukee Road could build its own. That was in 1911, and the Wilbur Block was still the depot in 1930, when railroad passenger service to Everett was replaced by an eight-cylinder Studebaker bus. Milwaukee Road moved its freight operations to the Great Northern tracks on the other side of the river. The steel rails were removed from the wooden trestle and sold for scrap to Japan, so the railroad lore goes — but the brisk American scrap metal business with Japan continued until Roosevelt declared an embargo late in 1940.

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Then and Now Views behind the Wilbur Block.

The Wilbur Block Today.

“No one connected with the Post today remembers when it was purchased,” American Legion Post Commander Pat Guyot told us in 2010 during a tour of the second floor with Milwaukee Road historian, Allen Miller. In the room that was once the the kitchen of the station agent’s residence hangs wallpaper that was probably installed by Kent Gill, , the last Milwaukee Railroad station agent, said Miller. Most of the second floor is empty today, with just a few boxes of supplies. The first floor, all 1,500 square feet, is a members-only bar, while the basement serves as the meeting room. The 700-square-foot cinder block addition on the east side was added in the 1950s without concern of how it looked from the street.

In 2006, the Snohomish Riverside Trail was dedicated. It was created thanks to a grant from the Department of Transportation to memorialize the route of the railroad that once ran along the rear of the former drugstore-turned-depot. Not only did it serve passengers, but a spur was added, where the parking lot is today, for servicing box cars.

wilbur block 1973
The Wilbur Block, 1973, American Legion Post #96.

It was around this time that we were invited to met with the Post’s membership in their basement meeting room, to make the case for the restoration of their historic treasure, the oldest brick building still standing in the county, in addition to its history as the first drugstore.

First on the list would be to bring back the storefront glass windows as shown in the historic photo. “That would be against the law,” a member said. Assuming he was referring to Washington State Blue Laws, we reminded him that Oxford Saloon once had storefront windows similar to theirs and were still in business with a restored storefront of full height windows. “They are violating the law,” the same man said with the certainty of a storyteller.

It wasn’t until writing these words, a decade later, that we wondered if there was a law at one time that regulated the size of tavern windows. After all, a full storefront of glass, revealing a tavern full of people drinking, could be considered by some in the Temperance Movement as “drinking in public,” and would push for regulations of the Washington State Liquor Control Board to specify the exposure to drinking in a tavern.

But no law was found, either state or local; instead, only a ruse by the membership to avoid doing the right thing. This writer has joined the American Legion in order to advocate from the inside for the importance of historic restoration.

. . . .


Edited by Susan Geib

Blackman Store, Snohomish

6. Blackman Store, 1889

Color Plate 6: Blackman Store Photographed by Otto Greule ©2010. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

On December 3, 1885, the week before young Arthur M. Blackman arrived in town, The Eye ran a front page story suggesting that an “enterprising individual start a white laundry at this place. We believe the laundry would be made the best paying business in town, and that one mouth [sic] after its establishment there would not be a pagan rat-eater here.” The diatribe continues, winding up for the final pitch: “An excellent opportunity for investment awaits someone.”

AM Blackman

Published in The Sun, 1891

Wonder if Arthur saw it?

He was an ambitious young man, only 20 years old, who had worked for four years in a hardware store before leaving the family home in Oakland, California, to take a job in his cousin’s new general store; and three years later, he is building his own two-story building on 1st Street.

Arthur was born in Penobscot County, Maine, to George and Francis Blackman on November 23, 1865. His father was in the lumber business, as was his uncle Adam, and we imagine that his grandfather Bradley was as well. Arthur’s biographical sketch in An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties reads in part: “The elder Blackman sprang from an old line Dutch pioneer family of the Pine Tree State.”

Evidently, by the early 1870s, the pine forests of Maine were thinning out and logging operations were going belly-up, including those of the extended Blackman family. Uncle Adam’s boys, Alanson, Elhanan, and Hyrcanus, along with their wives and one baby, left for the Pacific Coast in 1872; George, with his wife and their children, Nina and Arthur, landed first in Michigan before migrating on to California where the family settled in Oakland around 1876.

Following a start in Port Gamble at the Pope and Talbot Mill on the Kitsap Peninsula, Hyrcanus and his brothers settled in Snohomish, where they bloomed, eventually leading the development of the lumber industry, and more, in Snohomish County.

Blackman Store, Front and Avenue C, 1885. Courtesy UW Special Collections #21898

For example, the Blackman Bros. opened a two-story general store that our contemporaneous historian, Whitfield, referred to as a “major event of 1885.” Arthur was the acting manager. His older sister, Nina, who has no biographical sketch, was most likely already living in Snohomish, since she had also been called upon by the Snohomish cousins to serve in the town’s new two-room school house as a primary teacher. Both siblings were married in 1887, Nina to Charles Bakeman, furniture maker and undertaker, on June 20th; and on October 6th, Arthur married into the Elwell family with his marriage to Adeliza, who went by the nickname “Buddie.”

Local Eye-tems.

In addition to the siblings’ marriages, 1887 was marked by the opening of the first bank in Snohomish County in August. Originally a private institution owned by J. Furth, a prominent Seattle banker, within a year it was reorganized as the First National Bank of Snohomish. Moreover, it built its own building, the first brick structure in the county, two doors west of the second brick building–in progress at the time–Lot Wilbur’s Drugstore, which has survived and is included in this account.

In April 1888, “W. P. Bell, as attorney for the citizens, returned from Seattle with an order from Judge Jones authorizing the incorporation of Snohomish,” writes Whitfield in his History of Snohomish County. The trustees met to appoint officers and set salaries. Marshal C.M. Jordan, for example, was to receive $20 per month, with $2 for each arrest. Most important, liquor licenses were fixed at $500, which netted $2,500 for the city coffers in its first year of incorporation. A spending spree seems to have followed: new sidewalks were ordered* and grading contracts were let, along with a contract for the First Street bridge replacement, and there was talk of an expensive wagon bridge over the Snohomish River.

And that summer, a second newspaper was established, bearing the masthead “The Sun,” owned by a man named Head. While the dawn of a second newspaper marked the growth of the city, noted Whitfield, it did not make for “harmonious action by its citizens.” Our man on the scene is most likely referring to the bitter re-incorporation face-off a couple of years later, following the establishment of Washington’s statehood in 1889.

Blackman Store
A.M.Blackman’s Store. Published in The Northwest Magazine, August 1890.

A. M. BLACKMAN’S NEW BUILDING, into which he is moving and will open the largest stock of groceries north of Seattle, is acknowledged to be one of the handsomest and most commodious grocery stores in the northwest.” The Eye, June 6, 1889

Blackman store

Blackman’s Store, date unknown

Only the name of the building has changed over the years. The original footprint remains to this day: 36 feet wide by 61 feet long. The false-front facade’s architectural details are all in place, just as architect J.S. White specified over 125 years ago. Photographer Otto Greule has captured the high summer light of the rising sun as it paints the facade with descriptive shadows, especially of the top cornice brackets.

It’s worth the short walk to view the rear of the building, which is down a steep alley that ends in a gulley, referred to in the early newspapers as “Union Avenue Gulch.” On this site in 1893, two men dug a tunnel through the hill between the gulch and the river – referred to as a “hogback” in this account: “Work began yesterday on the tunnel from the gulley to the river under Avenue A. Two men are at work with shovels and seem to find the digging easy. They are on the riverside of the hogback and from the direction in which the tunnel is started, it would be judged that they will come out in the rear of Blackman’s grocery store.”

The finished tunnel was 200 feet long, 4-and-a-half feet in diameter, and while the digging was easy, “an immense amount of timber would be required, and they put in 41,796 feet of it,” The Eye reported in the same account on October 5, 1893. Consequently, the estimated cost of $700 ballooned to nearly double–$1,300–when the tunnel was declared finished.

The emergency need for the tunnel was created in response to a cave-in on 1st Street. “Blackman Lake broke loose and sent a flood of water down the ravine which has its terminus at Avenue A and First street,” reported The Eye, May 11, 1893. A narrow culvert, designed to carry the water to the river, got choked up and the water flowed under 1st Street, undermining the planking and making the street impassable for horse drawn wagons. The water also backed up in the gulch, “which was turned into a lake deep enough to float a man-of-war,” the colorful report continued.

The Northwest Magazine’s illustration of the structure shows a porch on the rear, but there is no evidence today that there ever was one. Blackman probably had second thoughts of how often he would use a porch overlooking an open stormwater sewer.

The Ravine’s Imaginative History.

The geology that separates the east and western claims establishing Snohomish features a 30-foot-deep memory of the Vashon Glacial Period that ended 10,000 years ago. The resulting ravine was the runoff route from Blackman Lake (first called “Stillaguamish”) to the Snohomish River. It’s sometimes referred to as “Blackman Creek,” or “Ferguson Creek,” but officially today, it’s “Swifty Creek” – a name of hope and promise. Much of the runoff from Blackman Lake has been diverted to the Pilchuck River at 6th Street, but the remaining stormwater still occasionally backs up at blocked culverts buried years ago, but which are now under private property improved with homes.

In 1906, a couple of investors from the East inquired if they could be given permission “to dig a canal, connecting Blackman’s lake with the Snohomish River, using a system of locks, build bathhouses, provide them with hot and cold water service, have a resort for the entertainment of pleasure seekers,” continued the pitch in the December 14, 1906, issue of the Tribune. The Union Avenue Gulch must have been an impressive site just one month following a flood that “Reaches the Highest Stage Known to White Man,” as the paper’s headlines screamed on November 16th. Yet the Tribune supported the investor’s dream with this existential argument: “Make the city more beautiful and attractive, enjoy the comforts that this good old world offers now, for you may be a long time dead.”

The resort never came to pass, but that didn’t dampen residents’ imagination. A couple of decades later, The Lions Club, 29 members strong, “appointed Pat Crane chairman of a committee to investigate the feasibility of a plan to establish a swim tank in the Union Ave. gulch,” reported the Tribune, May 2, 1929. A week later, it was announced that $1,200 had been raised for the swim tank, but the following week an estimate was reported to be $15,000, and that was the last mention of locating a swim tank in the gulch.

oxford tavern 1950s
Oxford Tavern, 1950s. Courtesy Snohomish Historical Society.

From Grocery Store to Pool Hall to Tavern.

Change on the inside is a different story. Blackman’s establishment didn’t remain a grocery store for long. Referring again to Arthur’s biographical sketch, “His business was the largest in the city and he was prosperous until the financial distress of 1894 forced him to the wall by reason of his extension of credit to men who were unable to meet their obligations with him.” He closed the store quietly, however–no oversize ads announcing going-out-of-business sales have been found. Just this item from the July 5, 1894, issue of The Eye: “The guessing contest inaugurated by A.M. Blackman, the grocer, who awarded a handsome dinner set to the person making the closest guess as to the number of grains of wheat contained in the big tin kettle which has been hung from the end of his sign in front of store, was participated in by 985 guessers. A committee of four counted the grains, and the number was found to be 1,610,512. The dinner set was awarded to Mrs. Elhanan Blackman, whose guess was 1,609,340.”

According to David Dilgard in his walking tour, the building was used to sell furniture, then shoes, until it was renamed the Oxford Pool Hall during Prohibition, and apparently began its career as tavern during the Second World War. It still takes 26 steps to reach the second floor of this wooden building constructed of 8×8 inch posts. The extraordinarily high ceiling gives the 2000-square-foot-space a grandness that seems more fitting to its current use as a saloon than to its original role as the largest grocery store in 19th-century Snohomish. The layout of the second floor–five small offices and a bathroom–is original except for the two front units overlooking 1st Street, which have been merged into one building-wide space that is currently home to a beauty salon. The basement is where the pool tables ended up, accessed from inside the first floor, but it’s often closed these days for lack of patrons.

The Snohomish County Assessor’s field notes reach back only to 1971, when Elma Snow is listed as the owner of the Oxford Tavern. The notes contain repeated observations of leaning walls and uneven ceilings due to a sinking foundation in the soft soil. Local second-generation entrepreneur Scott Swoboda purchased the failing structure, and by 1992 the assessor’s field notes read: “Revalue bldg, been gutted out, major foundations problems being worked on.” Swoboda, who was using the interior for his furniture business, sold the renovated building in 2005 to an owner who brought back the food and alcohol but was required to change “tavern” to “saloon” if he wanted family members of all ages to eat together. The “blue laws” of Washington State dipped into architectural design by prohibiting full storefront glass windows with a direct view of people drinking, which explains the 1950s look of White’s building today.

The law has since been repealed, returning the essential function of glass storefronts to that of reflecting the community back to itself as people walk by – the historical roots of our contemporary selfie craze, perhaps? One more act would make the restoration of the A.M. Blackman’s Grocery Store building complete – bringing back its original name.

. . . .

NOTES: “A sidewalk to connect the Clay addition with the rest civilization is being built on Second Street.” The Eye, January 12, 1889

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

The north face of The Oxford receives direct sunlight from about mid March to late September. This photograph was made in July, with the sun at an oblique angle on the azimuth, and at 12 degrees declination. The angle of the light was critical in accentuating the qualities of the venerable storefront, including the oxen yoke above the entry, an important decorative feature.

Preliminary scouting photos revealed that the oxen yoke becomes indiscernible when lit by the open shade of afternoon light, as it visually merges into the similarly toned window behind it. By shooting at a time of day when direct sunlight grazes the yoke but not the window, its shape is clearly defined.

The oblique early morning light also helped to reveal the lead work in the windows, and define the brackets along the cornice, whose shapes are otherwise diminished due to the axial viewpoint. The repetition of shadows lends a hint to their design.

A large white promotional banner was removed from above the red door, and the positioning of the flower barrels and benches were adjusted for balance. The parking spaces were temporarily restricted.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Lens: Canon 45mm Tilt/Shift, Exposure: 1/15 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

. . . .

js white home

5. White House, 1888

Color Plate 5: White House by Otto Greule ©2009. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Leave it to an obituary to fill in the details of a person’s early years. J.S. White’s two obituaries, published in October 1920, both agreed that he and his family arrived in Snohomish in February 1884. Three months later, his lease with H.D. and Mary Morgan for the “premises” at 1st and Avenue C “for the term of five years, to commence the first day of April, 1884, at the monthly rent of Eight (8) dollars,” was registered by the Snohomish County Auditor, J.H. Plaskett,* on May 19, 1884. Five months later, on October 13, Plaskett registered White’s payment in the “… sum of two hundred and thirteen (213) dollars” to W. S. Clay and his wife, Anna, for four lots in Block One of Clay’s second addition. But it would take four years for the busy Mr. White to build a home for his family on this property.

js white story imageDetail from the 1890 Bird’s-Eye View of Snohomish showing the location of Clay’s Additions on the left. Ferguson’s Additions are center and the Sinclair Additions are on the right, eastend of town.

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Detail: 310 Avenue H

The Whites moved into their new home at 310 Avenue H in 1888, the same year that the train arrived in Snohomish. We trust the move for the family went more smoothly than the first train trip. The Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad follows the lake shores through Seattle, then north alongside Lake Washington, continuing on the high ground bordering the Snohomish River Valley, until the river bends west, crossing the path of the train. Here the train stopped until a bridge was built across the river.

The legal battle between the two railroad companies wanting to come through town – the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern from the south and a Canadian company from the north – didn’t stop plans for a grand public reception to welcome the “Seattle excursionists” to Snohomish on July 3, 1888. Carriages picked up the passengers and brought them across the river on George Tompkins’ ferry for a public reception in Atheneum Hall. Although the return service to Seattle was scheduled for 6 p.m., many visitors wanted to remain in town for the free grand ball that evening. This was, perhaps, in part, because first-class accommodations were available at the recently opened Penobscot Hotel on 1st, built in anticipation of accommodating a new class of visitors arriving by train.

Penobscott Snohomish

“Let’er Boom!”

A year earlier, April 23, 1887, The Eye, anticipating the investment dollars headed toward Snohomish with the railroad, boasted at the top of a front page story: “Let’er Boom!” J.S. White moved west just in time for Snohomish’s boom years.

mary low sinclair snohomish

Mary Low Sinclair

G. H. Pennington’s paint job was not yet dry on the Elwell House, and White was building a large home for Mrs. M. L. Packard on the other side of town. Better known on the history pages as Mary Low Sinclair, she was the trustee for her children’s ownership of the eastern claim platted by her husband before his unexpected death in 1872. The first school building was built on lots donated by the Sinclairs, but it was old and already too small in 1888, when White was commissioned to draw up plans for a new school building. “The plans as drawn by J.S. White are for a two story structure 44×72 feet, with four large rooms and as many recitation rooms and wardrobes,” reported The Eye, August 11, 1888.

Another White project was described in the December 15, 1888, issue of The Eye: “One day this week we were shown the plans of the fine brick block which L. Wilbur will erect in the spring to replace his old drug store on the corner of first and C streets. Its dimensions will be 24×65 feet, with two stories and a basement. The store room will be 23×40, with plate glass front; the office and work room occupying the rear of the first floor. The second floor, reached by stairways at front and rear, will be divided into six commodious rooms, all of which are engaged for offices. The building is to be completed by July 1st.”

Then this notice appeared on December 29, 1888: “E.C. Ferguson this week sold a portion of the lot at the corner of 1st and A streets with 25 feet frontage on the former street, to J.S. White, the architect and builder; for $40 a front foot.”

In the same issue, we read that Ferguson also sold 1st Street frontage, 68 feet for $20 a foot, to A.M. Blackman. According to the report, “Mr. B. will erect a store thereon and have it ready for occupancy by April 1st.” Perhaps it was not known at the time, but White got the job, plus the commission to build a home for Mr. B. on Avenue D.

And in White’s neighborhood, the Clay Addition, he was finishing up a “neat seven room cottage for J. P. Smith,” as described in the June 9, 1888, issue of The Eye. Perhaps it was during the long days of summer when White built his own home? Or maybe it was built over time, over the several summers since he purchased the lots? We can only imagine and wonder at the busy life of Mr. White since moving his family to Snohomish four short years ago.

Illustrated Snohomish.

“At special meeting of the village trustees Tuesday evening, D.D. Fagan for the Illustrated History Co.submitted a proposition to publish a lithographic view of Snohomish, 14×18 inches, for $250 and furnish 500 extra lithographs for general distribution.”
The Eye, May 26, 1888.

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Bird’s-Eye View of Snohomish, 1990, a popular 19th-century promotion for many cities.

Not all trustees wanted to fork over the $250. Shop owner Samuel Vestal wanted the principal roads graded and sidewalks built before paying out such a large sum on advertising–which was championed by E.C. Ferguson of the Ferguson Land Company. Mr. Fagan’s proposal won the day, helped by the “The Eye-man,” who stepped up to print 1,500 copies as a supplement. How the Sun Publishing Company, The Eye’s competitor, ended up publishing the illustration (a copy of which is held by Library of Congress), remains a mystery.

The amazingly accurate bird’s-eye view shows clearly how Clay’s Additions on the left, west of town, are separated from the center of Snohomish by the undeveloped lots owned by Ferguson. The May 19, 1888, issue of The Eye recorded Ferguson’s statement: “… that when the line of branch railroad to the mill is definitely located, he will plat and put upon the market the tract of land lying between Avenue D and the Clay addition.” The Eye-man shows restraint by not pointing out how the illustration of Snohomish is excellent advertising indeed for Ferguson’s land business, helped along by public dollars.

js white story imageDetail showing White’s treatment of the vernacular center gable.

WHITE’S MODEST HOME, located in the west end of Snohomish, is a one and half-story center gabled structure with a symmetrical facade. Measuring only 26 feet across, the facade is divided in half by the front door, gracefully announced by a simple five-foot deep porch.

js white story imageCenter gabled structures near White’s home.

Fellow Methodist Church trustee Isaac Mudgett, who, like White, was born in Tamworth, New Hampshire, built his own home, just up the block at number 303, with the same formal features, except for a larger porch. A third similar structure was built on 3rd Street, around the corner from White’s, with no porch (but showing the results of time plus neglect). Imagining all three structures newly built in 1890, and then comparing the two neighboring structures with White’s, clearly shows the imagination of a designer/builder working within the vernacular expression of Gothic Revival–a style often referred to as “carpenter gothic”–a useful tag for White’s sensitive work on his family home.

On White’s house, the decorative treatment of the center gable caught this writer’s eye immediately. It jumps out visually in this neighborhood of workmanlike facades–in this case, the workman was an architect. Of special note is the proportion of White’s simple porch in relation to the mass of the facade, resulting in an inviting focus on the front door.

js white story image Detail of the White structure’s symmetrical facade.

Inside, a narrow staircase divides the front part of the house roughly into thirds–a large front room on the left, with a smaller room on the right, and a kitchen beyond the staircase. That kitchen became a dining room when a new kitchen was added in the 1950s. The total area of the first floor today is only 940 square feet. The second floor measures 364 square feet and is divided into two rooms by the staircase landing, which faces the window in the center gable.

Linnie WhiteLinnie White Sprau, 1876-1930. The only known photograph of a White family member .

The White Family.

John and Delia White raised three daughters in this home. Linnie, the eldest, was born around 1876 in Kansas, and was one of the four graduates of Snohomish High School in 1896. She worked as a bookkeeper at the popular grocery store, Bruhn & Henry, and lived in the family home until she married Charles Sprau in 1906. The couple, who had no children, moved to a fruit farm in eastern Washington. In the 1930 census, Linnie was back at the family home, apparently ill and under the care of her mother; she died in May of that year.

Alice, the second daughter, was born in Kansas around 1879, and died of unrecorded causes at the age of 19.

Elsie, the youngest, was born around 1882, also in Kansas. In 1902, she was living in the family home and working as an operator for the Skagit Farmer’s Mutual Telephone Company. Elsie married Charles Roe Hooten, who was also born in Kansas. They had two daughters–Adele, in 1910, and Alice, in 1913. By 1920, the family was living in Seattle, where Elsie died in 1928.

Alice married Orin Lewis, date unknown, and the couple apparently had no children. Nothing further is known about Adele. No obituaries have been found for either granddaughter of J.S. White, bringing a silent end to his genealogical trail.

Delia White remained in the family home on Avenue H until her death on March 6, 1933, one year short of 50 years in Snohomish. Still a member of the Methodist Church that her husband built, Delia was a member of the Rose Rebekah Lodge, which met in the Odd Fellows Hall, also built by her husband. She was laid to rest in the I.O.O.F Cemetery west of town (now known as Woodlawn Cemetery). All four White ladies are interred alongside each other surrounded by decorative iron fence, high on a hill overlooking the Snohomish River.

js white story imageWhite family plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery.

White House Today.

No one knows how many families have lived in the charming house on Avenue H since Delia died, but it was not until 2006 that owners Bethany and Robert Hensley researched and registered the historic home with the Snohomish Historical Society as the J.S. White House.

Bethany led the effort by contacting the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library, where she met the room’s founders, History Specialists Margaret Riddle and David Dilgard. David has been looking into the historic doings of Snohomish over the years, even referring to himself as a “carpetbagger”–but he shares his “loot” and we are grateful.

David knew about the work of J.S. White from our favorite 19th-century newsource, The Eye, when he came across the listing for J.S. White on Avenue H while reassembling a 1905-06 Polk Directory for Snohomish. So he was not only ready to help Bethany when she showed up at the library, but grateful that someone wanted to know more about this man, so instrumental in the building of early Snohomish.

Around this time, David led a walking tour of Snohomish that included this writer. The first time I had heard the name J.S. White was as David pointed out several of White’s buildings on First Street, all of which are included in this account. But the name didn’t mean much to me until a couple of years later, when I was door-belling homes on Avenue H to spread the word of my partner’s run for a seat on the city council.

My memory of seeing the “J.S. White House” historic home sign through a row of white birch trees, and then the whole house as I walked to the front door that first time, has merged with Otto Greule’s dreamy portrait of the home. And to think it could have gone unmarked, still a secret story waiting to be told.

*NOTES: The auditor, J.H. Plaskett, built a hotel at 1st and Avenue D in 1888, for which White was given credit as architect and contractor in his biographical sketch published in the Snohomish Sun, 1891.

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

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Otto Greule photographing the White House, August 2009.

The home of J.S. White is oriented due east, lending itself to an early morning shoot. A few minutes before sunrise, a soft open skylight created a pleasing balance between the home’s exterior, interior, and western sky behind it.

As with virtually all architectural photographs, the chosen viewpoint required precision. The front yard features a mature garden, somewhat limiting the possibilities. I considered putting the camera on the sidewalk in order to show the picket fence and arched gateway, but doing so would have introduced too much foliage and obscured the home itself.

After surveying various angles, I settled on the axial view. Unfortunately, this viewpoint also required a lens of objectionably short or wide angle focal length. Instead, I employed a lens of longer focal length, and then used the sliding back function of the Horseman Superwide camera to record the scene in quadrants. This allowed an angle of coverage similar to that of the wider lens, but without its inherent distortion.

Since this technical camera employs a sliding back to control the geometry of the subject, the optical perspective of the lens remains stationary during the exposures. This eliminates any possible stereoscopic alignment errors during postproduction. I left the front door ajar to help soften the symmetry of the axial view. I placed a single tungsten light inside and aimed it at the glasswork of the door to reveal its tracery.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/4 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

Visit Otto’s website

. . . .

Elwell House

4. Elwell House, 1888

Color Plate 4: Elwell House Photographed by Otto Greule ©2012. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

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Avenue D and 2nd Street, Gilbert Horton, c. 1885.
Elwell built his home on the land partially in view on the left. The group gathered on the right hand side of the image are identified, from the left, as Maggie Black, Zellah Lawry, her son Charles, Sarah Elwell, Olive Getchell, Ella Blackman, and her two-year-old son Clifford. In the background, the group on horseback are gathered in front of Tam Elwell’s Livery.

“E. H. Elwell has purchased two lots on the west side of D street
just above the corner of Second, in Ferguson’s unplatted portion
of the town site (price $400), and will immediately build thereon
a fine two-story dwelling. These are the first lots in this tract
ever sold above Second street.” The Eye, September 17, 1887

“Ed. Elwell’s new and fine residence on Avenue D. is inclosed.”
The Eye, December 10, 1887

The river is “bank full” again this week, mentioned The Eye, December 10, 1887. We can envision Edgar Elwell walking up Avenue D after checking out the river’s level and its speed of flow. The Snohomish River has been Elwell’s business partner, responsible for getting his product to market for nearly 10 years now. Last year, Elwell shipped over a half-million logs downriver, and as 1887 draws to close, the count is looking even brighter.

Edgar Elwell is on his way to view the progress of his new home under construction on Avenue D, just past 2nd Street. There he meets with his wife, Emma, and the architect of their home, J. S. White, who is to give the couple their first walk-through since the structure was enclosed this past week. It’s easy to imagine that it was an exciting time for all, perhaps even for the large crew, who got to take a break.

From the porch, the threesome takes in the view of Tam Elwell’s home and popular livery stable just across the street. Talk could have turned to their first days in Snohomish. White might tell how he and his wife attended their first Washington Masquerade Birthday Ball fresh off the boat in February 1884. The Eye covered the event, and the “Eye-man” took pride in matching the attendees with their costumes: Edgar came as a monk and Emma a snowflake. The Whites escaped notice.

js white story image“Evidences of the steady, rapid and substantial growth of Snohomish
are to be seen in all parts of town, in the shape of fine dwellings
and substantial business blocks. The residence of E. H. Elwell,
recently completed on Avenue D, is one of the finest in the place.
This handsome piece of architecture, planned and built by J.S. White.” The Eye, June 9, 1888

Elwells were big in early Snohomish County, both in number and economic clout. Lumber people to the bone, they migrated from the thinning pine forests of Maine to the land of jaw-dropping giant firs of the Pacific Coast country in Washington Territory beginning in 1858. That’s when John Elwell arrived with his two sons, Tam and John H., in Port Gamble, Washington, to see for themselves if the tales reaching Maine were true. They were at the source of the tales: Captain William C. Talbot and his group of ten men or so, originally from East Machias, Maine, had established a steam sawmill at Port Gamble five years earlier.

John returned to Maine and to his wife, Eliza, in time to be counted in the 1860 census along with their children: Jacob Tamlin, John H., Simon, Sara Ellis, George, Deborah, Susan Harriet, Walter Scott, Edgar and Charles. On the Fourth of July in 1866, the Elwells had another daughter, whom they named Adeliza, perhaps choosing an unusual name because of the occasion.

Sons John H. and Simon were the first Elwells to return to Port Gamble. In 1865, John H. and Susan Smith, a member of the Snohomish tribe, gave birth to a boy they named Charles, the first of six children. They were married a couple of years later, in a ceremony witnessed by a friend who had also married an Indian women. John H. called himself a “rancher” when the Census Enumerator came around in 1889. He died from a brain concussion at only 54 and was survived by his wife and six children.

In 1875, Simon married Mina Gafney, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1861, making her only 14 years old. Consent was given by her mother, as attested by her mark on the marriage license obtained in Seattle. Simon and Mina has two daughters, but Mina sued for divorce in 1889, winning alimony and custody. Simon listed his occupation as “lumberman” until he retired in 1920, living with his daughter’s family in Everett.

Younger brother George O. lived near Simon in 1870 while working in the woods of Snohomish County. In 1878, he also married an Indian woman, Elizabeth Elans, and died young and childless.

In 1871, the year Snohomish was officially named and platted by the Fergusons, John and Eliza joined their sons in Snohomish County. The Elwells established logging operations on the Snoqualmie and Skykomish Rivers, which at their confluence, near today’s Monroe, become the Snohomish River.

The Elwells’ fourth child, Sara Ellis, married a Getchell in Maine with whom she had a daughter in 1869, and the young family moved to Snohomish, perhaps with her parents. Within the next 10 years or so, the Elwell-Getchell union added three more offspring to the mix.

Susan Harriet, arriving in Snohomish County with her parents in 1871, quickly found a man from Maine. John H. Hilton had been in the county since 1865, according to Whitfield, and “in December, 1873, he was married at the old Blue Eagle Hotel at Snohomish, to Susie, a daughter of John Elwell.” The marriage, witnessed by Lucetta and E. C. Ferguson, produced five children, but only two lived to adulthood. Three boys died shortly after birth, two of them on the same day, September 10, 1881, as recorded by Snohomish Historical Society volunteer genealogist, Ann Tuohy, who wonders if there was an epidemic at that time. At that point, the town was between newspapers: Northern Star (1876-1879) and The Eye (1882-1897).

The eighth Elwell child, Walter Scott, was advanced to the Master degree of the Centennial Masonic Lodge in Snohomish on the Fourth of July in 1877. Two years later he married Estella Mary Cyphers, who was born in Illinois 20 years earlier. The couple settled in the Duvall area of Snohomish County, where he was most likely an employee of the family logging enterprises. The Census Enumerator found Walter in Juneau, Alaska, in 1920, still married but living in a rooming house with two other men. It’s assumed he died in Juneau before he could be counted again at age 78.

jswhite story imageLivery Stable, circa 1890
This undated photograph could be of Tam Elwell’s livery operation across the street from Elwell’s new home on Avenue D. The carefully posed image appears to be a promotional piece, evidence that competition between livery operations in early Snohomish was serious business — just as car rental agencies are today.

It seems John and Eliza’s eldest son Jacob Tamlin, called Tam, was the last to migrate west from the Pine Tree State with his wife, Sarah, and their seven children. It was 1876, the year of the nation’s centennial, and an eighth child was born later that year in Snohomish, followed by a ninth two years later. At first, Tam established a log-running business on the Snoqualmie River as part of the family lumbering operations. But his true passion became breeding horses, and over time he owned a well-established livery on Avenue D, just north of his home at number 209.

John and Eliza Elwell’s youngest child, Adeliza, went through life and beyond referred to as “Buddie” – as it is engraved in stone marking her grave in Snohomish’s G.A.R Cemetery. But when she was counted among the living in 1880, she was with her brother Edgar and his first wife, Flora, in Snohomish. Buddie married Arthur Blackman on October 6, 1887. Two years later, they took up residence in a grand home designed and built by J.S. White on the prominent corner of 4th Street and Avenue D.

“Married, at the residence of the bride’s sister, Mrs. E. Elwell, on Thursday March 28, at 1 p.m. – Rev. B.F. Brooks officiating – Mr. Chas F. Elwell and Miss Sophia Roessel.” The Eye, March 30, 1889.

Younger brother Charles listed his work as “farmer” in 1900, living on Avenue D, perhaps in the Elwell house. In 1910, he had a butcher shop in Monroe, was president of the Monroe National Bank, and served on the city council and school board. The couple contributed three children to the Elwell clan. Charles died in 1938, Sophie followed him eight years later, and both are interred at the G.A.R Cemetery, along with their daughter Blanche, who died at the age of seven. All are under the steady watch of a child-sized stone angel – one of the cemetery’s finest monuments.

js white story imageStone angel watching over the Elwells at Snohomish’s G.A.R. Cemetery.

Edgar Elwell continued to be a successful lumberman. Based on records published in The Eye, his business reached the milestone of a million board feet cut in 1894, yet that year he and his family left for Canada. Record keepers found him in 1901, living in the Yukon Territory, working as a placer miner with a reported income of $200 per month. Listed with Edgar and Emma, for the first and only time, was their 16-year-old son, Albert, who was also working as a miner.

Back in Snohomish, Edgar and Emma’s White-built home, sitting on two lots of the now platted Ferguson 2nd Addition, was sold to Elliot and Ella Colburn.

Then, just as 1912 was about to run out of days, a newly arrived architect and contractor, Nels Peter Hansen, purchased Lot 3, in Block 6, from the Colburns for $10 – and the lot came with the southern half of the Elwell house!

js white story image Sanborn Insurance Maps showing how the Elwell House was divided in 1913.

Under the subhead “New Buildings Planned” in the February 14, 1913, issue of The Snohomish Advance was this notice: “N. P. Hansen has purchased a part of the land occupied by the E. Colburn Residence on Avenue D, and will take one wing of the house to be remodeled into an up-to-date cottage.”

Evidently moving structures in the early 1900s was so common that Hansen’s project to separate White’s structure warranted no follow-up story in either one of Snohomish’s two newspapers. Then again, it was not a big job, compared to moving the Methodist Church a block north several years earlier, when no newspaper coverage was found.

In this case, it seems, the southern wing of the home was moved less than 50 feet apart from the parent structure, and then slightly forward of it toward Avenue D.

Hansen removed the old porch and added a graceful front door portico that both echoed the architecture of colonial America and anticipated the style’s continued popularity. Hansen also removed the eave brackets, the Italianate touches that White doubled up on compared to Getchell’s house, resulting in the “clean look” of the future.

Hansen and his wife, Augusta, raised six children in their new home, while he went on to design and build many of the larger homes still standing in the residential blocks of the historic district, along with several civic buildings in the 1920s. They were living in the “divided” home when Augusta died in 1938; Nels Peter, still speaking with a thick Danish accent, lived another six years.

In the meantime, Edgar Elwell had moved to California, where his name shows up on the voter’s records of 1928. He was living in Emeryville, still a miner, and registered as a Republican. The 1930 census has Edgar living in Township 5, Lake County, California, divorced but still mining, this time for mercury. Listed as Edward, he died on March 2, 1940, in Ferndale, Washington, at the age of eighty-five. No obituary has been found. Snohomish’s G.A.R Cemetery records show that his remains were laid to rest alongside Emma’s on March 5, 1940.

jswhite story image
The two homes pictured in 1973.

The parent home, on the right, was purchased by Ruth Brodigan in 1919, then sold to her daughter’s family, Stan and Ruth Dubuque, in 1940. Stan’s father came to Snohomish in 1868 and established a small town to the north called Dubuque, but only Dubuque Road survives the short-lived settlement based on harvesting lumber. Stan, who worked for many years as the Snohomish County Auditor, and Ruth were instrumental in establishing the Snohomish Historical Society in 1969 and then by contributing to the history of the town in the society’s two-volume publication, “River Reflections.”

js white story imageLorely Sterley, the owner of the home in 2009, generously opened “The Dubuque House” for the Snohomish Historic Homes Tour presented by the Snohomish Historical Society celebrating its 40th Year Anniversary.

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Special thanks to Ann Tuohy for her wonderful genealogy workup: “The Elwell Family of Snohomish County,” dated April 23, 2015, and available at the Snohomish Historical Society Archives.

Edited by Susan Geib

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I photographed the east facing Elwell House in early May, shortly after sunrise. By shooting with the sun barely above the horizon, a soft open skylight envelops the once-joined structures, allowing detail to be recorded in all areas. The first rays of direct sunlight add accent, gracing the eaves and brackets.

I positioned the camera so that the corners of the hipped roof and arched portico would intersect the adjoining house as harmoniously as possible, while not obscuring the center of the fanlight window. I slid the back of the Horseman technical camera about one centimeter to the left to reduce the horizontal convergence of the structures.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5,
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/15 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

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