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.

. . . .