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.

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

Edited by Susan Geib

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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.

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