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.

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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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