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.
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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C. 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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Hon. 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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Mary 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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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.
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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.
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