“One day this week we were shown the plans of what, when completed, will be one of the finest residences in Snohomish – the property of Joe Getchell. The main part will be 24 x 30 feet, two stories high, with a one story addition, 14 x 18. J. S. White, the architect, will commence work upon the building with a few weeks. It will occupy that sightly location on Mr. Getchell’s lots at the corner of C and Second Streets.” The Eye, April 2, 1887
From a glass-plate negative, Snohomish Historical Society Archives.
Reaching the age of majority in 1864, Joseph E. Getchell, the tenth child of George Stillman and Taphene Longfellow (yes, that Longfellow) sets out from his home in Machias, Maine, to follow the trail of his older brother, Martin, who headed out for the Washington Territory seven years earlier.
To get from the far northeast corner of the nation to the far northwest, Getchell travels via the Isthmus of Panama. “The voyage was without particular incident,” according to his biographical sketch in An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish County. After 15 years of dramatic stories told by the forty-niners of the California gold rush, an aura of adventure lingers around this sea-land-sea route. In Getchell’s experience, he catches the morning departure of the Panama Railroad to Panama City, which converts a difficult 7-to-10-day journey into a one day, most-of-the-time, scenic train ride – one you can still take today. Since 1855, when the Panama Railroad was completed, the journey from the East Coast to California has been cut to about 40 days, according to the many contemporary travel guides.
Martin Getchell, by contrast, took a “long, dangerous trip from the other side of the continent” to Puget Sound country in 1857—no mention of the particulars of his overland route. Martin arrived just in time to catch the 1858 Fraser River gold rush fever, and he followed the action to what is now British Columbia for the cure. Fortunately, by 1864, when Joe arrives in the Snohomish River Valley, Martin has returned and is helping claim holders Ferguson and Sinclair clear timber for the town site of Snohomish
The Getchell brothers’ reunion was short but intense, as Martin surely told Joe of his intention to make the Snohomish River Valley his home and that he was returning to Maine for his wife, Olive Ireland.
In the meantime, the Getchells’ 29-year-old-sister, Margaret made her way west alone via the Isthmus of Panama to marry her childhood friend Eugene D. Smith in San Francisco on June 5, 1869. Smith was a lumberman and claim holder of the future town site of Lowell. Three years later, in 1872, with Snohomish officially named and platted, the Smiths and Getchells are platting Lowell, located at a picturesque bend in the Snohomish River, six miles downriver from Snohomish.
Unfortunately, it was around this time that the lumber market in the valley hits the doldrums and Joe’s work in the woods stalls. Taking advantage of the situation, he bids his extended family farewell, returns to Maine – and is back two years later with a wife.
Pherlissa Smith, the daughter of a Maine farming family, is seven years younger than Joe. Their long journey, most likely by train and steamship, ends with an eight-mile trip up the Snohomish River, accompanied by the loud din of the steamship engine and surrounded on both sides with dark woods. The couple disembark at the budding town of Lowell where a tremendous welcome is easy to imagine.
The newlyweds remain with their extended family in the Lowell area for a short while, and Joe finds work as a teamster or ox-driver, but they eventually settle in Snohomish, purchasing several lots around the intersection of 2nd Street and Avenue C from E. C. Ferguson. Pherlissa joins the Ladies Union Sewing Society that meets in the Ferguson home and she is selected for the committee on work, according to Whitfield’s recollection. In 1884, Pherlissa becomes one of the county’s first women jurors.
Joe Getchell is one of 13 charter members of the Masons’ Centennial Lodge No. 25, to whom the Getchells sell their southeast lot at 2nd Street and Avenue C for $100 for the construction of the lodge building. Six years later, the Getchells sell their southwest lot, across from the Mason’s meeting place, to the Odd Fellows organization for its hall.
Evidently Joe was impressed with J.S. White’s work for the Odd Fellows — since one year to the month following the dedication of the structure in 1886, Joe shows White’s plans for his and his wife’s grand new home to the editor of The Eye. White’s first private commission was from a private man — one who owned no business, nor served in public office — but who wanted to make an impression nevertheless.
Perhaps it was for Pherlissa. When Mrs. Getchell arrived in 1874, the number of white women could be counted on two hands and it seems she took on a leading role, overcoming what must have been a feeling of cultural isolation living so far from the east coast. Pherlissa is described in the 1906 Illustrated History of Snohomish and Skagit County as “one of the pioneer women in the winning of the woods of Snohomish county to the uses of the white race.”
By the time the Getchells moved in to their new home ten years later, at the top of the gentle slope rising up from the river, the population had nearly doubled to 800, consisting of 150 to 200 families and 200 to 300 loggers living in the area of Snohomish.
Many of the homes built in early Snohomish were essentially one story structures, with a second floor tuck in under the roof, what we call today, a finished attic. With the design of Getchell’s home, White built a full two-story home — a visual partner to his Odd Fellows Hall, kitty-corner across 2nd Street. Roof pitches echo each other, as well as, the deep eaves with decorative brackets, and the tall, narrow windows. Images of architectural family members can be found in the section titled: “Romantic Houses: Italianate,” with most of the relatives residing on the other side of the country.
Looking at the structure today, and knowing the story of how it came to be, it’s easy to imagine the home as an architectural homage to the love of a woman and a connection to family roots planted so far away.
To Joe, it was home for nearly 40 years, until his death on May 10, 1925, at 77. The headline of his obituary, published a few days later in the Snohomish County Tribune: “Joseph Getchell Suddenly Taken” was written by Masonic Brother Whitfield, who tells us nothing promised by the headline, instead: “He was an ardent Republican. He never apologized for any position he took and never hesitated to give speech to what his heart believed although at times, in language more forcible than polite.”
Pherlissa lived for another six years. There is no record of the couple having children. A story of heartbreak told between the lines, perhaps, since we guess that the large home was built with the pioneer expectation of family:
“O you daughters of the west!
O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!
Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,
Pioneers! O pioneers!”
The current owner, Dean Broome, lived in White’s Getchell House while growing up. In 1976, when he and his siblings had all moved out, his father converted the structure into a maze of seven units that he called the Bell Castle Inn. Even the third-floor attic rooms, with their arched windows, have been converted into cozy units each with its own bath. Dean took over the property following his father’s death in the 1990s and it no longer bears the moniker of an inn. Dean talks wishfully of converting it back to the single-family home he remembers – until he considers all the bathtubs and kitchen sinks that would have to be removed.
Dean had no idea who J. S. White was–or his connection to the Broome family property–until we met in 2008. He had just painted the large house a shade of soft gray similar to the color of the Odd Fellows Hall across the street, and both properties are well maintained. Perhaps both owners have an intuitive understanding that their historic properties are the last defense against the seemly self-propagating parking lots taking over the intersection.
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Edited by Susan Geib
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OTTO’S PHOTOGRAPHY NOTES:
I shot this perspective view of the Getchell House’s west facade about one hour before sunset, allowing direct but diffuse sunlight to envelop the bracketed eave with a soft modeling effect. I extended the tripod to near its maximum height in order to prevent the plane of the porch’s roof from obscuring the upper story windows, and to minimize the hedge in the foreground.
Since the 35mm lens I was using did not cover quite enough area from top to bottom, I employed the sliding back function of the Horseman Superwide camera to create a two-part stitched image. With the back configured horizontally, I made the primary exposure of the house, and then lowered the back about a half centimeter to make the second exposure recording the clouds above the highest gable point.
Water was applied to the driveway at lower left to darken it down and add some reflection from the white lattice and pickets along the porch. A vibrantly colored sign on the neighboring house at left was partially desaturated.
Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5,
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/15 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.f
Thanks to the Snohomish Library staff for help with the genealogy of Joseph and Pherlissa Getchell. And to Dean Broome contacted by phone.