js white story image

Prologue: February 1884

Above: Stern-wheeler Nellie at Ferguson’s Wharf, 1877.
The building behind Ferguson’s is Cathcart’s Exchange Hotel; and, the dirt path to the right is Avenue D — much improved by the the time the White family arrived seven years later.

“Carpenter’s are scarce.” The Eye, May 11, 1883

John S. White arrives in Snohomish aboard a paddle wheel steamship followed by a weak wake of records going back to his birth in 1845 in Tamworth, New Hampshire.

Census, 1870: Age 25, single, house carpenter, living in Walnut, Kansas, in a hotel kept by his future wife’s brother, Charles Lamb.

Marriage, 1871: To Delia R. Lamb, in Kansas.

Census, 1880: Age 35, carpenter, wife Delia, daughters Linnie and Alice, living in Topeka, Kansas.

White, age 39, is standing on the wharf with his family, now including a third daughter, Elise, along with trunks of household goods. Standing, watching, and being watched — for an instant, the family serves as evidence that there is life outside Snohomish.

js white story image
Village of Snohomish, Photo by Gilbert Horton c.1885.
Looking east up Front Street from Avenue D. Atheneum Hall on the left, and Plaskett’s Hotel on the right. Note the 100 foot tall flag pole center right.

The White’s new home town is a small, self-sustaining settlement of only four blocks, surrounded on three sides by thick forests. It’s sited in the sunshine on the gentle slope of the south-facing bank of the river that gave this place its name. Located some dozen miles upriver from its fast-growing rival, the port city of Everett on Port Gardner Bay. Snohomish has been the county seat since 1861, and it recently opened its second roller skating rink.

But there is only one church, Presbyterian. That church has a bell, reported the Seattle Herald in January 1884, as told by William Whitfield in his History of Snohomish County. The Seattle paper describes Snohomish as an old town, of about 700 inhabitants, with a two-story courthouse, several new buildings including the Blackman Brothers’ sawmill, which produced 20,000 feet of lumber daily. Other products are listed — fruits, hay — and of course the skating rinks are mentioned — “there being two rinks, three lawyers, two doctors and The Eye.” We would add a literary society that built a grand, two-story building called Atheneum Hall, housing a museum and library; a hotel across the street; a baseball team; a two-room school house meant for 60 students, but serving 80; and six saloons.

js white story image
John and Christina Harvey, Co-Founders of the Union Presbyterian Church, 1877.
The Harvey’s and a dozen other charter members were successful in establishing and building the first church of Snohomish on 2nd Street at Avenue A.

John and Christina Harvey were charter members of the first church built in Snohomish in 1877. John, a Brit and refugee from the Seattle Indian wars of 1855, found his way up the Snohomish River in 1860 to purchase the claim of rich bottom land on the south side of the river, across from town, where he built a farm. When it came time to marry the local midwife, Christina Noble, the couple made the two-day journey by boat to Seattle for a ceremony in the Presbyterian church there. They returned with the goal of establishing and building the first church of Snohomish. In 1887, with the help of several other charter members, the Union Presbyterian Church opened for business on 2nd Street at Avenue A.

Darius Kinsey, 1892

Logger’s Bunkhouse by Darius Kinsey, 1892

Seven years passed before there was documented talk of another church in Snohomish. The riverfront town was essentially a men’s club, a drifting population of strangers, largely indifferent to moral and religious codes, in and out of town with only the overcrowded logging camp bunkhouse to call home. Finally, in the spring of 1883, the presiding elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Puget Sound Region, traveled upriver by hired Indian canoe to Snohomish, where he met with several families eager to build a Methodist church.


“The Methodists of this place have purchased the vacant lot on the corner of C and Third streets and will shortly erect a church thereon.” The Eye, April 12, 1884.

We have no record of the case made to the elder. Perhaps he was told that the experienced carpenter J. S. White was on his way to design and build the structure? In any event, the elder left impressed. Come August, the small congregation was notified that Reverend W. H. Johnson was assigned as their pastor.

Among the 20 or so members of the new church were Isaac N. Mudgett and his wife. Mudgett was a bootmaker by trade, but soon added his own shingle mill to the cluster of small operations around Snohomish. And in 1885 the Mudgetts built a home on the corner of Avenue H and 4th Street, just three doors north of where White would eventually build his own. Mudgett and White were born in the same New Hampshire town, and White arrived with his family a couple of months before the new congregation purchased land for their church. Let’s assume that J. S. White brought his family from Kansas, most likely by train to Seattle, then a two-day trip by steamer to the edge of America’s frontier, to build the Methodists a church.

. . . .

NOTES:
John S. and Delia (Lamb) White, Genealogy by Ann Tuohy, Snohomish Historical Society Archives;
History of Snohomish County ed. by William Whitfield (Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926);
Harvey, John (1828-1886): An Account of His Life by By Eldon Harvey (1984) and Donna Harvey (2004)

Edited by Susan Geib