lot wilbur drug store

7. Wilbur Block, 1889

The Only Two-Story Brick Building in Snohomish County.

“In the spring of 1875, Lot Wilbur, the pioneer druggist, came from Minnesota, and on Thanksgiving day of that year located in Snohomish, then a small place containing less than a score of buildings. He immediately commenced business with a stock of druggists sundries, in the building from which he removed this week to the handsome quarters in his new brick block, which occupies the original site of the old building.

His brick block is the first ever erected in Snohomish county for mercantile purposes. It is a handsome structure having a frontage of 24 feet; is 65 feet deep, two stories with a basement nine feet in the clear under the entire building. The store room in the first story is 14 feet in the clear, and the second story 12 feet. The latter is divided into six commodious rooms; W.P. Bell occupying the two in front as a law office and Dr. Starr and family the remaining rooms for office and residence.

The brick work on the building was done by E. Bast & Son in their usually substantial and permanent manner. The carpenter work was done by J.S. White, the well known contractor, who fitted up everything in a skillful and elegant manner. The store room front is of galvanized iron, with plate glass doors and windows. The two larger windows are each composed of one piece of solid plate glass 146 inches by 64 inches in size; the glass alone for the front costing $340.

The store room is not excelled in convenience or in its style of finish by any drug store of the northwest. It has shelves and counters along each side, with prescription case of ample dimensions across the back end. The shelves, counters and case have an oil finish, done on native woods, and present a fresh, neat and attractive appearance. The painting, varnishing, gilding and oil finish was done for the whole building in first class style by Bunsow & Martill. The total cost of the building, including shelving, counters etc., for the drug store, will exceed $7,000. Mr. Wilbur is putting in some $600 besides that in new shelf bottles and other fixtures needed in his store. He is now opening up in his new quarters, with at least twice that carried in the old building, and has conveniences for carrying a stock many times greater than that formerly carried by him.

Mr. Wilbur is to be congratulated in having earned and secured such splendid quarters for business. He has not only well earned but amply deserves them by his skill as a druggist and his many good qualities as a business man and public spirited citizen of this community. His many friends rejoice with us over his good fortune.”
Published in The Eye, November 16, 1889.


lot wilburJennie and Lot Wilbur were married in 1868 in Michigan and found their way to Snohomish selling insurance. Instead, they were sold on Snohomish and opened their first drugstore on December 18, 1875, recording $2.50 in receipts. Their union produced no children; but 13 years later they commissioned White to build the first two story brick building in the county as home to Wilbur’s Remedies, which were known throughout the area. Around the turn of the century, the Wilburs built a new building at the corner of 1st and Union and joined the Rexall chain of drugstores. Jennie died in 1919 and Lot followed 11 years later.

Right. A prescription written by Dr. Folsom for Geo. Blackman, Arthur’s father, on January 8, 1879.

milwaukee road depotGoodwill Tour, 1912. “You can’t miss Snohomish if you come over the Milwaukee,” read the white ribbons worn by members of the Commercial Club inaugurating passenger service.

Wilbur Block’s Second Life as a Depot.

It was supposed to be a temporary depot until the Milwaukee Road could build its own. That was in 1911, and the Wilbur Block was still the depot in 1930, when railroad passenger service to Everett was replaced by an eight-cylinder Studebaker bus. Milwaukee Road moved its freight operations to the Great Northern tracks on the other side of the river. The steel rails were removed from the wooden trestle and sold for scrap to Japan, so the railroad lore goes — but the brisk American scrap metal business with Japan continued until Roosevelt declared an embargo late in 1940.

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Then and Now Views behind the Wilbur Block.

The Wilbur Block Today.

“No one connected with the Post today remembers when it was purchased,” American Legion Post Commander Pat Guyot told us in 2010 during a tour of the second floor with Milwaukee Road historian, Allen Miller. In the room that was once the the kitchen of the station agent’s residence hangs wallpaper that was probably installed by Kent Gill, , the last Milwaukee Railroad station agent, said Miller. Most of the second floor is empty today, with just a few boxes of supplies. The first floor, all 1,500 square feet, is a members-only bar, while the basement serves as the meeting room. The 700-square-foot cinder block addition on the east side was added in the 1950s without concern of how it looked from the street.

In 2006, the Snohomish Riverside Trail was dedicated. It was created thanks to a grant from the Department of Transportation to memorialize the route of the railroad that once ran along the rear of the former drugstore-turned-depot. Not only did it serve passengers, but a spur was added, where the parking lot is today, for servicing box cars.

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The Wilbur Block, 1973, American Legion Post #96.

It was around this time that we were invited to met with the Post’s membership in their basement meeting room, to make the case for the restoration of their historic treasure, the oldest brick building still standing in the county, in addition to its history as the first drugstore.

First on the list would be to bring back the storefront glass windows as shown in the historic photo. “That would be against the law,” a member said. Assuming he was referring to Washington State Blue Laws, we reminded him that Oxford Saloon once had storefront windows similar to theirs and were still in business with a restored storefront of full height windows. “They are violating the law,” the same man said with the certainty of a storyteller.

It wasn’t until writing these words, a decade later, that we wondered if there was a law at one time that regulated the size of tavern windows. After all, a full storefront of glass, revealing a tavern full of people drinking, could be considered by some in the Temperance Movement as “drinking in public,” and would push for regulations of the Washington State Liquor Control Board to specify the exposure to drinking in a tavern.

But no law was found, either state or local; instead, only a ruse by the membership to avoid doing the right thing. This writer has joined the American Legion in order to advocate from the inside for the importance of historic restoration.

. . . .


Edited by Susan Geib

Blackman Store, Snohomish

6. Blackman Store, 1889

Color Plate 6: Blackman Store Photographed by Otto Greule ©2010. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

On December 3, 1885, the week before young Arthur M. Blackman arrived in town, The Eye ran a front page story suggesting that an “enterprising individual start a white laundry at this place. We believe the laundry would be made the best paying business in town, and that one mouth [sic] after its establishment there would not be a pagan rat-eater here.” The diatribe continues, winding up for the final pitch: “An excellent opportunity for investment awaits someone.”

AM Blackman

Published in The Sun, 1891

Wonder if Arthur saw it?

He was an ambitious young man, only 20 years old, who had worked for four years in a hardware store before leaving the family home in Oakland, California, to take a job in his cousin’s new general store; and three years later, he is building his own two-story building on 1st Street.

Arthur was born in Penobscot County, Maine, to George and Francis Blackman on November 23, 1865. His father was in the lumber business, as was his uncle Adam, and we imagine that his grandfather Bradley was as well. Arthur’s biographical sketch in An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties reads in part: “The elder Blackman sprang from an old line Dutch pioneer family of the Pine Tree State.”

Evidently, by the early 1870s, the pine forests of Maine were thinning out and logging operations were going belly-up, including those of the extended Blackman family. Uncle Adam’s boys, Alanson, Elhanan, and Hyrcanus, along with their wives and one baby, left for the Pacific Coast in 1872; George, with his wife and their children, Nina and Arthur, landed first in Michigan before migrating on to California where the family settled in Oakland around 1876.

Following a start in Port Gamble at the Pope and Talbot Mill on the Kitsap Peninsula, Hyrcanus and his brothers settled in Snohomish, where they bloomed, eventually leading the development of the lumber industry, and more, in Snohomish County.

Blackman Store, Front and Avenue C, 1885. Courtesy UW Special Collections #21898

For example, the Blackman Bros. opened a two-story general store that our contemporaneous historian, Whitfield, referred to as a “major event of 1885.” Arthur was the acting manager. His older sister, Nina, who has no biographical sketch, was most likely already living in Snohomish, since she had also been called upon by the Snohomish cousins to serve in the town’s new two-room school house as a primary teacher. Both siblings were married in 1887, Nina to Charles Bakeman, furniture maker and undertaker, on June 20th; and on October 6th, Arthur married into the Elwell family with his marriage to Adeliza, who went by the nickname “Buddie.”

Local Eye-tems.

In addition to the siblings’ marriages, 1887 was marked by the opening of the first bank in Snohomish County in August. Originally a private institution owned by J. Furth, a prominent Seattle banker, within a year it was reorganized as the First National Bank of Snohomish. Moreover, it built its own building, the first brick structure in the county, two doors west of the second brick building–in progress at the time–Lot Wilbur’s Drugstore, which has survived and is included in this account.

In April 1888, “W. P. Bell, as attorney for the citizens, returned from Seattle with an order from Judge Jones authorizing the incorporation of Snohomish,” writes Whitfield in his History of Snohomish County. The trustees met to appoint officers and set salaries. Marshal C.M. Jordan, for example, was to receive $20 per month, with $2 for each arrest. Most important, liquor licenses were fixed at $500, which netted $2,500 for the city coffers in its first year of incorporation. A spending spree seems to have followed: new sidewalks were ordered* and grading contracts were let, along with a contract for the First Street bridge replacement, and there was talk of an expensive wagon bridge over the Snohomish River.

And that summer, a second newspaper was established, bearing the masthead “The Sun,” owned by a man named Head. While the dawn of a second newspaper marked the growth of the city, noted Whitfield, it did not make for “harmonious action by its citizens.” Our man on the scene is most likely referring to the bitter re-incorporation face-off a couple of years later, following the establishment of Washington’s statehood in 1889.

Blackman Store
A.M.Blackman’s Store. Published in The Northwest Magazine, August 1890.

A. M. BLACKMAN’S NEW BUILDING, into which he is moving and will open the largest stock of groceries north of Seattle, is acknowledged to be one of the handsomest and most commodious grocery stores in the northwest.” The Eye, June 6, 1889

Blackman store

Blackman’s Store, date unknown

Only the name of the building has changed over the years. The original footprint remains to this day: 36 feet wide by 61 feet long. The false-front facade’s architectural details are all in place, just as architect J.S. White specified over 125 years ago. Photographer Otto Greule has captured the high summer light of the rising sun as it paints the facade with descriptive shadows, especially of the top cornice brackets.

It’s worth the short walk to view the rear of the building, which is down a steep alley that ends in a gulley, referred to in the early newspapers as “Union Avenue Gulch.” On this site in 1893, two men dug a tunnel through the hill between the gulch and the river – referred to as a “hogback” in this account: “Work began yesterday on the tunnel from the gulley to the river under Avenue A. Two men are at work with shovels and seem to find the digging easy. They are on the riverside of the hogback and from the direction in which the tunnel is started, it would be judged that they will come out in the rear of Blackman’s grocery store.”

The finished tunnel was 200 feet long, 4-and-a-half feet in diameter, and while the digging was easy, “an immense amount of timber would be required, and they put in 41,796 feet of it,” The Eye reported in the same account on October 5, 1893. Consequently, the estimated cost of $700 ballooned to nearly double–$1,300–when the tunnel was declared finished.

The emergency need for the tunnel was created in response to a cave-in on 1st Street. “Blackman Lake broke loose and sent a flood of water down the ravine which has its terminus at Avenue A and First street,” reported The Eye, May 11, 1893. A narrow culvert, designed to carry the water to the river, got choked up and the water flowed under 1st Street, undermining the planking and making the street impassable for horse drawn wagons. The water also backed up in the gulch, “which was turned into a lake deep enough to float a man-of-war,” the colorful report continued.

The Northwest Magazine’s illustration of the structure shows a porch on the rear, but there is no evidence today that there ever was one. Blackman probably had second thoughts of how often he would use a porch overlooking an open stormwater sewer.

The Ravine’s Imaginative History.

The geology that separates the east and western claims establishing Snohomish features a 30-foot-deep memory of the Vashon Glacial Period that ended 10,000 years ago. The resulting ravine was the runoff route from Blackman Lake (first called “Stillaguamish”) to the Snohomish River. It’s sometimes referred to as “Blackman Creek,” or “Ferguson Creek,” but officially today, it’s “Swifty Creek” – a name of hope and promise. Much of the runoff from Blackman Lake has been diverted to the Pilchuck River at 6th Street, but the remaining stormwater still occasionally backs up at blocked culverts buried years ago, but which are now under private property improved with homes.

In 1906, a couple of investors from the East inquired if they could be given permission “to dig a canal, connecting Blackman’s lake with the Snohomish River, using a system of locks, build bathhouses, provide them with hot and cold water service, have a resort for the entertainment of pleasure seekers,” continued the pitch in the December 14, 1906, issue of the Tribune. The Union Avenue Gulch must have been an impressive site just one month following a flood that “Reaches the Highest Stage Known to White Man,” as the paper’s headlines screamed on November 16th. Yet the Tribune supported the investor’s dream with this existential argument: “Make the city more beautiful and attractive, enjoy the comforts that this good old world offers now, for you may be a long time dead.”

The resort never came to pass, but that didn’t dampen residents’ imagination. A couple of decades later, The Lions Club, 29 members strong, “appointed Pat Crane chairman of a committee to investigate the feasibility of a plan to establish a swim tank in the Union Ave. gulch,” reported the Tribune, May 2, 1929. A week later, it was announced that $1,200 had been raised for the swim tank, but the following week an estimate was reported to be $15,000, and that was the last mention of locating a swim tank in the gulch.

oxford tavern 1950s
Oxford Tavern, 1950s. Courtesy Snohomish Historical Society.

From Grocery Store to Pool Hall to Tavern.

Change on the inside is a different story. Blackman’s establishment didn’t remain a grocery store for long. Referring again to Arthur’s biographical sketch, “His business was the largest in the city and he was prosperous until the financial distress of 1894 forced him to the wall by reason of his extension of credit to men who were unable to meet their obligations with him.” He closed the store quietly, however–no oversize ads announcing going-out-of-business sales have been found. Just this item from the July 5, 1894, issue of The Eye: “The guessing contest inaugurated by A.M. Blackman, the grocer, who awarded a handsome dinner set to the person making the closest guess as to the number of grains of wheat contained in the big tin kettle which has been hung from the end of his sign in front of store, was participated in by 985 guessers. A committee of four counted the grains, and the number was found to be 1,610,512. The dinner set was awarded to Mrs. Elhanan Blackman, whose guess was 1,609,340.”

According to David Dilgard in his walking tour, the building was used to sell furniture, then shoes, until it was renamed the Oxford Pool Hall during Prohibition, and apparently began its career as tavern during the Second World War. It still takes 26 steps to reach the second floor of this wooden building constructed of 8×8 inch posts. The extraordinarily high ceiling gives the 2000-square-foot-space a grandness that seems more fitting to its current use as a saloon than to its original role as the largest grocery store in 19th-century Snohomish. The layout of the second floor–five small offices and a bathroom–is original except for the two front units overlooking 1st Street, which have been merged into one building-wide space that is currently home to a beauty salon. The basement is where the pool tables ended up, accessed from inside the first floor, but it’s often closed these days for lack of patrons.

The Snohomish County Assessor’s field notes reach back only to 1971, when Elma Snow is listed as the owner of the Oxford Tavern. The notes contain repeated observations of leaning walls and uneven ceilings due to a sinking foundation in the soft soil. Local second-generation entrepreneur Scott Swoboda purchased the failing structure, and by 1992 the assessor’s field notes read: “Revalue bldg, been gutted out, major foundations problems being worked on.” Swoboda, who was using the interior for his furniture business, sold the renovated building in 2005 to an owner who brought back the food and alcohol but was required to change “tavern” to “saloon” if he wanted family members of all ages to eat together. The “blue laws” of Washington State dipped into architectural design by prohibiting full storefront glass windows with a direct view of people drinking, which explains the 1950s look of White’s building today.

The law has since been repealed, returning the essential function of glass storefronts to that of reflecting the community back to itself as people walk by – the historical roots of our contemporary selfie craze, perhaps? One more act would make the restoration of the A.M. Blackman’s Grocery Store building complete – bringing back its original name.

. . . .

NOTES: “A sidewalk to connect the Clay addition with the rest civilization is being built on Second Street.” The Eye, January 12, 1889

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

The north face of The Oxford receives direct sunlight from about mid March to late September. This photograph was made in July, with the sun at an oblique angle on the azimuth, and at 12 degrees declination. The angle of the light was critical in accentuating the qualities of the venerable storefront, including the oxen yoke above the entry, an important decorative feature.

Preliminary scouting photos revealed that the oxen yoke becomes indiscernible when lit by the open shade of afternoon light, as it visually merges into the similarly toned window behind it. By shooting at a time of day when direct sunlight grazes the yoke but not the window, its shape is clearly defined.

The oblique early morning light also helped to reveal the lead work in the windows, and define the brackets along the cornice, whose shapes are otherwise diminished due to the axial viewpoint. The repetition of shadows lends a hint to their design.

A large white promotional banner was removed from above the red door, and the positioning of the flower barrels and benches were adjusted for balance. The parking spaces were temporarily restricted.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Lens: Canon 45mm Tilt/Shift, Exposure: 1/15 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

. . . .

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5. White House, 1888

Color Plate 5: White House by Otto Greule ©2009. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Leave it to an obituary to fill in the details of a person’s early years. J.S. White’s two obituaries, published in October 1920, both agreed that he and his family arrived in Snohomish in February 1884. Three months later, his lease with H.D. and Mary Morgan for the “premises” at 1st and Avenue C “for the term of five years, to commence the first day of April, 1884, at the monthly rent of Eight (8) dollars,” was registered by the Snohomish County Auditor, J.H. Plaskett,* on May 19, 1884. Five months later, on October 13, Plaskett registered White’s payment in the “… sum of two hundred and thirteen (213) dollars” to W. S. Clay and his wife, Anna, for four lots in Block One of Clay’s second addition. But it would take four years for the busy Mr. White to build a home for his family on this property.

js white story imageDetail from the 1890 Bird’s-Eye View of Snohomish showing the location of Clay’s Additions on the left. Ferguson’s Additions are center and the Sinclair Additions are on the right, eastend of town.

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Detail: 310 Avenue H

The Whites moved into their new home at 310 Avenue H in 1888, the same year that the train arrived in Snohomish. We trust the move for the family went more smoothly than the first train trip. The Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad follows the lake shores through Seattle, then north alongside Lake Washington, continuing on the high ground bordering the Snohomish River Valley, until the river bends west, crossing the path of the train. Here the train stopped until a bridge was built across the river.

The legal battle between the two railroad companies wanting to come through town – the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern from the south and a Canadian company from the north – didn’t stop plans for a grand public reception to welcome the “Seattle excursionists” to Snohomish on July 3, 1888. Carriages picked up the passengers and brought them across the river on George Tompkins’ ferry for a public reception in Atheneum Hall. Although the return service to Seattle was scheduled for 6 p.m., many visitors wanted to remain in town for the free grand ball that evening. This was, perhaps, in part, because first-class accommodations were available at the recently opened Penobscot Hotel on 1st, built in anticipation of accommodating a new class of visitors arriving by train.

Penobscott Snohomish

“Let’er Boom!”

A year earlier, April 23, 1887, The Eye, anticipating the investment dollars headed toward Snohomish with the railroad, boasted at the top of a front page story: “Let’er Boom!” J.S. White moved west just in time for Snohomish’s boom years.

mary low sinclair snohomish

Mary Low Sinclair

G. H. Pennington’s paint job was not yet dry on the Elwell House, and White was building a large home for Mrs. M. L. Packard on the other side of town. Better known on the history pages as Mary Low Sinclair, she was the trustee for her children’s ownership of the eastern claim platted by her husband before his unexpected death in 1872. The first school building was built on lots donated by the Sinclairs, but it was old and already too small in 1888, when White was commissioned to draw up plans for a new school building. “The plans as drawn by J.S. White are for a two story structure 44×72 feet, with four large rooms and as many recitation rooms and wardrobes,” reported The Eye, August 11, 1888.

Another White project was described in the December 15, 1888, issue of The Eye: “One day this week we were shown the plans of the fine brick block which L. Wilbur will erect in the spring to replace his old drug store on the corner of first and C streets. Its dimensions will be 24×65 feet, with two stories and a basement. The store room will be 23×40, with plate glass front; the office and work room occupying the rear of the first floor. The second floor, reached by stairways at front and rear, will be divided into six commodious rooms, all of which are engaged for offices. The building is to be completed by July 1st.”

Then this notice appeared on December 29, 1888: “E.C. Ferguson this week sold a portion of the lot at the corner of 1st and A streets with 25 feet frontage on the former street, to J.S. White, the architect and builder; for $40 a front foot.”

In the same issue, we read that Ferguson also sold 1st Street frontage, 68 feet for $20 a foot, to A.M. Blackman. According to the report, “Mr. B. will erect a store thereon and have it ready for occupancy by April 1st.” Perhaps it was not known at the time, but White got the job, plus the commission to build a home for Mr. B. on Avenue D.

And in White’s neighborhood, the Clay Addition, he was finishing up a “neat seven room cottage for J. P. Smith,” as described in the June 9, 1888, issue of The Eye. Perhaps it was during the long days of summer when White built his own home? Or maybe it was built over time, over the several summers since he purchased the lots? We can only imagine and wonder at the busy life of Mr. White since moving his family to Snohomish four short years ago.

Illustrated Snohomish.

“At special meeting of the village trustees Tuesday evening, D.D. Fagan for the Illustrated History Co.submitted a proposition to publish a lithographic view of Snohomish, 14×18 inches, for $250 and furnish 500 extra lithographs for general distribution.”
The Eye, May 26, 1888.

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Bird’s-Eye View of Snohomish, 1990, a popular 19th-century promotion for many cities.

Not all trustees wanted to fork over the $250. Shop owner Samuel Vestal wanted the principal roads graded and sidewalks built before paying out such a large sum on advertising–which was championed by E.C. Ferguson of the Ferguson Land Company. Mr. Fagan’s proposal won the day, helped by the “The Eye-man,” who stepped up to print 1,500 copies as a supplement. How the Sun Publishing Company, The Eye’s competitor, ended up publishing the illustration (a copy of which is held by Library of Congress), remains a mystery.

The amazingly accurate bird’s-eye view shows clearly how Clay’s Additions on the left, west of town, are separated from the center of Snohomish by the undeveloped lots owned by Ferguson. The May 19, 1888, issue of The Eye recorded Ferguson’s statement: “… that when the line of branch railroad to the mill is definitely located, he will plat and put upon the market the tract of land lying between Avenue D and the Clay addition.” The Eye-man shows restraint by not pointing out how the illustration of Snohomish is excellent advertising indeed for Ferguson’s land business, helped along by public dollars.

js white story imageDetail showing White’s treatment of the vernacular center gable.

WHITE’S MODEST HOME, located in the west end of Snohomish, is a one and half-story center gabled structure with a symmetrical facade. Measuring only 26 feet across, the facade is divided in half by the front door, gracefully announced by a simple five-foot deep porch.

js white story imageCenter gabled structures near White’s home.

Fellow Methodist Church trustee Isaac Mudgett, who, like White, was born in Tamworth, New Hampshire, built his own home, just up the block at number 303, with the same formal features, except for a larger porch. A third similar structure was built on 3rd Street, around the corner from White’s, with no porch (but showing the results of time plus neglect). Imagining all three structures newly built in 1890, and then comparing the two neighboring structures with White’s, clearly shows the imagination of a designer/builder working within the vernacular expression of Gothic Revival–a style often referred to as “carpenter gothic”–a useful tag for White’s sensitive work on his family home.

On White’s house, the decorative treatment of the center gable caught this writer’s eye immediately. It jumps out visually in this neighborhood of workmanlike facades–in this case, the workman was an architect. Of special note is the proportion of White’s simple porch in relation to the mass of the facade, resulting in an inviting focus on the front door.

js white story image Detail of the White structure’s symmetrical facade.

Inside, a narrow staircase divides the front part of the house roughly into thirds–a large front room on the left, with a smaller room on the right, and a kitchen beyond the staircase. That kitchen became a dining room when a new kitchen was added in the 1950s. The total area of the first floor today is only 940 square feet. The second floor measures 364 square feet and is divided into two rooms by the staircase landing, which faces the window in the center gable.

Linnie WhiteLinnie White Sprau, 1876-1930. The only known photograph of a White family member .

The White Family.

John and Delia White raised three daughters in this home. Linnie, the eldest, was born around 1876 in Kansas, and was one of the four graduates of Snohomish High School in 1896. She worked as a bookkeeper at the popular grocery store, Bruhn & Henry, and lived in the family home until she married Charles Sprau in 1906. The couple, who had no children, moved to a fruit farm in eastern Washington. In the 1930 census, Linnie was back at the family home, apparently ill and under the care of her mother; she died in May of that year.

Alice, the second daughter, was born in Kansas around 1879, and died of unrecorded causes at the age of 19.

Elsie, the youngest, was born around 1882, also in Kansas. In 1902, she was living in the family home and working as an operator for the Skagit Farmer’s Mutual Telephone Company. Elsie married Charles Roe Hooten, who was also born in Kansas. They had two daughters–Adele, in 1910, and Alice, in 1913. By 1920, the family was living in Seattle, where Elsie died in 1928.

Alice married Orin Lewis, date unknown, and the couple apparently had no children. Nothing further is known about Adele. No obituaries have been found for either granddaughter of J.S. White, bringing a silent end to his genealogical trail.

Delia White remained in the family home on Avenue H until her death on March 6, 1933, one year short of 50 years in Snohomish. Still a member of the Methodist Church that her husband built, Delia was a member of the Rose Rebekah Lodge, which met in the Odd Fellows Hall, also built by her husband. She was laid to rest in the I.O.O.F Cemetery west of town (now known as Woodlawn Cemetery). All four White ladies are interred alongside each other surrounded by decorative iron fence, high on a hill overlooking the Snohomish River.

js white story imageWhite family plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery.

White House Today.

No one knows how many families have lived in the charming house on Avenue H since Delia died, but it was not until 2006 that owners Bethany and Robert Hensley researched and registered the historic home with the Snohomish Historical Society as the J.S. White House.

Bethany led the effort by contacting the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library, where she met the room’s founders, History Specialists Margaret Riddle and David Dilgard. David has been looking into the historic doings of Snohomish over the years, even referring to himself as a “carpetbagger”–but he shares his “loot” and we are grateful.

David knew about the work of J.S. White from our favorite 19th-century newsource, The Eye, when he came across the listing for J.S. White on Avenue H while reassembling a 1905-06 Polk Directory for Snohomish. So he was not only ready to help Bethany when she showed up at the library, but grateful that someone wanted to know more about this man, so instrumental in the building of early Snohomish.

Around this time, David led a walking tour of Snohomish that included this writer. The first time I had heard the name J.S. White was as David pointed out several of White’s buildings on First Street, all of which are included in this account. But the name didn’t mean much to me until a couple of years later, when I was door-belling homes on Avenue H to spread the word of my partner’s run for a seat on the city council.

My memory of seeing the “J.S. White House” historic home sign through a row of white birch trees, and then the whole house as I walked to the front door that first time, has merged with Otto Greule’s dreamy portrait of the home. And to think it could have gone unmarked, still a secret story waiting to be told.

*NOTES: The auditor, J.H. Plaskett, built a hotel at 1st and Avenue D in 1888, for which White was given credit as architect and contractor in his biographical sketch published in the Snohomish Sun, 1891.

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

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Otto Greule photographing the White House, August 2009.

The home of J.S. White is oriented due east, lending itself to an early morning shoot. A few minutes before sunrise, a soft open skylight created a pleasing balance between the home’s exterior, interior, and western sky behind it.

As with virtually all architectural photographs, the chosen viewpoint required precision. The front yard features a mature garden, somewhat limiting the possibilities. I considered putting the camera on the sidewalk in order to show the picket fence and arched gateway, but doing so would have introduced too much foliage and obscured the home itself.

After surveying various angles, I settled on the axial view. Unfortunately, this viewpoint also required a lens of objectionably short or wide angle focal length. Instead, I employed a lens of longer focal length, and then used the sliding back function of the Horseman Superwide camera to record the scene in quadrants. This allowed an angle of coverage similar to that of the wider lens, but without its inherent distortion.

Since this technical camera employs a sliding back to control the geometry of the subject, the optical perspective of the lens remains stationary during the exposures. This eliminates any possible stereoscopic alignment errors during postproduction. I left the front door ajar to help soften the symmetry of the axial view. I placed a single tungsten light inside and aimed it at the glasswork of the door to reveal its tracery.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/4 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

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Elwell House

4. Elwell House, 1888

Color Plate 4: Elwell House Photographed by Otto Greule ©2012. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

jswhite story image
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.

jswhite story image
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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methodist church

1. Methodist Church, 1885

Color Plate 1: Methodist Church Photographed by Otto Greule ©2009 (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Snow covers the stack of lumber on the Avenue C site of the new church following the late December storm, delaying the start of construction. Farther down Avenue C, just cross 2nd Street, the sidewalk was “monopolized by a jolly crowd of coasters, young and old,” according to The Eye, December 20, 1884.

By the end of April 1885, however, a little over a year after White’s arrival in Snohomish, the Methodist Church was fully enclosed, reports The Eye, along with the editorial comment: “When completed it will be a handsome edifice, and an ornament to the town.”

Describing the second church to be built in Snohomish as an “ornament” may be a small example of why the contemporaneous historian William Whitfield writes: “The influence of the early press of Snohomish was always somewhat antagonistic to the orthodox churches.”

The Eye, according to Whitfield, inclined towards the occult. Certainly, the use of the dramatic “Eye of Providence” symbol in its masthead supports this notion to today’s readers. Under the brilliant editorship of George MacDonald, continues Whitfield, The Eye was “frankly atheistic.” Earlier, Eldridge Morse, who edited and printed The Northern Star, beginning in 1876, was interested in the Free Religious Association, championed by the well-known poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was one of its first members when founded in 1867.

js white story imageMethodist and Catholic Churches, c.1905.
One of only two images of the Methodist Church that have surfaced, this one captured by Lee Pickett around 1905 shortly before it was moved up 3rd Street (on the left) to Avenue B, opposite St Michael Catholic Church in the background.

On July 4, two weeks before the official dedication, The Eye
devotes several column inches to the interior of the new Methodist Church:

“It is of the Gothic style of architecture and occupies a sightly location at the corner of Avenue C and 3rd Street, and is one of the first and most attractive objects that meets the eye when approaching the city from the south or west. The dimensions of the building are 28×50 feet with 16 foot posts. The vestibule is approached from Avenue C by a short flight of steps. Upon entering the building, a person is surprised by the novel, yet beautiful finish of the interior – especially the ceiling, which reaches to the rafters, and in which the finest quality of cedar lumber was used – being laid in diagonal sections. Unique and artistic trestle work on the ceiling lends additional strength to the roof. The walls are wainscoated and hard-finished, and all the woodwork of the interior is oiled and varnished except the doors, which are French walnut, grained. The building has a seating capacity of 250 persons and is lighted by ten arge gothic windows and two circular ones; the latter ornamenting the gables. The summit of the spire is 66 feet from the ground. Mr. J. S. White, the architect and builder, informs us that the cost of building and lot will hardly exceed $1,500.”

On August 1, The Eye reprinted the following account of the dedication by Reverend Mr. Dennison of Seattle and originally published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

“Snohomish county, river and city, lay just north of King county, and is one of the best agricultural and timber regions of Western Washington. The city is a thriving place of nearly a thousand inhabitants full of energy and pluck. Having been probably more neglected by the different church organizations than any other community on Puget Sound, it was a matter of great interest that the Methodists, who began operations there two years ago, were now ready to dedicate their new church and that Sunday, July 26, 1885, was the time appointed.

The house dedicated is perfect gem of architectural beauty, in size 28×50 feet with a gothic or truss roof and a beautiful belfry. In fact, I have never seen a prettier or better church of its size anywhere. The plan is what is known as No. 1 B, remodeled by Mr. J. S. White of Snohomish City, with an exact copy of the Battery street church of this city.

At the hour of dedication the new church was filled with a fine and cultured audience, and the writer having been detailed by the presiding elder for the work, preached and presented the accounts of the trustees to the audience stating that $600 would be necessary to finish the payment of the cost of the church. In a few moments the people had subscribed $415. In the afternoon, after a sermon by Rev. A. Atwood, the remaining $185 were quickly given,
and the edifice was dedicated free from all local obligation, according to the ritual of the M. E. church.

To make such a church possible, great liberality and much self-sacrifice was necessary on the part of the people of Snohomish, and also considerable cash from the Church Extension Society of the M. E. Church, which started the enterprise by a gift of $250, and the loan of an equal amount on long time and easy payment. The entire cost was $1576, of which $1375 was for the house alone, and the balance for the lot, carpet, chairs and other fixtures. Starting with nothing two years ago, the Methodists now have a society of 20, while the Presbyterians are a flourishing as at any former time. the people of Snohomish have honored God and themselves by their liberality.”

js white story imageSnohomish City by Gilbert Horton, c.1885
Looking east, down-river, with the town of Snohomish nestled on the north bank.

Let’s have a little sense. How are we going to get rid of the Chinese? We’ve no legal right to kill ‘em. I’d like to kill one; wouldn’t you, Ferg?” Comment at a public meeting in Snohomish, reported in The Eye, October 24, 1885

The community’s “liberality” would be tested that fall. The Eye described under the headline “The Chinese Curse” of a public meeting, held Monday evening, October 19th, to discuss the Chinese question. E. C. Ferguson, the mayor, was elected chairman and no other officers would accept nomination. The first group of speakers was in favor of forcing the Chinese out, and offered various, peaceable plans to follow through on their recommendations, all receiving enthusiastic response. But there was “tumultuous applause from a portion of the audience” supporting a proposal to send ‘em all back to China and pay their expenses from a “fiery pioneer who had been indulging in ‘whiskey-row’ jim-jam syrup, and did not wait for an invitation to express his sentiments.”

Only “Ferg,” as the mayor and the town’s “founding father,” as he was often called, spoke of the benefit provided to the county and the town by the Chinese. He reminded the gathering that the Chinese were all ready here, and there was work that would not get done without the immigrants. There was no mention in the report that Ferguson was known to hire Chinese workers. And only a hand few of them remained in town since the anti-chinese movement in Seattle ignited with torch light processions, calling Chinese coolie labor disgraceful, dangerous, and degrading to the American working class. The Seattle Methodist Church provided sanctuary for the Chinese workers while its gun-wielding pastor held off the mob.

At a second meeting at the Masonic Hall on 2nd Street, an equally large crowd turned out and the confusion of the night before continued, but somehow it was voted unanimously that the Chinese must go. However, the new chairman, A. H. Eddy, failed to form a committee of three willing to inform “the few celestials remaining here.” This meeting, like the first, “adjourned without taking any definite action.”

js white story image

Otto Greule photographing White’s Methodist Church.
The church in the background is the former St Michael Catholic Church, the third church built in Snohomish in 1888. Enlarged to its current size in the 1920s, and enovated in 1994-2000 by the author and his partner Karen Guzak.

The Methodists’ Move

By the first decade of the 20th century, with membership at nearly 200, the congregation needed to add a Sunday school building. In 1910, the Methodists moved White’s structure uphill to three lots they had purchased two years earlier on the southeast corner of Avenue B and 3rd Street. The building was set above a full concrete basement that eventually included a kitchen. A larger vestibule, assumed to have been designed and built by White, was added to accommodate stairs leading down to the basement and up to the nave.

In 1974, the Snohomish Historic District was established, then listed on the National Register of Historic Places kept by the National Park Service. White’s Methodist Church was included as a primary building in the Snohomish Historical Society’s application. Consequently, church leaders’ plans to expand the historic structure were stymied, and the church purchased five acres northwest of Blackman Lake, north of downtown Snohomish. In 1983, the congregation marked its 100th year in Snohomish with architectural plans for a new church – its current home.

Snohomish’s second church, and the oldest one still standing today, is a chapel for hire at this writing. Since the turn of the millennium, the historic town of Snohomish has found itself surrounded by wedding venues, many of which have joined hands as the Snohomish Wedding Guild to promote Snohomish as the “Premier Wedding Destination in the Puget Sound region,” according to its website MySnohomishWedding.com. White’s historic structure is quite popular, and if only a few of the guests look up to appreciate the original ceiling as described in The Eye 132 years ago, this writer’s modest prayers will be answered.


Edited by Susan Geib

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Early morning light, softened by a lifting fog, graces the north and east sides of the Original Methodist Church. I chose this viewpoint to best express the rhythm created by the shapes of the gables as they ascend from the entryway to the spire, and to clearly show the shape of the quatrefoil roundel window. The church’s pleasing geometry is juxtaposed with the playful line of the treetops.

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II, Lens: TS-24mm ƒ1:3.5,
Exposure: 1/30 second @ ƒ14, iso 100.

Visit Otto’s website

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