OE Crossman House

9. Crossman House, 1890

Color Plate 9: Crossman House Photographed by Otto Greule ©2011. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Published in the Sun, 1891.

Published in the Sun, 1891.

On Saturday, May 31, 1890, The Eye published this local news item at the top of page 3: “O. E. Crossman removed his family into his new residence on Avenue B on Monday.” The Sun had come out a day earlier with no mention of the Crossman family.

Snohomish was a two-paper town in 1890 with one uniting issue: incorporation. Adding to the confusion was that the town has been incorporated since 1888, but under the laws of Washington Territory, which were thrown out by the newly formed Supreme Court of Washington State.

Residents were divided over whether to reincorporate as a town of the fourth class with the same boundaries as the territorial incorporation, which was favored by town founder E. C. Ferguson, or to incorporate with expanded boundaries as a third-class city. Each faction found a voice in one of the two weekly newspapers: The Sun, which saw things Ferguson’s way; or The Eye, which spoke for expansion.

Describing the 1890 incorporation proceedings some 30 years later, William Whitfield wrote: “Then for the first time in its history Snohomish enjoyed all the thrills of city politics.” We imagine that full enjoyment depended on taking a side between the dueling editors.

Both papers do cover the delivery of bricks to the site of John Burns’ brick block on 1st Street. The Sun takes the opportunity to remind readers of the larger issue: “As soon as the town becomes incorporated no doubt many fine buildings will be erected.”

A week later, on June 7, 1890, The Eye publishes an editorial urging the construction of brick business buildings, citing the great Seattle fire of the previous year that destroyed some 64 acres of wood frame buildings. (Even a hosecart team from Snohomish was shipped by rail to join in on the losing fight.) The editor, C. H. Packard, goes on to praise the efforts of Mr. Pearsall, who with limited means starts a brickyard in town and calls for a dozen business leaders to follow John Burns’ example and build with brick made in Snohomish.

Published in a Supplement to the
Snohomish County Tribune, March 7, 1902.

The Crossman Family Moves In.

O. E. Crossman moved into his new home with a family numbering three. He had married Bertha L. Elwell, the 22-year-old daughter of Tam and Sara Elwell (Essay #4), on April 26, 1887, at the Methodist Church (Essay #1). At the time of the move, the couple had a 2-month-old daughter, Gladys Fay.

Oscar E. Crossman was born 37 years earlier in Illinois. His parents moved with their three children to Wisconsin, where their father was a wagon builder and sometime merchant. He died young in Dell Rapids, Dakota Territory, where his two sons, Oscar and Walter, were living and working as merchants.

The Eye man was agreeably surprised on Thursday to see, among the Nellie’s passengers, the face of Mr. O.Crossman, one of our old-time River Falls (Wis.) friends. Mr. C. will make Snohomish his future home, have been engaged as salesman in the store of Blackman Bro’s.” —The Eye, May 16, 1885.

Crossman Ad

Once settled however, Crossman revived his former firm, O.E. Crossman & Co., with his, brother, Walter. For two years they carried a full line of groceries, crockery, and dry goods, according to an account in the March-April 1891 issue of The Northwestern Real Estate Building Review, published in Seattle. The article detailed Crossman’s decision to sell only dry goods, clothing, boots, and shoes. “Their large store, twenty-two by sixty feet, is literally packed from floor to ceiling with a full and varied assortment of everything to be found in their line,” the account explained. Their business model of “quick sales and small profits, and the excellence of their goods,” resulted in “extended patronage for twenty miles around,” claimed the journal.

It was surprising to read, then, in the May 20, 1895, issue of The Eye: “O.E. Crossman returned last Thursday from California to dispose of his stock of dry goods and all his property here, having decided to become a permanent resident of San Jose.” According to census records, it appears that his brother, Walter, left the Snohomish business and took up real estate sales in San Jose, California, 1891.

The following week, we read in The Eye: “My house and two lots for sale, also my safe, and all store fixtures for sale and must be sold within 60 days. O.E. Crossman.” In the neighboring column, we read: “If you want a nice profitable job, go to O.E. Crossman & Co’s. and assist them in converting their $15,000 stock of dry goods, boots and shoes, etc. into cash. They are going out of business and are giving their patrons the benefit of the greatest bargains ever offered in Snohomish.”

However, in the October 10 issue of the same year, Crossman ran an ad that mimicked a news story–then a common practice–with the headline: “Here’s A Hummer.” Then a subhead: “O.E. Crossman & Co., Make a Very Sensational Announcement.” The first paragraph begins, “We have not as yet disposed of our home, hence we have concluded to stock up our store ….” The news-style advertisement continues for several inches and ends with the promise, “as long as I remain in Snohomish we will sell [to] you cheaper than any other firm.”

This ad was repeated for several weeks in 1895, even with the same example of prices: “Outing flannels at 5-6-7-10 and 12c. per yard: ginghams, sheeting and calico in profusion at 5c per yard.” A mysterious one-line mention appears in the February 2, 1897, issue of The Eye: “O.E. Crossman & Co. handle the San Jose Clothing.” The Eye’s final edition was published four months later on June 10, 1897.

Turning to census records, in 1905, Oscar’s mother Amelia, now a widow, was listed as living with the family in the Avenue B home. In 1920, the Crossmans were still living in Ward 2 and Oscar was still running his dry goods store at 1104 1st Street, in the Blackman Building which is still standing. He died five years later survived by his wife, Bertha, who was listed as living alone at 329 Avenue B in 1930. Her telephone number was 81. Bertha died four years later at the age of 69, survived by her daughter, Fay, who was living in Seattle near the beauty school where she worked.

GD Horton photoDancing on a Cedar Stump, c.1885. An iconic Snohomish photograph by Gilbert Horton.
L to R: William and Delia Deering, Oscar and Bertha Crossman, George and Laura England, Ruth Elwell and Omar Moore; above on the fiddle, W.P. Bell, and Harvey Horton, playing banjo.

O.E. Crossman House Today.

The three-bedroom Crossman home over 2,000 square feet of interior space on two floors–was converted into a rooming house during the Depression. It remained in that condition until purchased in 2000 by the current owners’ who are diligently returning the handsome structure to a single-family home.

With the Crossman House, White returns to the Queen Anne style: “Steeply pitched roof of irregular shape, usually with a dominant front-facing gable; patterned shingles, cutaway bay windows, and other devices used to avoid a smooth-walled appearance, asymmetrical facade with partial or full-width porch.”*

The exterior is excellent shape, as shown in Otto Greule’s late- afternoon portrait. Unfortunately, Crossman’s second lot, to the south, was eventually purchased, and a dwelling was added in 1941. This structure, along with the foliage that has grown up over the years, completely blocks the southern exposure of the Crossman home, which features a two-story window bay topped with a gable shown in the 1902 photo illustration.

Many of the homes in the neighborhood of the Crossman House carry the Queen Anne label–perhaps leading you to think you’ve spotted another home by J. S. White – and you may have! But without construction records, of which there are none, it’s impossible to know. For this account, we have depended entirely upon a process of connecting circumstantial dots between 19th century news items.

. . . .

NOTES: “Field Guide to American Houses,” Virginia and Lee McAlester, p263

Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

The Crossman House is situated in close proximity to three deciduous trees along its west elevation, and a neighboring house to the south. This perspective view showing the north and west sides of the house, was chosen to reveal the scale of the house, and to best distinguish it from adjoining structures.

Photographing in late march ensured that the gables and chimney were visible behind the leafless branches of the trees, and added some color to the foreground foliage. The tree trunk at left helps to frame the house, and conceal the visually competing shape of a background church steeple. A forty inch silvered reflector was employed to bounce some fill light back into the shadowed porch. The wicker love seat was repositioned.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5,
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/15 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.

. . . .

AM Blackman House

8. A.M. Blackman House, 1889

Color Plate 8: A.M. Blackman House Photographed by Otto Greule ©2010. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Following the opening of A. M. Blackman’s Grocery Store in the summer of 1889, J.S. White must have turned his full attention to the construction of Wilbur’s Drug Store. As The Eye reported on August 28: “The brick on Wilbur’s new store was completed this week.”

Yet we learn in the September 7 issue: “Work upon the foundation of E.C. Ferguson’s new residence is underway.”

Three weeks later we read: “The handsome new residence of Adam [sic] Blackman is fast nearing completion.” No wonder the typesetter confused “Adam” for “A.M.” – White turned over three buildings (that we know about) to their owners in 1889.
blackman house 1908
“The beautiful home of Postmaster A.M. Blackman, Snohomish, Washington. — Photo by Blackman.”
Published in “The Coast,” November 1908, for an article about Snohomish written by A.M. Blackman.

The Blackman Family Moves In.

Blackman’s home was most likely the second structure to rise up on Ferguson’s 2nd Addition, the plat of lots between Avenues D and G to the west. The first was the Elwell home, also designed by White.

Built only a year later, yet chapters apart in historical style, the Blackman House design tells a story of White’s temporary abandonment of architectural restraint.

Once upon a time, as all unsourced stories begin, Arthur’s home was intended to be a vision located on the highest point of the settlement, four blocks from Front Street, and up against the woods–the structure would be a promotional vision of red cedar shingles.

Arthur’s cousins, the Blackman brothers, built the largest mill in the young county alongside the Snohomish River in 1884, at the western end of Front Street. There they introduced the tripper machine that, using a ratchet mechanism, could cut a shingle from a block of wood with each pass of the circular blade. By the time the train arrived four years later, the Blackmans were ready to ship kiln dried shingles to the east coast by the boxcar load.

This abundance of product leads us to wonder if the storybook tale of promotion connected through the years to the Blackman House might be instead a prosaic reality of overproduction? An example of contractor White’s nose for a bargain, perhaps? We know only that the unique home was built.

All four facades of the structure are individual compositions that share in common second-floor dormers of various depths, where the side walls slope up to meet the moderate pitched roof. To this writer’s eye, the slightly pitched walls become the second pitch of a gambrel roof. Moreover, the dormers do not project vertically from a sloping roof, as in the usual definition; rather, the large, full story dormers project from a sloping wall that reaches to the multi pitched roof. From there, two towers with conical roofs project opposite each other of the hybrid gambrel roof.

The face of each dormer features a variety of window combinations, the set of three, as shown in Otto Greule’s house portrait, is the most elaborate. A second set of three windows is repeated in the tower on the left, which faces southeast, toward town. This tower marks the corner of the structure, along with the wide porch below that wraps halfway around the north facade, out of sight in the portrait.

The tower on the right is actually built into the sloping walls of the second floor. It features a whimsical arrangement of a long, narrow window paired with smaller rectangular windows with diamond-patterned mullions on either side. What room lies behind this playful exterior treatment must be left to the reader’s imagination.

It would have taken heroic effort for White to have the house ready for the Blackman’s second wedding anniversary on October 6, the date recorded in Whitfield’s biographical sketch of Arthur. But there is another source for the Blackman’s wedding date. Arthur’s niece, Frances, his sister, Nina’s, daughter, writes in an undated account that Arthur was married in “November to Adeliza (Budd) Elwell.” This date would have given White another month to finish the home.

It’s a healthy six-block walk to the Blackman Grocery Store from the home on Avenue D and 4th, but we imagine the distance seemed longer as the debts increased. After closing the grocery store in 1894, Arthur turned to logging work, but only for a couple of years. Arthur was appointed postmaster in 1896 and, by all accounts, served with distinction until 1913.

Shortly after Arthur’s appointment, the childless Blackmans adopted Kathryn, a child born in 1905. She died only 14 years later and is laid to rest alongside her adopted mother, whose red marble marker reads “BUDD” across the top. Adeliza died in 1925, and Arthur followed four years later.

Blackman Bros millBlackman Bros. Mill, c.1885. Photo by Gilbert Horton. Courtesy Northwest Room, EPL.

“THE FIERY DEMON, not content with his ravages in many other towns of the territory has at last paid us a visit”–so begins The Eye’s September 21, 1889, account of the fire that totally destroyed the Blackman Bros. sawmill.

The “continuous shrieking of a whistle” eventually stopped the speaker inside Cathcart Hall (also referred to as the Atheneum) at the corner of Avenue D and Front Street, just a block west of the mill. “Fortunately the hall was quickly emptied without accident,” continues the account.

Outside, the growing crowd milling about in the central intersection of town “quickly surmised the truth – that the largest enterprise upon which Snohomish is dependent for her prosperity and well-being was to go up in smoke.” Illuminated by the rapidly spreading flames, most watched as the hosemen pulled back from the heat, while others joined a bucket brigade – “150 or more men formed two lines to the river and worked like ‘Turks,’” wrote the Eye-man.

Work to prevent the fire from spreading continued for three hours until all danger had passed, especially on the west side of the mill, where the workers’ tenements were located. Two cabins that had caught fire were pushed over the bank into the river to save the rest.

One eye witness account reads: “Al Wilson worked like a hero, and led on the crowd which saved the tenements in the rear of the mill. Overcome by the heat at last he fell into the arms of one of the men, and was taken home insensible.”

The mill, capable of producing 50,ooo feet of lumber and 125,000 shingles, was a total loss estimated at $100,000, which included new machinery, along with customer orders ready to ship. Blackman Bros. carried no insurance due the high rates.

In closing, the account reminds the reader of the community’s loss: “About 130 men are thus temporarily thrown out of employment just at a time when all they can rake and scrape is needed in preparation for the winter season.”

blackman brothersLithograph, Blackman Brothers, 1889. Courtesy Northwest Room, EPL.

Seven Months Later.

By the time White turned over the O.E. Crossman House to the family, the Blackman Bros. Mill was rebuilt.

“A Gigantic Industry of Vast Importance to Snohomish,” read the subhead in the June 6, 1890, issue of The Sun.

“It Gives Employment to Hundreds of Workingmen, and Will Run Night and Day,” read the second subhead.

And yet a third: “To be Lit up by Electric Light, and Run to Its Fullest Capacity. For Completeness and Practicality it Excels Anything in the State of Washington.”

The lead paragraph sets the scene: “But to be upon the grounds when the whistle blows for work to begin, and to see the wheels begin to turn, and the saws commence to whirl strikes one with a kind of awe….” Then the three “monster engines” are described, “one at 15×20 feet upright, one 18×24 feet upright and the other a horizontal one 24×30 feet.”

All the sawing was done in the nearly 60,000 square-foot main building. The mill had one double circular saw that could divide a log into lumber twice as fast as a single one, and more accurately than “gang saws” that used reciprocating blades. The 340-foot-long building also had a “re-saw,” or bandsaw for cutting veneers, and “gang edgers” for milling the Puget Sound country’s ubiquitous tongue-and-groove fir sliding.

Reading on down the full front-page story, we learn that the Blackman brothers “are no fine-haired theoretical machinists, or adventurers in the lumbering business, but they have been raised in the woods […] with coats off and sleeves rolled up […] one of the Blackmans will always be at the front.”

Finally, the reader is reminded of the great fire that consumed the brothers’ mill less than a year before: “but through the most indefatigable perseverance, and by the indomitable will power which they only possess, they have surmounted every obstacle, and have arisen from the ashes in a manner that seems almost miraculous,” says The Sun on June 6, 1890.

. . . .


Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

For the Blackman House, a perspective view from the southeast was considered, but was deemed unacceptable due to the close proximity of mature foliage (and an ill-placed telephone pole) which obscured the home. The alternative view of the east entry, required that the camera be elevated high enough to see over the hedge. This viewpoint also best expressed the relationship between the twin hexagonal towers, and allowed the foliage to both frame and soften the geometry of the house.

The direction of the slightly diffused, early morning light helped to emphasize the double columns against the recessed shadow area of the porch.

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II, Lens: TS-24mm ƒ1:3.5,
Exposure: 1/20 second @ ƒ14, iso 100.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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