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.

. . . .

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.

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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.

. . . .

js white home

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.

js white story imgae

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.

Visit Otto’s website

. . . .

Elwell House

4. Elwell House, 1888

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

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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.

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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.

. . . .

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

. . . .

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.

. . . .

Getchell House

3. Getchell House, 1887

Color Plate 3: Getchell House Photographed by Otto Greule ©2009 (See Otto’s Notes Below)

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“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.

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Lowell, circa 1885
Photograph by Gilbert D. Horton.

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.

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Sanborn Insurance Map, 1890

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!”
Walt Whitman

js white story imageSecond Street and Avenue C, Google Maps
Odd Fellows Hall, lower left; and the Getchell House is upper right.

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.

. . . .


Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .

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.

Odd Fellows Hall

2. Odd Fellows Hall, 1886

Color Plate 2: Odd Fellows Hall Photographed by Otto Greule ©2013. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

“A substantial cross walk now connects the Odd Fellows’ new building with the outside world.” The Eye, April 24, 1886.

In 1978, with memberships down to 14, from a high of 250, the Snohomish Lodge #12 of the International Order of Odd Fellows sold its historic home on the corner of 2nd Street and Avenue C. Like many of Snohomish’s historic structures around that time, the building needed expensive repairs exceeding the resources of the surviving owners.

The simple structure with solid proportions and modest Italianate accents was sold to a realty company. Twenty years later, a young man, sporting a long pony tail, walked into the office looking for an historic building that needed renovation and was told, “You’re standing in one!” The new owner restored the building for offices on the first floor, while maintaining the second floor in its original open layout, ideal for its most recent use as a daycare facility. We imagine that the extra-wide, switch-back staircase at the west end of the building never before in its history echoed with the unrestrained voices of very young people.

IOOFHall_1973 After the sale, the remaining lodge members attended meetings in Everett, but it was difficult to connect with the younger members of the big city lodge. Attendance dropped off, and by the time this writer went looking for former members in 2012, they had all passed away. Frank Green responded to our local news story looking for the Snohomish Lodge records. Frank was the son of William, once the last surviving member of the local lodge, and the oldest Odd Fellow in the country before he died. “It was only for a short while,” Frank quickly added.

Even though both his father and grandfather were once members of the Odd Fellows organization, Frank never joined. “I didn’t know much about it,” he claimed. “It was a very secret society. I suppose the records were taken to the dump.”

1885.10.17_bids-wanted-webSo we’ll never know how many contractors answered the call for bids published on page three of the October 17, 1885, issue of The Eye. A front page mention of the ad lists more details for interested contractors:
“The building is to be 35×80 feet and two stories high. The upper story will be used for lodge purposes, while two commodious offices and a fine public hall will be fitted up on the lower floor.”

The building site on 2nd Street is directly across Avenue C from the Masonic Hall on a lot sold to the lodge by lumber man and Mason Joseph E. Getchell. Nine years earlier, Brother Getchell and his wife donated the lot for the Masonic Hall.

js white storyThe Masonic Lodge was established in 1876 and named Centennial Lodge. Our historian on the scene, and a founding member of the lodge, William Whitfield writes: “Starting the lodge and furnishing it was a good deal like a young couple getting married. Getting the license to do business was easy enough, but a home had to be provided and furnished for the family.”

Meeting above a saloon during the Masons’ “honeymoon,” the lodge attracted 34 members in just two years. Enough of them agreed to lend the lodge money at 12 per cent annual interest to build their own building, and the Masons called for bids from contractors.

Using Whitfield’s account of building the Masonic Hall allows our imagination to substitute somewhat for the missing records of the Odd Fellows Lodge — three bids were submitted on January 11, 1879: “George Tompkins, $1,970; Brother S. H. McNaughton, $1,900; and Brother Blackman, $1,850. By comparison, J. S. White’s winning bid for the Odd Fellows Hall is $2,426, reports in the November 28, 1886, issue of The Eye, for roughly the same size building, but following seven years of an expanding economy.

Brother Blackman, beginning construction of the Masonic Hall in January, had at least two rooms on the first floor ready for occupancy by March, when the Snohomish County offices moved in. By the time White’s Odd Fellows Hall is under construction, the offices expand to two rooms in the new building, including one for the clerk of the District Court, C. A. Missimer. A plank crosswalk spanned Avenue C to accommodate the employees.

“Snohomish Lodge No. 12, I.O.O.F. will meet in its new hall for the first time on Saturday evening, April 10th,” reports The Eye on April 3, 1886, along with a large ad announcing: “Grand Dedication Ball, at the Atheneum Hall, Tuesday Evening, April 20, 1886.”

Published in THE EYE, April 4, 1886.
The names listed represent a who’s who of early Snohomish business men. What must have been an embarrassing typo is the misspelling of A. H. Addy’s name in the top line of names.

An interesting item in the April 17, 1886 issue of The Eye, inadvertently describes nineteenth-century life in a Washington river town: “The erroneous impression has gone abroad that the ceremony of dedication of the Odd Fellows’ hall is to be secret. On the contrary the ceremonies will be conducted publicly, as is customary on such occasions, and will commence twenty minutes after the arrival of the steamer from Seattle.”

On April 24th, The Eye reports on the dedication under the subhead,
“The Mystic Links,” referring to the order’s triple links logo – three chain links containing the letters F, L and T, (Friendship, Love and Truth). According to the newspaper’s account:

“The Odd Fellows dedication ball last Tuesday eve was another ‘grand success,’ both financially and socially, owing partly to the excellent management, to the kindness of the ladies in getting up the supper – said to have been the equal of any ever spread on a similar occasion in Snohomish – to the good music, and last but not least to the large attendance. There were about 60 couples present, many of them being visitors from Seattle and neighboring towns. The impressive ceremonies in the afternoon attending the dedication of the new hall were those common to such occasions in Odd Fellowship and conducted by Grand Master Geo. D. Hell, of Seattle. We sincerely regret our inability to publish the able and eloquent address of the orator, Hon H. G. Struve. It had been hastily prepared the day before and Mr. S. claimed it was in no shape to go into the hands of the printer, and time prevented its being copied.
A description of the building dedicated has already appeared in these columns, but a brief description of the lodge room which, when fully furnished with canopies, etc., (as it will be in a few weeks) will be one of the finest in the Territory. The floor is covered with a three-ply Brussels carpet of a very pretty figure, while a handsome burnished brass chandelier ornaments the center. The altars and desks are illustrations of what handsome pieces of furniture can be made of our native woods in the hands of skilled workman. The cabinet work was done by A. H. Eddy and the polishing by Chas. Rosengrand. Snohomish Lodge No. 12, I.O.O.F. may feel justly proud of its new hall.”

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The Odd Fellows Hall, to the right of the Masonic Hall, was dedicated April 20, 1886.
This scan of a newsprint photo by Gilbert Horton of the fraternal hall “face-off” across Avenue C was widely published. The Masonic Hall was built in 1879 and destroyed in 1958 by its members who sold the property when it became the parking lot it is today. The Snohomish Masons’ new home is one story building at 6th and Avenue B, surrounded on two sides by parking. Take note of the 100 foot plus flag pole, a very straight, long log, a little right of center — it has it’s own story.

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Chandelier ceiling plate discovered above the drop-ceiling.

Building for Lease

The ponytailed man who renovated the historic structure in the late 1990s died, and ownership passed to his daughter in 2006. Lease negotiations with the realty company, once an owner and then a tenant for over 40 years, broke down. In 2013, both the realty company and the daycare center moved to new locations, while White’s Odd Fellows Hall sits empty and silent.

For sure, no trace of the “three-ply Brussels carpet” remains, but above the drop ceiling, owners Nicole and Matt, discovered still hanging lamp fixtures — one in the center of the large open room, used for the lodge’s ceremonies, and two in the corners at the east end of the room. More research is required to date exactly the existing fixtures which are now electrically wired of course. During the era when the hall was built, 1885, it was uncertain if electric lighting would really displace gas.

With access to the attic, above the original ceiling, we would look for evidence of gas pipe installation. But one item that requires no more investigation is the floral themed chandelier medallion — it has to be original. A longer ladder will be needed to reach the medallion in order to determine whether it’s made of wood or plaster. A bigger step would be to remove the drop-ceiling and restore the original ceiling. Not all of history is looking back, some is up, watching over us.

. . . .


Edited by Susan Geib

. . . .


White designed the IOOF building with a proportion and symmetry that give it a natural magnetism. Unfortunately, the venerable building now resides in close proximity to telephone poles, wires, and street signage. The axial view best isolated it from these modern intrusions.

The height of the camera was carefully chosen in order to minimize the merging of the telephone wires onto the upper portions of the windows and corner brackets. The photo was made about an hour after sunrise, with the lower half of the building receiving sunlight filtered through a lifting fog.

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

. . . .

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.”

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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

. . . .

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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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.

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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.

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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

js white bio 1891


FEATURED IMAGE: From “Our Business Men” Snohomish Sun, January 1891.
This is essentially all that has been written about J.S. White and repeated in various later sources.

. . . .

Poier MotorsIn the late 1940s, an automobile dealership on the south side of First Street collapsed toward the Snohomish River, its foundation compromised by continued flooding. A block-long row of connected, one-story storefront buildings, built of local brick, was condemned and sat empty for nearly twenty years.

CBD ProposalDuring this time, Snohomish’s main drag moved to Second Street, which was extended to reach the new U.S. Route 2, north of town — splitting the old cemetery in two. By the 1960s, however, the question on business leader’s minds was how to bring people back into our empty downtown? Urban renewal funds supported a study that recommended tearing down all of the old buildings on the river side of First Street, along with those condemned two decades before, then update the remaining buildings to give Snohomish the look of a riverside shopping mall.

“Snohomish hasn’t sunk that low, yet.” Summed up an editorial on October 28, 1965.

A M BlackmanTwo of White’s buildings would have been lost with that scheme: the A. M. Blackman Store and Lot Wilbur’s Drugstore Building. Gone, too, would have been at least two stories about the flourishing of frontier Snohomish.

Arthur Blackman, who opened the first grocery store in Snohomish, was a cousin to the Blackman Brothers, lumber men from Maine, who were building the first mill on the Snohomish River when J. S. White arrived with his wife and three daughters in 1884.

Lot WilburLot Wilbur and his wife Jennie arrived in ten years earlier. Only 29 years old, Lot was a travelling insurance salesman who ended up being sold on the newly named Snohomish and opened a drug store. A dozen years later, Wilbur commissioned White to build a two-story brick building — world headquarters for Wilbur’s Remedies. It’s a building that still stands as the oldest brick structure in Snohomish County.

The purpose of telling the J.S. White Story is to gather and preserve the history of White’s buildings as documented by the local press and contemporaneous historians; and along the way, tell the story of Snohomish’s political, cultural and economic roots in the 19th century.

EYE newsclippingI also want to tell the story of a man who arrived in town as a carpenter, as recorded in census records; yet, 66 years later his body was escorted out of this world by six of Snohomish’s who’s who of business leaders acting as pallbearers – a certain tribute to his graduated title of architect by the local press.

One of my inspirations for this project is the book “Shaping Seattle Architecture” by Jeffrey Ochsner who has agreed to read early drafts and has been invited to contribute the foreword.

This project will be the first account of White, a man who left nothing behind except his buildings. And this is where my collaborator, Otto Greule, enters the picture with his presentation of ten color portraits of White’s surviving structures. His notes of how he captured the images are intended to interest both professional and amateur photographers — while celebrating historic preservation.

Expanding on an illuminating lecture by architectural historian, Michael Herschensohn (who has agreed to read the manuscript), titled “The Stories Old Buildings Tell” — imagine how richer the stories will be when we know the architect.

. . . .