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5. White House, 1888

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

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

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

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Detail: 310 Avenue H

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

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

Penobscott Snohomish

“Let’er Boom!”

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

mary low sinclair snohomish

Mary Low Sinclair

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrated Snohomish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White Family.

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

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

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

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

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

js white story imageWhite family plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery.

White House Today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Susan Geib

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Otto Greule photographing the White House, August 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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