First Street and Avenue A

This month’s image is the last of the Gilbert Horton photographs featured in the exhibition at the Blackman House Museum, and it is the latest one in the Society’s collection. Taken in 1908, ten years after he had sold his floating gallery, Horton labeled the photograph “Laying the Golden Brick / Snohomish.” The first question that comes to my mind, probably to yours as well — is the brick still there after all these years and layers of asphalt?

Public Works Director for the City of Snohomish, Tim Heydon, has never seen or heard of a golden brick being discovered, and wondered if it was even left in place after the ceremony was captured on film?

And it’s a good point since the First Street merchants were being taxed $17 per foot of their property facing First Street to pay for the paving, and many of the owners were dragging their feet, suggesting that the city just repair the wooden planks instead. Reaching the end of his patience for this back and forth, Mayor Lamprey hired contractors to begin tearing up the planking in 1907 – which quickly convinced the property owners that paving with stone was a good idea after all. Within this context, it’s difficult to imagine that paying for a golden brick would have been supported; or that it would have even remained in the street through the first night!

First and A today

Second question that comes to mind is why not expose the brick paving, like many streets have in Seattle, and build upon our reputation as the historic town of the region to visit?

Heydon had a ready answer for me, based on his experience in 1986 when he supervised the removal of the asphalt before repaving, right down to the original brick — and no golden one was found. Heydon reported that large sections of the brick paving was gone because of repairs, other sections had sunk due to the soil under the brick absorbing moisture. In other words, a picturesque cobblestone First Street, would require removing all of the 8-inch thick bricks in order to prepare the ground properly, and then, lay the bricks back down, by hand. The dollar numbers for labor alone become pushpins of reality to the easy bubbles of imagination.

Researching this image for my book “Early Snohomish” (page 77), I was unable to learn anything about the ceremony pictured because of a six-month gap of missing issues of the Snohomish County Tribune for the year 1908, both in our library and at the University of Washington.

So I leave you with a third question, could the missing issues be related somehow to the missing golden brick?

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, October 15, 2008.

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