Bell Cabin, Brighton Beach, Whidbey Island, 1916

Every August, beginning in the 1880s, the leading families of early Snohomish boarded a stern-wheeler, headed down river, out into Gardner Bay, pass Hat Island and landed on Brighton Beach near Clinton on Whidbey Island to camp in tents. And because they started out going down river, participants referred to it as going “down to camp.”

By 1910, most of the tents were replaced with cabins, nestled at the base of the east facing bluff, many of which still stand, though modified over the years, on a walk-way still called “Camper’s Row.”

On a bright morning, perfect for visiting the beach, I found Frances Wood, author of “Down to Camp: A History of Summer Folk on Whidbey Island” sitting in the shade of “Drift-Inn’s” porch, a cabin that has been in her family since the 1930s. (A cabin featured in this column August 2009.)

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I needed Frances’s help locating the Bell Cabin, pictured in this month’s historic image that came from Ed Anderson’s family album. According to Ed:

“Doris Bell (Walter and Lillian’s middle daughter born 1897) is the young woman standing on the right in the white dress with long hair. That was my mom’s aunt Doris, who I knew as aunt Doris also, and she lived until 1996, I knew her pretty well. She lived in north Seattle and visited us in Everett often. Always did Thanksgiving and Christmas with our family as she never had any kids.”

Walter Bell was Snohomish’s first city attorney when the city incorporated in 1888. Lillian was part of the Blackman clan, a cousin to Hycranus Blackman who raised his family in what is now the Blackman House Museum.

Bell Cabin todayNow: The Blair Cabin, 2013. Posing as teenage girls are Frances Wood’s grand-girls Kate and Josie, and a visitor of the Blair’s is on the right.

We weren’t sure we had the right cabin until the current owner Robert Blair, looking at my copy of Ed’s photo, disappeared inside and eventually returned with his photo of the cabin from the same era as ours, around 1916. It showed a tent pitched along the south side of the cabin. We had the right place.

If you are stuck in town this August, I invite you to visit our library to view my “Repeat Photographs of Snohomish” – a selected exhibition of Then and Now images from this column going back to 2007.

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, August 21, 2013

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