Author Archives: Warner

When the Train Crossed Avenue D

THIS IS THE STORY OF JOSEPH McNULTY who broke his wooden leg protecting the citizens of Snohomish from being hit by trains.

But first some background. When the Milwaukee Road came to town in 1911, on tracks laid high on a wooden trestle running alongside the north bank of the Snohomish River, it agreed to provide a flagman where the tracks crossed Avenue D. According to Darrington resident and historian, Allen Miller, whom we introduced to you last month, two watchmen provided 24/7 coverage of the intersection. Their headquarters was a tiny guardhouse that can be barely made out in our faded historic image, nestled up against the utility pole.

It wasn’t long before the first incident was recorded in this newspaper of record, but not between an automobile and a train. According to the September 6, 1912, issue of the Snohomish County Tribune, eyewitnesses saw a speeding auto knock the (unnamed) flagman, who was guarding the crossing for a passing train, “to the ground insensible.” He was rushed to Snohomish General Hospital (yes, here in town), where the attending physician set his broken ribs back in place. The driver of the auto did not stop, but as the article reported, “the Milwaukee detectives will undoubtedly be on the parties trail.” Allen never found a follow up to this story in the paper.

Then there is the McNulty incident. Less than a year later, June 17, 1913, an article reported, “Joseph McNulty, flagman for the Milwaukee Railway, has brought suit against F. K. Folliott for $8,000 damages claimed by the plaintiff to be due him as a result of a broken wooden leg and injured feelings.” Folliott attempted to go around the flagman in front of an approaching train, when McNulty was struck and thrown on the tracks, breaking his wooden leg. The broken member was repaired for $125 and the balance of the claim, $7,875, was for injured feelings. Again, no follow up story was found in later editions.

And the headline for a story in the April 8, 1926, issue of the Tribune reads, “Bell Replaces Watchman Pat.” Pat Gannon’s job as guard at the Avenue D crossing was eliminated by city ordinance. “The council has decreed that the Milwaukee must install a wig wag signal at that point, which will probably mean that Pat moves elsewhere,” the story explained. “Pat’s little cabin near the crossing and his waving cane and lantern are familiar sights.” A well-known character around town, “Pat the Watchman, faithfully guarded wagons, buggies, then autos and trucks from the oncoming trains for 16 years.”

The wig wag signal was most likely a blinking red light and bell mounted on a metal pole anchored in concrete and located in the center of Avenue D. The signal was left behind when the railroad company abandoned the right of way in 1940, and over the years its badly chipped base bore witness to the rapid increase of automobile traffic in Snohomish.

Many thanks to Allen Miller for bringing this story to my attention, and for sharing his photographs. Please contact me if you have a story or historic photograph to share.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, February 17, 2010


Looking east up First Street with a horse drawn cart heading toward the Avenue D Bridge, dated 1912. To the right of the horse and cart, nested up against the utility pole is the Milwaukee Road’s flagman booth. The large structure left of center is currently the American Legion Building, but back then it was the depot when the train ran on tracks laid on a high wooden trestle alongside the north bank of the Snohomish River. The dark object behind the cart appears to be a boxcar parked on a siding. (Photo courtesy Allen Miller.)

Milwaukee Road Depot

ALLEN MILLER, visiting from Darington, parked his pick-up truck in front of the American Legion Building on First Street where we met to talk about the time when the building was a depot and visitors could arrive in Snohomish by train.

The Legion building at 1201 First, built with 19th Century drug money by Lot Wilbur, was the depot for the Milwaukee Railroad from 1911 until 1930 when railroad passenger service to Everett was replaced by an eight-cylinder Studebaker bus. The company moved its freight operation to the Great Northern tracks on the other side of the river, and in the1940s, the unused steel tracks were pulled up and sold for scrap to Japan. But that’s another story.

Allen once worked as an agent/operator for the Milwaukee Railroad and is now an avid collector of company records, photos, memorabilia and a historian with a head full of fascinating stories.

For example, on the second floor of the Legion building where Post Commander Pat Guyot (pictured above on the right), was showing us the Post’s restoration progress, Allen went immediately to a section of wall with leftover wallpaper. This was the kitchen area of the agent’s living quarters, he explained, and Mrs. Kent Gill could have been the one who put it up since her family was the last one to reside in the upstairs living quarters when her husband was the station agent.

Then there is the story of the great James Hill’s failed negotiations with the prosperous young Snohomish City business leaders in the 1880s to build a trestle on the north side of the river for his Great Northern Railroad, which was following Wall Street money to Everett. In response, Mr. Hill’s tracks were installed on the south side of the river with no station for Snohomish.

Our historic image of the trestle passing behind the former depot shows only the parallel lines of preserved wood where the tracks once ran. The railroad company simply abandoned the massive wooden structure, which eventually became an eyesore and hazard that had to be dismantled by the city struggling to find extra wartime dollars, I imagine.

Next month I will share with you Allen’s story about the time when the railway flagman at the Avenue D intersection had to hire a lawyer.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, January 27, 2010



The abandoned railroad trestle pictured here around 1940 was built by the Milwaukee Railroad in 1910 along the north bank of the Snohomish River. 1201 First Street, currently the American Legion Building, was the depot and passengers would use the elevated wooden walkway on the right leading to the front of the building. The station agent and his family lived on the second floor. Photo courtesy Allen Miller.

View of the backside of the former depot as it appears today with the wooden trestle replaced by a concrete walkway as part of the Riverside Trail completed in 2006. The American Legion Post #96 has owned the building since the 1950s.

Historic Avenue B

Historic Avenue B, looking south, 1855-2009

SNOHOMISH’S OWN PIONEER PHOTOGRAPHER, GILBERT D. HORTON, captured this month’s historic image of Avenue B around 1885. By then, all three Blackman families had made their homes in this part of town, but only one has survived, and it is now the Blackman House Museum at 118 Avenue B.

Alanson “Cap” Blackman was the eldest brother to settle in Snohomish along with his wife, Eliza, also from Bradley, Maine. Their home was on the corner of Avenue B and 2nd, across the street from pioneer drugstore owner Lot Wilbur’s home. The Wilbur’s three story home was built on a south-facing hill that was removed in the 40s to build an automobile dealership level with the street. Most likely, Horton had his large format camera set up on the hill in order to capture the historic bird’s eye view, as opposed to my “ladder-high view” repeat photograph.

Next in line age wise, was Elhanan who built a home on the east side of Avenue B, on the left in the historic image, and lived there with his wife Frances and their daughter Edith. (We wrote about Edith last month since her grandson, Richard, had just donated her family album to the Society.)

Just across the wide, park-like avenue from Elhanan’s family was the youngest brother, Hyrcanus and his wife Ella living at 118 Avenue B. Their two children, Clifford and Eunice were born and raised in this home that is now our museum. Plus, Eunice and her husband Dr. William Ford lived in the home until his death in 1951, but Eunice stayed put for another 10 years or so until accepting her daughter’s invitation to live with her family in Sacramento, California, where she died in 1974.

Hyrcanus was the financial officer of the Blackman Brothers Company and civic activist. By the time this photograph was taken, the Brothers had a logging operation on a small lake north of town, and a very busy mill on the Snohomish River turning out red cedar shakes by the (coming) trainload for shipment to the East Coast.

The structure in the historic image at the end of the block could be the location of Blackman roller skating rink that’s mentioned in the early newspapers. In any case, the structure was deconstructed to make room for the four-star Penobscot Hotel, which opened on this site in 1888. Sadly, it burned to the ground in the great fire of 1911 when the current two-story brick building was built inside of a year.

Then there is the story of the heated contest between Hyrcanus and city founder “Old Ferg” to be elected the first Mayor when the citizen’s voted for the city’s incorporation in 1890. You are invited to hear that story and more as part of my second annual Blackman Stories for the Holidays offered weekend afternoons from 1 to 4pm, but only through December at the Blackman House Museum on historic Avenue B.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, December 16, 2009


Avenue B, circa 1885
A Gilbert Horton photograph of Avenue B around 1885 captured from a hill that was removed to build the Poier Chevrolet Dealership on Second Street. All three Blackman Brothers had homes on this street at the time, but only one home has survived to become the Blackman House Museum, the second structure up from First Street on the right.

Avenue B looking south towards the river, 2009
Avenue B looking towards First Street and the river. Today’s view of the Blackman House Museum at #118, located on the right, is hidden by trees. The white structure at the end of Avenue B is the public restroom and the Sea-Sno Mill beyond.

Edith Blackman's Album

Edith Blackman, 1885-1936 PERHAPS YOU ARE READING this column, month after month, maybe even for the past three years, with a family album of 19th century photographs still in storage; and, with the nagging thought of doing something about it one of these days? If so, I hope to inspire you with the story of Richard Guttormsen’s gift of Edith Blackman’s Album to the Society this past August.

Richard grew up in Everett, with his parents but in his grandmother’s house on Hoyt Avenue. He raised his own family in Lakewood, Washington and when his mother died in 1984, his grandmother’s effects, including her Victorian album of family portraits, passed on to him, which he kept in a box in his garage for over 20 years!

His grandmother was Edith Blackman, who was born in Maine to Elhanan and Francis in 1871. The following year the four Blackman brothers and families migrated to the Pacific Northwest. Edith was the only child in the group that most likely traveled by ship around Cape Horn to San Francisco, then to Port Gamble for work with the Pope and Talbot lumber mill. Within a couple of years, the brothers established their own logging operation on a small lake that now carries their name. All three families built homes on Avenue B in the newly named settlement of Snohomish City, but only one has survived. It has been the Blackman House Museum at 118 Avenue B since 1970.

Back in Lakewood, around 5 years ago, Richard’s son, Michael, told him of the museum in Snohomish that carried his grandmother’s maiden name. Perhaps it would be interested in the album since neither he, nor his siblings, were interested in keeping it? Finally, this past August, Richard and his domestic partner, Alberta, made the trip to Snohomish where they met Marcia O’Hair on duty at the museum. Marcia eagerly accepted the album and even helped Richard identify some of the photographs.

Richard Guttormsen with Alberta and his grandmother's album.We learned from Richard that Edith married a William Morris in 1891, though she did attend classes at the University of Washington when it was located in downtown Seattle. The marriage ended suddenly in divorce in 1911, one year after building a new home at 1231 Hoyt Avenue in Everett, (which is now gone). She never remarried, raising her two children, Francis and Douglas, alone. Beginning in the 1930s with the Richard’s birth to Francis and Andrew Guttormsen, his family lived with Edith at this address. Richard has many memories of his time with Grandma Edith, including trips to Snohomish to visit old friends. Edith died in her home in 1965. She was 94 years old.

Please consider this story a call to action. You may come to learn, just as Richard has, that the Victorian album of old photographs that nobody in the family wants is a priceless treasure of local history. As further encouragement, I will be telling stories about some of the historic photos used in my book “Early Snohomish” at the Upper Case Bookstore on Saturday afternoon at 2pm on November 21st. Joining me will be Kathleen Lince, the Society’s professional archivist, who will advise interested persons on the best practices for the care of your family photographs. You are invited to bring along your album to share and for a free consult as to its care and historic content.

Published November 18, 2009 in the Snohomish County Tribune

The First Tombstone in Snohomish

Tombstone for Woodbury Sinclair, c. 1876


The sad story begins with his sudden death in 1872, just after Woodbury and his wife Mary Low had platted the eastern section of the town site newly named “Snohomish.” Their two small children, Clarence and Mabel, inherited the Sinclair land holdings, with their mother acting as the executor.

So, acting on behalf of the children, Mary donated three acres alongside the Pilchuck River for a cemetery, since the young town had no place for public burials. The Snohomish Cemetery Association was legally established in 1876. After four years, Mary finally had a registered resting place for her husband’s remains. She ordered a marker of white stone from Seattle, and Woodbury’s tombstone (pictured here) is considered to be the first one in Snohomish City.

Along with the her husband, Mary included the remains of their first born, Alvin, who died within a month of Mary’s arrival in Snohomish, he was barely two months old in 1865.

Accounts of Snohomish’s first cemetery describe a picturesque, park like setting with a white metal picket fence and a gateway with swinging gates. A black arch above read “Snohomish Cemetery” in white letters.

With the establishment of the G. A. R. (Grand Army of the Republic) cemetery west of town in 1898, the small cemetery alongside the river was no longer used, then neglected and forgotten. In the 1940s it was divided for the extension of Second Street to connect with Highway 2. Supposedly, the remains were moved to the G. A. R cemetery, but not the Sinclairs, according to the records. Even Woodbury’s tombstone was left behind, as it was vandalized in the thirties and eventually rescued by the Historical Society.

One day, I hope to take a “now” picture of the stone in its new setting, alongside a monument to Mary Low, and the other founding pioneers that shaped early Snohomish.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, October 21, 2009.

Learn more about Mary Low Sinclair at

901 First Street Building

901 First around 1930 and 2009

RESEARCH ON THIS MONTH’S POST presented me with the perfect excuse for making a Sunday afternoon call on Rosemary and Cliff Bailey. I needed to learn more about the fact that Cliff’s grandparents once owned the store at 901 First Street, and that he had a photograph of his mother and grandmother behind the candy counter.

John and Margaret Kleisath were Pennsylvania Dutch people, who found their way west and landed in early Snohomish, date unknown. John worked as a barber before opening the candy store on the southwest corner of First Street where Union Avenue ends at the famous Snohomish gulch. Let’s imagine they were the first tenants of the building, built around 1900, with their storefront business (pictured below) on the street level and their new home above.

Interior of the Kleisath Cand Store at 901 First Street sometime before 1918.  That's when the young clerk on the left, Florence Kleisath, married Earl Bailey and moved to the Bailey Farm that still exists south of town.

Perhaps it was the birth their daughter Florence (pictured above on the left) that marked the beginning of the Kleisath’s passion for making ice cream. But by the 1930s, the family operation was too large for its Snohomish home and the K & K Ice Cream Company opened a manufacturing operation in Everett. In the meantime, Florence had left the family business when she married Earl Bailey in 1918, and seven years later, Clifford was born, the middle child between two sisters.

Clifford and Rosemary, who are Snohomish High School sweethearts, don’t know how the store passed on to someone named “Edwards” – but they do have teenage memories of Mona’s Café that occupied the storefront space during the thirties since it was an after school hangout. The popular café also served as the Stage Depot for local bus service, so there must have been an air of anticipation amongst the young people of escaping to the big city of Everett at any minute.

Since those happy days, the wooden building built on tall posts on the steep slope facing the now dry gulch began looking worse for wear as it continued to serve a number of storefront businesses and residency’s on the second floor.

Three years ago, Zouhair Mardini and Joshua Scott of Mosaic Architecture began the journey of saving the building that has ended with its current full occupancy, featuring Mardini’s antique storefront, law offices on the second floor, plus a condo in the back and more office space below grade that opens up in back to a private view of the gulch. (It’s worth the short trip around back, where you can compare the building’s new foundation of concrete with the existing wooden posts of the Oxford Saloon.)

It should come as no surprise to the long time Snohomish reader that I left the Bailey’s with a generous bag of corn and home grown tomatoes. More important, I left with stories, a folder of old photographs and a promise to return.

[Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, September 16, 2009]

901 First Street Building circa 1935
The 901 First Street Building was home to Edwards Confectionery in the late 1930s, featuring Snohomish’s own K & K Ice Cream, and it was the Stage Depot for local bus service. The image captures the annual Memorial Day parade marching east on First Street.

901 First Street Building in 2009
The 901 First Street Building as it appears today in the morning light. The renovated building is sitting on a new foundation of concrete, boasting restored storefront windows for the Mardini & Company antique store, and featuring the addition of an enclosed stairway to the second floor business and residence. This renovation was given a Founders Award for Historic Preservation from the Historic Society.

Early Snohomish Goes "Down-to-Camp"

Camper,s Row at Clinton, 1913-2009

JUST AS THE LEADING FAMILIES OF EARLY SNOHOMISH WOULD DO, we are going “down-to-camp” for the month of August.

Perhaps beginning as early as 1890, all three Blackman families would board a steamer at Snohomish and head down river loaded with tents, cots, and 30 days worth of supplies. The boat would head out into Possession Sound, past Hat Island, and aim for the sunniest beach on Whidbey Island. The overdressed passengers joyfully set up a row of tents along a narrow beach hemmed in by an unscaleable bluff of thick green woods.

The name “Camper’s Row” remains to this day. Even though a very steep road now allows the contemporary camper to park closer to the beach, it’s still necessary to walk-in, past several cabins to reach your destination.

I am looking for the cabin called “Drift-Inn” where I am to meet co-owner and author Frances Wood. We became acquainted several years ago when she visited the Blackman House Museum and introduced me to her book, “Down to Camp: A History of Summer Folk on Whidbey Island.” The story begins when Nina Blackman arrives in Snohomish to begin teaching school and she stays with her cousin Hyrcanus Blackman’s family in the home that is now our museum. But her stay was short, for within the year, she married Charles Bakeman, an early Snohomish furniture maker who responded to the demand for coffins by becoming an undertaker. Saving that story for another time, the union gave birth to Inez who is Frances’s grandmother.

"Down to Camp: A History of Summer Folk on Whidbey Island"Frances’s story reveals another wonderful fact about our famous Blackman brothers: they had an older sister, Mary Ursula. With her husband Eugene and their son Elmer, the family arrived in Snohomish around the same time as Nina. Trained as a civil engineer, Elmer landed a job immediately as the city and county surveyor. Next, Elmer met and married Sylvia Ferguson, Emory and Lucetta’s eldest. With the birth of their only child, Norman, the Lenfest family eventually out grew tent camping and built a cabin on the beach around the time their son reached 8 years of age.

Following his mother’s death in the early fifties, Norman, who had no family, lived out his life between the cabin and a home in Snohomish until his death in 1978. While the cabin is no longer in the family and has been modernized of course, it is still in use and right next door to the Drift Inn on Camper’s Row.

Author Frances Wood outside her family's historic cabin on Whidbey Island Frances’s book is available at the Blackman House Museum, which is closed for the month of August to give our volunteers a little “down to camp” time; after all, as Frances says in her lively book, going down-to-camp is more than a place, it’s also a state of mind. Please contact me if you can not wait until the museum reopens in September to purchase her book.




Brighton Beach at Clinton, Whidbey Island, 1914. Still called “Camper’s Row,” the tradition of early Snohomish families camping on this beach began around 1890 and was referred to as going “down-to-camp.” Several tents are visible in this image, which is how the habitation of this summer place began. Off the left hand frame are the cabins of the Blackman Families, still in use though expanded and updated over the years. The first structure in view on the left is the Lenfest Cabin, built in the early 1900s by Elmer and Sylvia. Elmer was the son of the Blackman sister, Mary and Eugene Lenfest; while Sylvia was the first daughter born to Emory and Lucetta Ferguson. In the center, is the cabin built by the Morgans, Lucetta’s parents, currently owned by descendants of the Bakeman family. The image documents a dramatic slide of the hillside behind the cabins, one of many through the years.


A section of “Camper’s Row” in Clinton, Whidbey Island as it appears today. The Lenfest cabin passed on to the son Norman and was sold upon his death in the 1970s. Next door is the addition of a guest cabin to the “Drift Inn” in the center, now in the family of the author Frances Wood. The cabin on the right is new and not included in the historic image.