Category Archives: Railroads

Snohomish Now and Then: A train station here?

[singlepic id=254 w=550 h=386 float=none] J.Craig Thorpe Rendering (Click to Enlarge)

We are flipping the adjectives of our blog title this month over our excitement to be sharing with you a future idea for the Centennial Trail Station and Interpretive Center at First Street.

The original watercolor rendering by J. Craig Thorpe was unveiled this past weekend as part of the celebration marking the first train to reach Snohomish 125 years ago on September 19, 1888. Snohomish City Council Members unanimously approved to commission Thorpe to produce a conceptualization of what a station in downtown Snohomish might look like after some 70 years without passenger train service, although freight service continued to mid-1990s. The station could accommodate plans for the return of an excursion train to Snohomish.

The Eastside TRailway Alliance was formed in 2012, joining the cities of Snohomish and Woodinville, along with various groups and business, including wineries. The Alliance is committed to both rail and trail development and is devoted to seeing the Eastside Rail Corridor improve and expand for public benefit – in other words, building upon the same rail route that was established 125 years ago.

Working with the new rail operator Eastside Community Rail, the Alliance is developing plans to establish a Taste of Washington excursion train. Over the horizon may be commuter rail service, from a station south of the Snohomish River, connecting our city to Bellevue to the south and Everett to the west. Modern self-propelled rail cars, called “diesel multiple unit” (DMU), are as quiet as buses, one of which is pictured in the rendering.

[singlepic id=253 w=260 h=173 float=left] J. Craig Thorpe is a well regarded local artist of landscapes who has been commissioned by Amtrak for original art over the past two decades. Our neighboring city of Skykomish to the north commissioned Thorpe to create a vision for its Town Center expanding on its history as a Great Northern town. The Mayor of Skykomish testifies have a picture of the vision is a valuable ‘marketing tool with local businesses, residents, possible investors, other stakeholders and legislators,” according to Thorpe’s website.

Snohomish’s newspaper The Eye published a headline on April 23,1887 that read: “LET ‘ER BOOM! Unbridled enthusiasm anticipating the arrival of the train the following year. With this concept of our future train station in mind, I say, “Let‘er Boom Again!”

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, September 18, 2013

Video: LET ‘ER BOOM: 125 Years Later!

Snohomish’s newspaper “The Eye” followed the progress of the track laying crews as they moved north toward Snohomish preparing the way for the arrival of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad. It was an exciting time, as it is again with the revival of the dormant rail corridor, especially between Snohomish and Woodinville with the formation of the Eastside TRailway Alliance earlier this year.

“Let’er Boom Again!” a headline might read today, if newspapers were keeping its eye on what’s happening in the community these days.

A weekend of events celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the Lake Shore Road, September 14 & 15, 2013, intends to draw attention to the regional benefits of reviving rail service south of Snohomish. The community party hopes to make news!

  • Saturday, September 14th, a Symposium of Speakers, a Musical Interlude and a Free Lunch will be held at AngelArmsWorks, 230 Avenue B in Historic Downtown Snohomish — doors open at 9a for this FREE event!
    Follow this link to learn more and to save your place.
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  • Sunday, September 15th, the celebrations begin at 11a in both Woodinville & Snohomish!
  • Download an Official Schedule of Events.
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    Featured is a special VIP caboose departing from Woodinville, north bound to Snohomish, at noon — following proclamations and remarks at 11:30. Included aboard the historic, sure to be swaying, caboose ride will be Snohomish Mayor, Karen Guzak, Woodinville City Council-member, Les Rubstello, and State Representative Luis Moscoso among others.

    The Pacific Railcar Operators will be running small rail cars, called Speeders, along the picturesque rail route between Woodinville and Snohomish as well. Barely to mention live music, food, even mini train rides for the kids!

    Three years ago, a rail operator promised the return of the Dinner Train, this time running between Woodinville and Snohomish, a promise that created quite a town buzz which reminded me of the newspaper accounts from the 1880s, and I wrote this story “Rails Over the River” about the arrival of the first train into Snohomish on September 19, 1888 — the event we are celebrating this September — and the forming of the Eastside TRailway Alliance with its goal of creating an even better excursion train.

    Let ‘er Boom Again — 125 Years Later!

    Wilbur Drugstore Building, 1889

    In the December 15, 1888, issue of The Eye, Snohomish’s 19th century newspaper of record, editor C. H. Packard wrote:

    “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.”

    The plans were those of J. S. White, whom I consider to be Snohomish’s first architect. He settled here in 1884, with his wife and three daughters, just in time to catch a front row seat on the roller coaster ride of frontier development. By 1890, White was responsible for at least nine structures, including his own home that is still standing at 310 Avenue H.

    A special section of the Snohomish Sun, published in 1891, titled “Our Business Men,” wrote about J. S. White:

    J. S. White, 1891“He is the architect and builder of nearly every building of note in the city. Among the residences built by him are those of E. C. Ferguson, O. E. Crossman, Mrs. Sinclair, H. C. Comegys, H. D. Morgan. etc., etc. Among the business blocks and fittings put up by him are Wilburs, Burns, A. M. Blackman’s […] and all these buildings are after his own plans.”



    Lot Wilbur’s new drugstore was not finished until the following fall, several months beyond his expectations — some things never change in the construction business. The Eye reported on October 19, 1889:

    “Contractor White, expects in a few days, as soon as he completes the Wilbur block to commence the erection of a handsome and commodious new residence for Mr. O. E. Crossman on the latter’s Avenue B property (320)….”

    Busy man.

    Last month, I introduced you to the work of Seattle photographer Otto Greule, with his image of the Odd Fellows Hall, and told you of our project to document the surviving structures designed and built by J. S. White. The Wilbur Drugstore Building — the second brick building in the county, a boastful edifice marking the economic success of Wilbur’s Remedies — is one of White’s most important commissions. It is not ready for its close-up.

    Wilbur Drugstore Building today

    Now: American Legion Post 96, (1201 First). The architectural celebration of a boom time in early Snohomish has been banished to the second floor by an expedient store front alteration.


    Sad to say, a photograph of the Wilbur Drugstore Building will not be included in a publication honoring the work of White, and the 19th century architectural heritage of downtown Snohomish, due to its obvious need for historic restoration.

    The structure will be 125 years old in 2014, and I challenge members of the American Legion Post 96 to set this date as a goal to gift their community a restored Wilbur Drugstore Building.

    [singlepic id=157 w=260 h=163 float=right] Goodwill Tour, 1912.
    “You can’t miss Snohomish if you come over the Milwaukee,” read the white ribbons worn by the men. (Click image to enlarge.) They are posed in front of the historic Wilbur Drugstore Building, then the depot for the new Milwaukee Road Railway, which I wrote about here.

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    Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, December 26, 2012.

    bob hierman 2012

    Northern Pacific Depot, 1968

    We are in the memory garden now,” said Bob Heirman, trying to figure out exactly where the old depot stood on Lincoln Avenue, between Third and Fourth Streets.

    “I fired out of this station many times over the years,” Bob reminisced, studying a copy of this month’s historic image. Bob was a fireman on the Northern Pacific Railroad — began working at 19 years of age, and retired when he turned 62.

    The station was built in 1888 to host the arrival of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad on its way to the Canadian border.

    [singlepic id=135 w=150 h=94 float=right]

    An obvious promotional image for the New Brunswick Hotel, located at 1208 First Street, captures the earliest view of the Snohomish Depot built facing Railroad Street, now called Lincoln. [Click thumbnail to enlarge]

    The independent line followed the route of many all across the country, merging into larger railroads; and in 1892, the Northern Pacific Railroad company took over operation of the line serving Snohomish. The company’s distinctive red-and-black Monad logo was installed on the structure in the 1920s where it remained until the modest building was dismantled some 50 years later.

    [singlepic id=136 w=150 h=195 float=right]Allen Miller got the sign. He is a railroad historian and collector who writes in an email: “N.P. Snohomish was quite a busy place in the early days. I recall reading some of Max King’s stories from the newspapers at the library where he mentions locomotives switching the yards at night, stock pens of cattle and the helper engines on Maltby and Getchell hills working out of Snohomish. The depot was open 24 hours a day until 1915, when the cutoff to Everett, via the Great Northern Railroad, was placed into service.”

    [singlepic id=138 w=150 h=102 float=left]The structure shrunk over the years but was still in service when the historical image was captured in 1968. Its anticipated demise sparked the establishment of the Snohomish Historical Society the following year, but the depot could not be saved. Nor a second one across the river that served the Great Northern line.

    On May 19, 2012, a link of the Centennial Trail that passes through town was dedicated. Now you can ride, walk, or roll, the historic route of the rails from downtown Snohomish to Arlington.

    Think of it as trip through a memory garden.

    [singlepic id=137 w=320 h=240 float=right]Retired railroad fireman, Bob Heirman, is pictured sitting on the fence of the recently completed Centennial Trail link that passes alongside the new library. Best as Bob could tell, he would be sitting in the waiting room of the depot — something he rarely did, if ever, over his 53 years with the Northern Pacific Railroad.

    Depot images courtesy Allen Miller

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    Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, June 20, 2012.

    “Where are the snows of memory?”

    “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” asked Francois Villion, a fifteenth-century French poet, in one of the most famous translated lines from French secular poetry. Remember you heard it here, reading a story about early Snohomish!

    The historic image in the animation is a view looking east down First Street toward the corner of Avenue B, documenting the 1916 record snowfall. The horse drawn wagon is delivering ice! And the hand-lettered sign announces that the post office is open — located in the corner store where patrons have gathered to watch the photographer with the Snohomish Studio at work. With newspaper reports remarking on the number of photographers at work capturing the record snowfall, it’s surprising that not more images have survived.

    The snow began falling on January 30, 1916, and when it was measured four days later, over three feet had fallen, setting a new record. It was pioneer druggist, Lot Wilbur’s job, as the superintendent of measurements for the city, to get an accurate measurement — he came up with 40 (official) inches. Not a record he felt, and told of getting up early one morning in January, 1880, and stepping into the snow, and disappearing up to his ears! But no official measurements were recorded.

    Train service came to a halt for three days, as you can imagine. The big news in Seattle was that the dome of the St James Cathedral collapsed under the weight of the show.

    The contemporary image captures the first snowfall of 2012. The Blackman Building, on the left, and the Marks Building on the right are still in use today. Our current snowfall measuring only 15-20 inches, regardless of the trouble it causes us, is a feeble attempt at beating the 1916 record.

    Changing the subject: Readers of these postings are invited to tumble along with me on my train trip to Memphis, Tennessee as our local blues band “Wired!” completes in the International Blues Challenge, February 1 and 2, 2012. Traveling by Amtrak from Everett, I will continue on to New Orleans for one of the first Mardis Gras parades in the French Quarter, then on to Los Angeles with a stop in Marfa Texas, where the film “Giant” was shot, plus several recent movies, but is also known for its contemporary art installations, which is why I am visiting.

    Bookmark your favorite browser to this address: warnerblake.tumblr.com and check in for the updates (no email reminders will be sent).

    Perhaps I will miss a true record breaking snowfall!

    Walking Tour takes the high (rail)road

    Many thanks to the walking tour group pictured above (from the left: Moria Earl, Lee Bennett, Polly Roberts, Ed Bruck, Linda Waugh, and Barbara Donnelly Larson), for supporting this website with their contribution for the tour.

    The group enthusiastically ventured out onto the historic railroad trestle over the Snohomish River, Saturday, August 21st, looking for any evidence of the original bridge in the low water below. According to our Snohomish railroad historian, Allen Miller, the bridge that collapsed in 1889, shortly after it was built, can be seen resting at the bottom of the river during the summer months when the water level is low.

    Even with all of us looking however, we found no sign of the sunken railroad tracks; but, I am happy to report that everyone made it back to First Street safely.

    You may read more about the original bridge in this post from March 2010.

    (And you may wish to save the date, October 23rd, for my second annual tour of the GAR Cemetery — details to follow.)