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.