The Great Snowball Fight of 1916 — (Maybe)!

This month’s image is an enlarged detail from a glass plate negative, measuring 4 by 5 inches, that came tucked in a strip of folded scrap paper with the handwritten title “School children at play.” It was included in a box with 37 other negatives, a list of titles, and stored in the Snohomish Historical Society Archives with no other information. The image of the Gorham home and family, shared with you last month, was included, and it may be a clue linking the collection of photographic plates to the first publisher/owner of the Snohomish County Tribune.

Kodak ContestThe Eastman Dry Plate Company began manufacturing prepared plates in 1880 and they were still available into the 1920s when finally overwhelmed by the ease of using a Kodak Camera: “You press the button – we do the rest.” Photographic plates remained in use for astronomical photography into the 1980s when replaced by “charge-coupled devices” – better known as CCD cameras.

Today, any point-and-shoot camera can freeze a playground snowball fight without a trace of the motion. Fortunately, for most of us, no snow has fallen before going to press in order to make my point. Besides, who knows where this historic snowball battle took place?

As to the when, the image may be further photographic evidence of the excitement around documenting the record snowstorm of 1916, that I have written about in the past. Even today, a snowfall of any amount brings out our urge to capture this living metaphor of nature, especially of our children showing us how to enjoy it fully.

In any event, I am taking a holiday from doing a repeat shot this month to share with you this historic image of captured motion – and the joy of the season. Looking closely you may hear the loud, excited din of children at play.

And I am interested in your reactions to this blurry snapshot, that would be impossible to tag on Facebook — please leave a comment below.

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, December 18, 2013

Gorham House, circa 1915

This month’s historic image emerged from a slowly decaying glass plate negative at this time because of an inspired initiative by the Sno-Isle Libraries to “Digitize Our Community’s History.”

The Snohomish Historical Society was selected as a partner along with our local library branch to select historic images from our collection for a featured online presence at As volunteer archivists for the Society, Kathleen Lince and I jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of the libraries’ expertise and equipment to finally scan our extensive collection of glass plate negatives.

The number scanned reached 135. A few we recognized from existing prints, but most are mini-mysteries to be solved. One thought is to publish an interesting selection of these unknown images online in a quest for information, perhaps even identification.

snohomishthenandnow imageOur favorite finds will be featured in this column for the next several months, beginning with this month’s knockout image of the Gorham House, 404 Avenue D, taken around 1915, most likely by a hobbyist photographer. (Prepared glass plates for the “prosumer,” to use a modern word, were available into the 1920s.)

Charles Wesley Gorham, born in New York City, worked with his father as a printer in South Dakota. Moving west on his own, Charles purchased the Index Miner and the Snohomish Tribune in 1893. He was only 27 years old. Around this time, he was one of the leaders organizing a company of the Washington National Guard. Yet, in a confusing combination of events, he withdraws his name when nominated as a 1st Lieutenant, thus “ending the first bloodless battle of the Snohomish militia,” reported his own newspaper, June 13, 1895.

Moving on to a more longer lasting adventure in his life, Charles married Elsie E. West in a June wedding in 1901, the same year that he gave the presentation speech when the Woman’s Book Club transferred the public library to the Snohomish City Council.

Their gracious home was built in 1902 by the popular contractor, Nels Hansen. They raised three children in the home, Harlan West, Helen Margaret, and Elaine Standish — who must be the children pictured in our image — making its discovery a true historic treasure.

Charles, who served three terms as a Republican in the state legislature suffered a stroke while in Olympia, was paralyzed, and died a year later, October 22, 1919, at home. His wife, Elsie, shared the grand home with her grown children off and on, until her death in 1946. The couple are buried side-by-side in the G.A.R Cemetery.

Then and Now animation
Then: The Gorham House, c.1915 | Now: The Mester Home, 404 Avenue D

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, November 20, 2013

Elwell House: Built 1888; Divided 1913; Renovated 2013

Fade-in: SNOHOMISH, 1883. A True Story.

Crossfade to a young family walking single file down the wobbly gangplank from the stern-wheeler Nellie tied up at Ferguson’s Wharf, near Avenue D. It’s the humble carpenter John S. White with his young wife Delia, and their three daughters, Linnie, Elsie and Alice who is in her mother’s arms. Indians crowd in to help with their many pieces of luggage.

Pages of an ornate Victorian calendar flip through the months until it stops at July 1885 – crossfade to a dedication in progress of the graceful, gleaming white Methodist Church, (first built on the corner of Avenue C and Third, but now located one block east on Avenue B).

The calendar pages quickly continue flipping and stop at April 1886 – crossfade to another dedication of the Odd Fellows Hall on Second Street, and again the calendar flips forward another year to April 1887 – crossfade to footage of men looking over the plans for the Getchell home (still standing at the corner of Avenue C and Second Street).

Here we meet Edgar H. Elwell, a barrel-chested lumberman from Maine who towers over White demanding that he build him an even better home than one he is doing for his business rival Joe Getchell. White builds Elwell and his wife Emma this unique Italianate-style home in 1888 — unlike anything else he built in Snohomish.

Calendar pages flip, overlaid with images of J. S. White’s buildings, stopping in 1890 with the dedication of the grand three-story brick building commissioned by the eccentric Samuel Burns, (which is still standing at 1118 First Street).

Foreboding music as the calendar pages turn slowly to the next year, 1891, crossfade to bird’s eye view of the train crossing the river, then cut to bellowing steam from the train as it pulls into the small depot past the cemetery on the east side of town.

Through the dissipating steam we see a small gathering of well dressed people stop their chatter to cheer the arrival of Nels “Pete” Hansen and his young wife Augusta. Their beaming faces and how they look at each other tells us that they are newlyweds. It’s Pete’s brother Frederick and friends who have gathered to welcome the couple and soon they are all off on a carriage ride down First Street to show the town to Pete, who is also a carpenter.

A close-up of Pete’s admiring eyes jump cuts to a reverse point-of-view shot panning down White’s gorgeous red brick Burns Block as the carriage passes by, setting the stage for our story of frontier intrigue among the builders of early Snohomish.

Time passes with a montage of the many grand homes and public buildings built by Hansen, (which like the Eagles Hall, for example, are still standing). It’s 1913. Pete is talking with his brother in front of the Elwell House when a figure from the house joins them in an animated conversation. We can only imagine what’s being said, however. It is a long shot from across the street and even our view is interrupted by a constant, back-and-forth stream of horse-drawn wagons, spurting, loud trucks, and cars – the beginning of Avenue D as we know it today.

Hansen purchases the property. A stop-action sequence of the smaller structure on the left moving away from the larger one and turning 90 degrees (to the south), a new facade is created, (in fast motion) with a large window and covered entrance porch. The sequence ends with a shot of the Hansen’s extended family gathered around the Christmas tree, opening gifts in their new home at 212 Avenue D.

Tight shot on Sunday, the 17th, as the camera backs up to reveal October 1920. Crossfade to a dolly shot passing the homes on Avenue H – they are modest homes with fading front yard gardens. The camera stops at number 310, and moves toward the front door. Inside, in the front room, daughters Linnie and Elsie are consoling each other as the camera passes them on its way up the narrow staircase. In a small bedroom, John is coming to the end of a long illness with a quiet death watched over by his wife Delia.

Epilogue: “SNOHOMISH 2013.”

Bird’s eye view of the renovated Elwell House. There is a moving truck in the alley, figures are moving the household goods of the new owner into the home with a new roof at 212 Avenue D. A title scrolls up the screen informing us that Hansens lived in this home until August’s death on Christmas Day, 1938. Pete remarried and lived seven more years, taking his reason for dividing White’s Elwell house to his grave at the G.A.R Cemetery, west of town.

The aerial shot expands to show the town alongside the river, the cemetery in the distance, and the setting sun beyond, of course.

Fade to black.

Let me know what you think of my movie pitch. Comments are always welcomed. My exhibition of selected repeat photographs taken for this column since 2007 is now on view at the Snohomish Bakery, First and Union.

Thanks to genealogist extraordinare Ann Tuohy for her historic fact-checking.

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, October 16, 2013

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!

    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.)

    [singlepic id=252 w=550 h=337 float=none]
    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

    First Street Bridge Looking East, 1913

    Our story that could be titled, “The Bridges of Snohomish City” continues this month, featuring a stunning photograph of the First Street Bridge under construction 100 years ago in 1913.

    [singlepic id=250 w=175 h=100 float=left]The action packed scene captured by an unknown photographer, and unlabeled, is easy to date nevertheless for two reasons. First, the Eagles Hall pictured on the right shows the Snohomish Dry Goods Company occupying the easternmost storefront. Sometime during 1913, Raymond Harmon opened his Speciality Shop in this location.

    [singlepic id=251 w=102 h=150 float=right]Second, and even better evidence, is a front page story in the September 12, 1913, issue of the Snohomish County Tribune, with the headline: “Snohomish Spends Almost $100,000 for Improvements.” A subhead reads: “Completion of First Street Bridge and New Pipe Line means much to Snohomish and Vicinity.”

    Not counting the new bridge, grading the entire length of First Street was estimated to cost $27,141.42 by the city engineer. Work on Third Street and Avenue I came in at $13,341.72. Smaller improvements were made to Avenues A, B, C, and E; plus, Cedar, Wood, Willow and Rainier Streets. All in all, the Tribune boasted: “Over Nine Miles of Graded Streets and Cement Walks Now in Use in This City.”

    Another measure of our city’s progress reported in the story was the fact that it was almost impossible to find a vacant house. “A year ago, according to the statement made by one of the businessmen this week, there were at least 150 houses in this city,“ stated the paper, with the word “vacant” implied.

    The front page story wraps up with the first mention I’ve come across in a newspaper of the disparity between the population counted within the city limits, (3,244 in 1910), and the estimated 4,000 people “residing near this city and who consider themselves as part of the city.” The story concludes: “This makes a population of practically 7,000.”

    Today, that number is around 40,000 people who reside in the Snohomish School District, but barely 9,000 people live within the city limits. In 1998, state courts ruled that the larger number could be considered as the “library taxing district” — leading to the passing of a bond, that after a few twists and turns, led to the building of our new library.

    Repeat Photographs by Warner BlakeGosh, speaking of the new library — an exhibition of “Repeat Photographs” taken for this blog, and Tribune column since 2007 will be on display at the Snohomish Library during the month of August. A preview of the artworks, along with purchase information, is available here.

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    Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, July 17, 2013