The First Airplane Flight (and Crash) in Snohomish

PART ONE: THE FLIGHT


One hundred years ago, an airplane took off from the Harvey Baseball Park and crash-landed in a newly plowed field about a half-mile down river. It was all over in less than a minute but photographer William Douglas needed only fractions of a second to capture the historic event.

Tribune May 5, 1911

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The first airplane flight in Snohomish County happened on Sunday, May 7, 1911. It was suppose to have happened the day before. A headline in Friday’s issue of the Snohomish County Tribune announced: “The Bird Man Will Fly In Snohomish Saturday and Sunday.”

Fred J. Wiseman, a former racecar driver from California, was billed as the “World’s Greatest Aviator,” and the Curtiss-Farman-Wright biplane as “The Fastest Machine In The World” in the full-page ad published in the same issue. The plan was to take off at 3, Saturday afternoon, fly down the river a few miles, circle around the town and land back in Harvey Park.

The ambitious plan continues in the next paragraph: “The second flight will take place Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., from the same place, when the machine will circle several times around the city, ending with an exhibition of airship evolutions at the park, second to none ever given in the county.”

Fifteen to thirty thousand people were expected to attend over the weekend, according to the article, and special trains were added to run from Everett.

David Dilgard, historian with the Everett Public Library, who has done extensive research on this event, writes: “While no suitable space for landings or takeoffs was found at Everett, the baseball grounds on the Harvey homestead across the river from Snohomish appeared to be workable.” The ballpark was located between the river and the railroad tracks, where today a seasonal market operates under the large billboard. The Great Northern Depot once stood in the area, which came in handy for the delivery of the disassembled plane that arrived by rail on Thursday, the fourth.

Surprise! It rained most of the day Friday, slowing down the re-assembling of the aircraft, and the heavy rain continued well into Saturday morning, resulting in the cancellation of that day’s free exhibition.

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The rain stopped by Sunday afternoon, but barely 400 people had paid the $1 admission to enter the park. According to the May 17, 1911 issue of the Tribune, an estimated ten thousand people witnessed the flight from various vantage points for free. Trouble with the 80 horsepower Hall-Scott overhead-valve V-8 engine delayed the flight for an hour, but finally, Wiseman took his seat in the fragile biplane, parked at home plate, and the strongest crew member turned the eight foot long propeller to crank the unmuffled motor into action.

“The start and rise was as pretty a sight as one will see in a lifetime,” reported the Tribune 100 years ago, “but it was evident at once that the motor was not working right and before he had been in the air a minute the engine ‘died;’ there was nothing to do but come down, and he struck in plowed field, about the worst landing place for a flying machine that could be found.”

Continued in Part Two: The First Airplane Crash in Snohomish

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:

Wiseman-Curtis Flight Snohomish

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First Airplane Flight in Snohomish, May 7, 1911. The photographer William Douglas came to Snohomish to capture the first airplane flight in Snohomish County, which he published as postcards. This view is the only one of the three surviving images that shows the plane in flight.

Photograph by William Douglas, courtesy Donna Harvey and the Snohomish Historical Society Archives


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Flight Location 2011. Historian David Dilgard’s research has identified the spot where Douglas stood to capture his historic image. Rather than stand in the blackberry bushes, however, the author gratefully acknowledges B & H Body Repair on Airport Way for allowing him to stand in the back of a pickup truck on their used car lot.

The Alcazar Theatre

Jim McGinty, the long-term owner of the old, run-down Alcazar Theatre building at 609 First Street, claims that it is the most photographed historic structure in Snohomish. “So why change it,” he asks?

The Alcazar Theatre was built by a Mr. Jackson, owner of the Jackson Wharf at the base of Maple Avenue and the Jackson Row Houses at Maple and Pearl, behind the Carnegie Library Building. Opening night was noted in the November 11, 1892 issue of the Snohomish County Tribune: “Passing through the broad arched entrance, the auditorium, 33 x 45 feet in size, with a seating capacity of 350 persons, is reached. In construction and decoration no expense has been spared, and the desired result, a theater first-class in all its appointments has been attained.”

Illustration

Courtesy David Dilgard's "Mill Town Footlights"

David Dilgard, Northwest History Specialist with the Everett Public Library, describes in his book “Mill Town Footlights” a similar box-house style theater in Everett (no longer standing) that featured such attractions as Oofty Goofty, The Hard-Cheeked man, “and it had nothing do with the comedian’s face,” Dilgard writes, “indicating instead the portion of his anatomy that received a multitude of kicks and slaps – an indispensable part of variety hall entertainment.” By the close of 1893, however, the economic boom had gone bust, the wooden stages of the area went dark, and the Alcazar Theatre is not listed in the Polk Directory again until 1903.

The Snohomish Historical Society archives has one theater program in its collection from the Alcazar of a production presented by the Snohomish Public Library, on April 8, 1904, titled, “The Mystic Midgets.” The program boasts: “100 Of Our Talented Young People.” And in 1906, a young Al Jolson, new on the vaudeville circuit, moved his act to the Alcazar when his booking in Everett fell through.

Charles H. Crippen is listed as the proprietor of the theater in 1909, and three years later the address, 609 First Street, is a listing for furnished rooms, which were on the second floor. We are getting close to the estimated date of our historic image, picturing the building as the Eastside Garage.

By the 1970s the building had found a new calling as a junk store, but with the establishment of Snohomish’s Historic District in 1973, it was upgraded to “antiques” and it held down the east end of Snohomish’s new moniker “the antique capital of the Northwest.”

Through the years, McGinty has taken expensive steps to preserve the building, first by adding a concrete foundation, and then a few years ago, he replaced the roof. Recently, Mike Odell and Gayle Szalay opened an antique business on Fridays through Sundays. As you enter their shop, look up to note the red horseshoe shape structure in the ceiling – it marks the location of the theater balcony!

And just across the street, you can stop in at Tina’s Manor of Wine for one of her frequent wine tasting. So fortified, you will be ready to pose for the camera with the old Alcazar Building in the background.

Feel free to imagine what it would be like if were a theater again.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:

Alcazar Theater in Snohomish

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Alcazar Building, circa 1915. The Crippen family is pictured showing off their conversion of the former Alcazar Theatre into the Eastside Garage, reputably the first automobile repair service in Snohomish. Mrs. Crippen seems to be striking a pose on the balcony as one of the showgirls from the building’s past. Built in the popular frontier box-house style of variety theater in 1892, very few remain standing today. A rough and tumble saloon and theater when it first opened, the business model fell victim to the nation-wide economic crash of 1893. With the turn of the century, however, the facility was used for local productions presented to benefit the public library. (Courtesy of the Snohomish Historical Society Archives)

Alcazar Theater in Snohomish WA

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Alcazar Building, 2011. Currently owned by Jim McGinty, who lives next door, the rare historic structure has been in his family since the 1960s. It is home to an antique store these days, open only on weekends. “Alcazar” is a Spanish term for castle or palace, which was borrowed from the Arabic “alqasr.” Our local historic treasure could have been named after the famous San Francisco’s Alcazar Theater, built in 1885.

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Published March 16, 2011 in the Snohomish County Tribune.

St Michaels Church

It is a bright Sunday afternoon, perfect for Karen and me to be working in the garden of our place, the former St. Michael’s Church and Rectory at the corner of Third and Avenue B, when an elderly gentleman walks up the driveway and shyly informs us that his mother was once the housekeeper here.

Karen Guzak purchased the historic property at a bankruptcy sale in the county courthouse lobby in 1993. This made her the third owner since the local parish sold the second oldest Catholic Church in the state — just two years shy of its 100th anniversary in 1986.

The Snohomish Eye in the July 14, 1888 issue reported: “The old skating rink was torn down this week, and the lumber will be used in the construction of the Catholic Church to be built here.” A. H. Eddy was awarded the contract for turning the recycled lumber into a church building on a double lot donated by E. C. Ferguson. Eddy was also about to be awarded the contract to build the first swing bridge over the Snohomish River, out of wood! He would surely need all the heavenly graces he could muster for that job.

The modest church, yet with a spire reaching 80 feet, was dedicated on January 20, 1889 as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (A name given by the Spanish missionary D. M. Cesari in 1877, which was changed to St. Michaels by the time Father Michael McCauley left in 1890!) “Its beautiful cross and spire are the first objects to attract the attention of incoming traveler as he casts his eyes for the first time upon our growing and ambitious young city,” wrote the editor of the Eye.

The original façade of the church is partially captured in our historic photograph of a delivery driver and his horse-drawn wagon that came from the album assembled by the aunt and mother of our surprise Sunday visitor, Maurice DeLoy. Marguerite Moran arrived in Snohomish from Ireland around 1920 to stay with her sister Winifred, who was Father Van de Walle’s housekeeper since his first parish on the east coast.

On a return visit, Maurice brought along the family album thick with pictures and clippings about life in the Snohomish parish rectory. “Father Van”, as he was called, enlarged the church to its present size in the ’20s and continued to lead the parish until his retirement in 1947 after 41 years of service.

Maurice’s mother eventually married, and the family was raised in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, but he remembers regular Sunday visits to Snohomish and the aging Farther Van.

And of course, Karen and I are happy Maurice continues to visit us, well into his 70s now. With each visit we learn more about our historic home and studio, as well as, our adopted hometown.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:

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230 Avenue B, circa 1915. A snap taken by the revolutionary Kodak Brownie camera, we imagine, of the evidently popular delivery service still using original horse power. The shot also partially captures the original facade of the St. Michaels Catholic Church just before it was remodeled.

Photo courtesy Maurice DeLoy

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230 Avenue B, 2011. Pictured in front of the former St Michaels Church as it appears today is Karen Guzak with her new Ford Fiesta. Local delivery services fell victim to the popularity of the automobile; so that today, we run our own errands, even if you are the Mayor.

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Published February 16, 2011 in the Snohomish County Tribune.

Mukilteo: First County Seat

We are off to Mukilteo to celebrate the establishment of Snohomish County by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Washington on January 14, 1861. The assembly assigned Mukilteo as the interim county seat until an election could be held, probably because the settlement had four buildings to Snohomish’s one.

This month’s rare historic image came into the possession of the Snohomish Historical Society already framed with a handwritten label reading, “Mukilteo, 1862.” On the reverse it read, “The County Seat of imageSnohomish County,” along with William Whitfield’s name. The process of liberating the fragile print from its non-archival surroundings revealed a backing piece cut from a Whitfield political campaign poster. It was most likely recycled following Whitfield serving for one term in the 1870s. We assume the framed image once hung in his Snohomish office or home.

Of course, Snohomish history buffs know the Whitfield name as the author of the invaluable “History of Snohomish County” published in 1926. And this photograph is included on page 74 illustrating his account of the county’s founding. After publishing the legislative act in full, he writes: “And thus, by a single act of the Legislature Snohomish County was given a name, boundaries, a complete set of county officers, and a county seat fight.”

When Jacob Fowler moved his hotel from Ebey’s Landing he adopted the Indian place name Mukilteo considered to translate as “a good camping ground.” But it was Morris H. Frost, the customs collector at Port Townsend, who first acted on the business potential of the site by staking a claim on the beach in 1860, then inviting Fowler to join him. It was a popular location for the first peoples well into the historic period, including the signing of the Point Elliot treaty in 1855. For Frost and Fowler, it held promise as a handy stop on the water route between Seattle and Bellingham Bay.

The first council meeting was held in March 1861 at the Frost and Fowler’s store. The first commissioners included Ferguson, who was the chairman, John Harvey, Henry McClurg, and Fowler as the auditor. They accepted a petition for the county to build a road from Snohomish City to Woods Prairie, the future site of Monroe; but rejected Fowler’s application to retail small amounts of liquors, claiming the board had no authority to issue licenses for less than the full amount of $300. Whitfield notes that at least two-thirds of the county’s early business involved the “two perplexing questions: roads and liquor licenses.”

At the second meeting in May, Ferguson and Cady were issued a licensed to maintain a ferry across the Snohomish River, but with only 49 white people counted as living in the new county, we wonder if it ever became operational. A final piece of business was to divide the county into two precincts for the election in July. One at the Frost & Fowler store, and the second to be held at the home of E. C. Ferguson – Snohomish’s only building.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:

Click to EnlargeMukilteo, 1862. Compared to Snohomish in 1862, Mukilteo was an “urban center” with the four buildings pictured here. One of the buildings was the Frost and Fowler store and another the post office. Mukilteo was designated as the interim county seat for the new Snohomish County until an election was held in July 1861.

Click to enlargeMukilteo Today. Replacing the buildings of the original town site is the Mukilteo Research Station, one of several carrying out the work of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Just south of the Station is the Washington State Ferry operation, replacing the 1860s use of dugout canoes.

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More reading: A Thumbnail History of Mukilteo; and thanks to David Dilgard for his help locating the contemporary point of view for the repeat photograph.

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Published January 19, 2011 in the Snohomish County Tribune.

Snohomish Snowstorms

You may blame me for the “Thanksgiving Snowstorm” last month. I was wishing hard for snow in order to do a repeat photograph of this month’s wonderful historic image from Bob Bickford.

The image dates from around 1935; capturing Bickford Motors used car lot on First Street under several feet of snow. This location is currently a parking lot for the American Legion Post and, of course, it was quite empty on the morning of November 22nd, even with only a few inches of snow.

Lawrence Bickford and is partner Paul Reed moved their newly acquired Ford Dealership to the west end of First Street in 1934. The showroom was across the street in the east half of the Brunswick Building. The Moehring Shoe Company, founded by Charles Moehring in 1888, was next door, currently home to Snohomish Bicycles.

The Shell station at the west end of the car lot was part of Bickford’s one-stop business plan as well. This corner site was first developed as a hotel in early Snohomish. A photographer’s studio was across the street with its telltale north-facing window built into the roof. Today, it’s the site of the Visitor’s Center with Chuck’s Seafood Grotto in the former gas station.

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1105 1st Street, 1920s

So if you didn’t like the Fords in those days, you would simply walk a block to Poier Motors at 1105 First Street to check out the Chevrolets. There is no building there now because it collapsed in the 1940s nearly killing an employee. Charles Poier and sons moved their operation to Second Street between Avenues B and C where they built the existing large structure featuring the multi-arched roof. But it was not until the 1960s that the collapsed showroom, along with adjacent storefronts, all condemned, were demolished and Kla Ha Ya Park was created with volunteer labor.

The Historical Society’s photo archives have several excellent images of First Street buried under the great snowfall of 1916 when Lot Wilbur’s home made gauge measured over 40 inches of snow. Please consider this fair warning that we may get what I wish for again.

Along with wishes for a happy holiday, I must add a reminder that I am always on the outlook for historic images, with or without a story to go with them. Also, an invitation to the 5th annual Solstice Candlelight Walk on Snohomish’s Riverfront Trail, Tuesday, 12/21/10!
Follow this link for photos and details.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:

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Then: Bickford Motors, ca. 1935 (Click to enlarge)

Reed & Bickford Motors moved to the Brunswick Building on the north side of 1st in 1934, then established a used car lot and service station across the street. Lawrence Bickford became the sole owner of the Ford dealership by buying out his partner Paul Reed in 1936. The family owned business, currently located on Bickford Avenue, north of town, celebrated its 75th Anniversary last year with the addition of the 4th generation to its management team.

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Now: American Legion parking lot, 2010 (Click to enlarge)

Before this site was a parking lot for cars, it held railroad box cars for the Milwaukee Road when the Legion building served as the depot from 1911 to 1930. The writer of this column hopes that one day the site will boast of handsome storefronts as it once did in the 1890s when the Legion building was built and next door was the First National Bank of Snohomish.

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Published December 22, 2010 in the Snohomish County Tribune

707 Fourth Street, Part 2

Rebecca Dickinson’s new retaining wall includes a wide, safe staircase from Fourth Street up to her front porch at 707, and she was hoping it would be ready for Halloween this year, but it was still a semi-dangerous construction zone. Rebecca had to cancel the celebration of her favorite holiday, which she announced with a sign at the end of her driveway promising to return next year – scarier but safer.

For many years, the Maughlin House was vacant except for Halloween when it was transformed into a popular haunted house concession for various fundraisers. Rebecca, a nationally recognized children book’s author and illustrator, purchased the empty structure and slowly returned it to its stately stature on the highest hill in Snohomish as a family home.

Joseph and Mary Maughlin built the handsome place when they settled here in 1886, and several generations called it home well into the 20s when it passed on to owners outside the family. Rebecca has been in contact with Maughlin descendants who are always curious to see how the interior has changed over the years. And now they will have the new retaining wall and stairs to see.

For just shy of 10 years, Rebecca has lived with a collapsed staircase and a retaining wall leaning so badly, the city had to add concrete blocks and close the sidewalk several years ago. The collapse happened during the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, but contrary to rumors, the city has not received any funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to repair the retaining walls opposite each other on 4th Street, only to spend it on other projects. This repair project finally worked its way up to the top of the city’s to do list and the total cost of $143,000 was paid from city funds. (The wall on the north side of 4th Street is #14 on the current list.)

Just as it does today, in 1900, the city solicited bids to grade Fourth Street. Grading the street was at the top of everyone’s list in 1900 since the wider, smoother street would allow access by horse teams pulling the hose and pump wagon in the event of fire – history’s enemy too.

Snohomish’s city engineer, Steve Schuller, whom I talked with back in May 2009, when I first wrote about this project, showed me the plans for the new wall, which detail a wide, deep “keyway” footing, plus a “sheer key” below it. “It’s like a keel on a sail boat,” Steve explained. “Plus, unlike the old one, the new retaining wall is reinforced with steel rods. It’s not going anywhere,” he added with a confident smile.

This is way too much information for next year’s trick-or-treaters at 707 Fourth Street, I’m sure; but it may interest the future junior goblins to know that Rebecca’s plan is to have them arrive via the new staircase to her front porch and exit down the driveway. She promises an awesome adventure.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:
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Then: 707 Fourth Street, circa 1900 (Click to Enlarge)

The Maughlin House, built in 1886, was home for several generations of the family. It’s pictured here during a street grading project on 4th Street. Readers may remember it as the “haunted house” — used as an annual fundraiser on Halloween. Author and illustrator Rebecca Dickinson made the handsome structure a home again in 1992.
Photo courtesy Rebecca Dickinson.

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Now: 707 Fourth Street, November 2010 (Click to Enlarge)

The 1920s era concrete retaining wall was a victim of the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, which has finally been replaced this year by the city at a cost of $143,000. Kamins Construction of Bothell, the general contractor, is using modern equipment (of unknown horsepower) to add gravel before the sidewalk goes in.

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Follow this link to Part One.

Raise a Glass to the Memory of E. C. Ferguson

You are invited to the inaugural celebration of E. C. Ferguson Day, Sunday, November 14, 4p, at Fred’s Rivertown Ale House (1114 First, Historic Downtown Snohomish).

November 14th is the day that Ferguson was awarded a license to operate his Blue Eagle Saloon — the first saloon of Snohomish — in 1864. For new readers of this page, E. C. Ferguson is considered the founder of Snohomish City in 1859.

To help us honor this occasion will be historian David Dilgard with the Everett Public Library, speaking to the more colorful aspects of old Ferg’s reputation. And to help us celebrate will be Tim Noah, founder/director of Snohomish’s Thumbnail Theater, who is working on an original song for the occasion. (There is no cover charge or suggested contribution for this event.)

Cady Landing, 1885, the Blue Eagle Saloon is left of center

You may learn more about this image HERE.