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

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.