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.)

Rails Over the River

“The second railroad meeting last Friday evening would not have impressed a stranger very forcibly with the idea that the people of Snohomish were imbued with a spirit of progress.”

This was reported 123 years ago in the Snohomish Eye, at a time when two railroad companies wanted to come through town, a Canadian company from the north and the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Company from the south, but both concerns wanted property and money from the citizens of Snohomish.

Ferguson, Blackman, Cathcart put up the first $1500 in cash and Mary Low Sinclair (then Mrs. Packard) donated some 20 lots to keep the latter company aiming toward Snohomish, but more was needed.

Ferguson’s brother, Clark, the town’s first milkman, offered to head up a subscription committee that would solicit funds from property owners along the proposed route of the train. John Otten rose to speak, offering $25 if the railroad would not come near the town. (Otten’s short-slightness may have led to his mercantile business eventually going belly up and the sale of his handsome new building at 1024-26 First to Tom Marks who wasted no time in having his name chiseled in stone and placed over the entrance.)

With the Lake Shore operation just over the hill from the Snohomish River, a curious concern was mentioned in the June 13, 1888, issue of the Eye: “Should the railroad touch the shores of Lake Stevens, a town will be built that will become a dangerous rival to Snohomish. Being situated near the geographical center of the county, could but with little difficulty secure the county seat.”

By July however, with regular train service to and from Seattle expected by the end of the month, attention was focused on the preparations to welcome the “Seattle excursionists.” The reception committee consisted of about 20 of the leading businesses and professional men. Between 300 and 500 excursionists were expected for a public reception in Atheneum Hall, located on the northwest corner of Avenue D and First, with a free lunch served at 3p.m in Ferguson’s new hall just across the street. Although the return service to Seattle was scheduled for 6pm, many visitors had indicated a desire to remain in town for the grand free ball that evening. First class accommodations would have been available at the recently opened Penobscot Hotel on First, an investment of the visionary Blackman Brothers, in preparation to serve a new class of visitors with over-sized wallets.

No mention of how the “open house” went in subsequent issues of the Eye, but the August 4 issue reported, “… between 75 and 80 passengers arrived on Wednesday’s train.”

Since the railroad bridge was still a work in progress at this time, arrangements were made for carriages to pick up the passengers and bring them across the river on George Tompkins ferry at Avenue D.

Work continued on the bridge even though the Lake Shore owners were under an injunction by the Canadian company “laboring under the delusion that they have the exclusive right to construct a road between Seattle and the British Columbia,” as the newspaper put it. However, since the bridge builders had their plan approved by no less an office than that of the Secretary of War, work continued uninterrupted.

The August 31 issue reports that, “the draw of the bridge was swung into position for the first time last Wednesday afternoon,” which could be the occasion pictured in our historic image. The Lake Shore owners secured a modification of the Canadian injunction that allowed them to finish the bridge and the running of trains thereon upon posting a $20,000 bond.

The first passenger train crossed the bridge and entered Snohomish City proper on September 19, 1888; but on October 27, a run-away log boom consisting of some 3,000,000 logs jammed up against the southern most pier of the new bridge.

“The pier slowly but steadily crowded down until the span was about six feet out of line with the draw, when at 2 o’clock with a crash it gave way, “ the paper reported. “It is doubtful if the missing spans can be replaced before low water next summer. About 500 people witnessed the thrilling scene,” the report concluded.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, March 17, 2010


The first railroad bridge to cross the Snohomish River into Snohomish City, completed September, 1888. Since the previous July, service ended south of town and passengers used the ferry at Avenue D to reach town. This system was called into service again in October when the pier seconded from the left collapsed due to pressure from a run-away log boom consisting of some 3,000,000 logs.
(Photo courtesy University of Washington, Special Collections, #uw18022)

The second railroad bridge over the Snohomish River built in 1910 as it appears today, without train traffic. Will that change this summer with the arrival of an excursion train to Snohomish?