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.

The First Tombstone in Snohomish

Tombstone for Woodbury Sinclair, c. 1876


The sad story begins with his sudden death in 1872, just after Woodbury and his wife Mary Low had platted the eastern section of the town site newly named “Snohomish.” Their two small children, Clarence and Mabel, inherited the Sinclair land holdings, with their mother acting as the executor.

So, acting on behalf of the children, Mary donated three acres alongside the Pilchuck River for a cemetery, since the young town had no place for public burials. The Snohomish Cemetery Association was legally established in 1876. After four years, Mary finally had a registered resting place for her husband’s remains. She ordered a marker of white stone from Seattle, and Woodbury’s tombstone (pictured here) is considered to be the first one in Snohomish City.

Along with the her husband, Mary included the remains of their first born, Alvin, who died within a month of Mary’s arrival in Snohomish, he was barely two months old in 1865.

Accounts of Snohomish’s first cemetery describe a picturesque, park like setting with a white metal picket fence and a gateway with swinging gates. A black arch above read “Snohomish Cemetery” in white letters.

With the establishment of the G. A. R. (Grand Army of the Republic) cemetery west of town in 1898, the small cemetery alongside the river was no longer used, then neglected and forgotten. In the 1940s it was divided for the extension of Second Street to connect with Highway 2. Supposedly, the remains were moved to the G. A. R cemetery, but not the Sinclairs, according to the records. Even Woodbury’s tombstone was left behind, as it was vandalized in the thirties and eventually rescued by the Historical Society.

One day, I hope to take a “now” picture of the stone in its new setting, alongside a monument to Mary Low, and the other founding pioneers that shaped early Snohomish.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, October 21, 2009.

Learn more about Mary Low Sinclair at HistoryLink.org.

First Street and Avenue A

This month’s image is the last of the Gilbert Horton photographs featured in the exhibition at the Blackman House Museum, and it is the latest one in the Society’s collection. Taken in 1908, ten years after he had sold his floating gallery, Horton labeled the photograph “Laying the Golden Brick / Snohomish.” The first question that comes to my mind, probably to yours as well — is the brick still there after all these years and layers of asphalt?

Public Works Director for the City of Snohomish, Tim Heydon, has never seen or heard of a golden brick being discovered, and wondered if it was even left in place after the ceremony was captured on film?

And it’s a good point since the First Street merchants were being taxed $17 per foot of their property facing First Street to pay for the paving, and many of the owners were dragging their feet, suggesting that the city just repair the wooden planks instead. Reaching the end of his patience for this back and forth, Mayor Lamprey hired contractors to begin tearing up the planking in 1907 – which quickly convinced the property owners that paving with stone was a good idea after all. Within this context, it’s difficult to imagine that paying for a golden brick would have been supported; or that it would have even remained in the street through the first night!

First and A today

Second question that comes to mind is why not expose the brick paving, like many streets have in Seattle, and build upon our reputation as the historic town of the region to visit?

Heydon had a ready answer for me, based on his experience in 1986 when he supervised the removal of the asphalt before repaving, right down to the original brick — and no golden one was found. Heydon reported that large sections of the brick paving was gone because of repairs, other sections had sunk due to the soil under the brick absorbing moisture. In other words, a picturesque cobblestone First Street, would require removing all of the 8-inch thick bricks in order to prepare the ground properly, and then, lay the bricks back down, by hand. The dollar numbers for labor alone become pushpins of reality to the easy bubbles of imagination.

Researching this image for my book “Early Snohomish” (page 77), I was unable to learn anything about the ceremony pictured because of a six-month gap of missing issues of the Snohomish County Tribune for the year 1908, both in our library and at the University of Washington.

So I leave you with a third question, could the missing issues be related somehow to the missing golden brick?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, October 15, 2008.