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Skagit River Journal

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Reviews of suggested history books to read, Part 2

Snohomish County: An Illustrated History, 2005
Cameron, LeWarne, O'Donnell, O'Donnell and May
(Indian canoe)
This archival photo of an Indian family and their canoe and a totem pole is an example of the excellent chapter that David A. Cameron contributed to explain the Indian tribes that were such a key element of the early county history. This is the family of William and Ruth (Siastenu) Sehome Shelton. William was a longtime elder on the Tulalip Indian Reservation and Ruth was the daughter of Chief Sehome in Whatcom County.

      Snohomish County: An Illustrated History is not a new book, but we did not discover it until 2007 when author Paul Dorpat referred it to us when we were looking for a modern update of the county's history. The definitive books before this one were the Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties (1906) and History of Snohomish County (1926, two volumes) by William Whitfield.
      This book is the result of collaboration between five writers: David A. Cameron, Charles P. LeWarne, Jack C. O'Donnell, Lawrence E. O'Donnell and the late M. Allan May, who lived just long enough to see the finished work when boxes of books were delivered in 2005. This is not, however, typical of a book "by committee," which sometimes results in a "kitchen sink" approach. Cameron explained the authors' intentions and work ethic when we first started corresponding about an incident in Haller City: It is a fascinating lesson for those in other counties who plan such books in the future.
      "[The book] grew out of frustration by my wife, Louise Lindren, who as principal planner for cultural resources in the Snohomish County Department of Planning and Development Services kept finding contracting consultants and governmental departments utilizing the 1926 Whitfield work as the only reliable county history available — and obviously it was a tad dated. It also shows its biases of time and place, as don't we all. I specifically wrote chapters on the environment and the Native peoples of the county to help rectify those deficiencies. There is no other single source for that information.
      "Louise asked me to take on the job of producing a new history for public, school, and governmental use, and we rounded up a team of people who were both knowledgeable and could write — and had the time if we talked hard. Where we had good people without sufficient time to dedicate we asked for sidebar topics and received a nice cross section of sources to help make up for the fact that we were all white guys. That was something of which we were acutely aware. We met for a number of months to discuss themes, people, and events to include, made me editor, and divided up chapters according to interest and expertise. We received project sponsorship from the League of Snohomish County Heritage Organizations as part of its Heritage 2000 project and from the government of Snohomish County -- although this was an independent endeavor and was not influenced by either group. As part of our review process we sent copies to every historical society, tribe, and interested person in the county for their comments and suggestions.
      "We also decided to make the book speak with one voice, not become a collection of styles and topics. This meant that I rewrote and reviewed the text nine times to make it flow. I also took great care in selection and placement of photos and maps to illustrate the text. We have just over 400 separate —.

(Webber Graphic)
Click the thumbnail above for an example of Bernie Webber's fine graphics.

      Initially we worked with Dave and Linda Rygmyr's Oso Publishing Company to have it produced. This bogged down and finally led to the [project being canceled]. That turned out okay after an initial learning curve about what it means to self-publish rather than go through another company or university press. [The resulting Kelcema Books Co. is named for a Boy Scout camp near Silverton that most of the authors attended as young men.]
      Since the book was designed to serve and be marketed in the county, we still would have had to do the marketing ourselves, essentially, along with paying printing costs for the U.W., for example. Thus we formed our own company, as mentioned in the December newspaper article, and have done well with it. We intentionally focused on working with local bookstores and outlets, county historical societies, and small businesses, and that has paid off. For the same reason we printed it in the USA rather than China, despite the fact that offshore printing is far cheaper.
      The book was exceptionally well received, has sold very well, and among other things led to our being asked to teach a course on it for the Edmonds Community College Creative Retirement Institute. We've also put
      Adding to the appeal of the book was the artistic work of Bernie Webber, who was recognized as the county's Artist of the Year and whose work is very popular and widely known locally. Both Alan May and Bernie since have passed away, as both were in their 80s by the time the project was complete."
      That latter observation is especially astute because Webber's work helps show in graphics the complex interplay of geology, geography and historical incidents that sometimes get bogged down in dense history copy. The result is a fine book that flows well and avoids the boredom factor. The authors introduce readers to "The Natural Setting," "The Native Americans," and "European and American Exploration" right off and capture the readers' attention by establishing the always important "sense of place."
      From then on, the book is organized in chronological eras, starting with 1849-1889. Snohomish and Island Counties were both settled earlier than the counties further north — Skagit and Whatcom, and the important transitional period of settlement on the edge of rivers is well explained, especially the fascinating example of Snohomish County. That leads naturally to the 1899-1900, which marked a much different time, the period of railroad and land booms, the rise of Everett on Gardner Bay and the Monte Cristo mining experience.
      His fellow author Jack O'Donnell explained in an interview that the book was actually born in 1995 and the authors projected about three years for its completion period. Many of us have such dreams of producing such a book relatively quickly but most of us learn that much more time is needed for such a comprehensive project. The book retails for $49.95 and is widely available at both retail locations and museums, but you can also order by mail or via the Internet. The total with shipping via mail is $59.57 and the address is Kelcema Books, PO Box 107, Index, WA 98256. You can email to David Cameron or you can phone for more details at (360) 793-1534.
      We also want to realize another key group of people who added their expertise and research to the book: Catherine Currie, David Dilgard, Thomas M. Gaskin, Roger Kelley, Bob Laz, Louise Lindgren, Karen Prasse, Margaret Riddle, Nellie Robertson, Tony Stigall and the Tulalip Tribes Cultural Resources Department.

(1885 Snohomish photo)
      Caption from book: "Ave. B, circa 1885. the name of Avenue B should be changed to "Blackman Avenue" since all three brothers built homes on this street, most likely included in this photograph by the resident pioneer photographer Gilbert Horton."

Caption: "The Snohomish Atheneum, circa 1876. The society's inspiration leader was Dr. Albert C. Folsom, scientific, literate and a former army surgeon with experience in the Civil War. In his 40s, he settled in Snohomish 1869 with a broken heart from a failed marriage, but also with over 100 fossils, gems and bones. He and Eldridge Morse led the way toward the building of a museum to exhibit his collection and provide a place for meetings. Moreover, the elite of frontier Snohomish pooled their private collection of books to form a lending library of some 300 volumes, including Darwin's Descent of Man (1871). The women of the membership formed their own club and raised funds to purchase a piano for the building, the first piano of Snohomish, and it is still available for use in the library. Isaac Cathcart opened a store and upscale saloon on the ground floor — that appears to be him standing on the right." The structure was later known as the Cathcart Building.

Early Snohomish, Warner Blake
San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.
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      Early Snohomish is just the book that those interested in Washington history need in order understand why the city of Snohomish is so important to understanding entry points for settlers during the period when Washington was a Territory and rivers were the main routes of travel, as well as the later period of the railroad boom. Warner Blake has packed this small book from Arcadia Publishing full of quality photos from the archives of the Snohomish County Historical Society and from libraries and museums all over Puget Sound and he immediately notched a place on my Top 20 Bookshelf.
      Snohomish City was established in a small way in 1860 upriver from Port Gardner and the later city of Everett and became an unlikely home of culture and literature when Eldridge Morse and Dr. Albert C. Folsom established their Athaneum in the little village on the river of the same name in the 1870s. Blake reproduces previously unpublished photos and documents about the Athaneum, a museum, lending library and social center, with a meeting room and the first piano in the area.
      The book also provides photos and words that describe the kernel of the town in the wilderness, Emory C. Ferguson's decision to build a cabin by the river in 1859, near the new military road that eventually stretched from Steilacoom in Pierce County through Whatcom County to the north. He explains that the road was placed inland from the Sound specifically to be out of range of British gunships. That placement was also the key to Snohomish being on the first north-south rail line in the territory, the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern, which was built inland by Seattle interests nearly 30 years later, specifically to compete with port cities along the water. Blake found photos to illustrate both those important periods.
      He also publishes beautiful photos of the Indians who were eventually displaced and the one thing lacking among the 49 men who established and settled the city: a woman. That all changed in 1865 when Mary Low Sinclair came to town. The wife of a school administrator, Woodbury Sinclair, Mary was also the daughter of the almost-forgotten John Low, one of the scouts for the Denny Party, who traveled to Alki Point in the summer of 1851 and arranged to build a cabin there for the more famous full party that arrived by ship in September. Mary was on that ship as a little girl and thus was a witness to both the birth of Seattle and of Snohomish.
      Other important pioneers that Blake profiles in the book include: Isaac Cathcart, who felled trees until he saved enough to build the Exchange Hotel behind Ferguson's warehouse, and The Blackman Brothers who established an important store on Avenue C and built the first important sawmill in the area. In 1968, volunteers established the Historical Society and one of their first projects was to purchase and restore the Hyrcanus Blackman house, one of the family's homes on Avenue B. It is now home to the Museum and that is where we found Ann Tuohy a few years ago, the source of so many items for our history of the city and county; she was the archivist and indexer for Blake's book. In addition, Blake profiles Morses's singular importance as both publisher and attorney, especially for establishing the first newspaper between Seattle and Whatcom — the Northern Star, and Clayton H. Packard, who established the second paper in the county, the Snohomish Eye, in 1882 after Morse's paper failed. We profile both those men elsewhere in the Journal's Snohomish Section. Another of my favorite photo subjects is David Roby Judkins's Floating Sunbeam (Photo) Gallery (also called the Palace Gallery) that cruised the Snohomish River and other Northwest cities on the water.
      One section that was especially helpful to us in understanding the placement of Snohomish on the river is the group of photos that explains how the riverfront portion of the city changed radically after World War II when an auto dealership slid down the hill into the river after a period of sustained flooding. Although many of the abandoned early historical buildings were soon bulldozed, they were eventually replaced by a riverside park. Then an urban renewal study in 1965 recommended establishing a riverside shopping mall but instead a collection of antique stores has evolved into that has made the town a Mecca for people who seek period furniture and accoutrement.
      In the spirit of "It takes a village to help create a history book," among many people Blake credits are: Margaret Riddle and David Dilgard for their splendid work in creating the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library; Victoria Harrington, the Historical Society archivist and photo restorer; Donna Harvey, archivist and family historian; Middy Ruthruff, archivist and guide to the Society's family histories; Nicolette Bromberg, visual curator for the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections; and Carolyn Marr, librarian at the Museum of History and Indistry in Seattle.
      Hats off to Blake for this fine addition to our library and for all those who helped with it. As he explains, the whole project started when his friend Karen purchased the former St. Michaels's Catholic Church in 1993 at a bankruptcy sale. Like the fine historian of Utsalady, Dennis Conroy, Warner is a transplant from the East Coast. Blake was trained as a theatrical scenic designer in Boston while he taught at Boston University. He has drawn on that earlier experience as he and his partner have rehabilitated the first Catholic church in the county as an art studio. He plans to follow up this project with a heritage trail, the details of which he attributes to Dilgard's tutelage.

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Story posted on August 15, 2007, last updated Oct. 26, 2011 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them

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