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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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125th anniversary of Sedro on Dec. 30

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore

(Cook Store)
      Mortimer Cook's general store and post office in old Sedro, ca. 1888, Mortimer 5th from left. And his clerk, and future druggist, Albert E. Holland, 3rd from the right, in front of the doors. The photographer stood on Cook's wharf for sternwheelers. His home is upslope to the left, where the Rotary rock theater stands today at Riverfront Park. His daughter Nina is riding her horse.

      Who was Mr. Sedro and why did Mortimer Cook originally name his town by the Skagit River — Bug? All that and more will be revealed at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 30, at the Hometown Café in downtown Sedro-Woolley as the town celebrates the birth of the name Sedro and the first Sedro post office, which opened on Dec. 7, 1885.
      Simply, there was no Mr. Sedro. The name was an invention by founder Mortimer Cook, who was both eccentric and whimsical in his ways. Many apocryphal reasons for the names abound and you can read most of them at the website online. The name was derived from the Spanish word for cedar, cedro. Cook was the mayor of Santa Barbara for two terms before moving his family here and he was fluent in Spanish.
      Cook arrived by sternwheeler at the future town site in June 1884, probably at Joseph Hart's farm, which stood on the north shore of the river at the southern terminus of present Third Street. Hart and David Batey were the first of four British bachelors who homesteaded on the north shore of the river in 1878.
      We are preparing a book biography about Cook and his many adventures and fortunes made and lost in towns across the U.S. and British Columbia (B.C.). Our research project of Skagit Valley history began in 1992 and we were fortunate enough to interview his granddaughter, Barbara Taggart, when she was nearly 90. We also read Cook's daughter Nina's diary, which she began here in 1886. Cook descendants visited the town for Loggerodeo in 1994 and their float joined the Grand Parade as part of the festivities for the first annual Founders Days.
      Cook actually first came to the Pacific Northwest in 1858, during the gold rush to the Fraser River in B.C. He joined with Henry Roeder, the founder of the temporary metropolis of Whatcom, to provide a pack train for Argonauts to the gold fields overland from Bellingham Bay. Although the rush soon petered out, he stayed in B.C. and joined with Charles Kimball to ford the Thompson River with a rope ferry and established the village of Cook's Ferry for miners on the way to Kamloops and eventually to the richer gold diggings at Barkerville, much farther north. Although a local Indian band is still named Cook's Ferry, Thomas Spence replaced the ferry with a bridge in 1865 and the town was renamed Spence's Bridge.

    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2010-11, traveling to mine resources from California to Washington and maybe beyond. Depth of research determined by the level of aid from readers. Because of our recent illness, our research fund is completely bare. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. And subscriptions to our optional Subscribers Online Magazine (launched 2000) by donation too. Thank you.
      Born in Ohio in 1826, Cook was a '49er in California with Roeder after serving in Mexico in the Mexican War of 1846-48, and he moved west in 1850, first to Santa Barbara and then to the Sierra Nevada mountains while individuals still stood a chance of success at panning and sluicing.
      In the 20 years between Cook's Ferry and Sedro, he used his first small fortune to farm land back in his home area of Richland County, Ohio, and he then moved on to Topeka, Kansas, in 1868 to ferry the Kaw River and then erected the first iron bridge there. With a much larger fortune from the bridge's sale, he moved his young family to Santa Barbara after his infant daughter died in a house fire. After arriving in Santa Barbara with the first safe in town, he opened the first gold bank south of San Francisco and built his third fortune there before losing control of the bank when a drought in the 1870s led to the deaths of vast sheep herds that he had financed.
      Although Cook apparently never explored the Skagit River valley in the 1850s — it was then blocked by substantial log jams at future Mount Vernon, he was attracted by the substantial stands of timer here in the 1880s by Capt. John Warner, the namesake for Warner's Prairie north of Sedro. Warner moved here in the late 1870s after the men were originally '49ers and then were neighbors at Cook's Ferry.
      While Cook prepared for his sawmill in 1884-85, his wife, Nan, and daughters Fairie and Nina stayed down south in California and Batey built a general store, wharf and a home for the family near where the Rotary barbecue and picnic grounds stand today at Riverfront Park. That area was then a swamp and workers were bedeviled by mosquitoes, which were described as being as large as bats, and that led to the informal name for the village — Bug. Nan Cook objected to the name, as did wives of local settlers, and in May 1885 Cook created the new name of Sedro.
      The description of cedar trees in the area resembled yarns from Paul Bunyan. An article in the April 28, 1885, Skagit News reported, "A cedar cut on Mortimer Cook's place at Bug measured 285 feet in length, 6 feet in diameter; 25,000 shingles were made from it." Cook's legacy for Northwest logging was his idea to build drying kilns that would remove substantial moisture from the wood and make transportation more feasible by Northern Pacific Railroad freight back to the Midwest and San Francisco.
      Sedro remained a small village for the first four years until the site was "boomed" and platted in 1888-89 as the crossing point on the Skagit for the proposed Fairhaven & Southern Railway, near the coal mines that were developed five miles northeast at Cokedale, just east of the future Northern State Hospital. A rival town of Sedro was platted in 1889 at the site of the present high school and in 1890, Philip A. Woolley, a railroad contractor from Elgin, Illinois, platted his namesake town another mile north in 1890, a mile farther north.
      Cook sold his mill in 1889 and used his fourth fortune to build a substantial ranch at the western end of Cook Road. The nationwide Financial Depression of 1893 spelled the end of the local boom and bankrupted Cook's operation again and by 1899 Cook again looked far afield, this time attracted by promising stands of mahogany in the Philippines. He died there in November 1899. Meanwhile, his daughter, Nina, married Standish Budlong at the family home in 1895 and his daughter, Fairie, married back in Chicago. Nan Cook moved back to Illinois to join them and thus there are no Cook descendants in Skagit County. Nina's marriage marked a relatively rare occurrence of marriage between two Mayflower families. The Cooks descended from Francis Cooke and Budlong descended from Myles Standish, who arrived on the Mayflower in Massachusetts in 1620.
      December has been a key month in town history. The first F&S train arrived from Fairhaven on Christmas Eve, 1889, and the towns of Sedro and Woolley merged on Dec. 19, 1898.

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Story posted on Dec. 22, 2010 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them

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