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(S and N Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition
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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Fairhaven & Southern Railroad, Part 1 of 2

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2001, updated 2008
(F and S Railroad)
      The Fairhaven & Southern railroad on the first day of through service from Fairhaven to old Sedro on the northern shore of the Skagit River, on Christmas Eve, 1889. This was the beginning of Sedro as a frontier magnet. The boom only lasted 2 years until the Financial Panic of 1893 leveled many boom towns just as businesses were leveled in the late 1990s. But what a fantastic ride it was. This is F&S Engine #2, manufactured in Schenectady, New York.

Part One of Two: the set-up
In which the reader is guided through the alphabet soup of Northwest railroads . . . rail principals Nelson Bennett, Charles
X. Larrabee, James J. Hill and investors are profiled . . . the horse race of north-south railroads is explained . . . the
Great Northern and the Seattle & Montana . . . and routes through Whatcom and Skagit counties and B.C. are explained

      Have you ever heard the whistle of a steam locomotive or walked through the steam cloud that whooshes out from its boilers? We baby boomers were the last generation in the U.S. to experience as children that thrill on scheduled cross-country trains. Now lovers of stream trains have to seek out special short routes. Most of the settlers here heard and felt these sensations on their travel from back East in the 1860s-1880s and the bug bit them well. In those last decades before the automobile took hold, steam trains were the ultimate ride and transported emigrants by the hundreds of thousands to the Western frontier. Just the mention of a train changed a conversation, but not always in a good way. Some, like Sedro founder Mortimer Cook, experienced the railroad scams that grew like mushrooms overnight in the late 19th century. The skeptics were finally satisfied when they saw the first Fairhaven & Southern Railway (F&S) train roll into old Sedro from Fairhaven on Christmas Eve, 1889.
      Most people assume that towering trees attracted most settlers to the Northwest in the 1880s, but, as you will see, coal was a major magnet. In this story, we will track the earliest railroads of northwestern Washington and show why the F&S was pivotal in rail history even though its existence was brief. During the F&S railroad craze, Nelson Bennett and his Fairhaven interests manipulated Sedro, but Sedro returned the favor. If Fairhaven was to be the finish line in this race across country, then Sedro was determined to be the means and maybe play a role like Chicago did with its stockyard. Cook and the Sedro town fathers knew they had a good hole card. Sedro was the best potential crossing of the Skagit River as well as a junction if a transcontinental rail line actually ever built west over Cascade Pass and down into Skagit Valley in addition to a branch south to Seattle.
      The first real estate boom here began in 1889 because investors realized that Sedro would be the first significant town on a Skagit County rail route that had room to grow. Coal was in great demand nationwide and deposits were discovered in both Whatcom County (1850s) and Skagit County (1874). Some people wrote off the northern counties of Washington Territory as sites for a western rail terminus the after Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) chose Commencement Bay at Tacoma for its western terminus in 1873 but coal excited the local imagination again. Local records from those days are slim because there were only two newspapers in the newly formed Skagit County — the Puget Sound Mail in LaConner and the Skagit News in Mount Vernon. Several volumes of the early Mail were nearly destroyed in a fire in the 1940s and the News mainly featured only brief railroad reports now and then, with an occasional longer article. The sparse coverage of F&S in those early months is surprising when you realize that it became the first standard-gauge railroad line to operate in the state, north of Seattle. We suspect that the new line was well covered in the Sedro Press, which George W. Hopp launched in Sedro on April 18, 1890, but all copies of that first area newspaper burned in fires decades ago.

Railroads supplemented steamboats
(Nelson Bennett)
Nelson Bennett, 1880s

      The railroads were vital here for two reasons. They brought goods, settlers, investors and communication from other parts of the US and the world and they also shipped lumber, shakes, manufactured goods and agricultural crops back the other way and all that much faster than shipment by water. To understand why the Skagit River became a focal point for a railroad, we need to go back to the era before the Civil War when railroads were spreading all over the Northeast and the South. As Lelah Jackson Edson explains in her book, The Fourth Corner, Congress appropriated $150,000 in 1853 for a survey of four rail routes to the West. The task was assigned to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who also wanted expansion of slaveholding states. He favored a southern route to Southern California that would favor those states. The northern sector was assigned to Major Isaac I. Stevens, a West Point-trained officer who was wounded in action during the Mexican War and then resigned in 1853 to take three concurrent assignments: the railroad survey; the first governor of Washington Territory, and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Stevens began the survey at St. Paul, Minnesota, with a force of engineers and scientists and requested that Capt. George B. McClellan take military command of the mission.
      That was the same McClellan who would be fired by Abraham Lincoln ten years later for the General's reluctance to march and move against the Confederate Army. Their assignment in 1953 was to locate a route to a terminus at the closest feasible spot to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which was closer to the Asian markets than San Francisco and Los Angeles were. Thomas W. Prosch wrote in a 1908 Washington Historical Quarterly article, "The Military Roads of Washington Territory," that McClellan was nearly a complete failure after arriving in Washington Territory in 1853. He failed to find the Snoqualmie Pass route from either the east or the west. Meanwhile, surveyor Abiel W. Tinkham did find it. Besides the railroad route, McClellan was also assigned to locate a wagon road route that could then be completed by immigrants. He failed in that assignment, too, and the settlers who accompanied him were never reimbursed for their costs.
      McClellan, Stevens and Tinkham all wrote reports to the War Department. McClellan's February 1854 report largely discredited the railroad project. McClellan claimed in his report that the snowpack was too deep for a rail crossing. Tinkham disagreed and pointed out that the snowfall of that winter was unusually deep and that the Snoqualmie Pass route was feasible. Twenty years later, journalist and geologist Amos B. Bowman, later the founder of Anacortes, found some of those survey notes in the NP archives. The possibility of the far northern route influenced him to settle with his wife, Anna Curtis Bowman, on Fidalgo Island and then establish her namesake town of Anacortes. But back then, soon after the 1854 survey, war clouds gathered, the railroad project took a back seat and Jefferson Davis left the Union and the Senate to became the president of the Confederacy in 1861.
      During the Civil War, charters were granted in 1862 to both the Union Pacific (UP) and the Central Pacific railways and government land and subsidies were given for them to complete a railroad on a central route. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Northern Pacific act that provided for another railroad from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, this time with only government land but in generous proportions — 20 sections per mile of track in the states that the rail bed crossed and 40 sections in the territories.
      D.C. Linsley conducted the next survey of the possible North Cascades route for NP in May 1870, along with his assistant, Frank Wilkeson, son of Samuel Wilkeson. Samuel Wilkeson became associated with railroads as early as 1852 and then became associated with Jay Cooke and the NP line in the late 1860s. He wrote in 1869 about the Cascades potential, but focused on the area further south from Skagit Pass. Linsley explored the Skagit River watershed from the mouth to the North Cascades and other routes east of the mountains; you can read some of the results in the Frank Wilkeson section and the Sauk section. Linsley was generally favorable in his report after his group explored the Sauk Pass and River and the Lake Chelan and Wenatchee River regions. More than a dozen years passed before another substantial survey.

(Charles X. Larrabee)
Charles X. Larrabee in Fairhaven. Larrabee paid most of the bills for the F&S and invested in the coal mines near Sedro, which he eventually named Cokedale after buying Bennett's interest. He later sold both the rail line and the mines to James J. Hill of the Great Northern. Photo courtesy of Washington West of the Cascades, Hunt & Kaylor, 1917.

Coal even more important than gold
      Coal was in great demand, especially in San Francisco, especially for heating of both homes and businesses, for steamship fuel, for steam generation and increasingly for railroads as they built to and up and down the coasts after the mid-1860s. F&S was financed by land and mining speculators from Fairhaven, which was located on Bellingham Bay, 25 miles northwest of Sedro and which has been known in this century for decades as Southside Bellingham. In 1888-90, the relatively new town of Fairhaven soon boomed, as people said back then, and grew to equal the older town two miles northeast on Bellingham Bay — New Whatcom, which resulted from the merger of Whatcom and Sehome. After the two earlier coal mines on Bellingham Bay played out, the F&S investors planned to transport coal from the Skagit Valley via railroad.
      The original town of Whatcom formed around the site of Henry Roeder's and Russell V. Peabody's original 1853 sawmill on the south side of Whatcom Creek near its mouth and west of the falls. Within just a few years after Roeder and Peabody built their sawmill, the California market for their lumber collapsed. The mill continued until 1873 when it was destroyed by fire. Roeder branched out into quarrying and shipbuilding at different times over the next decades.
      William Pattle, who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company in the early 1850s, was the first of the early settlers to discover coal on Bellingham Bay. In October 1852, two months before Roeder arrived, Indians told Pattle about black dirt that burned, located at a point about two miles southwest and around the Bay from Roeder's Mill. Pattle and his two neighbors, James Morrison and John Thomas, recognized an opportunity to cash in on the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, which granted 160 acres to each unmarried male, 18 or older, as well as married women and half-blood Indians. They filed their claims at Coveland in Island County a week after they entered an agreement with F. Rogers Loomis, an agent from San Francisco who represented the Puget Sound Coal Association.
      The Association determined that the most promising coal-mining site lay near present-day Bennett and Taylor Avenues and the site of the present Chrysalis Inn. In his 2007 book, Boulevard Park, Brian Griffin details the land transfers and agreements that followed as the trio became discouraged about developing the coal deposits. Meanwhile, two of Roeder's mill employees, Henry Hewitt and William Brown, discovered a coal seam revealed by a fallen cedar tree between present-day Laurel and Myrtle streets on the slope of Sehome hill, east of Pattle's claim. As a result of that discovery, San Francisco businessman organized and funded the Bellingham Bay Coal Company (BBCC), which opened a mine in 1855. Later called the Sehome Mine, its shaft began at the intersection of Railroad Avenue and Myrtle Street, according to Carl F. Batchelor in his 1982 book, Subsidence Over Abandoned Coal Mines, Bellingham, 1982.
      The combination of the mill and the mines led to the creation of Whatcom County by the Washington Territorial Legislature on March 9, 1854. Even though the 1858 Gold Rush to the Fraser River in British Columbia was very brief, some of those hopeful argonauts stayed on the Bay and became employees of the BBCC under the leadership of Edmund C. Fitzhugh, the owners' agent, a contractor that Edson identified merely as Tompkins, from Pennsylvania; and then Michael Padden from 1863 onwards.
      Charles E. Richards was a San Francisco merchant who became important to Whatcom history when he erected the first brick building in 1858 during the Gold Rush at the corner of Astor and E streets. Known as the Brick Courthouse, it is being restored in 2008 as part of the 150th Anniversary Celebration. As the Sehome Mine became more successful, Richards decided to recoup his early losses by engaging Seth N. Doty to purchase the Morrison claim for $3,000 in March 1861 and then buying three-quarters of that land. He organized the Union Coal Company, reopened the Pattle mine and constructed a wharf, storehouse and other buildings. According to Edson, that company shipped 2,500 tons of coal to San Francisco from the community that Richards named Unionville. His effort also failed, however, and Sheriff James Kavanaugh recorded in his diary on Aug. 28, 1863, "C.E. Richards has sold the remains of everything in his store. Barrington carries everything away in his schooner this evening.
      The Sehome Coal Mine caught on fire on Aug. 9, 1866, again according to Kavanaugh's diary and all attempts to extinguish it failed until workers allowed salt water to enter the shaft on Nov. 29, 1866. The three Bay communities of Whatcom, Sehome and Unionville barely held on over the next decade and the economy further suffered after Pierre B. Cornwall visited with mining experts in 1877 and convinced the BBBC to close the mine, sell off all the equipment and retain only the real estate, which his company developmed in the coming decades.
      Edson wrote that only five settler families remained in the Sehome area after the mine closing and that no more than a dozen families lived on Bellingham Bay in the early 1880s. Many of the miners had moved their families up to the lower part of the Nooksack River, where the town of Ferndale formed. The final nail in what seemed to be the Whatcom coffin was driven home when Publisher James A. Power moved the Bellingham Bay Mail newspaper — which he had launched in 1873, to LaConner in September 1879.
      After four dark years, Henry Roeder thought he had a solution when he read in an old newspaper that families in Kansas had formed a Washington Colony in 1881. He invited the president of the colony, General Marquis Alexander McPherson, to visit the Bay and offered the colonists a mill site on Whatcom Creek along with a one-half interest in a proposed town site and its lots. In return, the McPherson agreed that the colony would build a sawmill and a long wharf over the tide flats out to deep water and bring at least 100 families to the Bay.
      When the first colonists arrived later that fall, however, Roeder realized that McPherson had overestimated the colony's capability. Many of the colonists were broke and were trading labor for stock subscriptions. By the time they all arrived in 1882, the total of families was less than two dozen. Although the colony never did live up to its billing, several of the families who arrived with it became part of the nucleus of the next era of the county's growth. Extensive advertising by the Northern Pacific had also attracted new settlers and from 1882 the numbers grew steadily and most hung on as financial hard times prevailed in mid-decade. All those new arrivals led a very unusual boomer named Daniel J. "Dirty Dan" Harris in January 1883 to plat the village of Fair Haven, south of Unionville and the main Whatcom/Sehome settlement. All the Bay communities needed then was a railroad.

The Canfield Road
      Eugene Canfield, a former state senator from Illinois, was the first railroad man to seriously survey a possible rail line through Whatcom County, which then included the Skagit River Valley. He came to the Puget Sound in 1883 just as Skagit County split off from Whatcom. He bought more than 15,000 acres of land, mainly in Whatcom County. He soon became a boomer of the original Bay town of Whatcom, and he launched the Bellingham Bay Railway and Navigation Company (BBR&N), which soon became known as the Canfield Road. Like coal developer P.B. Cornwall, who had just organized the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad (BB&BC), Canfield announced plans to build a steam railroad line from Bellingham Bay to connect with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in British Columbia, and he also planned to run it along the old Telegraph Road and through the still-dense forest of interior Whatcom County.
      According to John J. Cryderman, Canfield's chief engineer, Canfield initially convinced 30 of his East Coast and Midwest friends to pony up $1,000 each for the project, with no accounting and no time limit. Edson surmised that, more than likely, he was originally backed by the Jay Cooke and Co., whose dealings led to a nationwide financial panic in 1873 and stalled expansion of the NP. Canfield ran into opposition from the start, including from Whatcom founder Henry Roeder, and his operation was always undercapitalized. After changing his planned route through Sumas to one through Blaine, Canfield linked with company behind the New Westminster Southern Railway (NWS) of B.C. in 1888, another ambitious but undercapitalized project.
      When he defaulted on payments to the construction crews, his company bought out his interest and entered into a new contract with Nelson Bennett, which immediately resulted in the plans for the northern branch of the F&S line. The new owners sold out the BBR&N holdings to Bennett in July 1889 once he saw that the F&S branch to Sedro was almost complete. Canfield stayed in Whatcom, however, as he turned to banking, electric transit and wharf building. He had hoped to become the first U.S. senator from the new Washington state that year, but he lost his hearing and he died of epilepsy at his new house in New Whatcom on April 6, 1892, at age 55. Eugene was a cousin of Thomas H. Canfield, also a Vermont native, who was much more successful in the railroad business as the assistant manager of D.C. railroads during the Civil War, a director on the NP board, and he invested in rail lines in Vermont and Minnesota, where he lived for many years.
      Eugene Canfield originally thought he had an ace in the hole that would make up for his lack of cash. His cousin Thomas was a congressman from Vermont when Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862 and Eugene used his connections to get a Congressional charter that granted his road the exclusive right to bridge all the rivers north from Seattle to the Canadian border, including the Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and the Nooksack. But by 1885, when the new Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern (SLS&E) line started looking northward, the Seattle organizer Judge Thomas Burke considered Canfield's charter unconstitutional. According to Cryderman, NP interests saw some value in the charter and offered Eugene Canfield $175,000 for the railroad and the charter, but he declined the offer. NP wound up eventually taking effective control of the SLS&E line anyway. An Indiana native, Cryderman later became a key employee of the F&S and other lines, including the Seattle & Northern line that ran on a horizontal line through Skagit County.
      The years of 1886-88 were filled with reports of the Canfield Road's progress or lack thereof. This report in the 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, is an example, in which Sterling — two miles west of Sedro, was a focal point. Sedro was not yet in the picture:

      Skagit County partook with the other portions of the Puget Sound country in the railroad plans and excitement which marked the closing portion of the decade of the eighties. The Skagit News of Nov. 30, 1886, sets forth the fact that Skagit Valley will surely have direct communication with Seattle at some early period. Doubt was expressed as to the building of the Canfield Road, of which so much was said at that time, the reason assigned being that the Canadian Pacific Road would not allow any road to connect with it which it could not control. It was pointed out that the survey of the Canfield party crossed the Skagit near Sterling and followed up the valley of the Nookachamps, and the opinion was expressed in the paper that the completion of that road would make an important city out of Sterling, as well as mark an epoch in the history of the county in general.
      It seems to have become apparent with the progress of the new year of 1887 that the Canfield Road would not be built, and this fact gave rise to some sparring between the Skagit News and its old enemy, the Whatcom Reveille, in which the former paper quoted the confession of the latter to the effect that the Canfield Road would never be built. The Reveille pointed out the fact that all the Seattle influences would oppose such a building up of the Bellingham bay country as would follow the consummation of Mr. Canfield's aims, and that therefore it must be expected that Seattle will support the Seattle & West Coast Railway Company (the northern branch of SLS&E). It seems to be agreed by both papers commencing upon the subject that Canfield would sell his franchise to the Seattle & West Coast.
      A surveying party at work for the latter road, under direction of C.E. Perry, was operating in the Skagit Valley in the summer of 1887, with headquarters at Big Lake, near Mount Vernon, from which point parties were sent out toward the Stillaguamish and Skagit for a preliminary reconnaissance. As to the vexed question as to whether Whatcom would be on the line of this road, there seemed then no means of forecasting, but it was prophesied in the News and the ultimate connection with the Canadian Pacific would be at New Westminster instead of at Fort Hope. In its issue of Sept. 6, 1887, is record of the fact that there was much hope of another railroad extending from Seattle to the Skagit River, the basis of which hope was the purchase by Mr. Bowles of the Oregon Improvement Company, of sixteen hundred acres of coal land near Sedro [actually upriver near Hamilton]. The analysis of the coal from this vicinity showed that it was probably the best that had yet been found in western Washington.

(Water fight)
      When the first train of the Canadian Pacific Railway was scheduled to arrive in New Whatcom on June 22, 1891, on the tracks of the Bellingham Bay & British Columbia that had recently made the border connection at Sumas, there were still great hopes of a transcontinental connection and a western terminus on Bellingham Bay. Our old friend, the late Leroy Kastner, recalled the tale of his father, John Kastner, a blacksmith on the Bay at the time. His father told him about this decorated arch over what is now Railroad Avenue at Holly Street. The rival volunteer firefighting companies set up their hoses on opposite sides of the track, ready to create an even higher arch of water as the locomotive pulled in from the north.
      You can read about the resulting waterfight in Jeff Jewell's story, "Notorious blacksmith known for his stories", in the August 2007 Bellingham Business Journal. As he notes, "The Whatcom lads got water pressure first and, weighing their advantage, began spraying the Sehome side. Getting water, the Sehome squad retaliated and suddenly it was an all-out water fight! Torrents played across the shocked spectators as dignitaries dodged for cover!" And then American patriots made the situation even worse by tearing down the Canadian flag, which they judged was higher than the American Old Glory.
      Some contend that this incident doomed the Whatcom connection and terminus with the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Kastner moved his blacksmith shop to Railroad Avenue in 1894 and you can find the original location by looking at the horseshoes embedded in the sidewalk outside today's Bagelry shop, near the late and lamented Gus & Nap's Tavern. The photo was taken by E.A. Hegg of Fairhaven. This is from a copy furnished long ago by the late Galen Biery. See the much clearer original in the collection that Jewell oversees at the Whatcom Museum of History & Art.

Cornwall's Bellingham Bay & British Columbia Railroad
      Another proposed rail line preceded Canfield. Pierre B. Cornwall (1821-1904) left his native New York State for the Northwest in 1848 but news of the gold discovery on American River in California changed his goal and he established a trading post at Sutter's Fort near Sacramento. He successfully built up shipping and manufacturing companies and one of his companies worked the Black Diamond coal mine southeast of Seattle while he also headed the Bellingham Bay Coal Co., which worked the Sehome Coal Mine. Cornwall formed the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company (BBIC) and re-platted Sehome as New Whatcom.
      In 1883, Cornwall joined his Black Diamond partner, New York City financier Darius Ogden Mills, in launching plans for the Bellingham Bay & British Columbia Railroad (BB&BC), which they initially planned to connect Sehome with the CPR at Burrard Inlet in British Columbia. They were joined by Isaac S. Kalloch, the former San Francisco mayor who moved to Sehome after a tumultuous term that started with an attempted assassination (he will be the subject of a future Journal profile). Just in case, Kalloch hedged his bet and also subscribed to $2,000 in stock for the Canfield Road. Kalloch had witnessed many railroad schemes and dreams during his years in Bloody Kansas after he was nearly defrocked as a preacher and abolitionist.
      Work and financing for the BB&BC stalled during the hard times of the mid-1880s. In 1888, Cornwall decided to change the original route to Burrard Inlet, and chose a northeast route to Sumas, via the Sunnyland neighborhood, Dewey Valley, Wahl, Goshen, Strandell, Everson, Hampton and Clearbrook. In that year, the BB&BC bought two locomotives and installed them on a stretch a track from Sehome Dock to Whatcom Creek and Edson quoted old-timers who joked that the lokeys' only activity was running up and down that track and blowing its whistle to impress investors and settlers who arrived on steamboats. The tracks finally reached Sumas in 1891 and CPR built a branch south from Mission to meet BB&BC rails in Huntingdon, B.C., just across the border. The first through-train connecting with CPR arrived in New Whatcom on May 28, 1891, setting off the infamous "water-fight," one of the most comic occasions in Northwest rail history, which we will explain in an upcoming feature.
      In May 2008, Bellingham author Brian Griffin showed me the original route of that track, which runs on a diagonal up the bluff from the waterfront, which is now alongside a hiking trail. In 1895, BB&BC built a grand passenger depot on Railroad Avenue between Maple and Chestnut streets, which was later used by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad until it was demolished in 1942. Griffin and other volunteers formed a public-private partnership with the city of Bellingham to plan a glass and steel building designed after one that Griffin saw in Chartres, France. Their project became the Depot Market, which opened on the old depot site in 2006 as the permanent home of the Whatcom Farmers Market. Private groups and parties also rent the facilities for special occasions.

Dan Harris becomes an unusual town booster
      After Canfield failed time after time to complete his proposed rail line and after the CPR refused initially to connect with the BB&BC line, Harris decided to look elsewhere for someone who could deliver on their rail promises. A Dec. 10, 1886, article in the Whatcom Reveille noted that, "After all, the Fairhaven townsite proprietor Dan Harris is more enterprising than any other on Bellingham Bay. He proposes to donate and have surveyed for a cemetery ten acres of land near that place. He also offers water front and donations of land to any railroad desiring a terminus on Bellingham Bay."
      Two months later, another article in the same newspaper reported, "Dan Harris of Fairhaven has gone to San Francisco to confer with railroad magnates. Dan's liberal offer will build a city at Fairhaven." By the mid-1880s, the Washington Improvement Company of Fairhaven began placing ads in newspapers around the country, claiming that Fairhaven was the logical terminus for a new transcontinental rail line.
      According to Edson, the citizens in the four towns along the bay — Whatcom, Sehome, Unionville/Bellingham, and Fairhaven, put aside their differences that year "and called a joint meeting where it was urged that each real estate holder donate 25 percent of the assessed value of his property to the first railroad to cross the Cascade mountains. Captain Roeder, William Utter and Dan Harris went farther, offering to make the donation 50 percent."
      Fairhaven looked into the mirror in 1888 and saw itself as the fairest potential terminus of all. Keep in mind that Tacoma was the only Washington town back then that had a terminus for a transcontinental rail line, for the NP. Seattle was then merely a large town. In the 1870s and early '80s Seattle promoters planned rail lines to Walla Walla and points east, but tracks were actually only completed to the sites of the Newcastle coal mines in eastern King County.

(Old Sedro Map 1891)
Albert G. Mosier's 1891 map of old Sedro by the Skagit. The "wye" of the Fairhaven & Southern railroad was located at Jameson avenue, which was also the eastern extension of what was called the county highway at the time, a loose term to say the least. The left tine of the fork was the rail line coming southeast from Fairhaven and the right tine was the line going northeast and then north to the Cokedale mines. That is now Railroad street and the Minkler or Lyman highway. You can see Mortimer Cook's wharf on the river, which was the ultimate terminus of the rail line. That is where the town began in 1885.

Nelson Bennett had the right stuff
      Harris apparently decided that the best horse in the race was Nelson Bennett. Born in Toronto in 1843, he became a railroad contractor early on but in the late 1860s he became a miner in Dakota Territory and Utah and then freighted with mule teams to Butte, Montana, and through the Rockies, and built Butte's first street railway along the way. That was where he met C.X. Larrabee, the most important investor in the future F&S line.
      In 1881, Bennett returned to railroad construction, for the Northern Pacific across the Great Plains and the Rockies, in partnership with his older brother, Sidney, who was leaner and meaner and reputed to be a slave driver. Bennett's contemporaries described him as "a man of strong physique, big broad shoulders, wide forehead, strong farseeing eyes, and like most men of his day, he wore both beard and mustache." Historian Murray Morgan described him as being five-feet-nine in height and almost as wide. "Put a mustache and goatee on a bulldozer and you would have a reasonable facsimile. Nelson and Sidney were known as "big powder men" from their work on construction projects where they blew holes through mountains for tunnels and passes and across gorges.
      Back on Feb. 13, 1886, the brothers, known as "Big Powder Men,: began blasting and drilling a tunnel for Northern Pacific through Stampede Pass in the Cascade Range, east of Seattle. The pass was located in the northern shoulder of Mount Rainier, almost due east of Tacoma. The tunnel was planned to eventually replace the NP's steep switchback over the summit of the pass, which was constructed starting a few months later. Horse teams dragged some of the equipment — including boilers, exhaust fans, arc-light plants, air-drilling machines, Ingersoll drills, machine shops, two locomotives, two sawmills and a telephone system, 90 miles on an incline through snow six to ten feet deep. The brothers were out some $125,000 before the first shot was fired. They promised that they would finish the job within 28 months, and confounded the competing bidders by estimating costs less than half those of their closest competitor. Time was of the essence because Congress was screaming about forfeiture of unearned land grants by the railroad companies. By the time a cannon shot again 27 months later — to celebrate completion of the tunnel, the Bennetts pocketed $250,000 in profit from the $1,000,000 project.
      After inconceivable dedication, while snow drifted deeper and deeper, Bennett teams from east and west finally heard each other on May 3, 1888. They soon drilled a narrow hole connecting both sides. The tunnel was 9,850 feet long, 162 1/2 feet wide, 22 feet high above the rails and heavily timbered, the second longest tunnel in the U.S. at that time. It was an engineering marvel of its time, or its state-of-the-art ventilation and fan systems, the staggering wintertime logistics and the near-perfect juncture of the two sides that measured a scant 1/4-inch off. Sidney Bennett was the chief of that project and although he hated the idea like sin, he paid a bonus to his workers when the project was running a bit behind schedule in those last winter months. The bonus cost the Bennetts $33 for each steady worker, but it saved the performance bond.
      On May 1, Sidney offered a $1,000 bonus to the first man through. In addition, the entire west or east team working behind the lucky man was promised a steak dinner and whiskey. The western and eastern moles collided head-on halfway through, but the western leader was pushed through skinned and bleeding. Sidney's wife became so excited that she tried to squeeze through the connecting hole herself. A lady of "heroic proportions," she became firmly stuck on her first try. Chagrined but determined, she shed some undergarments and sent out for a bucket of lard to coat her shoulders and hips. On her second attempt, she was pulled through to the east side by joyous men with brawny arms. "The drinks," she proudly proclaimed, "are on my husband!" Frank Wilkeson, who had helped survey the possible Skagit route 18 years earlier, knew the Bennett brothers from their work for NP. In the March 2, 1890, New York Times article — which he wrote while living in Fairhaven, he profiled Nelson Bennett:

      Nelson Bennett, who founded Fairhaven when he was much younger than he now is, was engaged in transportation on the Great Plains---that is the way his admirers state the case, but really he was an ox or mule driver who, blacksnake whip in hand, walked in dust clouds from Missouri River steamboat landings to the Rocky Mountains. Bennett was plucky; he was energetic; he hated idleness. He is highly intelligent. He does not lie, and he has never been known to desert a friend. When he was young in the business of driving oxen across the plains he saw the enormous profits derived from the overland trade, and presently he was driving his own teams and selling his own goods. Then, as railroads were extended into desert and highlands, and wagons were pushed from the trails, Bennett began to contract to build railroads. He built railroads in the Rocky Mountains, on the Great Plains, in the arid basin that is between the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, and in the latter range. He blasted the long tunnel through the Cascade Mountains, through which the Northern Pacific's cars roll when on their way to and from Puget Sound. Every contract he undertook he fulfilled and made money in blocks at the work. He became thoroughly familiar with the whole country west of the Missouri River. . . .
      Thus Harris decided that Nelson Bennett had the "right stuff," that unlike those who talked a good game or merely provided "paper railroads" and "pie in the sky," Bennett would come through. That was the wisest decision Dan ever made.

Nelson Bennett lured investors and experts
Edward M. Wilson

      Although Bennett had amassed considerable cash by 1888, he knew that he also needed advisers for his grand railroad project, who had practical experience in booming towns and proven records, in order to prepare Fairhaven as an eventual terminus. The first man he summoned was Edward M. Wilson. They met in Utah in the 1870s and when Bennett obtained the contract in 1884 for building the Cascade division of the Northern Pacific, Wilson became a manager of that project.
      As a Dec. 29, 1890, profile in Bennett's Fairhaven Herald explained, Wilson " . . . was the senior partner in the firm of E.M. Wilson & Co., which firm built many of the Northern Pacific branch roads in Montana, and in which a large quantity of the heaviest work on that road was successfully carried out . . . " Born in Oregon Territory in 1847, his father, Edward A. Wilson, was a colorful and controversial character on the frontier. After railroad work with the Union Pacific in the 1860s, the son went to Utah in 1869 and founded a newspaper, the Corinne Reporter, which was established for the purpose of waging war against Mormonism. If you read the accompanying profile of Charles X. Larrabee, you will see that Wilson may have met Larrabee in Corinne in 1875. The paper and the town began to decline after two years and eventually, Wilson moved to Salt Lake City, where he briefly continued the fight but soon moved into mining. After investing in mining ventures in Idaho in 1879, Edward M. Wilson served in the legislature there.

Edgar L. Cowgill
      When he moved to Tacoma in 1884, he reaped profits in real estate there when prices were comparatively low. He also became associated with another key investor in Bennett's Fairhaven Land Co., Edgar L. Cowgill. Cowgill has never been extensively profiled in Fairhaven history but he probably has the most interesting historical family pedigree of all the partners. Born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1853, his Quaker parents, Daniel C. and Susan L. Cowgill, were key members of a group of Friends who maintained their home as a secret depot on the Underground Railroad, which helped escaped slaves travel north through Wilmington.
      His grandfather, Daniel Cowgill Sr., freed all his slaves and aided the fugitive slaves at Woodburn, his Georgian-style mansion, which he bought in 1825 and was built by Charles Hillyard in 1790. He and other Friends dug a secret underground tunnel that was used as a passage to escort slaves to the St. Jones River which runs directly behind. Boats then carried slaves across the Delaware River to New Jersey, a free state. Woodburn has served as the official home of Delaware's Governors since it was purchased by the state in 1965. The mansion, later owned by Daniel C. Cowgill's brother, Clayton, is important for its long line of notable previous residents, including gentlemen farmers, landowners, an abolitionist, two U.S. Senators, two doctors, a dentist, a judge, an early governor of Delaware, and seven recent Delaware Governors. Cowgill brought his experience as a lumberman to the mix in Fairhaven. In February 1888, according to the Dec. 29, 1890, Fairhaven Herald article, the two men "made a careful exploration of the surrounding country and especially of the proposed route of railway from Bellingham bay to Seattle. . . ." The article continues about how the two men:

      . . . made a close and thorough investigation of all the advantages that would accrue to the proposed line of road, its resources for the shipment of timber, agricultural products, iron, coal, stone and passengers, and their report to Mr. Bennett gave an exhaustive account, in minute detail, of the topography of the country through which the line would be built, the advantages and obstacles, the streams to be crossed and their character, the probable cost of construction per mile, the results to be obtained and all and singular the benefits to be derived and the difficulties to be encountered. In short the report was a pen picture of the country from Bellingham bay to Seattle along a belt tributary to such a road and is in every particular an admirable paper of its character, a copy of which, dated March 1, 1888, being in possession of this editor at the time of writing.
      The report concludes with these words, some of them prophetic, "Important towns would, in all probability, be built up at Bellingham bay, and at the crossings or in the valleys of the Samish, Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers. The harbor at Bellingham bay is one of the finest on the coast. The bay lies in a semi-circle, with fine anchorage, and shipping is perfectly safe, during the severest storms, and at the southern portion of the bay, vessels can come to within a few feet of the mainland. This examination and report we have made by your request from a disinterested standpoint and would add that we were surprised at the vast natural resources, principally undeveloped as yet, and think the field presented for a profitable railroad enterprise is the very best on the coast."
      After returning to Montana on business, Wilson returned to Fairhaven in September 1889 and became general manager of the F&S, also serving as treasurer of the railroad and of the Fairhaven Land Co. He also became a significant stockholder in the Skagit Coal and Transportation Co., which administered the Skagit coal mines and became president of the First National bank of Fairhaven, treasurer of the Bellingham Bay Gas Co., president of the Cascade Club in the Mason Block of Fairhaven. helped establish the water and electric light companies and in short has taken part in the organization and establishment of nearly every valuable Public enterprise in the city.

      At the time of the above article, Wilson had just been elected as the second mayor of Fairhaven, serving from 1891-92. He married a Wisconsin native, Kathryn North, in 1892. In 1889, Cowgill married Lillie Wasmer, a sister of Dan Harris's wife, Bertha. Cowgill also built a sawmill and box factory at Blaine on Drayton Harbor, which burned to the ground on Oct. 18, 1895, and then was rebuilt, and he was one of the owners of the historic "old red mill," which later became the E.K. Wood Lumber Co. Cowgill was also smack-dab in the middle of a fracas in 1889 in his role of manager of the Colony Mill on Whatcom Creek, which Bennett acquired early-on. Bennett exerted some muscle, as Edson recounted:
      For years the rival towns [Whatcom and Sehome] were separated physically as well as spiritually. In 1889, after long agitation, construction was begun on a viaduct connecting Whatcom's Thirteenth Street with Sehome's Holly Street. The Nelson Bennett interests objected unless a long draw span was built over Whatcom Creek to permit passage of large vessels to their newly acquired Colony sawmill.
      When the city fathers refused this proposition, Manager E.L. Cowgill of the Bennett mill had a large boom of logs towed across Thirteenth Street, where he placed a gang of his men as guards. At once the city council ordered Marshal Stimson to swear in deputies and remove the obstruction by force, if necessary. Fifty business men were deputized and within two hours the logs were out of way and the pile drivers were at work joining the principal business streets of the two towns in one thoroughfare.

      In the March 10, 1896, Daily Reveille of New Whatcom, we learned that Larrabee sued both Wilson and Cowgill in a Tacoma court. The men had borrowed the money from Larrabee for their shares in the capitalization of F&S, assuming that they would profit many-fold. When the boom proved not to have legs, they could not repay the loans and their shares reverted to Larrabee.

Charles X. Larrabee
      Unlike Canfield, Bennett had real money behind him. From his experience of building right-of-way for the NP, Bennett knew that investors needed more than a paper railroad to convince them to open their wallets. Once he had Wilson's and Cowgill's reports in hand, he visited wealthy friends all over the country who looked for boomtown investments with real possibilities. Charles Xavier "C.X." Larrabee (1843-1914) made a fortune at Butte City, Montana, after helping develop the Anaconda and St. Lawrence mines and then persevering with the Mountain View copper mine until it netted more than a million dollars when sold to Boston investors. In 1887, Larrabee moved to Portland, Oregon, where he invested in the Holladay Addition, along with his younger brother, Samuel E. "Ed" Larabie and Nelson Bennett. He eventually sold those interests for $2.5 million, according to a Larrabee obituary in the Portland Oregonian, including $1 million that Mrs. Larrabee collected after Charles's death.
      You can read our more extensive biography of Larrabee and his family at our other webpage in this issue. There we explain how Ed Larabie changed his surname in 1864 in Montana, apparently in favor of the early outpost at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. In relation to Fairhaven, Larrabee first showed up in Whatcom records when he started investing in real estate around the county, especially in the Mountain View district around Ferndale. Larrabee's most significant early investment, however, was down south in the newly formed Skagit County. A brief report in the June 21, 1888, issue of the Blaine Journal noted that brothers Larrabee and Larabie had already invested in the coal mine near Sedro.
      Even though Volume II of the 1890 book, Portland, Oregon, its history and builders, still claimed Larrabee as a Portland resident, sources we researched include information showing that the then-bachelor spent a lot of time in Whatcom and Skagit counties in 1888-89 and established himself by 1890 in Fairhaven, where he would live for the last 24 years of his life. In 1890 he hired Cyrus Gates, of Vermont, as his secretary and administrator of all his far-flung interests including the real estate in Portland and his ranch and other properties in Montana. None of the histories have explained how they originally met but we discovered in a Gates obituary in the Jan. 13, 1927, Bellingham American that Gates was a former student when Larrabee taught for a brief time in Vermont in the 1860s. Bennett moved on to Tacoma during the 1890s nationwide Depression, but Larrabee sank his roots deep and left a larger legacy than any of the boom-time investors, as you will read in our separate story.
      As Frank Wilkeson noted in his 1890 Times column, Bennett also convinced two other boomers to invest in the FLC — James F. Wardner, who made his fortune in Idaho silver mines, and C.W. Waldron, a banker from Michigan who built the substantial bank building at the corner of 12th and McKenzie that has been totally refurbished and will soon be anchored by Whidbey Island Bank, according to Fairhaven developer Ken Imus.
      Larrabee surprised many of his Fairhaven associates when he returned on Aug. 13, 1892, from a vacation back East and introduced his new bride, Frances Frazier "Fannie" Payne, whom he had married earlier that month in her hometown of St. Louis. She was 24 years his junior and they actually met in 1890 when he visited his investors in Boston and Fannie, a gifted pianist, was there with her mother on the way to a second study session in Berlin with Professor Oscar Reif. Larrabee was "nuts about music" and a patron of the arts, as his grandson notes in a biographical manuscript, and he and Fannie likely met when his Boston associates took him to a musical function. They immediately moved into the five-story Fairhaven Hotel, which Larrabee owned by then, and their growing family were the principal tenants for the next 22 years until C.X. died. Fannie survived her husband for 27 years and died at her Hawthorne Road home on June 11, 1941.

Continue to Part Two of the F&S story, including: Sedro prepares 1888-89, Donovan's horseback ride in the nick of time, details of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern, Seattle & Montana and Great Northern lines, James J. Hill and the decline of the F&S, and the decline of the Sedros.

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Story posted July 20, 2001, updated Feb. 6, 2006, totally updated and revised June 28, 2008
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