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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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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Morris Schneider, pioneer Woolley merchant

By Muriel Weissberg ©2008
      Skagit River Journal ed. note: While researching at the University of Washington several years ago, we happened upon a one-line reference to a woman named Muriel Waxman Weissberg, who had donated copies of advertisements for the department store of her grandfather, Morris Schneider, of Woolley, Washington. No contact information was given and the University could not legally provide her address, if she were indeed still alive, but the representative gave me a hint that she had also been a resource for other people studying the Volunteer Park area of Seattle. We guessed that she would have to be her late 80s or 90s. After nearly three years of searching, a chain of kind people finally connected us with Muriel, who is now a widow living in Redding, California. Serendipity struck once again. Yes, she was nearly as old as we guessed but she is still hale and hearty and she loves to travel, and she has always wanted a tour of her grandfather's town. So, in September 2008, she and her son, Bob Weissberg, and his wife, Miriam, visited Sedro-Woolley and we conducted a tour for her of the area. Meanwhile, she supplied this profile of her grandfather and family and she also passed on scans of breathtaking photos of Woolley that no one outside her family has seen for more than a century. Thus we share her story exactly a century after Morris moved his family from Sedro-Woolley to Seattle. Muriel is a daughter of his eldest daughter, Rebecca Schneider Waxman.

(Schneider family)

Muriel's story
      One of the pioneer Jews of northern Washington state was Morris Schneider, whose experience was typical of the many Jewish businessmen who carved out niches for themselves in western frontier towns. Morris Schneider was a "railroad pioneer." Beginning in New York City he followed the railroad lines westward and northward in stages, as the transportation avenues opened up.
      He ended up establishing a successful general store in the tiny Skagit County community of Sedro-Woolley, Washington, which was almost as far as he could go without leaving the United States. There were no other Jewish people in his community, although some were present in Seattle to the south and Bellingham to the north.
      Like most pioneer merchants, Morris Schneider was an immigrant. His story begins in the Russian Pale of Settlement, where Russian Jews were required to live between 1835 and 1917. This area is now included in the country of Poland. Morris's family lived in the town of Filipov in the province of Suwalki, just east of the present border between Poland and Germany. It was near the larger city of Punsk and within walking distance of the German border.
      Morris's father, Benjamin Moses Chaim Nicianski, was born there in 1815. The father was married to Rachel, daughter of Jankiel Benusiow. Benjamin's children were Moishe (Morris), born 1857, Chaja Leja (Lena) born 1860, Feya Mariashka (Fanny), born 1863, and Rebecca, date of birth unknown.

Moishe emigrates to New York City in 1880, becomes Morris Schneider
      In 1880, Moishe Nicianski, age 23, immigrated to New York and became Morris Schneider. Later Marris's mother, Rachel, and his three sisters followed and settled in Los Angeles and finally San Francisco. In New York City, Morris went to work as a tailor and in 1885 he married Yetta Berkowitz, who had been born in New York and was seventeen years old at the time. However, the marriage certificate gives her age as twenty-one. The groom's address was 248 E. Broadway, while the bride lived at 50 Chrystie St., on the lower East Side of New York. The bride became known as Henrietta Levenson Schneider, Levenson being the name of her grandfather.
      The first child born to Morris and Henrietta was Sarah, born in New York on Nov. 14, 1886. She died the following March. After the child's death the couple decided to leave New York's crowded East Side and look for opportunities in the West. They traveled by train to Cincinnati and then journeyed by boat to New Orleans where they stayed for a short time.

(Los Angeles Ca 1890)
      This colorized postcard shows Los Angeles Street near the time when Morris Schneider had a tailor shop there. See Brent C. Dickerson's site of old LA for many more such postcards, photos and stories of 19th and early-20th Century Los Angeles.

Way out west
      The new transcontinental railroad lines had recently opened up the West. The Southern Pacific reached Los Angeles in 1876, while the Santa Fe had arrived in 1885. Thus the Schneiders were able to take the long journey to Los Angeles by train. There, on Oct. 15, 1888, Rebecca was born. The Los Angeles City Directory of 1887 shows that Morris Schneider had a tailor shop on Vignes Street.
      Although Morris's mother and sisters were sent for and settled finally in San Francisco, he sensed greater opportunities to the north and moved to Port Townsend, Washington, which was rumored to be the new terminus of the northern transcontinental railroad. He operated a store briefly in Port Townsend, but when the Northern Pacific line was completed across the continent it had Tacoma, Washington, as its terminus.

(Schneider store exterior 1)
      This photo of the original Schneider Building at the southwest corner of Northern Avenue and Metcalf Street was probably taken sometime between the family's arrival in Woolley, in 1892, and 1900. The photographer was standing near the Seattle & Northern railroad tracks, looking south. The avenue was planked at that time. We have no confirmed photos of either Metcalf or Ferry Street, so we are unsure if those streets were also planked. Muriel explains that her mother, Rebecca Schneider, took these photos of the area surrounding the store, from 1900-09.

Schneider's move to Skagit County in spring 1891
      As it became evident that the railroad would serve the cities on the east side of Puget Sound, Morris moved to Anacortes, Washington. On April 17, 1891, Morris Schneider, the tailor, moved into Moyer's old store on 34nd Street. While they were living in Anacortes a son, Benjamin Bernard "Bennie," was born on April 14, 1891.

(Schneider store exterior 2)
      This photo was taken in 1903 and shows improvements on the building. By that time, Morris Schneider had rented out space on the ground floor, to the left, to an unnamed millinery business. The former bowling alley, now closed for nearly a decade, occupied the entire space of the brick building that replaced this store on the site in 1914. Click on the photo for a larger, more-detailed version.

Setting up shop in Woolley in 1892
      In 1892, Morris moved his family once again, this time to the town of Woolley, Skagit County, Washington, where he became a naturalized citizen on June 3, 1896, in the Superior Court of Skagit County.
      Commercial interests in Seattle, eager to tap the resources of northern Washington, built the Seattle Lakeshore & Eastern railroad to connect Seattle with the Canadian Pacific Railroad at Vancouver, British Columbia, while others — mainly Northern Pacific investors, built the Seattle and Northern line eastward from Anacortes. Although the line opened in April 1890 with the eastern terminus at Woolley, and eventually extended up the Skagit River to Rockport, the initial plan was to cross the Cascade crest to meet the Great Northern, which was building west from Spokane Falls.
      Schneider chose to set up business at the twin cities of Sedro and Woolley. The two rail lines met at a point about two miles north of the Skagit where they crossed the tracks of a third line, the Fairhaven & Southern, the rail line that actually opened for business first, on Christmas Eve, 1889. The triangle where they all crossed was literally across the street from where Schneider decided to construct his woodframe store in downtown Woolley.
      The earlier community, Sedro, was marked by a post office established on Dec. 7, 1885, at the general store of founder Mortimer Cook. This original town of Sedro and a rival town of Sedro that was located where the high school stands today were both surveyed and platted in 1889. In 1890, Philip A. Woolley bought 80 acres just north of the newer Sedro and platted it as the town of Woolley. The merged towns of Sedro and the town of Woolley both became cities of the fourth class in 1891.
      After an initial attempt at merging the twin cities failed for legal reasons in 1891, competing interests tried to effect the merger several times that decade as a nationwide Depression strangled the economy. Neither side would give up the respective town's name, however, but in October 1898 a set of merger petitions were circulated and signed. Finally, on December 19, the Skagit County Commissioners settled the dispute by declaring the merger after receiving a petition of 81 residents for the name of Sedro and 75 residents, including Morris Schneider, for the name of Woolley.

(Railroad triangle)
      Muriel found this terrific photo in her mother's collection, the original of a photo we only had as a second-generation copy. The photographer is standing on the Seattle & Northern Railroad tracks, looking east down Northern Avenue. We know it is sometime before the summer of 1901, because the Union Depot at the left was moved to Eastern Avenue near the corner of Ferry Street on Aug. 1, 1901. The building on the corner to the right is the Keystone Hotel and Schneider's building was at the far end of the block. Read about the famous Woolley Triangle.

Schneider family and business grows
      On March 20, 1899, a daughter, Jochabel (Jean) was born to the Schneiders. When she was just three months old, the towns' merger officially took place on July 2, as well as the consolidation of the post office, both under the name of Sedro-Woolley. A Sept. 8, 1899, newspaper reported that the Woolley school, located two blocks east of the Schneider store and north across the tracks, had 100 pupils enrolled. Rebekah Schneider and Bennie Schneider were listed among those with grades above 90.
      The Schneider family remained in Sedro-Woolley until 1909. During that time they were the only Jewish residents of the community. The Schneider Department Store became the largest such store in the county. Morris Schneider was well regarded for his honest dealings, and his wife, Henrietta, who was a saleslady in the store, fitted into the social life of the little town of about 2,500 people, and helped improve business.
      The family lived in rooms over the store. The 1900 census report states that they all speak, read and write English and own the home without mortgage. Morris became a member of Truth Lodge of IOOF (Odd Fellows). An unidentified newspaper quoted in the 1953 Centennial Edition of the Courier-Times reported that the Rebekah Lodge (the women's group of the Odd Fellows) No. 74 was instituted April 26, 1895, and that Henrietta Schneider was Noble Grand President of the Lodge for the usual six-month term.
      While the store primarily dealt in "dry goods," Rebecca recounted that Morris at one time experimented with handling groceries, and undertook to deliver supplies to the logging camps in the Cascade foothills. However, difficulties in transportation led hi to abandon this enterprise and limit his business to "dry goods." A number of Coast Salish Indians still lived in the vicinity, and Morris supplied wool yarn to the Indian women who knitted socks, which he bought and then sold to the loggers. From time to time, Indians were to be seen sitting on the pavement next to the store, selling various handicrafts.
      Another element of the community who dealt with Morris were the prostitutes, who bought only the most luxurious silks and brocades. Small daughter Jochabed once received a gift of a large decorated hat from one of the ladies, in which she paraded happily around town until corralled by her anxious parents.
      During the Schneider years in Sedro-Woolley the town was also home to the well-known photographer, Darius Kinsey, in whose studio family members sat for portraits. Kinsey became known for his extensive collection of photographs of Cascade logging camps. His published collected work includes scenes of the Schneider store, and its advertisements. Ads in 1896, for instance, featured barrels of flour for $3.50 and 40 bars of laundry soap for $1 (a public laundromat with washtubs was located just two blocks away); and one in 1901 listed items for sale: dry goods, notions, fancy goods, millinery, clothing, furnishings, hats & caps, boots and shoes, jewelry.

(Schneider interior)
      This photo from Muriel's collection was probably taken circa 1903 and shows details of clothing and dry goods that are packed in tight in every nook and cranny of the woodframe store.

College and religion lead to move away from Woolley
      Like other immigrants, Morris tried to keep up his Orthodox Jewish observances, but found great difficulties in the circumstances of frontier life. He ordered kosher meat from San Francisco, but in those pre-refrigeration days it arrived spoiled, so that attempt was abandoned. He tried to teach Hebrew to son Bennie but he was not patient enough for teaching a small child, and that too was abandoned.
      He shared the Jewish immigrant's respect for education. Both Rebecca and Ben went through the Woolley elementary school and the new Sedro-Woolley High School, both graduating in the class of 1906, which contained just four graduates. Their senior year was partially interrupted by the earthquake of April 1906 in San Francisco, where Henrietta had taken Rebecca and Ben for medical treatment. In the confused aftermath of the quake, Morris traveled to San Francisco to locate his family, which had become separated, and returned them to the safety of northern Washington.
      Washington State College at Pullman, Washington, sent out recruiters to line up students from all of Washington's rural areas, which is why both Ben and Rebecca were enrolled the following year at that college, even though the University of Washington in Seattle was closer. We discovered in earlier research that George Hopp, editor of the Sedro Press, was a member of the original Pullman board of regents. Although Morris had had a minimal education he provided a university education for all three of his children.
      At this stage, Henrietta saw a need to remove her family from the non-Jewish atmosphere of Sedro-Woolley, and prevailed upon her husband to close out his business and move to Seattle where the young people could meet others of their faith. Rebecca left college for the 1908 year to help liquidate the store, which was apparently very successful. On Oct. 22, 1908, a newspaper reported that W.B. Pigg had leased the Schneider Building.

Schneiders move to Seattle
      The Schneiders moved in 1908-09 to the thriving city of Seattle where they invested in a large house at 1145 17th Ave. N. near Volunteer Park, as well as two apartment buildings. One was the Hollywood Apartments at 1716 Boylston Avenue and the other The Morris at 1743 Summit. All three of these buildings are still standing. Morris became a member of the Bikur Cholim Orthodox congregation. His wife became active in their women's group and was photographed in 1910 among ladies working on the annual fair and bazaar. Morris affiliated with Seattle Lodge No. 7, IOOF, and Hildesheimer Lodge, IOBB. Back in Woolley, the absent landlords got a bit of a scare in April 1910 when a small fire erupted in a flue in their building between Sadler Paint & Paper and the room used by Grand Union Tea Co, a harbinger of the really bad news of four years later.
      After the move to Seattle, Rebecca resumed her education at the University of Washington, where she graduated in 1912. Ben continued at Washington State where he graduated with a degree in chemistry. He went on to work in Washington, D.C., in a Civil Service position and later took a law degree. Jean was a student at Isaac I. Stevens elementary school, Broadway High School and later went on to graduate from Vassar College. A copy of the Sedro-Woolley High School Annual for 1922 includes more information about the 1906 Schneider graduates. A 1914 report about Benjamin indicated that he was an assistant chemist in the Dairy Laboratory, Washington, D.C. and that he was also studying to be a patent lawyer and was due to graduate in the spring. Also in 1914, Rebecca Schneider was taking a library course at the New York State Library School, where she was also due to graduate in the spring. I. Stevens elementary school, Broadway High School and later went on to graduate from Vassar College.
      Unfortunately, Morris's years in Seattle were marred by ill health. Early in 1914, Henrietta and Morris traveled to San Francisco in search of medical attention and he died there on Feb. 1, 1914. He, along with his mother, wife and two daughters, is buried in Salem Cemetery, Colma, California (south of San Francisco). During that same period the following brief newspaper article, dated Jan. 8, 1914, reported on the fire in the original Schneider Building (reprinted in the 1953 Centennial Edition of the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times):
      "The Schneider Building on the corner of Metcalf and Northern avenues burned to the ground. The building was made of wood and contained six business houses: W.B. Pigg, Vogel the photographer, Van Slyke Confectionery, Puget Sound Realty Co., Fred Neier Shoe Shop, and John Sadder, Painter." The building was rebuilt in brick and after a number of remodelings now stands as a part of the "old Sedro-Woolley" restoration, complete with new pedestrian walks and antique-type street lamps.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos. All three photos were taken during the 1903 4th of July Parade.
(4th of July Parade 1)
(Parade and arch)
(Parade 2)
Far left: This photo was taken by the photographer looking east from the south end of the Schneider Building. The double-awning was on the front of the W.B. Pigg Confectionery, which was advertising cashews. One of the buildings to the right was the Klondike Saloon, which opened during the Alaska Gold Rush, circa 1898. On the corner to the right was the Osterman House, the "classy" hotel in town where salesmen showed their wares. See the Osterman story for the spectacular photo of the Osterman that Muriel also shared. All we had before this was a drawing from 1890 when it was built as the St. Clair Hotel.. Center: This photo shows the arch where the parade traditionally began. It was made of wood and located just south of the Seattle & Northern tracks. If you look at the larger version, you will see an artillery piece on the top that was apparently loaned by a veteran of a former war who lived in the area, possibly one of the vets who are drilling in the photo to the right. . Right: The building to the right beside the drilling soldiers was the Frye-Bruhn Butcher Co..

Epilogue (from Skagit River Journal research):
      The Schneider Block was immediately rebuilt but this time the lesson of the severe July 1911 downtown fire was uppermost in everyone's minds, especially the insurance agents: business blocks must be constructed of stone or brick. By that fall, when the historic bank robbery unfolded in October across Metcalf in the relatively new Wixson Hotel/First National Bank, news accounts noted that bullets flew through the sawdust piles at the Schneider corner. We are still uncertain whether widow Henrietta Schneider oversaw the reconstruction or if the Pigg family bought the lots.
      When the fire leveled the original woodframe building, the businesses leasing space at the time included W. B. Pigg; Vogel the photographer; Van Slyke confectionery; Puget Sound Realty; Fred Meier shoe shop; John Sadler Paint and Wallpaper. Pigg did not wait for the rebuild. Instead, he and his sons moved their operation to the south side of State Street where the Old Timers Tavern stands today. They sold their confectionery business, dropped the retail part of their bakery and devoted the business to wholesale bread and pastries. Meanwhile, the Home Store Ladies and Children's Wear and Bruner Mills Confectionery, moved downriver from Hamilton, moved in during November when the building was completed. West from Schneider's on Northern Avenue was Jim Gray's Palace Saloon, Charley Hill's saloon, and the Keystone Hotel with saloon and restaurant, which was then owned by William Liskass and stood on the corner of Eastern avenue. The Keystone may have been the first hotel in old Woolley and it was still known as a den of sin. That is now the location of Ace Hardware.
      On April 16, 1925, the Eagles Aerie bought the Schneider Building for $28,000 and devoted about half the building to their club rooms. That was the current Aerie 2069, which opened on Jan. 14, 1923, with 148 charter members. We have a photograph of a former Aerie here just after the turn of the century, but we have not yet determined why or when it may have disbanded. In 1925 the following businesses leased space there: LaRoche Studio; Commercial Club; Charles Hill, Grocery store; Shoe Shop, Ring's Tailor; Herron Millinery; Knutzen Garage. The Aerie formed an auxiliary in 1927.
      Over the next two decades, the Eagles moved into the original Odd Fellows Lodge Hall on Murdock Street, a woodframe building where the American Legion Club stands today, and various retailers moved in and out of the Schneider Building. In 1946 the late Rollie Gaines opened the Fairweather Lanes bowling alley in the northern half of the building and shared the total space with a tavern. Within a decade, the business did so well that Gaines took over the whole space and installed semi-automatic pinsetters on lanes extending all the way to the south end. The author set pins there for three years. A few years after Rollie retired, the business was finally closed soon after the turn of the 21st Century and it has never reopened.
      Down in Seattle, Rebecca Schneider sank down roots and married. As Muriel explains: "I am Rebecca's daughter, nee Muriel Waxman in Seattle in 1919. I grew up and went through school in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington in 1940. Since 1952 I have lived here in Northern California, but still have relatives up there My mother insisted that my sister and I know about her hometown and took us up to Sedro-Woolly to visit a farm family, the Dreyers, so we could experience an old-fashioned farm."
      She has always had a keen sense of history and has been instrumental in providing memories and memorabilia of the Rogers Playground, which was named after Governor John R. Rogers (1897-1901) and located in Seattle's Eastlake neighborhood between Eastlake Avenue and Seward school. The land, originally owned by David Denny, was sold to the City of Seattle in 1896. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition (1909), held on the UW campus, spurred the development of the playground, which lay on the trolley route from downtown to the exposition. In the 1960s, Interstate-5 bisected the area, creating a major setback for the neighborhood and its playground. It languished for a time, but in 1998, Friends of Rogers Playground began a campaign to refurbish it. You can read the history of the playground, written by Jules James, and see Muriel's contributions at


1. Pale of Settlement
      Martin Gilberg, Jewish History Atlas, Macmillan, 1969. [Return]

2. Genealogy
      Microfilm records of vital statistics, LDS Library, Oakland, CA. [Return]

3. Genealogy
      Russian passports. [Return]

4. Yetta/Henrietta
      City of New York Health Department, transcript from the record of marriages, Oct. 7, 1885. [Return]

      National Archives, Bureau of the Census, June 2, 1900. [Return]

6. Schneider's tailor shop, Vignes Street, Los Angeles
      Los Angeles City Directory for 1887. (Additional Journal research: note that Dan Harris of Fairhaven would soon also settle in Los Angeles, within the next two years. Harris and Schneider did business within ten blocks of each other near Chinatown, the original version of which was dismantled to build Union Station on the site. Vignes Street was the original vineyards area of the Los Angeles townsite. See Brent C. Dickerson's site of old LA) [Return]

7. Schneider's Anacortes shop
      Anacortes Progress, April 17, 1891. [Return]

8. Morris citizen
      Superior Court of Skagit County, Certificate of Citizenship, June 3, 1896. [Return]

9. Woolley Graded School
      Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times Centennial Edition, Sept. 1953. [Return]

10. Census, 1900
      National Archives, Bureau of the Census, June 2, 1900. [Return]

11. Odd Fellows, Sedro-Woolley
      Skagit County Times, Feb. 12, 1914. [Return]

12. Henrietta officer
      Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times Centennial Edition, Sept. 1953. [Return]

13. Dry Goods
      David Bohn & Rodolfo Pedschek, Kinsey Photographer, Chronicle Books: San Francisco: 1978. [Return]

14. Schneider ads
      Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times Centennial Edition, Sept. 1953. Read more about Kinsey. [Return]

15. San Francisco Earthquake, 1906
      (Additional Journal research: Susan Batey, daughter of pioneers David and Henrietta Batey, lost her husband to the earthquake that year.) [Return]

16. Pigg leases Schneider Building
      Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times Centennial Edition, Sept. 1953. (Additional Journal research: The Pigg family opened their confectionery east across Metcalf Street at the turn of the century. They sub-let part of the store to other retail businesses.) [Return]

17. Morris and Henrietta and Bikur Cholim Orthodox congregation
      Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 22, 1910. [Return]

18. Morris and IOFF and IOBB lodges, Seattle
      San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 2, 1914. (Additional Journal research: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (1901), originally published by Sergius A. Nilius, explains that the IOBB was the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith, founded by German Jews in New York City in 1843. "B'nai B'rith means 'Sons of Covenent," the covenant being that of circumcision practiced according to Mosaic law. Hence the Independent Order of the B'nai B'rith admits only Jews as members." The book describes IOBB as a "Jewish Masonic Society.") [Return]

19. Morris dies in San Francisco
      Skagit County Times, Feb. 12, 1914. [Return]

Story posted on Nov. 15, 2008, last updated Dec. 15, 2008
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