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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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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Chamber of Commerce, Sedro-Woolley
dates from 1896, through a succession of names

(Carnival committee 1914)
This is what we fondly call the "ice cream suits" photo, from 1914, a key year for the chamber because that is when its predecessor, the Commercial Club, was formed. Think of the merchants in those suits in the movie of The Music Man. Like in that movie, there must have been a barbershop quartet among those promoters in the photo. What a year they had promoting civic pride through festivals. That was really the beginning of what has now evolved into the Loggerodeo. These fellows arranged a carnival downtown, with brawny young men performing amazing feats, and in the tent out back, you could see the performance of the Egyptian dancers.
      But they went one step further that year. They launched a rodeo in the same vicinity as the present grounds, built a grandstand and welcomed Buffalo Bill Cody to town that spring to help them promote the idea. He had come to pay a visit to Frank Hoehn, who 21 years earlier had ridden in Cody's first Wild West show in Nebraska. Yes, that Hoehn of Hoehn Road. You can't pay for promotion like that.

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We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds & duvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.

      The Sedro-Woolley Chamber of Commerce has a long history dating back to efforts during the 1890s Depression by leaders of the original towns to merge. The genesis of the Chamber was sometime in 1896 when the Twin City Business League (TCBL) was organized specifically to cool down the bitter rivalry between the towns of Sedro and Woolley. It was the brainchild of Junius Brutus Alexander, a member of the corporation that platted the original town of new Sedro, where the high school now stands. Alexander came here in 1890 as a recent Harvard graduate, the son of a grocery magnate on Staten Island in New York. Although he spent part of the '90s Depression years back there, he exerted leadership here to mediate between the towns and smooth the way for a merger through the TCBL
      There were originally two towns of Sedro. Mortimer Cook arrived in 1884 and bought property on the north shore of the Skagit where Riverfront Park now stands. He built a store there and originally formed a very small village that he called Bug. By the time he was granted a US Post Office on Dec. 7, 1885, the village was called Sedro. In 1888, Nelson Bennett, the developer of the Fairhaven and Southern Railroad and the town of Fairhaven on Bellingham Bay, began clearing the property around Cook's store and some acreage belonging to early settler William Woods.
      Norman R. Kelley formed another competing corporation on March 26, 1889, called the Sedro Land & Improvement Company, with a second town of Sedro, what we call New Sedro. This was initially called Kelley's Town or Kelleyville, based on Block 1 where the high school now stands, a half mile northwest of Cook's property. In the Journal stories, we call that "new Sedro." He platted his new town on Aug. 29, 1889, as Town of Sedro. Bennett and The Fairhaven Land Co. platted The Town of Sedro, based on Cook's original townsite, on Oct. 17, 1889. The competing towns of old and new Sedro had a common border at Alexander street. We would love to know the machinations of those competing towns of Sedro, but unfortunately all the newspapers of those days burned in various fires more than a century ago (maybe you have one in your family scrapbook?). On March 9, 1891, citizens in the two towns voted to incorporate a final town called Sedro, but the request was deemed illegal for technical reasons and the proposal went dormant during the nationwide Depression of 1893-96.
      In November 1889, Phillip A. Woolley, a railroad developer from Elgin Illinois, arrived to plan a sawmill and a company town at the crossing of three railroads — the F&S, the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern, and the Seattle & Northern near where the old Skagit Steel plant was built, starting in 1910. He platted his namesake town on June 13, 1890 and residents voted to incorporate on May 11, 1891.
      The two towns fought for residents and businesses until 1892. A disastrous fire that year wiped out the businesses on Block 1 of Sedro and then a nationwide Depression began in 1893 that effectively stalled development and business until 1896. By then another fire in 1895 had leveled Sedro again and businesses began locating in Woolley.

New century brings Commercial Club and Chamber of Commerce
      Several elections were held in the late 1890s in an attempt to merge the towns and reduce the costs of redundant government. In April 1898 the Sedro-Woolley Businessman's League formed ad-hoc to finalize the merger and this group and the TCBL finally achieved the union on Dec. 19, 1898. The clubs merged and built a new wharf in February 1899 at Old Sedro for a new sternwheeler serving upriver. Their next project was a plan in December 1899 for a union high school, eventually named Irving, where the tennis courts now stand north of Central School. The TCBL also was successful that year in extending Cook Road all the way to Olympia March (about where I-5 is now). In 1904 the TCBL also organized the numbering of businesses and residences in town.
      Deanna Ammons recently uncovered evidence from a Skagit County Times newspaper of 1903 issue about businessman George Green that he was president of the TCBL that year, and the newspaper referred to the group as the Chamber of Commerce, even though the first official notice was in 1914.
      By 1914 a new club called the Commercial Club (CC) completely replaced the TCBL. Newspapers from this period are scarce but the first mention of the CC was on August 30, 1912, when the club sponsored a banquet to celebrate the opening of the Interurban train from Burlington. Another major project of that year was Bingham Park on land west of the Skagit Steel plant that was donated by pioneer banker C.E. Bingham. The park, which still stands 91 years later, was designed by the Olmsted Brothers, who also designed the Northern State Hospital campus, Fairhaven Park and many of the parks in Seattle. Their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, designed Central Park in New York City. The Commercial Club was officially incorporated on April 15, 1914.
      By 1925 the club moved its office from the old Seidell building (at the northwest corner of Metcalf and Ferry, burned in 1949) to the Schneider building, just north on Metcalf (the present bowling alley). Roads were clearly the highest priority of the club that year. Under the leadership of the LaPlant brothers, the International Highway, now Hwy. 9, and additional roads to Hoogdal, Lyman and other outlying communities were built or paved.

(1914 Rodeo)
1914 Rodeo, famously promoted by Buffalo Bill

      The exact date of the change from Commercial Club to the Chamber of Commerce is unclear because minutes are missing from December 1926 to January 1929 but by that latter date the minutes use the Chamber name. We also know from state Chamber records and correspondence of David G. McIntyre that the state Chamber was started in that period. The Skagit County Chamber was one of the first such organizations formed in the state. When the new city hall was built at the corner of Woodworth and Murdock in 1930, meetings were moved there and continued mainly at that location until the 1950s. In 1959 the Chamber was revitalized and a temporary office was opened in Porter LaPlant's real estate office in the J.C. Penney building on Metcalf (now Jungquist furniture). Frances Miller was hired part time as secretary but was soon a full-time manager. In 1961 the office was moved to the location of the former Minkler Bakery on the west side of the 700 block of Metcalf. Miller retired in 1986 after 27 years at the helm. In 1999, after an interim location, the Chamber moved back to that same Metcalf street office.
      2011 Update: acting as the present Chamber Director is Pola Kelley, who has been a mainspring of support for the organization for many years. Chamber website.

(Carnival committee 1914)
And just so as not to play favorites, here is an even better photo of the 1907 "ice cream suit" committee. They were acting as members of the Twin City Business League to promote an earlier, more modest event.

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(bullet) Our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds andduvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.
(bullet) Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 90 years continually in business.
(bullet) Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20, day, week or month, perfect for hunting or fishing. Park your RV or pitch a tent — for as little as $5 per night — by the Skagit River, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley. Alpine is doubling in capacity for RVs and camping in 2011.
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