Skagit River Journal
(Howard Stumpranch) Howard Royal and his family's Birdsview Stump Ranch
of History & Folklore
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(bullet) Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. Passed 5 million page views, 2011; passed 800 stories in 2012 — Mailing: (bullet) Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284 where Mortimer Cook started a town & named it Bug
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Sedro photos, part 1, post-Bug phase


(First house at Sedro)

      The word "astounding" is often overused when noting a historical discovery, but please pardon us for using the word for the photo above. We found it in the collection of the late Howard Miller and then tracked it down to the University of Washington [UW] Special Collections Archives Division, a resource that seems boundless in its breadth and follows strict procedures to determine the provenance of photos. The photo is captioned in handwriting: "Sedro-First House Built in Sedro, Skaget Co. Wa. 565." If you compare the script to that in the lower right corner of the black-and-white stump photo below, you will see that they are very similar, so the photo may have been taken by Frank LaRoche, who took photos in the old Sedro area in 1890. What a marvelous discovery. This cabin stands in a dense forest that could have been anywhere from Ball's Camp/Sterling on the west to old Sedro by the river itself.
      We strongly suspect that this could be the cabin where Minnie von Pressentin and her children slept overnight while traveling upriver in January 1878 to join her husband, Karl (Charles) von Pressentin (read that account in this website). The cabin was built by pioneer Lafayette Stevens, who found the coal seams five miles northeast of Sedro in 1878 that became the Cokedale mines. Paul von Pressentin noted that the Stevens cabin had a sleeping loft upstairs. You will see in the full-sized photo a ladder leading to such a loft. We hope that a reader will know more about the photo. This is what makes studying historical photos such fun.
      This is the first of three sections with photos of old and new Sedro on the Skagit river in Washington territory, taken in the 1880s and 1890s during clearing of the wilderness, settlement and boom times. Some of the photos have never been published before. Some of the full-sized photos will be accessed by clicking on a small "thumbnail" to the right of the copy. For a background chronology, see this website on the Sedro-and-Woolley timeline. We also want to draw your attention to the online treasure of Rural Heritage-grant scans of terrific photos of Sedro-Woolley and upriver, which were assembled by and stored at the Sedro-Woolley Museum and the Sedro-Woolley Public Library. You can view them online at this website; many were made available from the collection of Michael and Gloria Johnson of Mount Vernon.


Mutton-chop man, a Cautionary Tale, and the under-appreciated Frank LaRoche
(Sedro Stump 1)
(Sedro Stump 2)
We have provided these two photos in large format so you can see how similar they are, except for different handwritten captions at the bottom. Click on the top photo for an even larger format with more detail. The photographer was Frank LaRoche, who is one of the most important sources for photos of this area and of that era, ranging from Tacoma to the Klondike. His best work is often judged equal to that of the more famous Darius Kinsey, but without Kinsey's elaborate, laborious developing and archival process. LaRoche was born in Philadelphia in 1853 and died in Sedro-Woolley in 1936. Some sources recalled that he arrived in Seattle when the ashes were cooling after the famous June 6, 1889, fire that leveled most of the town proper; others peg his arrival in 1888. We go for the 1889 date. See many more details about the photos and the photographer below.

      The two photos above illustrate a problem that you will encounter in trying to unravel the history of Skagit boomtowns such as Sedro-Woolley. I always hearken back to a basic history class that Professor Roland DeLorme of Western Washington State College (later president of the same University) taught back in the summer of 1966. He spent the first couple of sessions teaching us two rules. The first was to determine the bias of the author before deciding to accept the thesis of a book or article. The second was to try to find more than one source and compare their bona fides. This is especially important when studying old Sedro and old Woolley because almost all of the volumes of early newspapers before 1912 burned in various fires. Just in the past year I have read dubious accounts of early events because the author did not apply one or both of those rules.
      If Frank LaRoche did arrive on June 7, 1889, we wonder if he arrived with or crossed paths with Illabot Creek pioneer Henry Martin, who arrived in Seattle on the same day, 24 hours after the fire, with dazed men sifting through the ashes of downtown. Martin soon took a steamboat north, while LaRoche opened a gallery in the Kilgen block at 709 2nd avenue in old Seattle near today's Safeco Field. His bread-and-butter in his early Seattle years was high-end studio photography, but he soon became fascinated with the vistas of the near wilderness that existed almost everywhere outside of Seattle and other infant metropolitan cities. He first gained respect for his photography of Everett as the town boomed before the 1893 Depression and before James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railroad bypassed it on the way to a terminus at Seattle. By the end of the decade, he was becoming recognized for his finely crafted photos of Indian tribes and his experiences traveling from Dyea, Alaska over the Chilkoot Pass into British Columbia to reach the gold fields of the Yukon.
      Frank first found old Sedro as early in 1890, during the railroad boom, and a few photos survive, including the ones we feature. While photographing an Indian band on the Skagit river, he got off the sternwheeler at Mortimer Cook's wharf in old Sedro and hiked up towards "Kelley's Town," the competing Sedro a mile to the northwest. On the way, he stopped at Fidalgo street, which was in a recently logged-off area between the two villages. At the corner of what would be Eighth street on the Kelley plat, he found an enormous cedar stump that had either been cut or lightning struck it. Apparently he spread the word that he wanted to photograph everyone in the village on and around the stump. And almost everyone in town must have appeared because the final photo [the top one when you click] is captioned: "Cedar stump 60 feet circumference, Sedro, Wash. 1890," and the bottom one is captioned: "Cedar stump at Sedro, Skagit Co. 72 (92? handwritten) people on top." The lower black-and-white photo is the one you will see in many publications; the upper tinted one is much more beautiful because it includes more of the scene, including some folks on horseback. Sure enough, the UW photo specialists confirm this assumption. Maybe the smaller one was created to confirm to the limitations of an early publication.

(Mortimer Cook 1879)
Mortimer Cook 1879

      The reason we included our warning is because we have seen a multitude of misidentified captions for this photo in some otherwise reputable publications. Some claim that the year was 1892. Some say with authority that the mutton-chop man is Mortimer Cook. He is not. We have included the photo of Mortimer to the right to disprove that claim. But the biggest whopper is the claim by some that Darius Kinsey took the photo while living here. One old timer became so mad upon hearing the real background of the photo that he almost drooled while muttering "Kinsey" over and over and then wanted to engage in fisticuffs.
      The Kinsey claim is easily debunked by reading the basic Kinsey information that is widely available. Kinsey moved from Missouri to Mount Si in 1889 and in 1892 he was just beginning to show his skill at photography in the Washington woods. There is no evidence that he photographed Sedro or Woolley at that time. He probably took his first photos here after 1894 when he was the photographer of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railroad line. And finally, we know from an 1897 newspaper account that he was only then seriously considering moving here permanently, and ace researcher Roger Peterson discovered that he actually bought the lots for his house on Talcott street that same year. So, be careful about your sources.
      Our most trusted source for information about this and other photos is the University of Washington [UW] Special Collections Archives Division. The information for the Frank La Roche Photographs was researched and prepared by the UW Libraries Special Collections staff in 1998. Research, writing, and image scanning were done by Kristin Kinsey. Additional research assistance was provided by Richard Engeman. The La Roche collection consists of vintage photographic prints and copy prints that vary in size from 4"x5" to 10"x13".
      I especially love this LaRoche photo because it was taken on the site of the house I was living in when my daughter Jennifer was born in 1971. Sometime before 1941, Albert G. Mosier — who platted both Sedro and Woolley and acted as county surveyor and engineer of Sedro-Woolley over a space of 50 years, built a beautiful log cabin at the exact site of the stump in the photo. The cabin still stands. LaRoche moved to Sedro-Woolley sometime between 1907-10 &mdash probably the later, and set up a studio that stood on Metcalf street for most of the time until he retired in 1928. Frank Senior died in Sedro-Woolley on April 12, 1936. His son, Frank Jr., continued the business and moved to Bremerton in the 1930s; Frank Junior died there in 1948.
      Ed. note: see a great biography of Frank Senior by David Dilgard, the expert researcher in the Northwest Room of the Everett Public Library and a terrific author about Northwest and Snohomish County history. We will post a complete LaRoche biography, with photos in 2012 in our Online Subscribers Magazine


Nina Cook's drawings of very early Sedro
(Cook mill drawing)
      Nina Cook arrived at Sedro on the Glide sternwheeler in June 20, 1885, with her mother, Nan, and her sister, Fairie, to join her father, village founder Mortimer Cook. She was 16 and already a budding artist. Over the next few months and years, she drew many scenes around her home and the surrounding area with pen and ink. The two upper thumbnails to the right will lead to the only existing illustrations we have of what the settlement looked like in those very early days You can read portions of her diary and a new chapter was added in 2011; more will follow. The upper right thumbnail leads to her drawing of her father's shingle mill and drying kiln, which was located at the crook of the Skagit river and Batey Slough on the north shore. To find the site, go to the Riverfront park. Near the parking lot you will find the main barbecue complex that was built by the local Rotary club in the 1980s. Walk east to the next barbecue building and then walk south from there to the river. That is just about where the mill was and where the Sedro Ferry originally crossed the river. By the way, that large mound from one barbecue area to the other covers layers of the town dump that was located there for 60 years after the original town of old Sedro was flooded out. As far as we know, this is the only boomtown in the country that was later covered by a garbage landfill.
      Nina learned to draw while her father was mayor of Santa Barbara, California, and art teachers gave her lessons at their mansion. She loved to draw the scenery that was so different and fresh to her when they arrived on the Skagit. She wrote:

      Now it is spring and it is not the quiet place in Sedro that it was when we came. Some of the trees are cut down but not many near the house. Papa has started a shingle mill and I can hear the buzz and screech of the saws now. It is an immense affair and will be a great thing "if it pays," [as papa often says]. It will!! It has got to!!. First shingle made May 24. Mama and I went out to pick salmonberries yesterday, which are just commencing to ripen. We only got a very few and those I ate up before we got home. I had a fearful headache last night, a thing which I don't often have since I have come here.
      That last sentence makes those of whose who study her life shudder because she died of a cerebral hemorrhage that followed years of intense headaches. Cook was apparently the first in Washington territory to set up a kiln to dry the shingles made from cedar trees so that the lighter shipping weight would enable him to afford shipping them by rail to his native Ohio and other parts of the country. This drawing was featured in the August 1890 Washington magazine, over a year after the original mill burned, but we suspect from the primitive mill site that she drew it soon after arriving here. The mill was destroyed by fire on April 9, 1889, just months after Cook sold it for a profit and invested the money in a ranch on what is now called Cook road. His investments there led to terrific losses during the Depression of 1893-97, which caused the closure of his second store at Sterling. His original store was wrecked beyond repair during the floods of 1896 and 1897 but hung on as a shadow of its former self until the turn of the century.
(Nine painting)
      In one of those serendipitous "miracle of the Internet" moments, someone read our original Nina Cook story in 2002 and realized that he had bought one of Nina's paintings, a still life that shows fruit and canned preserves or jam. He sent us a scan for verification, which you can access by clicking on the full-color thumbnail to the left. Many thanks to Charlie Farley of Alpharetta, Georgia. We have no idea how the painting could have traveled that far. He noted that it was signed "Nina C. Budlong," so we know that it was painted after she married in 1895 (see the Budlong story below).
(Holland Ferry drawing)
      The lower-right thumbnail leads you to Nina's drawing of Albert E. Holland's ferry across the Skagit, which he started as a business sometime in the late 1880s, charging tolls for both passengers and wagons. We wish that Nina had recorded the date of the launch, but she did note the date when the 17-year-old, future Sedro-Woolley druggist arrived at Sedro with uncle, Donald McLaughlin, from Pennsylvania: "July 15, 1986. There is a new clerk at the store — Albert Holland, I think. I guess he will be pretty good, though is most wonderfully independent." Always a skilled investor — when he died in 1923, he left a comfortable $300,000 estate — he sold the Sedro Ferry to the county for $850 cash in 1891 The county established a free ferry on the route and the towns of Sedro and Woolley furnished a bond for operations over the next five years.
      This was a gravity ferry that was in those days before bridges the most efficient and least expensive way to cross. A large cedar or fire tree on both shores anchored a sturdy cable that was stretched across the river and the water current was the only motive power. A winch was attached to both the bow and stern of the ferry, with another cable connecting each to the overhead line, and gravity pushed the flat raft itself, with the ferry man or a passenger adjusting the winch cable to keep the ferry upright. Holland's second business was a drug store in old Sedro, which he started with a partner, the famous "Dr." A.A. Tozer in 1889. He moved with Banker C.E. Bingham to the town of new Sedro in 1892, where the action was. After a fire destroyed their common building in early 1894, Bingham and Holland moved their businesses to a temporary location a block away and finally to P.A. Woolley's company town in 1895. Holland Drugs on Metcalf street is the oldest continuously operated business in the county.

(Old Sedro Map 1891)
      We found the information about the 1891 sale of Holland's ferry in volume 2 of the Skagit County Commissioners Records, which are available at the Washington state regional archives in Bellingham. Also in that volume we discovered information about the first county road along the north shore of the Skagit. When you click the third thumbnail at the right, you will see Mosier's 1891 map that shows the route of the ferry and the initial route of the road. Today's Railroad street runs on a diagonal on the old roadbed of the F&S and continues as the Minkler highway. Neither of those roads existed back in the days of old Sedro. You will see a hand-drawn "county road" that parallels the rail bed a few hundred feet to the south. It continued on a diagonal up to what is now the Hoehn road, which was planked by pioneer Frank Hoehn in the early 1890s. The road authorized by the commissioners ran along Cook avenue, just north of Water avenue, on which Mortimer Cook's store fronted. The main street of town — actually the only one, was McDonald avenue. Today's River road follows old McDonald avenue and then turns south, just east of Riverfront park, and then follows the winding route of the early 1891 road until it turns north at Fruitdale road. Another road also authorized by the commissioners in 1891 connected with Holland's Sedro Ferry on the south shore. It was petitioned by Holland and A.F. Means, who we presume to be his original partner in the ferry business. There would be no bridge over the river for passengers or wagons until 1912 when the original wooden bridge crossed at the foot of Third street. An iron bridge replaced that one and stood until about 1965 when the present Clear Lake bridge opened. A trestle bridge for the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railroad line, which had a swing span operated by John Henry Batey, crossed the river to the west of Third street and still stands today in 2003, but without its approaches.

The Cook store and house
(Cook store, 1880s)
      Until we found the UW photo of the "first house" in Sedro, we had assumed that the only finished house in the present Sedro-Woolley area up to 1885-86 was the one that pioneer David Batey built for his bride Dr. Georgiana, in 1880. The only other house in the area that equaled or bettered the "first house" above was the one that pioneer Emmett Van Fleet built for his family after they moved here from Pennsylvania in May 1880. In preparation for his family arriving in 1885, Mortimer Cook commissioned Batey to build a bungalow-style home just north and west of his store. When you click the upper thumbnail to the right, you will see both the Cook general store, which Batey also built the year before, and part of the Cook home. The store sported an affectation that was common to frontier towns, a fašade that implied an upper story. In his inimitable way, Mortimer gilded the lily by installing an expensive, store-bought window in his fašade, which must have impressed the investors who visited old Sedro in the railroad boom days, when they first saw the store from aboard a sternwheeler at Cook's wharf.
      Nan Cook can barely be seen sitting on the porch of the house at the left and Nina is riding her cherished horse. Only a few of the men on the porch of the store were identified. Mortimer is standing with his left arm crooked at his hip. A man named O'Brien stands to his left. The second man standing, from the left, is Jim Blaine, who would soon be one of the boomers during the railroad days. The boy squatting to the left on the porch step is Bruce Batey. The last two men to the right are Indians, who are already sporting settler clothing, so they may have been favorites of Cook and the other settlers. Trade with the Indians was very important in those early days. Just as he was very proficient in trade with Mexicans in Eagle Pass, Texas, and Santa Barbara, Cook traded extensively with the Indians and learned the Chinook Jargon trading language.
      You can see the shadow of a very tall tree trunk on the porch. The store was very close to the river and sternwheeler steamers originally slid right up onto the bank to offload their goods. Some have asked why there are so many stairs and why they are so broad.
      Since there had not been a really severe flood in several years, Cook apparently neglected to listen to the Indian advice that was given to pioneer Joseph Hart in the early 1880s: "see mud on tree, build higher". The joke was often told on Mortimer about when he learned just how treacherous Old Man River could be. He thought he had built his store sufficiently off the ground and he brushed off queries about the chance of a legendary flood by bragging that he would drink any water that rose above his store's doorsill. He was put to the test in the 1896 flood when the water rose first to counter height in the store and finally to the level of the fašade. Muttering and sputtering, Cook finally boarded an Indian canoe and was transported up to high ground at the site of new Sedro or "Kelley's Town," where his family had retreated when the water began rising dangerously. When they returned after the water receded, he discovered that the swift river current had picked up his store and moved it several yards away. The fate of their house was not recorded. Judging from the people in the photo, the horse that Nina is riding and the age of Bruce Batey, this photo was probably taken in 1886-88, just before the Fairhaven Land Co. obtained a good portion of the town site in speculation for the railroad they promised to build into town. The terminus would be at the east end of McDonald avenue, where the depot stood.

(Cook House interior)
      The lower right thumbnail leads to two photos of the interior of the Cook home. One can see that Mortimer spared no expense to make their home as comfortable and modern as the mansion that they sold to finance their new life on the Skagit. We suspect that the expensive furnishings not only made up for the extreme cultural difference for his daughters, who had grown up in the lap of luxury in Santa Barbara, but also pleased Nan. By all accounts, he and Nan adored each other and their 35 years of married life was one long continuation of the deep love that began when they were teenage neighbors in Mansfield, Ohio. Although her family had been firmly in the middle or upper-middle class for generations, she worked hard as a child in a home that was considerably below this one in accoutrements. You can see an elaborate mantle around the fireplace, several rocker chairs, framed paintings and lithographs on the wall and a clock above the fireplace. Nan and the girls may have brought many of those special items with them from Santa Barbara.
      Mortimer was certainly cantankerous in his childhood and adolescence, when he left his workhorses tied to a fence while he ran away to enlist for the Mexican-American War in 1846. He turned his back on God after their middle daughter died tragically as in infant in their Topeka, Kansas, house fire in 1871. And he was obstreperous in the extreme as a businessman after he went bankrupt as a Santa Barbara banker, but Nan knew just how to soothe the heart of the savage beast and he was indebted to her kindness and patience. How sad to think that he died thousands of miles away in November 1899 on the island of Iloilo in the Philippines while attempting to recover once more from financial losses. His untimely death must have been a cruel, aching loss to Nan, who lived to please and amuse both her husband and children.
      Both of these Cook photos are copies from the collection of the late Barbara Taggart, a lovely woman who was Nina's daughter and Mortimer and Nan's granddaughter. She was born in Rockford, Illinois, and lived there for most of her 93 years except for the time when she traveled with circuses, sewing costumes and writing songs for the pipe organ. I met her back there in 1993 in the first year of this history project and her documents, letters and friendship were an important key to our whole program of finding descendants of our pioneers. Nina's husband was Standish Budlong, a Rockford native whom she met when while teaching art at a Wisconsin college after graduating from Oberlin college. They married in the old Sedro house in 1895. Her husband's name was passed down through his family because he was a direct descendant of Myles Standish of the Mayflower. And Nina was a direct descendant of Frances Cooke, also a passenger on the original Mayflower voyage to the future United States.


(Old Sedro by the river)

      Above, you will see one of only two photographs that exist of the business portion of old Sedro, almost all of which was located on one block of McDonald avenue. Today in 2003 that would be the River road, just south of the Little League baseball field. This photo was taken sometime in 1888-89 and was found in the collection of Andy Loft, a conductor on the Interurban railway that came to Sedro-Woolley in 1912. The store at the right is the hardware store of the Paulson brothers, who will move to new Sedro in about 1891 and then to Woolley in the mid-1890s. The rest of the buildings at the time of the photo catered to crews building the railroad and loggers in the dozen or so nearby camps and Cook's mill. They mainly consisted of hotels, boarding houses, saloons and the ever-present brothels. One of the most profitable professions of the day was separating the workers from the oppressive weight of their wallets or money belts.

In the near future, we will re-post parts two and three of this section with several more photos of both new and old Sedro. You can also find links to pages with many more Sedro photos of this era in the Sedro-Woolley master section. Do you have any photos of old Sedro or new Sedro or Woolley Town? Please email us.

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Story posted on Apr. 2, 2001, moved to this domain Jan. 24, 2012
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