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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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Junius Brutus Alexander, Sedro's
wealthy pioneer developer

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©1999
(J.B. Alexander and Harry Devin)
J.B. Alexander and Harry Devin in front of Skagit Realty on Metcalf street, early 1900s

      Junius Brutus Alexander Jr. was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1867 and graduated from Harvard in 1890, just before he married Effie Shaw Emmons at his father's Effingham country estate on Staten Island in June of that year. The honeymoon must have been a quick affair because he was very soon on his way via railroad to the little town of Sedro in the new state of Washington. Once here he bought the land where the biggest hotel in town had just risen — now the site of the high school gymnasium — and he joined another New Y
      The Latin affectation of naming male children was common in the United States in the nineteenth century, especially in the upper classes living in New York and other urban areas, as Americans became more exposed to Europeans and classical European history and culture. In ancient history, Junius Brutus was the name from two families known for the two of the most famous assassins of history. For instance, he may have been named for Lucius Junius Brutus, circa 510 B.C., who was the founder of the Roman republic. Far down that line was Marcus Junius Brutus, known for nastiness with Cassius in the assassination of Julius Caesar. Or perhaps his parents were fond of the theatre. British actor Junius Booth thrilled American theatre-goers as early as 1821 with his portrayals of Richard III, Iago, Hamlet, Shylock, and Macbeth. His unhappy marriage and the death of two children, led to Booth's emotional instability and alcoholism, but his son, Edward Booth possibly surpassed his father. Starting in 1863 he introduced what was called "Modern Shakespeare" to the American theatre. Of course, his brother, John Wilkes Booth, spoiled Mary Todd Lincoln's night at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865.
      Junius Brutus Sr., was a banker in New York City, and may have had some social tie to Andrew Carnegie; Junius obtained a personal check from Carnegie to build the library here in 1915. The family was originally from Clackmannanshire, near Stirling, Scotland. After living in Ireland for a short while, the family's U.S. patriarch, John Alexander, resided in 1659 in Stafford Co., Virginia, and died there. The family quickly became a key part of the Prince William County, Virginia, aristocracy and amassed considerable wealth through at least Junius Brutus Jr.'s time. Junius Brutus Sr. was born in Virginia in 1814, the son of Gerard Alexander whose ancestor, John Alexander, immigrated from England in the 17th century. His parents moved to Kentucky when he was a boy and at age 16 J.B. Sr. became a bank clerk there, he graduated from William and Mary College in Virginia, and before the age of 40 he became president of a bank in Owensboro, Kentucky.
      In 1858, he formed a partnership with H. D. Newcomb, of Louisville, to carry on a wholesale grocery trade, under the name of Alexander, Newcomb & Co. He removed to St. Louis, where he was a merchant and president of The Exchange Bank there, a very prominent bank serving mainly the lumber interests. He dissolved the grocery partnership in 1863, and moved to New York in 1865 after the death of his first wife, Lucy Fitzhugh Dade of Powhatan on the James River in Virginia, in January 1864. He had ten children by her.

Great wealth and nasty divorce
      In each Alexander household listing in each federal census year, extensive lists of servants are included. Servants were a common perquisite in Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and New York. According to his Jan. 13, 1893, obituary in the New York Times, J.B. Sr. had already maintained his family's wealth while still a banker in Kentucky. "About 1858 he moved to St. Louis and established the well-known wholesale grocery house of Alexander, Newcomb & Co. and soon after was elected to the presidency of the Exchange Bank, which became one of the foremost financial institutions in the West."
      Somewhere along the line he developed a friendship with Eliza Newcomb, the daughter of his partner, and they were married on Nov. 21, 1866, in Brooklyn, New York, a year after J.B. Sr. moved to New York City. After moving there, he established the banking house of J.B. Alexander & Co. in connection with Albert Kelley, and stayed in daily control until 1875 The obituary stated that he effectively retired by 1875 and: "withdrew with an ample fortune. In the course of his business career he was prominently connected with several railroads, among which were the Louisville and Nashville, Kansas Pacific, Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans, and the Maysville and Lexington. For fifteen years Mr. Alexander has lived in retirement at his country seat on Staten Island."
      Junius Sr. and Eliza's first child was our Junius of Sedro. He had a younger sister and only one of the children by the first wife — an older brother named Frank, lived with Alexander family in Staten Island, according to the 1870 Federal Census. Only six of the earlier children survived to adulthood and only a sister was mentioned in New York society pages. J.B. Sr. named family mansion on Staten Island, Effingham House, named for the estate of his birthplace in Virginia
      Before he retired, however, he and Eliza engaged in really nasty divorce proceedings in 1873 when J.B. Jr. was just six years old. We have read part of the proceedings and a Jan. 6, 1895, New York Times article, which states:

      The wife came of a well-known Kentucky family. She was an authoress and an artist. Her husband abhorred both the pursuits in which she was interested and quarrels were of almost daily occurrence in the fine residence known as Effingham, on Staten Island, where the couple lived. Mrs. Alexander left her husband in 1873, taking her two children with her. A reconciliation was effected after several months, Mrs. Alexander promising that the children should not leave their father without his consent, and that she would not run up any bills. This agreement lasted only a month, when the wife went away again, taking the children. Mr. Alexander then got an order from the courts for the children, but before he could get them his wife sailed with them for Europe. She remained abroad for seven years, when another reconciliation was effected, but with no more success than the first.
      After she returned from Europe in early 1883, they agreed to articles of separation on Jan. 30, 1883, which provided her an income of $75,000 and custody of the children for her. They apparently never completed the divorce. He may have died intestate. She went to court and based her demands on a codicil of Oct. 4, 1883. As the Jan. 6, 1895, Times article put it: "Lucky Mrs. Eliza Alexander; courts restore her right to her husband's money. She separated from him and took $75,000, now she may have a third of his million dollars." The article also noted: "Mr. and Mrs. Alexander had fierce quarrels during their entire matrimonial careers, and the enmity grew at such a rate that when the husband lay dying on a hospital cot, having undergone a severe but useless operation, the wife was not allowed to see him."
      Eliza may have sold the Effingham estate because we found two most interesting articles in the Times of May 15 and 22, 1897, headlined: "Servants to be trained." Mrs. Eliza Newcomb Alexander, the new vice president of the New York Household Economic Association, conducted a meeting of the group at Carnegie Music Hall, re: training schools for servants: "We look forward to the day when capitalists shall be willing to help us in this project. Men feel the need of efficient domestic service as keenly as women." she said. The follow-up meeting was at her home at 128 W. 59th St. and at that point, she was enumerated in the Richmond area of New York City, with Junius and his family listed as living with her. Like her husband, Eliza had been used to having servants at her call for her whole life. She was born in Louisiana in 1838 and the family was quite prominent in Louisville, moving to St. Louis at the same that J.B. Sr. did. Eliza died on June 17, 1912, in New York City, according to DAR records and apparently she never remarried. J.B. Jr.'s family was also enumerated at her house in Richmond, Staten Island, in the 1900 Federal Census but we have not found a 1910 listing. The 1900 Federal Census enumerates her specifically as a widow, so perhaps the divorce was never finalized.

(Hotel Sedro)
      This drawing of the Hotel Sedro by the architect may have been the final result but we do not know for sure. A photograph of the hotel has not yet surfaced. We would like to know if this front of the hotel faced the SLS&E depot to the west or the Pioneer Block of businesses on the east side of Third street, which was then the main thoroughfare of the town of Sedro. We hope a reader will eventually have a photo of or a document about the hotel.

Junius Brutus Jr.'s early days in Washington
      The period from his birth on to 1890 was largely a blank when we started this research in 1992. We assumed from the brief notes on his life here that he came to Sedro after his graduation from Harvard in 1890 and his marriage to Effie Shaw Emmons on June 25, 1890. But starting in 1995, we discovered four batches of information that filled in some gaps.
      J.B. Jr. was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 28, 1867, Brooklyn, the eldest son by his father's second wife. We also found the obituary of Norman R. Kelley, the developer of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern [hereafter SLS&E] right-of-way through Sedro. We learned that Kelley's father was a wealthy Wall Street banker in New York and was a partner with J.B. Sr. After Norman was trained as a mechanical engineer, he came to Seattle in 1886 and was eventually employed by the SLS&E developers. The article noted that he "joined with several friends in founding the town of Sedro." One of those friends was Albert G. Mosier, who was also hired by SLS&E when he arrived in Seattle in 1888, and another was J.B. Alexander Jr. They eventually teamed up with "Colonel" Frank Wilkeson, our favorite New York Times columnist of that day, who was a boomer of Sedro and knew about railroads from family experience with the Northern Pacific. We still did not know when J.B. Jr. arrived, but in 1996 we found a newspaper article that gave a possible hint.
      First, we note that newspapers of the day assigned beat reporters to cover the departure and arrival of notable persons by boat and rail and registration at hotels. While reading microfilm copies of the Snohomish Eye newspaper at the Everett Library Northwest room, we found this curious note by one such reporter on Nov. 30, 1889:

      At the annual meeting of the SLS&E in Seattle last Friday, the following board of trustees was elected: . . . J.F. Alexander of New York; J.B. Pace of Richmond . . . The entry of such men as Pace and Alexander into the management is significant. Alexander is directly connected with the Central and Southern Pacific roads and is a son-in-law of the late Chas Crocker, the California railroad king. Pace is the millionaire tobacconist of Virginia, and like Alexander he is a large stockholder in the Southern and Central.
Parenthetically, those who are curious about the Sedro-Woolley street name of Talcott will appreciate a tidbit in the next sentence: ". . . Chief Engineer Talcott appointed as vice president."
      We now wonder if the J.F. Alexander in the article was Junius Brutus Jr. or he could have been another related Alexander. Then again it could have been J.B. Sr., who was described in an 1897 New York Times article as a "wealthy Kentucky railroad man." We have consulted with Wesley Pippinger, the very thorough genealogist of the Virginia Alexanders, and his family cupboard was bare along those lines. Then we spent many more hours searching for the sons-in-law of Charles Crocker. In 2001 we found them and Harriet Crocker did indeed marry an Alexander, but his name was Charles. Pippinger assured us that Charles Alexander was not directly in the Gerard through Junius line, but he could have been a "shirt-tail relative." So we now wonder if the reporter knew only that an Alexander was in the Crocker family line and then sloppily assumed that this was J.F. J.B. We discovered that Pace amassed a small fortune in the tobacco business in Virginia and invested in railroads.
      Meanwhile, whenever he arrived during the 1889-90 time period, J.B. Jr. fit in quite well in the little town by the river after setting up a land office near the new SLS&E depot in new Sedro. He became an officer in a Seattle company named the Sedro Land & Improvement Co. [hereafter SLIC], which was formed by Norman R. Kelley and located at the Rainier Club in Seattle. Under Alexander's leadership, the company bought the land on the block across from the main row of businesses called the Pioneer Block, which was located on the western half of Block One of Kelley's plat for new Sedro, the present site of the high school. By the spring of 1890, SLIC erected Hotel Sedro on his block, a three-story edifice that was designed to attract wealthy patrons from Seattle who would ride the SLS&E up north for extended stays. There has never been anything like it before or since. Although it had great location, the most important factor for real estate, P.A. Woolley was forming his company town less than a mile to the north. Frequent fires leveled the new-Sedro location and businesses eventually preferred Woolley's townsite near the crossing of the three train lines, so after the Hotel Sedro burned for the second time in 1897, it was abandoned and razed on an unknown date. The Sedro-Woolley High School gymnasium now stands on that site.
      After Kelley died of alcoholism in 1894, Alexander became the principal officer of SLIC. He also became a key member of the Twin Cities Business League, which formed in 1896 and was the prime mover behind the eventual merger of Sedro and Woolley in December 1898. He was also the de facto owner of the Skagit County Times for several years, the newspaper that debuted in 1895 in Sedro when the Press failed. He moved it to a building at the southeast corner of State and Third streets, where the Mission Market was eventually built in 1920-21. By 1908 he was the prime real estate developer in town along with Harry Devin and Charles J. Wicker Sr. In that year they formed the Sedro Land Company, which replaced the SLIC and sold lots and rural acreage mainly through the Skagit Realty Co., which Devin and Wicker started in 1902.

Junius Brutus Jr.'s family
      As we noted above, Junius Brutus married Effie Shaw Emmons in 1890. Back in those days, Talcott Street was still in the middle of a forest that separated Sedro and Woolley. In 1892, banker C.E. Bingham built a cottage at the northeast corner of Talcott and Fourth Street that eventually became the mansion we still see there today. Alexander built a honeymoon cottage sometime between 1890-92 for Effie at the eastern end of the block on Fifth Street. That cottage also still stands and is one of the prettiest houses in town, and has always been affectionately called the honeymoon cottage. His wife only joined him here for a limited time before she took ill and apparently moved back to New York to her mother-in-law's home.
      The honeymoon designation applied because the newlyweds William T. and Jessie Odlin bought the cottage in 1897, and newlywed J.C. and Mary LaPlant bought it in 1900. Odlin was an early clerk for C.E. Bingham in the original town of Sedro and later managed the Citizens Bank in Anacortes. LaPlant and his brother Lawrence became the prime road-builders of the area and his wife was a sister of Julia Bingham, wife of C.E. The Odlins, Binghams and LaPlants all came from Marengo, Iowa, the source of wives for many of the 1890s Sedro and Woolley pioneers
      Effie Alexander died back east in 1899. We have discovered that J.B. Jr. lived back East with Effie at various times during the Depression years of the 1890s so he may have traveled back and forth. We know for sure that the Alexanders lived here in August 1891 because that is when their first child, Junius Beverley Alexander, was born in Seattle. The family may have lived in Seattle at that time, if Junius had not yet built the Talcott Street home. We discovered in Harvard records that they lived in Sedro through 1893, when he returned to Staten Island and became Treasurer of the Port Richmond Electric Light Company. Their son Frank Emmons Alexander was born in May 1895 while they lived with Eliza. Effie died back East on Jan. 11, 1899.
      Another building in the young town took on an Alexander family name. There was another hotel not far away from the Hotel Sedro with a similar name, the Sedro Hotel. Originally a hotel for the crew that built the Fairhaven & Southern railway in 1889, that building at the southwest corner of Fidalgo and Township streets eventually became the St. Elizabeth's hospital. That was the first Skagit County hospital, and it was managed by the Episcopal Church for many years until it was bought by Dr. William Dorsey sometime after 1910. Still later, after Dr. Dorsey, was killed on Dec. 18, 1912, by riding his bike over a fallen power line, the hospital's operation was switched over to the Valley Hospital on Ferry Street. The original Episcopal parish was named St. David, but it was subsequently changed to St. James at its present location on State Street
      We know that J.B. Jr. lived here in 1896, the key year for the establishment of the Twin Cities Business League, because of a notation we found in the records of his mother's Daughters of the American Revolution chapter. "While on a visit to her son at Sedro, Skagit Valley, Washington state, 1896, she established St. Elizabeth Hospital, thus meeting a great need; the first institution of the kind there. She is very versatile: artist; musician; literary; patented household conveniences; philanthropist; has collection of art objects from foreign lands."

Legacy in Sedro-Woolley
      Back in 1994 when we first met Sedro-Woolley's most important history researcher, Roger Peterson, he shared with us some very important documents and letters that explain more about the Carnegie Library and J.B. Jr.'s actions as a town father of Sedro-Woolley. The correspondence began in 1945, when local attorney and district judge Arthur H. Ward wrote to Alexander and reminded him that Ward's older brother and J.B. Jr.'s oldest son attended the UW together. Alexander apparently wrote a letter to Charles J. Wicker Jr. sometime earlier and shared some history about the library and Metcalf Street. J.B. Jr. noted in the correspondence that American Weekly magazine and the New York Herald Tribune featured the Carnegie libraries in a Sept. 26, 1942, feature. In that story, Carnegie was quoted about the genesis of his libraries having to do with a fracas with Col. James Anderson of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, who happened to be J.B. Jr.'s uncle.
      When Carnegie was a young man of modest means, he was barred from obtaining free membership in Anderson's "Mechanics' and Apprentices' Library" in Allegheny, one of the most noted libraries in the early 1800s. As you can read in this excellent website about Carnegie, "In 1853 Carnegie took the matter to the pages of the Pittsburgh Dispatch; and, as Joseph Wall notes in his definitive biography of Andrew Carnegie, the victory the young man won through his letters to the editor left a lasting impression." Starting in 1893, during a disastrous nationwide financial panic, Carnegie began endowing libraries that were free to their patrons and by 1919, the year of his death, he had bequeathed $350,695,653 to various good causes; the last $30,000,000 was likewise given away to foundations, charities and to pensioners. In a letter from J.B. Jr. to Ward on Nov. 28, 1945, he recalled:

      As you say, the statement as to Carnegie's interest in reading, due to my uncle giving him access to his library, would increase the importance of the picture [in the Herald article] to any youngster who saw it, and stimulate his interest in reading and study. Also perhaps the fact that my relationship to Col. Anderson made it possible to get an immediate donation for the building from Carnegie, in spite of the fact that at the time of my request there was a long list of applications ahead of me, when I told him of this relationship after I had agreed to give the site, emphasizes the gratitude he expresses in the words accompanying the picture.
      A letter a month later from Mortimer Berkowitz of American Weekly magazine noted that a framed photo of Carnegie and the article was being forwarded to the Sedro-Woolley library. As a personal aside, I can remember that framed article hanging over the water fountain at our beloved old library. Back when I was in grade school, the librarian, the late Dolores Stendal, used to dote on those of us who read there in the afternoons and did not mind if we curled up in the alcoves to pore over her latest discoveries. Unfortunately the library did not live even 50 years. In 1962 the school district decided that they wanted the property for the new gymnasium. After several meetings with the library board and grudging approval from Alexander's surviving family to waive the original clause that dedicated the land solely for the purpose of the library, the library was raised in 1965 and the gymnasium was built in its place. I am sure that I am not the only one who sighs when passing the site and realizes our loss. Even worse, the framed photo, along with fine marble and a painting from the Northwest School of painters, which hung over the fireplace, all disappeared during the razing of the library. All the library board members are gone now, but we do know that a Mr. Splane of Clear Lake was the contractor. Hopefully a reader can help us track down these artifacts.

Metcalf Street and the dead end
      A letter from J.B. Jr. to Ward on Jan. 4, 1946, addressed another Sedro-Woolley artifact, the dead end of Metcalf Street where it met State Street. He wrote:
      Charles Wicker [Jr.] has written me that the Metcalf extension exists and is platted between Warner and [Bennett] streets. This leaves me greatly puzzled. I do not know whether you remember the circumstances under which the town council and I attempted to put the whole extension through. I owned practically all the necessary lots south of State Street and agreed to give these and pay half the cost of the condemnation awards for the State street frontage. The jury gave [Joseph] Lederle such an enormous award for his frontage that the council and I agreed to drop the matter for the time being. I never knew that the street was platted south of Warner until this letter from Charles Wicker.
      Dead end streets are a detriment to any town and I believe that even if it should cost a good deal to put the extension through now, it would add greatly to the value of the new frontage and to the attractiveness and opportunity of the town to grow. If I had been on the job at the time Woolley platted Metcalf so as not to conform to the Sedro streets, I could have stopped this. (I think the county commissioners have to pass on plattings and I think I could have persuaded them not to allow this, or would have had some right to bring a legal action to stop it. The whole thing was a tragedy and not only hurt me but the whole town.) I should like to hear from you as to this. Financially it can make no difference to me now, but I feel that it is still a matter of great importance to the town and its possibilities of future growth.

      If you lived here in 1965, you might remember that it was that summer when Metcalf Street was finally extended through. The impetus for the extension was lobbying by a team of investors headed by Vern Sims to erect premises for a group of buildings including Fred Vochatzer's Ben Franklin store. Two old buildings that had originally been a hotel and saloon were torn down where the street went through, as well as the Grotto restaurant, where the video store is today. Ward's final answer to Alexander in the file provides bittersweet irony to the library story.
      It will be some years before we complete the building program outlined by the school board, but when this building program is completed we will have one of the most beautiful civic centers in any of the small cities of this state, and this group of buildings will be centered around the [Carnegie] public library. We have a good architect who will see to it that the style of the buildings is uniform and the architecture of the projected buildings will not clash with the architecture of the library building
      That, of course, never came to be.

Santa Barbara
      Widower Junius B. Alexander Jr. apparently felt an itch in 1915 and he decided to spend part of his wealth by traveling to Scotland, while his sons finished school here in Washington. He wound up spending three or four years there and when he returned, he moved to Santa Barbara, California, in 1919, according to his 1952 obituary. We remind the reader here that Mortimer Cook, the founder of Sedro, moved here in 1884 from Santa Barbara, where he set up business in 1870 as the first gold banker south of San Francisco
      Sometime after moving to California, he married a woman named Corrine, who survived him at his death on Aug. 4, 1952. Junius had two children by his first wife, Effie, Junius Beverley Alexander, who preceded him in death on unknown date and Frank Emmons Alexander, who moved to Providence, R.I., and died there. The deceased son was born in Seattle on Aug. 10, 1891, was educated at Milton Academy in Massachusetts and at the University of Washington. He married Florence Louise Lyman in 1922 in Jamestown, RI, the grand-niece of historian William Hickling Prescott, who became famous in the late 19th Century for his book, The Conquest of Mexico and other histories of Spain and South America.
      Junius Beverley Alexander was a World War I veteran pilot and later became district commander of the American Legion; he oversaw the construction of the Veterans Memorial building in Santa Barbara. His fraternity was Sigma Alpha Epsilon and he was a member of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco. He made his fortune in manufacture of tractors in Watertown, Wisconsin, and paper mills in Leominster, Mass, and was a contractor in California.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos of Effingham House, Staten Island
Far left: The Ballroom.. Center: One of the marble fireplaces.. Right: The mahogany staircase. Photos courtesy of the Staten Island Advance..

Effingham House, Staten Island
      In 2008, we found an article in the Staten Island Advance newspaper, which announced the sale of J.B. Sr.'s Effingham House in that year. Earlier, we found the record of its grand opening as the Richmond Country Club "on Todt Hill near Garretson's Station on Rapid Transit Railroad, Staten Island." Agatha Mayer built the home just before the Civil War and J.B. Sr. apparently bought it sometime in the 1860s after moving to New York with his second bride, Eliza. Over the years the Italianate stone mansion became known as "Edifice Rex" for the way it dominated that area, but its external beauty was marred in the 20th Century by the addition of aluminum siding. As you can see from the photos, the interior was not "modernized" that way.
      The 1897 writer described, "From the rear of the house there is a fine prospect over a rolling country, crowned by Ocean Terrace, the highest point of land on Staten Island. . . . natural hunting grounds for club in Spring and Autumn . . . little swamps and clumps of trees and bushes in which wild foxes are often unearthed, while the anise-seed bag, when foxes are not procurable, can be made to lay good and varied trails across the excellent hunting country.
      Maps still framed in the house show that it boasted a terrific view of Raritan Bay, and the photos show marble fireplaces, parquet floors, a magnificent ballroom and a sweeping staircase heavily carved from mahogany. An enormous cast-iron urn rises from the tennis courts in the rear portion of the 32 acres, which replaced the extensive rolling lawns of the years when it was a private home. As far as we know, J.B. Jr. only lived there until he was six and his mother moved abroad after the separation. They returned in about 1880 and may have lived in the home again, but Eliza apparently sold the estate to the Richmond Club after J.B. Sr.'s death.

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