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Skagit River Journal

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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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The Binghams, old Sedro and their bank

By June Burn, from her "Puget Soundings" column, Bellingham Herald, undated from 1931
(Charlie Bingham, about 1890)
Charlie Bingham, about 1890

      In a huge, rambling, old-fashioned house full of beautiful and comfortable old-fashioned things there live two not-yet-very-old people who came to Sedro-Woolley while it was still called "Bug," From Iowa the young Binghams came to found one of the first, still one of the strongest, most influential banks in Puget Sound.
      "Why did we come here? See, there's a bank already here," said the usually cheery wife [Julia Bingham] not very cheerily that first day. She pointed to a building with ["Bank Exchange") on its false wooden front. It was a gambling joint. Verily, it was a place of rapid exchange, but it wasn't a bank!
      In what had been a saloon, the new bank opened for business one bleak fall day [July 30, 1890]. Prospects looked dismal. But a man came in with a London draft for $10 for which Charlie Bingham gave him $40. Then he hurried upstairs, where they had set up housekeeping, and told the wife, he had already made $8, which wasn't so bad for the first day. (Postscript: that first customer came into the bank next morning and borrowed 50 cents with which to get out of town, having gambled away his $40 during the night.)
      One of the first things young Bingham did was to make the rounds of the stores and the "joints" to solicit patronage, explain his purpose. He came to a huge gambling tent called Klein's Hall.
      "Know who I am?" the proprietor asked the banker, who admitted his ignorance. "Don't know who I am? Why, I'm the toughest guy north of San Francisco. I keep the toughest joint in the county. Name's Klein."
      Stores and warehouses and docks lined the riverbank itself. Across the road from the waterfront the saloons and joints were built on stilts, or anyhow, high off the ground. The sidewalk ran along in front of this line of buildings, also on stilts. When a man had drunk so much he could drink no more, they pushed him out of the door and he generally rolled off the sidewalk and dropped the seven or eight feet into the mud below. Mr. [Charles Bingham, the banker] says he has come down many a sunny Monday morning to find the road lined with drunken loggers and railroaders. When the sun would come out and completely thaw them out they would get up, stumble around a little and then make off into the woods to their work. It would seem that the weekly half-holiday in those days was on Monday morning instead of Saturday afternoon.

(Bank Exchange)
The Bank Exchange joint in old Sedro

      A country banker is of necessity engaged in every sort of business under the sun, for when a farm, a cow, a church, a business, even a corpse is taken in on a debt it must be looked after, made somehow to pay. To the degree that a banker is a general good businessman does he succeed as a banker. I've often wondered how a banker escapes with his life in pioneer lands, when he must foreclose on people, deny their pleas, seem to be very close and stern. That he does survive and live to be a well loved, trusted, honored citizen of a wide-flung territory is proof that he is a gentler creature than they make him out in books.
      Once a woman borrowed $25 on three cows. When Mr. Bingham went to look after the health of the cow-collateral, the big red-headed woman calmly announced that she had eaten the cows during the winter. And that was that. She paid her debt, though, or part of it.
      Once the only church in town blew down. It was a tent. A Rev. Baldwin, Methodist, was the first preacher. The people built a church in more permanent form, but the bank had to take it over in lieu of the money owed on it. Dr. Baldwin [the minister] pleaded with Mr. Bingham for help to pay off the loan held against it by Mr. Bingham's bank! And so, as private citizen, [Charlie Bingham] went from saloon to saloon, exhorting the boys to help the church out of its difficulty and they came across, and so the note was paid and the church was clear and everybody was happy. The only sufferers were the boys who may have missed getting as drunk as they had intended. The preacher never knew how the money was raised.
      By and by there were three Bingham boys. They grew up, went to college, returned to work in the bank, married, and have sons of their own, so that now with three generations of Binghams all living in the same town, all of them active as citizens, there begins to be a tribe of them. There needs to be a Booth Tarkington in Sedro-Woolley that the Saga of the Binghams might be written, for they'll be scattering some day and a picturesque bit of local history will be lost to us.
      Sedro-Woolley is no longer the wild and woolly town it was forty years ago. It is now a level, pretty little city with fine schools, a small, handsome library, a modern community hospital immaculate and efficient, a new city hall which is the pride of the mayor, two banks, and the liveliest women's club I ever saw. It has come far from the old riotous days and will go farther. But there is still the flavor of pioneer times about it, for all that. Perhaps because so many of the men of forty years ago are still active in the town.
      See you tomorrow.

      Journal Ed. note: we are certainly not Booth Tarkington, but we have assembled a four-part series on the Bingham family and their bank. When you go to the master Sedro-Woolley section, you will also find many other stories about Sedro and Woolley and how they merged. June's prediction was correct. The Binghams did scatter to the winds. The only direct descendant living here is Judy Bingham Jones, granddaughter of Charlie and Julia, and daughter of their eldest son, Quinby or "Q" as he was universally known.

Story posted on May 11, 2003, updated Jan. 21, 2005, moved to this domain Nov. 13, 2011
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