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Arthur C. Seidell, civil war veteran
and builder in old Woolley

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2000
(Authur and Eunice Seidell)
Arthur C. Seidell Sr. and daughter-in-law, Eunice Millard Seidell, who was married to Arthur Jr.

      Journal Ed. note: I still remember a major fire in downtown when I was five years old. On Dec. 18, 1949, the Seidell building at the northwest corner of Ferry and Metcalf burned completely to the ground. That is the site of Hammer Heritage Square, which is now being constructed as Sedro-Woolley's downtown park. Back then, families came from afar to see the flames and the aftermath. My folks bundled me up in our old 1946 Plymouth and drove in from the farm on which I grew up in the Utopia district, five miles to the east, near Lyman on the north side of the Skagit river. The Eagles Hall burned just a few weeks before that and downtown businessmen were concerned about fires in the few woodframe buildings left in the town. The Seidell structure, built in 1905, escaped the famous 1911 fire that leveled much of downtown Woolley.
      What most people did not know at the time of the 1949 fire was that the builder, Arthur C. Seidell, was a member of a Union cavalry squad that helped capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the end of the Civil War. Like many pioneers, Seidell slipped through the cracks of history until we found, early on in this research project, a 1923 interview him. Back in 2001, we published his slim profile and the Civil War story on our website, hoping that a descendant might find it on the Internet. Our wish was answered when Cathy Ross read the story and contacted us. Over the past year she and I have been sharing research and we have reconstructed much of his life, thanks to the miracle of the World Wide Web. We decided to update his story in connection with Memorial Day 2004. The story will be in two parts: his unique civil war experience and the lives of Arthur and his family.

Art Seidell and Jefferson Davis

This is one of our first posted stories, back in October 2000 on our old primitive AOL webpage. It is also one of our first discoveries back in the 1990s of pioneers whose history had definitely fallen through the cracks. Even the old timers had forgotten the old Seidell building. We have inferred that Seidell started his grainary here at what soon became Skagit Commission, located on West Ferry street, where North Cascade Ford stands in 2011. But due to the fact that most all of the pre-1913 Courier-Times burned in various fires, we have had great difficulty tracking him and the grainary. We hope that a reader will information about either one.

      When Arthur C. Seidell was a businessman in Woolley in the 1890s and a city father in the early years of the 20th century, he was the oldest member of the Grand Army of the Republic fraternal club and often recounted his experiences as an Ohio volunteer in the Civil War. Art was in his early 20s on April 16, 1865, when his Third Ohio Cavalry regiment received word that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated the evening before in Ford Theater in Washington DC. The troops were already in a full lather about their rebel opponents because they had just helped free prisoners from the Andersonville prison near Macon, Georgia, where they were encamped.
      The Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times interviewed Seidell on his 80th birthday in the February 8, 1923, edition of the weekly newspaper. He was the oldest surviving veteran of the war locally, and a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, an important lodge here at the time. He moved here sometime around the turn of the century.
      He told Frank Evans, the publisher, that he was still recovering from wounds he received in a battle with General Hood's confederate forces at Nashville, near the end of the war in May 1865. On May 8 that year, his company commander was informed that Davis was hiding within miles of the camp, having been spirited out of Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capitol on April 2. His company immediately began searching along with a battalion of the Fourth Michigan and an Indiana regiment.
      "We had word that the fugitives had been seen and we traveled all day on their trail, Seidell recalled in the article. "In the night the Ohio men went ahead by a roundabout way, and came to the Okamulga River." Early in the morning, Seidell's squad noticed three tents by the side of the road and immediately surrounded them.
      "Jeff Davis had on his night clothes, and was going to a creek to get water in a bucket, when he saw the soldiers. He tried to run away but was quickly brought back. He was not disguised in women's clothes, as so many have said." Davis was the subject of heated angry charges back in those days and a rumor started in the days after the capture that he was dressed in a petticoat, but Seidell, known as a gentleman in his days here, made sure to discount the story in that 1923 interview.
      "He and two or three cabinet officials were bundled, with all their belongings, into wagons and taken to Macon. For eight miles, soldiers lined both sides of the road while the band played 'Yankee Doodle." Davis hid in an ambulance."
      Seidell explained that he was once captured himself by the Confederate raider Morgan. He and 400 other cavalrymen were out foraging corn for their horses when they were surrounded by 3,000 raiders and had no chance of fighting back. After brief imprisonment they were paroled and sent home, but were soon called back to duty. Later Seidell was shot through the foot at the battle of Chickamuaga.
      We still do not have any independent verification of Seidell's story. Some veterans exaggerate their war record, so we checked it out as thoroughly as we could. Records generally agree that the Davis party was captured on May 10, 1865, near Irwinville, Georgia. Although the 4th Michigan Cavalry originally claimed the reward for Davis's capture, they eventually had to share it with the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. We tend to believe Seidell's story of his squad's role because he did not claim to be the person who actually captured Davis, just that his squad was sent to support the action. He also dispelled the many rumors about the capture, including the legend that Davis was hiding in women's clothes, a tale that is still repeated. We appreciated that one of our subscribers, Al Williams, shared information with us from his great-grandfather's diary of the engagement.

Seidell's family from Germany via Ohio
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      With help from Cathy Ross, and her aunt, Janet Seidell Huber, and her father, Raymond Seidell, along with information on the Web, we have been able to piece together Seidell's genealogy. Arthur's death certificate indicates that he was born on March 31, 1845. Some records place his birth at Templeton, near Berlin, but we cannot find any such town, only Templehof, site of the famous airport in this century. Cathy notes that in one case while searching for Templeton, she was referred to Donaualtheim. But that is way, way, southwest of Berlin. Perhaps a reader who is familiar with 19th century German geography can help us. Other records list his birthplace as Stennick, a town that is 40 miles from Berlin. In one of the Census records, Arthur said he was born in Prussia.
      We are pretty certain, however, that his family emigrated to the U.S. from the state of Mecklenburg, Germany. That is also the same area where the famous von Pressentin family came from in what became East Germany after World War II, but we have not been able to make a connection between the two families. From Carol Gohsman Bowen's Mecklenburg emigration website, we have discovered that families from that area began booking passage from the port of Hamburg to the U.S. starting in 1851, totaling about 100,000 by 1872. Cathy Ross's extensive research of census records shows that Seidell and his brothers [also spelled Seidel] noted that they emigrated in 1856 and she found that Ernestine Seidel is listed on the bark, George Williams, that arrived in New York City on Sept. 1, 1855. She was 48 and was from Mecklenburg, with seven children, including Arthur, 9, and Leopold, 8, which is indeed the name of Arthur's younger brother. Arthur was listed as the third child and oldest boy. Bowen's webpage on the Hamburg emigration provides minute details of the Atlantic passage, such as these:

      The hardest and most dangerous part of emigration was the voyage in the sailing ship itself. The approximate size of Hamburg sailing ships in 1850 was 124 x 20 x 15 feet ( length x beam x depth of hold.) Even if individual ships were bigger than this average, emigrant ships of that time were, by modern standards, extremely small. Many emigrants sailed on a "bark", a three-masted vessel with foremast and mainmast square rigged and the third mast fore and aft rigged. Others sailed on a "brig," a vessel of two masts (fore and main), both of which were square-rigged.
      The length of the voyage between Hamburg and New York depended on wind conditions and the weather. An emigrant never knew exactly how long the voyage would take. The average crossing took 43 days and the longer crossings often took 63 days. An exceptionally long voyage might take 70 days. If an emigrant had booked passage to California, the voyage would take six months. First and second class cabins were available, but these cost from three to as much as ten times the steerage passage, depending upon the accommodations and the size of the ship.
      Most of the emigrants traveled in steerage accommodations which were in the space between the upper deck and the cargo hold. Ship owners had found the emigrants were a new source of profit and had built a flimsy, temporary floor beneath the main deck and on top of the cargo hold. Sometimes this flooring was set so far down in the hold that bilge water would seep up through the planking. Rats scurried about. Ventilation and light came only from the hatches when they were open. The only lights in the compartment were a few hanging lamps along the side which could be lit at night. During a storm, emigrants were denied access to the main deck and the hatches were battened down tightly, leaving no source of ventilation, except for a few pinhole or strainer sized holes which were in the cover. (Usually the hatches were not tightened down before a few waves had poured in and soaked all the bedding and clothing, however.) The storm could last for a few days or up to a week or more and the hatches would stay down. Lights could not be used during the storm because of the danger of fires.

      Cathy Ross's grandmother, Helen Baker Seidell, recalled that one of Arthur's relatives was a burgermeister, or mayor, in Templeton. Arthur's father is not listed on the ship records, but a record from the 1860 census of Allen county, Spencer Township, Ohio, lists the father's name as Charles and that he was a Lutheran minister. That is the first record we have after their arrival in the U.S. Arthur enlisted for the Civil War in the 3rd Ohio Cavalry from the town of Lima, Ohio. His family name was listed as Sidel, which caused him some grief when he applied for a pension decades later. Cathy went to great lengths to order records for Arthur from the military archives and found that he mustered into Company M, 1st Battalion, as "Arthur Sidel, Private, Age 18, Date of enlist Feb 26, 1864, term 3 years." Although we have not yet made a connection, a Colonel Charles B. Seidel achieved considerable fame in the Civil War. He was also born in Berlin, ten years before Arthur, and he was a carriage maker in Columbus, Ohio, when he enlisted as a private in the 1st Regiment, Ohio Volunteers, in September 1861, and rose quickly in the ranks, receiving a battlefield commission in the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Arthur's regiment. Some sources list him as Arthur's older brother. Cathy Ross has not decided yet about this but she is checking to see if he could have moved here before the rest of the family, since he is not listed on the ship manifest in 1855.
      Sometime after the war, Arthur settled in Indiana, where he married a native of that state, Elizabeth A. Shore, born Oct. 6, 1846. Their first child, Albert Walton (Cathy's great-grandfather), was born in Hillsdale, Indiana, in 1868. From there they apparently moved to Michigan, because their second child, Charles Bernard, was born in that state in 1870. We do not have records of Arthur's parents after his enlistment.

Arthur Seidell and family in California
      Sometime by 1875, the family moved to California, because their third child, Arthur Charles Jr. was born there in 1875. This ties in with the western migration on emigrant trains from the Midwest after the transcontinental railroad linked those areas in 1869. Cathy found an obituary for her great-grandmother, Pharona May Millard Seidell, who married Arthur's first son, Albert, that states "Arthur Charles Seidel . . . had come from the town of Stennick, about 40 miles from Berlin, Germany, . . . and had served in the U. S. army under his brother, Col. Charles Seidel, at the time of the Civil War. . . . Arthur Charles Seidell came to Arcata, Humboldt Co., Calif. As a young man, but removed to Sedro Woolley, Wash., where he lived most of his life. He had a brother, Charles, who enlisted in U. S. Army in Ohio, and brother Lathrop." As we said above, we are not certain that the Charles in mention was actually his brother. Neither a Charles nor a Lathrop are listed on the original ship manifest from Germany. So either that ship's family was not Arthur's or the obituary author got the information wrong.
      From that time on until about the turn of the century, Arthur's family was based in Humboldt county, California. His last son, Fred W., was a Yankee Doodle baby there on the Fourth of July, 1877. Cathy's search of census records gives us the only details we know about his official record there. 1880 Census in Arcata lists him there as does the 1900 census, but the latter record is confusing because our Arthur is listed as living with Arthur Jr. and is also listed under "Names reported by supervisor represented to have been left out by enumerator." Maybe he had already moved to Sedro-Woolley and was back for a visit. His occupation is listed as a miller, flour mills. That may have been his occupation or he may have owned such a business, which was an important industry at the time; we have not found further information about his profession in indexes either in California or Washington.

      California is where the family record turns dark. California 1880 census records show that Elizabeth Shore Seidell was classed as insane. Cathy Ross remembers conversations with her grandmother 28 years ago when she first heard that her great-great grandmother was committed to a mental institution for at least the last 34 years of her life; she died in 1925. She was admitted to Napa State Hospital (originally called an insane asylum) sometime around 1890. As Cathy pored over census materials, she watched Elizabeth's listing change from patient to inmate. It was her grandmother who first injected Cathy with the genealogy bug.
      Cathy was just 15 when she first heard the story and the family suggested that Arthur might have committed her just because he could not handle her. Those were the days when anyone who displayed aberrant behavior, especially women, were routinely committed. When Cathy talked to people in the California records department, confidentiality rules prohibited lookups of the file, but a representative said that "a lot of that went on back then." This story of the reason for her commitment may have been a family tall tale, but I remember my father's reflection on the sadness of some inmates while he worked at Northern State hospital from the 1950s until the closing in 1973. He said that doctors there told him that women who were having difficulties adjusting to menopause were often sent to such hospitals for observation and then were later committed if the family could not or would not accept them back. My own mother had both a physical and mental reaction to menopause that brought on epilepsy, but she had the good fortune of being treated by the late Dr. Wally Wallen of Burlington, who was years ahead of his time. Luckily, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, we escaped those dark ages when mental illness was not understood; and drug regimens and other therapies have been developed to help women who have a hard time adjusting to menopause and post-partum complications from childbirth.
      We wonder if Elizabeth may have been released at times because Cathy found a cash-sale land record from Humboldt county that is dated Oct. 23, 1894, which shows that she was the owner of a property in the county after she was committed. It is also possible that Arthur had obtained power of attorney for her. The census record for 1880 in California noted that she was already "insane," so she may have been confined in another institution originally and lived back with the family at different times.

(Seidell Building 1905)
The Seidell Building, at the northwest corner of Ferry and Metcalf streets, built in 1905. From a postcard of the era.

Seidells in Sedro-Woolley
      Although we do not know exactly when Arthur moved here, we know that he moved sometime before 1905, the year that he constructed the Seidell building where the new Hammer Heritage Park will be located, and probably before 1902, as you will see below. In the 1910 census of Washington, he is listed in Sedro-Woolley and his profession is "miller" of "flour mills." The 1920 census shows the Fred W. Seidell family in Sedro-Woolley. His wife was Belle Baldridge of Hamilton's Baldridge family, and she was famous in local social circles. Her family was related by marriage to William Hamilton, the founder of the upriver village. The couple had a son, Paul, who was born on Aug. 10, 1911, in Sedro-Woolley and died on March 1, 1925; he is buried here. Their first son, Arthur Charles Seidell II, was born on Jan. 8, 1910, and died on May 12, 1928, and is also buried here. Her brother, Joseph Simeon Baldridge, was a famous early dentist here after growing up in Hamilton and prospecting in the Klondike. Joseph's building, which he constructed with John Wixson after the 1911 fire, is still standing on the 700 block of Metcalf and now houses the Jech dental offices. Belle was born in Kentucky in 1874 and moved to Hamilton with her family in 1886. She died here in 1963. Another clue about Arthur's move to Sedro-Woolley is that Belle and Fred married in 1902.
      Arthur's other three sons married in California in the 1890s. Cathy's great-grandfather, Albert, married Pharona May Millard in 1893. We know that Cathy's grandfather, Elza, was the first child born to them, in 1894 while they lived near Arcata. Albert's family apparently never moved here. Cathy's father and aunt were born to Elza Seidell and Helen Jeanette Baker, who married in 1929. From family conversations, Cathy learned that the California Seidells and the Sedro-Woolley family did not communicate much after Arthur's death. That was why she did not know much about him until she first read our article last year.

(Authur's four sons)
Arthur Seidell's four sons

      Arthur Sr. died on May 19, 1933, at his home on 227 Gibson street, just north of the Great Northern railroad tracks and across the street from the Fern Rooms, the famous house of ill repute. His son, Fred, noted his 1845 birth date, which made him 88, and Fred lists his birth town as Templeton. Some other records give his birth year as 1844. To complicate matters further, the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times interviewed him in February 1923, when he said he was about to celebrate his eightieth birthday. Dr. Charles Harbaugh indicated the reason for death as "senile decay," which we now define as senile dementia or maybe as Alzheimer's. His occupation is given as owner of a flourmill; according to the certificate, he entered that line of work in 1895 and continued it until 1930. H.F. Higley was the listed mortician. Higley's funeral home was the predecessor of the present Lemley business. The remains were cremated and shipped back for inurnment at Arcata, California, where some of his children lived. His wife, Elizabeth, died at Napa State Hospital on August 24, 1925, and her ashes are also inurned in Arcata. Cathy grew up in that area when her family lived there. Both Arthur Charles Seidell III and Paul Seidell, sons of Fred and Belle are buried here in their parents' plot in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery. Their son Stanley is listed as a junior in the 1921 Sedro-Woolley High School Kumtux annual, but there is no further reference to him here. There is a Carl Seidell who lives in Sedro-Woolley now but he is not related.
      Arthur's building in downtown Woolley was one of the local landmarks for four decades. The anchor tenant when the building opened in 1905 was the First National Bank. The bank was owned by four partners: Big Lake lumberman John C. Wixson, groce Fred A. Hegg, Dr. C.C. Harbaugh, retailer Charles C. Harbaugh and merchant August Peterson. In 1910, Wixson, a Michigan native who owned the Big Lake Lumber Company, opened his own hotel across the street and moved the bank there. That building is now the Gateway Hotel; the bank failed in February 1932 and never reopened. Over the years after 1910 the Seidell building housed retailers, lawyer offices, barbers, tailors, sporting good stores and even the state liquor store in the 1940s. After the fire a service station was built there, which became Gateway Chevron That building was torn down nearly twenty years ago and the property was condemned because of leaking, underground, gasoline storage tanks. They were covered over and a monitoring station was set up.
      In 2002 we discovered another interesting link to the family that may explain why Arthur moved to Washington. We found a Frank Seidel, who was a principal in a conglomeration of mining companies who established mineral claims on Iron and Coal mountains near Hamilton. We then found him listed as Francis Seidel in the 1880 federal census in Seattle. He is also listed in the 1888-90 Seattle-King county directories, along with three other Seidels: Margaret, a domestic; Fred, a waiter, and Gottfried, a laborer. He was an investor in the Anacortes boom of 1890 and was later a businessman in the town of Redmond, east of Seattle, in the 1920s. We hope to make a firm link there soon.

(Seidell house)
This was Art's family home, at 227 Gibson street.

      The happy ending to this story is that Arthur's Seidell Building location will soon become Hammer Heritage Square. George Hammer, founding partner of Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop in 1921, bought the lots from Seidell either before or after Arthur's death in 1933. George's son, the late Wyman Hammer, was the owner of a large lumber business in Oregon and he transferred ownership of two of the lots specifically for the proposed downtown park. Another property owner sold the final lot in 2000. You can read about the plans for the square and see a photo. Since we wrote that story, Sedro-Woolley clubs, including Rotary, Soropotomists, Lions and others have joined with the city and the Chamber of Commerce to create a special place with a gazebo, a beautiful rock fountain, a three-story clock tower with carillon bells and public rest rooms. And the square is already becoming a gathering place for groups, including memorials for 9/11 services.

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Story posted on Oct. 1, 2000, and updated on May 28, 2004, moved to this domain Nov. 7, 2011
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