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Harry Lincoln Devin, frontiersman,
homesteader, businessman, hunter
and he launched Sedro real estate

By Noel V. Bourasaw, ©2004
Part 2 of 2: Devin and family in Sedro-Woolley and Alaska
Updated 2006 with photos of remodeled Devin house

Devin and Mosier establish real estate business in old Sedro
(Dawson Map 1897-1900)
Dawson Map 1897-1900. Click on map to see a larger version that shows the river and streams that were home to thousands over three years in the country's last major gold rush

      In a 1950 interview, Mosier recalled that he "and brother-in-law Devin [in 1890] built on the edge of the bench on the west side of the [Fairhaven & Southern] track, having a commanding view of the new bank" in old-Sedro by the river. You can see that bench now as a slope in the Riverfront Park by the central enclosed barbecue area. C.E. Bingham and Merritt L. Holbrook were the owners of the new bank and they, too, hailed from Iowa. They moved from a little town called Marengo, 80 miles north of Ottumwa, from which at least seven families would eventually move to Sedro. In 1940, Devin recalled: "It was a wonderful convenience to have a bank within a block of my office, as I was carrying an account in Snohomish, [which I opened] when I came to the territory. The nearest bank in 1890 was in Mount Vernon and with the . . . means of conveyance, one was lucky to make the trip in half a day." Since we know that the bank opened on July 30, 1890, that means that Devin moved here before then. Devin and Mosier were two of the three first depositors along with lumberman Ad Davison.
      Harry's grandson, Harry Duncan, told in a 1995 letter about Mosier's and Devin's joint efforts to lay out the new town of Sedro in 1889:

      Grandfather helped Albert run the [survey] lines. It was virgin forest and they were walking on a large tree felled during a storm, which was about ten feet off the ground. When they came to the place to jump off, Uncle Albert jumped feet first through the thick huckleberry brush and lit on a sleeping cougar. The cougar jumped, throwing Albert. Grandfather used to tease him, saying he thought that the cougar was running not quite as fast as Albert was, but in the opposite direction.
      Harry Duncan recalls family memories of Lenore moving out to Sedro in 1892 to join Harry in Sedro following Agnes's birth. They came to Seattle by train, then took an overnight boat to Whatcom and caught the Fairhaven & Southern train from Fairhaven to Sedro. Sometime after that, Harry began construction of their home at the southeast corner of Warner and Fourth streets. That is the home that longtime Sedro-Woolley resident Mark Chatt has fully restored in 2004. It rose across the alley from C.E. Bingham's cottage and would be joined within a few years by a three-story home to the west across Fourth street, that of his friend Ben Vanderveer, who spent years in the Klondike as did Harry and Albert. When new-Sedro incorporated in March 1891, Devin was appointed town clerk. In September 1892 he took over as postmaster of Sedro from Mayor George Hopp and kept that office until it was consolidated with the post office at Sedro-Woolley in July 1899. He held both offices continually except for a period of a year or two when he was prospecting in Alaska.
      Meanwhile, Lenore's father, Cyrus, continued as administrator of public lands in the Northwest until 1893, when he was removed by President Cleveland to make room for a Democrat. But in 1897, he was reinstated by Republican President McKinley, and held the office three years. The physical hardships he endured while traveling through the remote areas of Washington, Oregon and Alaska finally wore him down physically. He lived in Snohomish most of the time from 1889 on but returned to Iowa sometime before he died there in 1905.

The Klondike beckons
(Devin house 1976)
The Devin House, Warner at 4th in Sedro in 1976. It was built in the mid-1890s and lovingly restored in 2003-04 by Mark Chatt and family

      In his journal and interviews, Harry noted that he prospected early on in the Klondike gold rush, working claims on Sulphur and Gold Run creeks in 1897. [See our excerpts from Devin's journal about his time in the Klondike by going back to the Issue 20 main page for the link] While in Alaska the first time, Harry was caught in a blizzard and he got frostbite in his right hand. A frontier doctor wanted to amputate two of his fingers and part of his right hand. But Harry refused and took matters in his own hands, as it were. He trimmed most of the flesh off the right side of his palm and the outside of his little finger. He was highly indignant when he returned to Washington as the Spanish-American broke out and was refused by an Army doctor when he tried to enlist, after the doctor looked at his healed but unsightly hand.
      Instead, he returned to Sedro to attend to business just as Sedro and Woolley voted to merge in the fall of 1898. Harry was one of the prime movers of the Twin City Business League back in 1896, along with Dr. Menzo B. Mattice, Junius B. Alexander and C.E. Bingham. That group worked towards healing the rivalry between the towns and smoothing the way to merger and cutting the redundant costs of two governments. As Sedro's city clerk in 1891, he would have observed the legal problems that squelched the plan back then to consolidate the towns, so in 1898 he was determined to merge the towns properly. Their efforts grew stronger after Washington state began recovering from the nationwide financial panic of 1893 and reaped the benefits of providing staples and goods for the Klondike miners. In January 1899 he took over the building vacated by attorney J. Henry Smith in new-Sedro and moved it up to State street on log rollers. He set it up on the south side of the street, across from what was then called Bowery Square [the Opera House] and about where Hank's barber shop is today. That became the office for the Sedro Land & Improvement Company [SLIC]. By February he was running ads in the Skagit County Times, which was located a block away at the corner of Third and State, for fruit and farming lands at $10-20 per acre. Harry Duncan provided an earlier ad from Feb. 24, 1898, advertising raw land for $15 per acre.
      According to the Skagit County Times, Harry returned to the Klondike a second time, in the winter of 1899-1900. A December 25, 1925, Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times article reprinted a December 1899 letter that Harry wrote home to the newspaper from Sulphur Creek, near Dawson. He wrote that he just arrived with mining machinery and on the way in, he met Albert Mosier, who was coming out. Mosier decided to turn around and stay for the winter with him for winter. Harry told Mrs. McClintock that when he returned, he managed the short-lived Silver Butte mine in remote northeastern Washington near Republic, a stint that he sometimes later called his "nine-month hunter's dream."

The birth of Skagit Realty
(Skagit Realty office)
J.B. Alexander and Harry L. Devin in front of the original Skagit Realty office on Ferry street, circa 1905

      When Harry returned to Sedro-Woolley in 1901, he found that Albert Mosier had been hired as the part-time county surveyor and was busy with engineering and surveying for private clients in both Skagit county and in Seattle. In September that year, Devin entered into a partnership with his fellow pioneer from Iowa, Charles J. Wicker Sr. Wicker sold off part of his original homestead in 1901 to the family of the new city attorney, Howard Seabury, and he and Harry began selling logged-off land under the name of Skagit Realty Co., the longest continuous real estate company in the county when it was closed by Wicker descendants in 1998.
      Harry and Lenore sunk their roots deep into the small town that decade. They were charter members of the Presbyterian Church in March 1892 when the church organized. He was named the original clerk and eventually earned a 50-year pin for his service. In a conversation on July 1, 1896, with A.W. Salisbury of Seattle, head of the state weather bureau, Harry learned of the need for a Skagit county official weather reporter. He volunteered to fill the role for no pay and kept the records for fifty years. He also compiled the statistics for the city that we now call demographics. In addition, he stocked a specially built library in his Warner street house with reference material about the city, county and the Pacific Northwest. Those works unfortunately disappeared; we hope that a reader might know their whereabouts. Another great loss of family heirlooms occurred after Harry's death in 1943. Lenore inherited a rare Chickering piano that she used to teach Des Moines children and they installed it in the parlor of their new house at 401 Warner street in the 1890s. The instrument was hauled out here carefully on a combination of railroad, steamboat and horse-and-wagon, but it was left in the house after he died and it soon disappeared or was sold.
      In addition to his real estate sales with Wicker, Devin joined with Junius B. Alexander and other landowners in the area to form the Sedro Land Company [SLC] on Aug. 25, 1908. The new company was an outgrowth of the Sedro Land & Improvement Company, from the old days of the dominance of the towns of Sedro. Devin, Winfield Scott Jameson, Devin, A.E. Holland, Fred Bentley and Junius Brutus Alexander incorporated the SLC. As late as 1939 they advertised their company as being formed in 1890. In 1906, Devin was one of the signatories on the plat that is known as Dieter's Acreage, but he made the most waves when he and the Commercial Club located the acreage that became Northern State Hospital.
      In a Skagit County Times article in September 1909, he announced that a state commission had been appointed to select a site in the northern portion of the state for a "hospital for the harmless insane." The Commercial Club was an outgrowth of the old Twin Cities Business League, of which Devin had been a principal, and preceded the Chamber of Commerce. Devin was elected president in May 1907 and, under the auspices of the club, he found the 800 acres that the state chose as the basis for the new mental hospital. Construction began in 1910.

(Sedro Land Co. office)
      This photo was taken sometime after the turn of the century inside the office of the Sedro Land Company in Woolley. Most of the lots in our town and much of the acreage in the upriver area were bought and sold in this location. There is some confusion about the identity of the principals of the company. In a Courier-Times of 1953, they were identified as (from l to r): H.L. Devin, J.B. Alexander (standing), C.J. Wicker. But the gentleman on the right closely resembles Harry Devin and we think the caption confused Wicker with Devin. We hope that a Wicker or Devin family member can clear this up for us. Please email if you know. Thank you.

The Woolley neighborhood

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Front of house)
(Southeast View house)
(West view house)
Mark Chatt's full remodel of the Devin house. Far left: Front door, Warner Street. Center: Full house view, looking southesast. Right: West view from 4th Street.

      Both Wicker and Devin and many of the business leaders played cards or enjoyed in the afternoon at Jimmie Blackburn's Saloon, which was located at the southwest corner of Metcalf and State streets on the border between the old towns. Metcalf did not proceed through then. On Nov. 16, 1911, two holdup men stormed into the saloon, forced bartender Eddie Adams to throw up his hands and nearly got away with $270 cash. But just as would happen with the 1914 bank robbery, word got out to the police station in city hall, which then stood where the Second street alley cuts through east of the present post office. Marshall Jasper Holman, Len Livermore and Ben Vanderveer (the saloon's builder) joined with Charlie Wicker and Harry Devin to surround the place. That was the death knell for the miscreants because Harry was known as the best shot in the area. Both men were captured and one was wounded. [You can read Harry's journal entries about the phenomenal success of the partner's real estate business and their poker games by going back to the Issue 20 main page for the link.]
      By that year, nearly all business had moved up to the three blocks of Metcalf north of State street and one block east and west of Metcalf. A few businesses, such as Standard Grocery and a couple of livery companies were still down on Third street on the way to new-Sedro, but most were concentrated in that six-block Metcalf section of old Woolley. Devin left his old State street office to join Wicker in their new company at an office on the south side of Ferry street in 1901-02, about where the old brick telephone office is now located. In the mid-decade, they moved to the middle of the east side of the 800 block of Metcalf. That old wooden structure was later moved to Reed street and still stands there, a white house on the east side, just north of the Sedro Villa apartments. Then, in 1915, when Len Livermore needed the space for his expanded Model-T Ford business, they moved over to the apartment building that Livermore built in 1911 at the northwest corner of State and Metcalf, across the street from Blackburn's Saloon. Contemporaries noted that Devin was an unusually astute businessman, according to Wicker family member Alfred McBee:
      Whether by design or coincidence, Harry's daughter Frances was employed by the county treasurer, whose office had the duty to conduct the auctions for the sales of the property upon which the taxes were unpaid. With her knowledge, Devin knew what land was to be sold or foreclosed, the amount of the unpaid taxes and when the sales were to be held. Wicker and Devin would buy the logged-off property, usually for the amount of unpaid taxes, and hold the property for a period of time in 40, 80 and 160-acre tracts. They would later resell the 80-acre pieces in 20-acre tracts and the 40's in 10-acre tracts. They made famous the old slogan: "$10 down, $10 a month, no interest." By the time of the Great Depression, they had refined this process to fine art. They knew that the farmers who had been driven out of the Dust Bowl states were great prospects for this tax-title land after being wiped out financially in their former homes. Even though the ranches might be covered with stumps, Skagit Steel had a solution for that in the stump-puller machine that the company introduced in the 1920s. The soil underneath was rich and black from centuries of river silt deposit and yielded record crops with hardly any bad years.
      As we will explain in future connected stories, Devin's idea of recreation was anytime he could fish or hunt. In the early 1920s, he shot a moose of great size while east of the Cascades and brought the head back and had it stuffed for his brother-in-law Mosier's log cabin at the northwest corner of Fidalgo and 8th streets. When my daughter was born, we lived there and "Cromwell The Moose" was the highlight of the living room with a cathedral ceiling. He was mounted and hung above a green marble fireplace that Mosier's brother Charles designed. After Mosier's wife Bess died as a relatively young woman, the bachelor brothers lived there and that was where Harry hung out with his fishing and hunting pals and played poker.
      Harry Duncan recalled that he visited his grandfather at the log cabin in 1937 on a ten-day break after a Sea Scout boating-regatta on Puget sound. Devin asked him to come along for a ride to some property that he owned in the Utopia-Lyman area. Duncan recalled that they left the paved Minkler Highway and continued on a primitive road through land that had been logged off many years before. He marveled at the cedar stumps that were eight or ten feet in diameter at the cut, which was generally ten feet off the ground, above the gooey pitch. He could still the notches from the springboards that loggers climbed onto as they chopped the tree. Devin had received reports that someone was poaching on the timber but when they reached a cabin where a man was standing on the porch, Devin just waved and turned the car around and left. He explained that the poacher was probably a bootlegger and poached a small amount of wood for the fire needed to cook his mash. For one thing, Devin noted, the man probably had a rifle just inside the door within arm's length, and he probably was not doing any harm.

Harry's retirement years in Sedro-Woolley
(Early Skagit Realty office)
This is a photo of the east side of the 800 block of Metcalf in September 1909. The little white house at the left was originally an office of the Skagit Realty and is now part of a house on the 800 Block of Reed street. To the immediate right is the office of Skagit Realty when the photo was taken. Further to the right is the Livermore Harness Company, which would soon become Livermore Ford Agency. Len Livermore tore down the Skagit Realty office and the house was moved when he erected his new auto building in 1915. That new building is now Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop (you can see a photo of Livermore's garage on the Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop webpage).

      Illness started to slow down Harry beginning in 1933-34. In early 1939, Devin and Wicker turned over the reins of Skagit Realty to C.J. Wicker Jr. and Merle Niece. From then on he enjoyed motor trips with his wife back to his old haunts and he loved keeping his daily records along with weather measurements. He would go out with Mosier to aid in surveys or scout promising mineral claims. Harry Duncan visited Sedro-Woolley in 1941, a year after he enlisted in the Army. He recalled an incident from that furlough that could easily fit into a book such as Sense and Sensibility. His mother lived down in Oregon, but aunts Frances and Alice still lived at the house and Harry and Lenore invited her brothers Albert and Charles over to dinner nearly every evening. One night they began to discuss the wartime style of short skirts:
      Grandmother said she approved of the style and reached down and raised the hem of her skirt from ankle-length to knee level and stated that, for an old gal [age 78], she thought her legs were pretty good. There was a quick intake of breath on the part of the two uncles. Both of them stood up and departed without saying a word. Grandfather just kept on reading and the girls kept on darning. The next morning, grandfather took us out for a trip up Chuckanut drive. He and I climbed up to a shale cut near by the road and he showed me the fossils in the rocks he was fond of. We did not disturb anything.
      The last day before Duncan left, his 80-year-old grandfather got his last chance to bond by sharing a hunting experience. His good friend Otto Pressentin phoned and said that he had a bear raiding his plum trees. Did Harry want to come up and shoot it? Devin leaped at the chance. They dressed warmly and motored up on the recently paved highway along the north shore of the Skagit to the old village of Birdsview, which then consisted of a few mainly deserted buildings. A little east of town, they stopped at Pressentin's Landing, where a ferry crossed to the old Pressentin homestead, which was still home to Otto, his brother Hans von Pressentin, and his mother, the widow Minnie von Pressentin:
      We crossed the river on a current-powered ferry. There was a cable across the river about 30 feet above the water, hung between two trees. There was a small skyhook-car on the cable, with two lines descending, one to each end of the ferry. Each was secured to a wince so that you could change the angle of the ferry and the current would then take it across.
(Agnes Devin)
Agnes Devin and one of her paintings at her Coos Bay, Oregon, home, 1951

Otto picked them up on the ferry and on the south side they walked up Pressentin creek to a small orchard. To get the Green Gage plums, the bear would swipe the bark with his paw and tear off a patch about six inches square, which annoyed Otto. They found the bear growling nearby, his foot still stuck in the trap that Otto set. Duncan put him down with one shot, Devin quickly skinned him and they took the hide and a rear quarter home for Lenore to roast. Duncan said that Devin tanned the hide nicely and sent it to him, a treasured memento after his grandfather died, but a couple of decades later Duncan's wife threw it out after moths destroyed it.
      The last time that Harry Duncan saw his grandfather was in 1942, when Devin visited his army unit at Fort Stevens near Seaside, Oregon. Duncan received an afternoon pass and they drove out to Seaside, where Devin found a new sewage disposal plant with a new system that was designed to not pollute the environment. After returning to Sedro-Woolley, he told Mosier about what he observed. Over the next year, Devin helped Mosier convert the concrete tanks at the old Sedro-Woolley Veneer plant down by the river into a gravity-fed water treatment plant for the city. Harry died on July 1 that year, survived by his wife and three daughters, all of whom took care of their mother at the old Warner mansion. Wicker passed away just a few months later on Jan. 18, 1944.
      After their mother passed away on Feb. 24, 1950, the girls doted on Uncle Albert at the old house until his death on Dec. 3, 1955. Alice earlier had a career as an attendant at Northern State Hospital and Frances retired from her job with the county. Agnes had a family of her own and roamed back and forth from her homes in California and Oregon to come back here for periods of time. In the late 1940s, Agnes established herself as an artist after receiving a Fine Arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts at Oakland, California. Alice, the baby of the family, was also the finest musician in a family of musical people. During the 1930s she was a violin teacher at Pensacola, Florida. After Albert's death, Frances and Alice had no one else in the family to care for, so they moved to Sacramento, California, to be nearer to sister Agnes. Alice was the last of the sisters to pass away, on May 26, 1995, at age 102. Her ashes were spread in her beloved Cascades, a fitting end to this fine pioneer Sedro-Woolley family.

Return to Part 1: Harry's youth in Iowa and Ohio, his education and marriage,
his early businesses and his homestead in Washington territory

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Story posted on Oct. 24, 2001, last updated on March 17, 2006, moved to this domain Nov. 3, 2011
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