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Skagit River Journal

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Philip A. Woolley & his company town
Part One of Two

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2002 (Updates from 2006 in Part 2)
(P.A. Woolley)
P.A. Woolley, circa: 1880s. Photo courtesy of Joe McGuire

      Philip A. Woolley did not leave much of a paper trail, considering his major impact on Skagit county. He was a developer in the classic sense of the word, having built a small fortune one step at a time with railroad contracts all the way from the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1850s, to his company town of Woolley in the 1890s, to Savannah, Georgia, after the turn of the century.
      He descended from, English, German and French ancestors, and the Woolley family lived in New York since the Revolutionary War when family members sided with the colonists. One of his ancestor Woolleys married into the family of Robert Morris, who was once a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and the controversial confidante of George Washington. President Washington even offered him the post of Secretary of the Treasury before Morris lost his fortune in land speculation. One of his cousins was the noted Brooklyn, New York doctor, Daniel Morris Woolley, and Philip's father, Dr. Emerson Woolley, was a physician in Malone, New York, when Philip was born there on Feb. 17, 1831. Dr. Woolley later moved his family to Ogdensburg, New York, where Philip attended grade school and high school. Philip's mother was born Magdaline Ulman in Morrisburg, across the St. Lawrence in the province of Ontario. Dr. Woolley died in 1880 and his wife in 1882.
      Various biographies state that after high school, his first job was a lumber contract. Then, sometime in the early 1850s, Philip moved to Russell, Ontario, — about 40 miles southeast of Ottawa, where he engaged in the lumber business and married Catherine Loucks of Ottawa on Jan. 23, 1857. Catherine's father was W.G. Loucks, a merchant there, who descended from ancestors in Luxemburg, Germany. The Woolleys' first child, a daughter with the unusual name of Parazaida, was born in Russell nine months later. A baby girl who died as an infant in 1862 followed her, then a boy named William on Dec. 10, 1862, and a daughter named Clara Ann Maud in 1865.

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      After operating a store and working as a contractor in Russell, Philip spent three years in Escanaba, Michigan, where he contracted supplies from 1864-67 for a railroad line being built south from there to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He then moved his young family from Russell to Grand Haven, Michigan, 40 miles west of Grand Rapids on the shore of Lake Michigan, where they lived from 1867-1877. His biography states that he was engaged in contracting for the government and railroads. Son Philip, who was always called Bert, was born there on Christmas Eve, 1870 and daughter Kate Ferry (thus the namesake of Ferry street) was born there on March 1, 1873.

Woolley builds wealth as rail contractor in Elgin, Illinois
      In about 1877, the family moved to Elgin, Illinois, 40 miles west of Chicago where he contracted for cross ties and timbers for railroads, including the Chicago & Alton Railway. We know precious little about their life in Elgin except for the marriage of one daughter and the death of another. We are indebted to Jean Austin, a Woolley great-granddaughter, for the Woolley family bible, which contains a number of newspaper articles. One undated article celebrates the marriage of daughter Parazaida (always called Zada), who married Horace Pinhey, a government official in Ottawa in Elgin on Feb. 17, 1881.
      The family's standing in Elgin is accentuated with many details of the ceremony and their house itself on Spring Street, which was "brilliantly illuminated with Chinese lanterns and festooned with evergreens . . . At about half-past eight carriages began to deposit their fair burdens at the door . . . The beautiful costumes of the ladies, the radiance of the lights, and over and through all the exquisite perfume of flowers and sound of distant music, transformed the handsome parlors for a time into a fair land." The bride and groom left on the midnight train for a honeymoon in Minneapolis and then moved to the Hamnett Pinhey family estate northwest of Ottawa, which was called Horaceville and is now maintained by the city of Kanata. They later lived in Arn Prior, west of Ottawa. Zada apparently only visited Sedro-Woolley for the funerals of her parents and we have not been able to find her descendants.
      Less than two years later, Zada's sister Maud, who was first bridesmaid, died suddenly of a bowel disease. There are many articles about her death in the bible, testifying to her popularity in the community. She was just three days past her eighteenth birthday when she died in January 1883. While living in Elgin, the Woolleys sent old brother Bill to the University of Notre Dame, while they sent younger brother Bert to high school in Chicago.
      We discovered the full names of the various members of the family when Woolley descendant Jean Austin donated the Woolley family bible to the Sedro-Woolley Museum. Until then we assumed that Ferry Street was named for Elisha P. Ferry, whom President Ulysses S. Grant appointed as Governor of Washington Territory and who served for two terms, 1872-80; then he was the first governor of Washington state in 1889-93. Others mistakenly confused the name as being derived from Mortimer Cook's eldest daughter, Fairie. Then we found in the bible that the Woolley's daughter Kate had the middle name of Ferry, which may have also been a family name further back in the tree, so we now lead towards that derivation of the street name.

The Woolleys arrive in Sedro by stage, November 27, 1889
      In the fall of 1889, Philip moved his family to the West Coast. Up until now, no biography has explored why he moved so far away and settled at a location that was still forest and wilderness. A hint was given in 1967 when a man named James Vernon Metcalfe mailed a package to the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times that contained very early photos of the P.A. Woolley family and an explanation for why Metcalf Street was named and why it was spelled Metcalfe up to at least the early 1900s. Metcalfe's 1967 letter reads as follows:
      Inclosed herewith are some photographs of Mr. P.A. Woolley, his daughter and her son, which were part of a very old scrapbook kept by my father. They may be of historic interest to your readers, as your city was named for Mr. Woolley and Metcalf Street was named for my father, Gen. James B. Metcalfe.
      Father was the only attorney general appointed for the Territory of Washington and had the interesting duty of advising on the legal aspects of the preparation by the territory for admission to the United States on November 11, 1889. He acted also as attorney for Mr. Woolley and our families exchanged many happy visits.

      [Update December 2003: Since we first posted our brief story of General Metcalfe in 2002, several of his descendants have contacted us through the miracle of the Internet. We now have a pretty complete profile which explains how he entered the picture here and how he and P.A. Woolley met and planned Woolley's company town.]
      James Bard Metcalfe was a Civil War Confederate veteran who established a law practice in San Francisco in 1877 and then moved his family to Seattle in 1883. He was attorney general of Washington territory in 1888 and helped the governor prepare for statehood in 1889. He formed a prestigious law firm in Seattle, took on P.A. Woolley as a client and researched the potential rail crossings for all the booming railroads in Washington and maybe even in British Columbia. He must have been very good at his job because he pegged the three real railroads that crossed here in 1889-90 and made the towns of Sedro and Woolley famous, as opposed to the dozens of paper railroads that never set metal to rail. You can read his full story, including all his other famed Washington activities at the link above.
      In 1953, a city resident named Mrs. Bob Doxsee showed the Courier-Times publisher Frank Evans a diary kept by Mrs. Catherine Woolley as she and her husband traveled cross county. These are the only excerpts printed in the Sept. 24, 1953, newspaper that celebrated the centennial of Washington territory. They illustrate that travel here was not a pleasure trip back in those days:

      Nov. 8, 1889, left Chicago for Seattle; traveled Sunday and on Monday noon arrived at Minneapolis; remained there until Tuesday noon.
      Nov. 12, left Minneapolis at 1:30. Had pleasant trip. Nov. 13, arrived at Banff Spring in the morning at five; spent all day [they apparently made connections with the Canadian Pacific Railroad]. Am very tired but spent a delightful day here. Here we are 5,000 feet above the sea and scenery is beyond description. There is nothing so grad as nature.
      Nov. 16, arrived at the Glacier and saw the sun shine on the great mountain of ice. Saw two bears Nov. 18, arrived at Vancouver. Nov. 21, left Vancouver at 2:30 on the boat Fearless. Had a quiet trip. Nov. 22, arrived at Seattle, had delightful visit with Mrs. Wilder and Mrs. Stiles. [Ed. note: we wonder if the latter lady was a relative of Ira Stiles, second postmaster of Sedro-Woolley and the first master of Masonic Lodge #93 in Woolley in 1893.]
      Nov. 24, expect to take the boat for Sterling and how I do dread the trip. Nov. 25, still here at Seattle, raining as usual. Nov. 25, on the boat Henry [Bailey] for Sedro. Nov. 26, arrived at Mount Vernon at noon, remain until morning at the Washington hotel. [The Washington was owned by William Murdock, who would soon be the first mayor of the town of Woolley and who bought the land to the east adjoining Woolley's company town.]
      Nov. 27, leave at eight on the stage; my first ride on a stage in my life and I never could imagine such roads; arrived at Sedro at noon. Nov. 28, moving into boarding house, all confusion. Nov. 29, Mr. Woolley has gone to Mount Vernon to get the land for the mill. Won't be home before tomorrow.
      Nov. 30, Mr. Mr. Woolley has returned and is very tired; has bought 40 acres of land, so everyone commences work on Monday morning; will sleep in our house tonight. Dec. 1, here quietly spending the Sabbath and will write to my Katie this afternoon.

(Mr. and Mrs. Woolley, circa 1910)
Mr. and Mrs. Woolley, circa 1910

      That is sadly the last entry from the diary, leaving out the details of the purchase of the town site and its initial setup. With the help of the late Bob Wilcox, we contacted Mrs. Doxsee's daughter in California in 1993 but she informed us that her mother was suffering from Alzheimer's and they had no knowledge of the diary. It was either sold to an antiques dealer or passed on to some other family. We hope a reader will some day tell us that it has been found. Regardless, we know that Philip, always known as P.A. by that time, immediately set out planning his Skagit River Lumber & Shingle Mill and company town a mile northwest of old Sedro by the Skagit River, and Catherine returned to Elgin to finalize the family's move with daughter Kate and sons Bill and Bert. From the way they were phrased, the entries posed a big questions: Was this Woolley's first trip to Sedro? General Metcalfe may have done a lot of the groundwork by the time that the Woolleys arrived. In gratitude, P.A. named the main north-south street in town, Metcalfe, with the "E." Most of the city newspapers before the turn of the century burned in various fires, but the first time we see the street spelled, Metcalf, is in a February 1901 Skagit County Times. Why did Woolley drop the "E" from the street name? We do not have any idea at this point.
      We can only surmise about Woolley's gamble to move out here and make such a commitment, but we do know that at least five factors could have influenced him and Metcalfe. First, the Northern Pacific railroad had completed their tunnel through the Cascades, finally connecting Duluth directly to Seattle. Second, Seattle interests had finalized funding to extend the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern [SLS&E] West Coast branch through Skagit County a mile west of Sedro. Third, tracks were being laid on a diagonal from Fairhaven on Bellingham Bay to Mortimer Cook's old town of Sedro on the Skagit. The Fairhaven & Southern [F& S] railway was completed on Christmas eve after Woolley's arrival. Fourth, the Seattle & Northern line [S& N] was steadily laying tracks east across the county, aiming for a rail bed north of Sedro. And finally, James J. Hill was breathing down everyone's neck, approaching Spokane Falls with tracks for what would become the Great Northern, and hell-bent for reaching the Puget sound and filling his own ships with goods from the Midwest for the Orient.
      We can imagine how P.A. must have licked his chops when he climbed down from the stage and saw firs 200 feet and higher, limbless for the first 100 feet, perfect for both ship's masts and the cross ties that he had been marketing for the past 25 years. He was so excited, he said in his paid biography, that he felled the first tree on the site himself, quite a feat for 58-year-old man, years away from working in the woods. The only real competitor to Woolley was Norman B. Kelley, the son of a rich New York City investor, who teamed up with a timber man named Winfield Scott Jameson. As soon as he bought the land for the mill and land, he sent for some distant relatives, the Munro family of Michigan, to help plan and build a shingle mill to take advantage of the monster Western red cedar trees that separated his site from what was often called Kelley Town. Mortimer Cook, down at the original village of Sedro on the river, was busy draining and tiling his new ranch out on Olympia Marsh and selling off lots on his original property. Someone did crash his party, however. The late Albert Bingham told us that his father remembered how the SLS&E site engineers forced P.A. Woolley to move his planned mill slightly west because it would lie in the middle of their rail bed. The S&N planners tried to do the same thing and make him move the mill north of their planned rail bed, but he had had enough and refused. Today you can see the slight bend in the tracks north of Vern Sims Ford (now North Cascade Ford) that show how they caved in.

(The Woolley Mill, 1890)
The Woolley Mill, 1890

      Many skirmishes were recorded between the competing railroads' construction teams during those early years. According to a story by Lelah Edson in her fine book, The Fourth Corner, tempers were bound to flare when crews from SLS&E and S&N converged on the junction at the present corner of Eastern and Northern avenues in the winter of 1890. Mrs. Woolley came out of the mill cookhouse to see what the noise and foul language was all about. There she met John J. Cryderman, the former F&S crew chief who was hired for the same position by S&N to lay rails from Anacortes to Hamilton. He assured her that he would maintain the peace. They climbed a stump together to observe the two crews as they neared each other. Suddenly the husky mule skinners and lumberjacks who made up the SLS&E crew drove their peavey track tools into the ground and stood braced behind them like armored medieval knights. At that point Cryderman leapt from the stump and ordered his men to hoist rails in teams and use them as battering rams, scattering the opposing crew like bowling pins in the process. After glowering and exchanging blows for a few minutes, the crews were convinced to let the company lawyers argue the right of way in court. Ultimately S&N laid its rails first and SLS&E afterwards, with a junction that allowed trains to travel both ways, and spurs were laid at the northwest and southwest to allow trains to turn north or east onto the respective main routes. All concerned eventually shared the pride felt by residents in the town of Woolley. After completion of the Canadian Pacific connection in 1891, Woolley became the first city outside of California with connecting lines for three transcontinental railroads (including the Canadian Pacific). Up to 11 trains per day crossed in five different directions.

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Story posted on July 1, 2001, last updated and moved to this domain May 19, 2011
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