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(S and N Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

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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Three railroads and the Woolley triangle

(Union Depot)
      Muriel Weissberg of Redding, California, loaned us a copy of this rare photo of the original Woolley Union Depot, which was located on the famous triangle of the three rail lines north of Northern Avenue in old Woolley. She is the granddaughter of Morris Schneider, whose building stood at the far background of the block to the right. Until now, all we had was a very weak second-generation version.
      On the left is the depot itself. On the right is Northern avenue. On the corner in the lower right is the infamous Keystone Hotel and saloon, where spirits were served and travelers from the depot were serviced. Although the Fairhaven & Southern tracks were ripped up decades ago and Burlington Northern has ripped out most of the tracks that once led to east to Rockport, the tracks that formed two sides of the triangle are still there.
      One wonders why the city of Sedro-Woolley has never turned this into a railroad park for both children and tourists. Instead, the very locus of points for the city is now overgrown with weeds. We are happy, however, that the city has built Hammer Heritage Park on Metcalf street just a block south of the triangle, with considerable donations of time and money by Rotary Soroptomists, Lions and many individuals.
      In the rear center of the photo, you can see two buildings built on a diagonal. They were on both sides of the F&S line, which crossed both the other lines from the northwest to the southeast on the way to Mortimer Cook's wharf in old Sedro. Although P.A. Woolley reserved that triangle for the Union Depot, the depot was moved a hundred yards south on the Northern Pacific tracks in August 1901 and stood there until the 1970s. Does any reader know the date that the depot finally closed and when it was razed? In hindsight, what a shame that the building was not restored.

(SLS&E Excursion 1890)
For many years, researchers bemoaned the lack of photos of the SLS&E line. Just last year we found this photo of an excursion trip of the line, probably in Snohomish county, taken sometime in the 1890s. This photo appeared in an undated issue of the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, which was found in an old scrapbook of the Territorial Daughters Chapter One of Sedro-Woolley, which is now the property of the Skagit County Historical Association Museum in LaConner.

      Our Trains section has earned so much attention that we thought you might like to see some special photos and details about the trains and depots that made Sedro-Woolley famous. Readers are always curious why Sedro and Woolley became the crossroads of the valley. The simple answer is that Seattle interests wanted to build their railroad inland so that north-coast towns would not compete with Elliott Bay. That led to all three lines crossing in a triangle across the street from Woolley's new downtown. The triangle measured about 100 yards on each side.
      But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The first standard-gauge train north of Seattle was built by Nelson Bennett and the Fairhaven Land Co. Just 26 miles long, the Fairhaven & Southern (F&S) ran on a diagonal southeast from Fairhaven (now south Bellingham) to the old town of Sedro and a train traversed the whole route for the first time on Christmas Eve, 1889. That also made the line the first railroad launched in the new state of Washington. Bennett initially planned to extend branches of the line all the way south to Seattle and east across Cascade Pass to connect with James J. Hill's Great Northern. But the Great Northern Cascades route did not materialize.
      The main freight that Bennett envisioned was the coal from mines four miles northeast of Sedro that he bought in 1888. He laid tracks on a wye that extended from the route down to Mortimer Cook's wharf at old Sedro. Originally called the Bennett mines, they and the town around them would later be named Cokedale in 1894 because of the coking quality of the ore. By then, C.X. Larrabee, the major investor in the F&S, had bought the mines and he sold them to Hill and the GN in 1899. Eventually, 50 beehive coke ovens would be erected there. Bennett's planned branches to Seattle and to the Cascades did not materialize because the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern (SLS&E) West Coast line beat him to the vital narrow corridor around Lake McMurray in Snohomish county.
      The Seattle & Northern (S&N)extended east from Woolley instead, in 1890-91, but that line also ended short of the Cascades when it terminated at Rockport in 1900-01. The S&N was begun by the Oregon Improvement Co. (OIC), which built towards Sedro originally in 1888 from Ship Harbor, located where the state ferry terminal stands now, a mile west of Anacortes. They aimed towards the coal mines that were located on the south side of the river from Hamilton, about eight miles upriver. The OIC ran into financial trouble early on and attorney James McNaught and other NP investors financed the rest of the route, qualifying the NP for a land grant.
      Bennett initially had plenty of cash, resulting from his bonus money for building the Stampede Pass tunnel on schedule for the Northern Pacific. The other two lines were each stalled for a year when they ran out of funds. Otherwise they may have beaten Bennett to the punch. Those delays actually led to the downfall of Sedro and the upward rise of P.A. Woolley's company town, for which he broke ground in the spring of 1890.
      A railroad and timber developer from Elgin, Illinois, Woolley saw the progress of all three lines towards the upper Skagit and decided that he would build his sawmill where all three would naturally cross. His hunch, supplemented by the help of Washington Territory Attorney General James Bard Metcalf, was correct. The town of new-Sedro never got to boom, even when the SLS&E completed its line through town on Thanksgiving of 1890. By then, Woolley had started attracting businesses to his new company town. The Hotel Sedro, near the SLS&E depot, effectively went bankrupt within months of opening in the fall of 1890, and periodic fires in the surrounding blocks over the next five years led to even more businesses moving to Woolley. By the time of the merger in 1898, new Sedro was on the way to becoming a residential part of town, along with the site of the schools and a number of churches instead of businesses. And old Sedro by the river was in decline after the three floods of 1894, 1896 and 1897 literally moved many of the buildings, including Cook's store, and they were soon relics.

Click to photos below:

(F&S 1890s)
      This photo from the old Fairhaven Gazette magazine was called "F&S First Day," probably taken in Fairhaven.

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(S&N arrives in Hamilton)
      The Seattle & Northern, shown here on its first-day arrival in Hamilton on an unknown date in 1891. Over the next ten years the line extended to Sauk, then finally to Rockport in 1901 as the eastern terminus. Photo courtesy of the Eagles Lodge in Sedro-Woolley.

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(Sedro Railroad map 1890)
      This map promoted the town of Sedro and its railroads in an 1890 issue of Washington magazine.

(Woolley railroad map 1890)
      This map promoted the town of Woolley and its railroads in an 1890 issue of the same magazine. Note that the town we now know as Bellingham was still called Whatcom. And to the south, the town we now know of as Arlington was called Haller City, which was on the Stillaguamish river just northeast of the present town. Arlington was boomed in 1891 by the SLS&E Railroad.

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Story posted on April 29, 2002, last updated Nov. 15, 2008
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