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(S and N Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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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Pioneer Harry L. Devin describes
early history of Sedro-Woolley

Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Oct. 20, 1949, City Merger Golden Jubilee edition
(SLSE locomotive)
Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern locomotive

      To learn how the city came to be located here, we must look at conditions on the [Puget] Sound in the late 1880s. When the main line of the Northern Pacific railway was completed in 1887 with Tacoma as its terminus it was the close of a very bitter fight which had been carried on for years between Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia [and Fairhaven and Anacortes].
      Seattle citizens determined to have an outlet of their own and planned a railroad called the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern running north from Seattle to a connection with the Canadian Pacific, crossing the international boundary at Sumas. They selected a route inland well back from the waterfront as they did not wish to build up rivals north of Seattle on the Sound.
      They employed a New York engineer named Norman R. Kelley as locating engineer. At that time with no railroad north of Seattle practically all the settlement and business was along the shores of the Sound and of navigable streams. Roads were very few and almost impassable during a large part of the year. Kelley believed that where his line of railroad crossed the Skagit River would be a good location for a town.
      He made a deal with Winfield Scott Jameson, a large property owner on the Skagit River, whereby Kelley agreed to locate the SLS&E across 320 acres of Jameson's land on the north side of the Skagit River and to have a station and depot located there. In return for which Kelley was to receive a three-fourth interest in the land. The agreement was signed March 26, 1889. Kelley secured the services of Albert G. Mosier to survey and plat the townsite and on Aug. 29, 1889, they filed a plat of the first 80 acres, naming it Town of Sedro, and on Jan. 11, 1890, they filed a plat of the remaining 240 acres as First Addition to Sedro.
      Meantime Fairhaven, now [South] Bellingham, being left out in the cold, determined to build her own line of railroad, running southeast from Fairhaven to a crossing of the Skagit River about three-fourths of a mile above [east] the crossing of Kelley's railroad. At this point they planned to divide the road, building one branch on the south on the inside rote to Seattle and the other up the Skagit Valley to tap the timer , coal and mineral resources of the country. This they named the Fairhaven and Southern.
      At the same time the Oregon Improvement Co. [OIC] decided to build a railroad from Ship Harbor, now, Anacortes, up the valley, crossing the Cascade Pass to a junction with the Northern Pacific at Spokane. This road they named the Seattle & Northern Railway. The construction of all three lines was rushed feverishly. Nelson Bennett, the contractor on the Fairhaven & Southern, was promised a bonus of $50,000 if he reached the Skagit River with train service by Christmas 1889. He won the bonus, running the first train through December 24th.
      This made the townsite selected by Kelley the junction of three lines of railroad. Fairhaven interests bought 200 acres adjoining Kelley's Plat on the south, filing a plat of "The Town of Sedro," Oct. 17, 1889. In 1890 P.A. Woolley bought 80 acres on the north and filed a plat of "Woolley, the Hub of Skagit County," June 13, 1890. Its location made Kelley's "Town of Sedro," a name he took from the post office established by Mortimer Cook in 1886 on the bank of the Skagit River at this point.
      Cook had asked to have the post office named Cedra, the Spanish word for cedar, but the post office department, having a number of offices that name, refused. He then changed the first and last letters of the word coining the name Sedro. The location of Sedro at the junction of three lines of railroad and steamer connection with Seattle made it the natural supply point for the construction gang.
      While the country was covered with a heavy growth of fine timber, logging operations had been confined to the area from which logs could be profitably hauled by oxen and horses to water transportation. The construction of these lines of railroad opened up an immense area of timber land. Mills and logging camps were built in all directions and for several years furnished the chief means of support for the city.
      The agricultural resources at first were limited, principal crops being oats and hay but as the timber was cut off and the mills and camps moved further back the agricultural resources were developed, dairying soon taking the lead with poultry, seeds, berries and vegetables striving for second position.
      There was bitter rivalry between the two towns of Sedro and Woolley for several years and in 1896 the twin city business league was organized to try to get the business men of the two towns better acquainted and get them to work together for the common good. It was successful and after a couple of years of working together the two towns united under the name of Sedro-Woolley, neither willing to give up its name and the [Twin Cities Business League] became the Sedro-Woolley Commercial Club, later the Chamber of Commerce. This organization under its different names has been largely responsible for the growth of the city, working for new and better roads, the development of the agricultural resources bringing experts in dairying, poultry and fruit raising to talk to the farmers. Encouraging the location of new industries and raising considerable sums for sites and advertising the resources of the section. Of late years they have been assisted by the service clubs of the city.
      The town of Sedro, including both Kelley and Fairhaven plats, was incorporated as a city of the fourth class, Mar. 4, 1891. George Hopp was elected mayor; A.E. Holland, Albert G. Mosier, George Brosseau, Gus Pidde and A.A. Tozier were elected councilmen, and Edwin Foltz, treasurer; W. Cunningham, clerk.
      Later the same year the town of Woolley incorporated with William Murdock as mayor; Norris Ormsby, Dave Moore, George Gregory, William Guse and Robinson as councilmen; William Doherty, treasurer, and Philip L. Woolley [the son] as clerk.
      Joe Hart and David Batey built a saw and shingle mill in Sedro in 1890. Mr. Woolley built one in Woolley the same year. The Hart and Batey mill burned in 1886.
      Dec. 27, 1890, an election was held and $10,000 was voted for a school house and equipment to be built on block 61 of Sedro, which was donated for a site by Norman Kelley and is now occupied by the present grade school. There was considerable talk of the extravagance of putting $10,000 into a school building but the bonds carried by a vote of 39 for and one against and the new schoolhouse was built and occupied in 1891. Ira Brown, George A. Brosseau and H.L. Devin were directors and A.A. Tozier, clerk.
      In 1909 a commission was appointed by the state, consisting of A.E. Cagwin, chairman, E.D. Cowen and H.T. Jones with David Zerwkh as secretary to select a site in the northern part of the state for a hospital for the harmless insane. There was keen competition between the various communities to secure the location of the institution and Sedro-Woolley was frequently informed that it was too small and had too little political influence to hope to secure it. However, the Commercial Club committee secured options on 800 acres of land which they selected after weeks of examination of various tracts as most suitable for the purpose, taking into consideration contour, quality of soil, water supply, railroad connection, convenience to depots, post office and trading facilities. The commission apparently agreed with them, as they wired acceptance of the site Sept. 13, 1909. The wisdom of their choice has never been questioned.
      The first board of control appointed in 1910 consisted of A.E. Cagwin, E.D. Cowen and H.T. Jones, with H.G. Ballou, secretary. The first doctor in in charge of the hospital was Dr. W.E. Cass, a very able man, to whose business management and uniform courtesy, the immediate success of the institution was largely due.

Harry Devin was City's Historian, Weather Recorder
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Oct. 20, 1949, City Merger Golden Jubilee edition
(Harry L. Devin)
Harry L. Devin

      Harry L. Devin, born in Ottumwa, Ohio, June 16, 1862, came to Sedro in 1889 on a visit and liked the locale so well that the following year he brought his family here and established his home. He opened a real estate office in 1890 on the bank of the Skagit River and in 1892 was appointed postmaster, later resigning in favor of the Woolley postmaster.
      He spent two years in the Klondike prospecting and upon his return spent nine months in Northeastern Washington, managing the Silver Butte mine. He came back to Sedro-Woolley and in 1902 entered the real estate business with C.J. Wicker, forming the Skagit Realty Co.
      Mr. Devin had a major part in every important development that has taken place in Sedro-Woolley since its founding and his reference library was the haven of every person wishing facts or figures pertaining to Sedro-Woolley. He was official weather recorder here for forty-three years.


Norman R. Kelley
      Kelley was the son of a wealthy Manhattan investor and he joined up with another such scion, Junius B. Alexander to boom the town of Sedro in 1889. Kelley was a draughtsman for the SLS&E syndicate and he also enjoyed climbing mountains on the Olympic Peninsula. He died of complications from alcoholism when he was only 33 in 1894. He died intestate and his father refused to come out to Washington to settle the estate so it stayed in limbo until at least 1906, resulting in the "Kelley Strip." Read about him and the land problems in this Journal feature [Return]

      This is one of the first stories we found about Sedro history when we started researching in 1992 and it provided much of the basic history that we needed. Unfortunately we assumed that Devin had researched the Spanish language. We failed to do such research until 2009, when we discovered that the Spanish word for cedar is not cedra, but cedro. Thus, Mortimer Cook simply changed the C to an S to form the town name, Sedro. [Return]

Reference library, historian
      From what his family told us, we fear that Devin's reference library and his records as Sedro-Woolley's historian and weatherman were all taken to the dump after his death. We hope, however, that part or all was saved and that a reader may have seen the records or the books. Please contact us if you have. [Return]

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Story posted on May 12, 2009 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 48 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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