(Girl Undercut)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
600 of 700 total Free Home Page Stories & Photos
(Also see our Subscribers Magazine Sample)
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

(Click to send email)
Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We passed 5 million page views on June 6, 2011
The home pages remain free of any charge. We need donations or subscriptions to continue.
Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

The story of the Sedro-Woolley Merger:
The Real and Unreal

Compiled by Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore ©2003

(Metcalf street)
      This photo by Darius Kinsey shows Metcalf street, looking south from the Seattle & Northern railroad tracks, in 1899, right after the merger of Sedro and Woolley. At the right is the M. Schneider mercantile building, now the vacated bowling alley building. Note that the street dead-ended at State street. Metcalf was not continued through until 1965. The large, dark, two-story building halfway down on the right housed F.A. Hegg's original grocery store. The white building in the back center was the Grand Central Hotel.

City got name because man ate up ballot
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Jan. 31, 1946

Journal ed. note: Sedro-Woolley's most apocryphal name story — The 1946 editor gets his leg pulled — hard

      The name Sedro-Woolley came into being because one man ate a small slip of paper. This interesting sidelight, not recorded in the annals of this community's history and known by only a few of the old-timers here, can be definitely vouched for by B.D. Van Devere [actually spelled Vanderveer], who was there when the episode occurred.
      It was in 1898 when a public meeting was called at the large frame public building situated half on the townsite of Sedro and half on the up-and-coming city of Woolley. Both communities had by that time practically merged together as far as territory was concerned but they were still bitter rivals. The meeting had been called to form one city and thereby end the rivalry and form one central community for the benefit of all concerned.
      The question of whether the new city should be called Sedro or Woolley naturally had to be decided upon and this was to be done by ballot. It so happened that when the ballots were tabulated by board members, the name Sedro led by one vote. Board member Burt [actually Bert] Woolley, son of the founder of Woolley and loyal to that budding community, slipped the deciding ballot into his mouth and swallowed it, thereby leaving the vote in a deadlock.
      When no decision could be reached, it was decided to combine the two names and thus the name Sedro-Woolley was born.

(Gibson street)
      This photo by Darius Kinsey shows Gibson street at the left. He looked east-southeast from almost exactly the spot where the office of Skagit Steel was built in 1910. Gibson runs east and west. The street running on the diagonal to the right was Southern avenue. It ran along the Fairhaven & Southern railroad tracks. The smaller white house at the far left, behind the two-story white house, still stands today. The rest of the buildings are long gone.

The actual story of the hyphenated name
Editor's note by Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal
    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2011, traveling to mine resources from California to Washington and maybe beyond. Depth of research determined by the level of aid from readers. Because of our recent illness, our research fund is completely bare. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. And subscriptions to our optional Subscribers Online Magazine (launched 2000) by donation too. Thank you.

We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down bedding. See our Journal feature on this local business and learn more details and how to order items at their website.

      We reprint the story above as a cautionary tale. One thing we teach researchers is to be very careful about sharing a story from an old newspaper clipping at face value. We have talked to people who read the clipping above from 1946 and swear by it as if it were gospel. Others who knew the context of the time chuckle and remark that a sucker is born every day. So we will attempt to explain.
      We suspect that the week of Jan. 31, 1946, was a slow news week. Publisher Frank Evans should have known better because he arrived in town exactly 28 years before that date and he would have been well briefed on both history and folklore. So there are three possible scenarios. One, Frank and Grace Evans were out of town. Two, Frank was in on the joke and wanted to pull the legs of his readers. Or three — the most likely, a reporter kept pestering one of the old timers long enough and was finally given a story so that he would go away. [Think James Wardner and the Black Cats story from Fairhaven.]
      The last possibility is probably the best explanation, or maybe one and three together. There are two tell-tale signs of a sloppy reporter who did not know the lay of the land. The name of Ben Vanderveer, the crusty old gold miner and Sedro-Woolley saloon owner, is misspelled, as is the name of Bert Woolley. Van, who died 13 months later, may have been the source. We deduce this because his saloon, which he called Van's Place, was indeed in that DMZ land between the two towns back in the fall of 1898 when the final name for the city was chosen. He sold it to Jimmie Blackburn in 1908, who eventually changed the business to a pool hall during Prohibition and named it the B&A, incorporating his initial with the initial of his partner, Eddie Adams. That location was the southwest corner of Metcalf and State streets, now the site of a bank. Until 1965, Metcalf street dead-ended there. Van was always known for his sense of humor so we suspect that he was the culprit here, especially considering his building's location. His joint was where leaders of both the early towns actually sat down with each other so we imagine it was the scene of many arguments and many tall tales.
      The prime character of the story also had his name misspelled, which also leads us to suspect that it was the work of a greenhorn or sloppy reporter. Bert was properly named Philip Loucks Woolley was indeed the son of P.A. Woolley and he had been dead for 12 years when the story was published, thus he could not be consulted by press time. There's the inadvertent "tell" if this indeed was a con. There was no board, per se, at the time of the merger, but he was city councilman of old Woolley at times, and also served as town clerk. We are still researching the town name story, so we do not have the full context of the negotiations of the fall of 1898, but we know enough that this tale seems far-fetched.
      A recent discovery of a December 1891 edition of the Skagit County Times revealed that the first attempt at a merger of the towns occurred that year, but was scotched by the Woolley city attorney because of legal complications. When the Financial Panic of 1893 stretched on for three long years here locally, businesses began moving to old Woolley town from new Sedro, where the high school now stands. In 1896, landowner Junius B. Alexander and other leaders of Sedro formed the Twin Cities Business League, which was the forerunner of the modern Chamber of Commerce. They realized that the separate municipal governments of the two cities, which were just a half mile apart, were redundant and expensive. They called elections at various times but when the name of Sedro kept winning, P.A. Woolley and his sons refused to accept the results and the argument kept raging.
      The only contemporary reference we have from that fall of 1898 is a letter that Jessie Odlin wrote to her aunt back in Chicago. Jessie was the sister-in-law of banker C.E. Bingham and the wife of W.T. Odlin, who was preparing to leave Bingham's bank and form the Citizens Bank of Anacortes. The letter is dated Nov. 5, 1898, just six weeks before the Skagit County Commissioners would approve the merger and the hyphenated name:

The two towns are still fighting over the name. I suppose they'll keep it up indefinitely, as Woolley refuses to accept its defeat.
      Researcher Roger Peterson has found the actual record of the commissioners proceedings when they made a Solomon-like decision and kept the baby in one piece. On Dec. 19, 1898, the board met to canvas the votes cast for the incorporation of Sedro-Woolley as a municipal corporation on December 17, 1898. Unfortunately we do not have a newspaper from the city that heralds the event and the other county newspapers are either unavailable or silent about it. Most of the volumes newspapers from that time burned in periodic fires through 1911. Other newspapers in the state, however, editorialized against the hyphenated name and predicted that it would not stand.
      Why did the Woolleys finally give in? Well, by then they were selling their original mill at the southern end of what later became the Skagit Steel property. The company town started because of that mill and the nearby crossing of the three railroads in 1890. By 1898 the family had lost control of their town, and their obstinance about accepting a new name was fading. Besides, they had bigger fish to fry. They would soon win the contract for supplying the ties and construction material for the Seaboard Air Line railroad out of Savannah, Georgia. P.A. Woolley built a mansion for his wife and family, set back on the lots on Woodworth street between Murdock and Metcalf where the Chevrolet dealership now stands. But he and sons would establish part-time residence in Savannah and devote their business energies there full-time.
      After their father's death in June 1912, the Woolley boys, Bert and Will, eventually closed out their company down South and moved back here. They were both well liked members of the community and left the name controversy far behind. But folks around them back in 1898 did indeed argue vociferously about the combined name. For instance, in Jessie's letters from 1899 and forward, she continued heading them "Sedro, Washington." The junction point of the two towns, around State street, was enveloped in a string of legal ownership over the lots and the resulting "Kelley Strip" was not adjudicated until 1906. To complicate matters even further, the merged city decided to classify itself in a category that would not require expensive municipal improvements, such as a full fledged fire department, so the acreage was restricted. Thus, until the Teen Years of the twentieth century, there were three towns registered in the census: Sedro-Woolley as the core, and Woolley to the north and west, and Sedro to the south and east. Finally, the tensions boiled over in the next generation and 30 years after the merger, the state legislature was petitioned to rename the city, "Sedro." But that is another story for the future.
      Meanwhile, as they used to say around a campfire at the Rabbit Creek diggin's — "well, at least it is a rippin' good yarn."

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted Story posted on Sept. 13, 2003, last updated Dec. 8, 2007, moved to this domain Oct. 15, 2011
Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue xx of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

Getting lost trying to navigate
or find stories on our site?
Read how to sort through our 700-plus stories.

See this Journal Timeline website of local, state, national, international events for years of the pioneer period.
Return to the new-domain home page
Links for portals to subjects and towns
Newest photo features
Search entire site
Our monthly column, Puget Sound Mail (but don't call it a blog)
debuted on Aug. 9, 2009. Check it out.
(bullet) Remember; we welcome correction & criticism.
(bullet) Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. With more than 700 features, we depend on your report. Thank you. And do not give up if you find a link that seems to be closed. Just put the subject in the search box below. The story may have been moved to our new domain. Or just ask us and we will guide you to it.
(bullet) Did you enjoy this story? Remember, as with all our features, this story is a draft and will evolve as we discover more information and photos. This process continues until we eventually compile a book about Northwest history. Can you help with copies or scans of documents or photos? We never ask for your originals.
(bullet) Read about how you can order CDs that include our photo features from the first ten years of our Subscribers-paid online magazine. Perfect for gifts. Although it was delayed by our illness, it is due for completion in 2012.

You can click the donation button to contribute to the rising costs of this site. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. You can also subscribe to our optional Subscribers-Paid Journal magazine online, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in September 2010, with exclusive stories, in-depth research and photos that are shared with our subscribers first. You can go here to read the preview edition to see examples of our in-depth research or read how and why to subscribe.

You can read the history websites about our prime sponsors
Would you like information about how to join them in advertising?

(bullet) Our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds andduvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.
(bullet) Oliver-Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 90 years continually in business.
(bullet) Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20, day, week or month, perfect for hunting or fishing. Park your RV or pitch a tent — for as little as $5 per night — by the Skagit River, just a short drive from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley. Alpine is doubling in capacity for RVs and camping in 2011.
(bullet) Check out Sedro-Woolley First section for links to all stories and reasons to shop here first
or make this your destination on your visit or vacation.
(bullet) Are you looking to buy or sell a historic property, business or residence?
We may be able to assist. Email us for details.

Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find" Search this site powered by FreeFind
    Did you find what you were seeking? We have helped many people find individual names or places, so email if you have any difficulty.
    Tip: Put quotation marks around a specific name or item of two words or more, and then experiment with different combinations of the words without quote marks. We are currently researching some of the names most recently searched for — check the list here. Maybe you have searched for one of them?
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.

View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook
Email us at: skagitriverjournal@gmail.com
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.