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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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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Sedro on the Skagit River

(First house at Sedro)
    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2010-11, 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.
      The word "astounding" is often overused when noting a historical discovery, but please pardon us for using the word for the photo above. In this article, the photo is captioned, "Settler's cabin, built of piling timber, Sedro." We found the original copy of it in the University of Washington [UW] Special Collections Archives Division, a resource that seems boundless in its breadth and follows strict procedures to determine the provenance of photos. The photo is captioned in handwriting: "Sedro-First House Built in Sedro, Skaget Co. Wa. No. 565." According to their records, it was taken by Seattle photographer Arthur Churchill Warner in either 1884 or 1894, but when we looked at other photos in the group we determined that the likely year was 1889 or before.
      This cabin stands in a dense forest that could have been anywhere from Ball's Camp/Sterling on the west to old Sedro by the river itself. We strongly suspect that this could be the cabin where Minnie von Pressentin and her children slept overnight while traveling upriver in January 1878 to join her husband, Karl (Charles) von Pressentin. [Read that account in this website.]. The cabin was built by pioneer Lafayette Stevens, who found the coal seams five miles northeast of Sedro in 1878 that became the Cokedale mines. Paul von Pressentin noted that the Stevens cabin had a sleeping loft upstairs. You will see in the full-sized photo a ladder leading to such a loft. We hope that a reader will know more about the photo. This is what makes studying historical photos such fun.

The Washington Magazine, Vol. II, No. 6, August 1890
Sedro on the Skagit river

      Situated in the heart of the Skagit Valley, surrounded by mineral wealth and agricultural tracts of extreme fecundity, accessible to the resources of the outside country by rail and by water, lies the new town of Sedro, where, but three months ago, little other signs of human habitation were to be seen than a few scattering cabins, a dilapidated lumber camp and a small general merchandise store, owned and conducted by Mr. Mortimer Cook. Mr. Cook came to Sedro in 1884 from California. At that time the banks of the river were clothed with dense forests of fir, cedar, hemlock and spruce. Mr. Cook established a lumber camp, a sawmill which cut 15 million shingles a year, and operated the store merely as an outfitting post to supply his own and other lumbering camps and occasional parties of Indians and struggling prospectors up the river. This store and shingle mill were the first buildings erected in the present town of Sedro, which was then the ultima thule of civilization on the Skagit river.
      For some years the life of these pioneers was a continuous struggle through hard times. Often the future looked black before them, but they struggled on, and at last, about October 1889, there came a change. The value of property sprang up rapidly, civil engineers began to pass down the valley frequently, surveying accessible routes for different railroads. The people saw the dawn of a new era, that their night was over, that the reward for their ceaseless struggle was at hand.
      About this time was conceived the project of a postoffice. A considerable population had already gathered on the site of the present town, which at that time had no other communication by canoe and packhorse with the outside world. Mr. Cook, being a man of ingenious and original turn of mind, determined to give the future town a name which would be at once unique and without duplicate. Mr. Cook spent several days, so tradition tells us, earnestly scrutinizing the names of the various postoffices of the United states, together with the "Blue Book," but among them all he is reported to have found no name in the universe which had not been chosen, and some times for the hundredth time, with the exception of one, which on account of its originality, its concise and euphonious spelling he adopted directly. That was Bug.
      The post office superintendent wrote Mr. Cook, congratulating him, and approving his choice; and things might have gone serenely on for an indefinite period had not an unforeseen contingency arisen which might have resulted disastrously, but was happily averted. Letters began to arrive addressed thus:

Mrs. Jno. Jones, Bug, Washington
      And when in one or two cases the name of the town occupied the place of an affix to the name of the individual, the delicate spirit of Western propriety could stand the unintended slur no longer. One Sunday afternoon an indignation meeting was held, during which a formal interview with the postmaster took place. Said a man to Mr. Cook:
      "Do you spell the name of this town with g's?"
      "No," replied Mr. Cook, "I spell it B-u-g, and one g is enough."
      This was the climax. The people assembled, then and there resolved that the name of the town should be changed, and accordingly the town was called Sedro, paraphrased from the Spanish Cedro, meaning the cedar.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Bank of Sedro)
(Board of Trade)
(Depot in old Sedro)
Far left: These first two drawings that accompanied the article are especially tantalizing. Because all the newspapers of that era burned decades ago, we have never seen these buildings. We hope that a reader will have a photo of them in family scrapbooks. This first one is of the Bank of Sedro, which rose in new Sedro in 1890 and died almost immediately. By 1892, C.E. Bingham moved his pioneer bank from old Sedro to this location and stayed there with A.E. Holland's drugstore until that whole block burned sometime in 1895..
Center: This is a drawing of the Board of Trade building, an organization something like the modern Chamber of Commerce. We have no idea where it was located in new Sedro but we hope that a reader will have a record of it..
Right: This drawing of the Fairhaven & Southern depot in old Sedro is the only illustration we have from this perspective, looking east from McDonald Avenue, the only business block in old Sedro. In other Sedro stories linked below, you can see the perspective looking north from Cook's wharf. The depot was described in various contemporary articles as being the most modern and attractive in the state at the time..

Skagit Valley one of richest in the Northwest
      The Skagit Valley has long been recognized as one of the richest in the Northwest, and is capable of supporting the population of the whole Pacific seaboard, from Alaska to Baja California. We have been publishing an exhaustive history of the Skagit Valley, its resources, its inexhaustible wealth of minerals, metals, timber and agricultural lands, for some time in our magazine, and we now propose more particularly to refer to this exceptionally good center, as commanding, probably, more possibilities, in the way of development, than any other locality in the Northwest. Rich in mineral, timber and agriculture Sedro stands pre-eminently in the foremost place as the great railway center of the Northwest.
      Commanding, as it does the entire seaboard from Seattle, including outlets at Anacortes and Fairhaven, with arms stretching east to illimitable fields of iron and coal, its wonderful belts of timber, fine agricultural and fruit lands, point it to be in the near future the great receiving and distributing point of these vast, natural resources.
      As showing the faith held in the future of this favored spot, articles of incorporation of the Sedro Land and Improvement Company were recently filed. The capital stock is $100,000, fully paid up, with the privilege of increase up to half a million. The object of the company is to ensure the sound and rapid material growth of the town and its immediate resources. The names of the incorporators are a sufficient guarantee of its being bona fide, and beyond abundant money at their command, some of the best business men in the northwest will give a vigorous and intelligent personal attention to conducting its affairs.
      These improvements include a large hotel, business blocks, and grading and planking of streets. The Sedro Board of Trade is a living, active thing, which is located in a handsome building. Its officers and managers are amongst the foremost business men of the town, and although it has only been in existence a few weeks, its influence for good in developing and directing the commerce of the locality has been strongly felt.
      Besides its wonderful railway facilities, the Skagit river, here eight- hundred feet wide, offers splendid opportunities for navigation; and as Sedro is pretty well the head of navigation for large boats, the daily traffic on its waters is rapidly increasing, and a regular service of boats, great and small, is being run, having a connection with both east and west points on the river, affording every opportunity for the exchange of commerce and also a safe and delightful channel for travel. The scenery, as charming as it is varied, makes the run from Sedro to the mouth of the river, very enchanting indeed.
      Reference to another paper in the current number of this magazine gives in detail the wonderful geographical formation, the vast coal, iron, limestone, silver and gold belts laying in correct order in full sympathy with each other, and only awaiting time and capital to create industries without rivals on this vast continent. The natural point, by reason of its commanding and central position, where these will be handled, is undoubtedly at Sedro, and the chamber of commerce and leading men there are acting wisely and well in taking the initial proceedings they are to where, by their well directed effects, these minerals will, for manufacturing purpose, be undoubtedly attracted.
      We here quote one or two extracts from the Skagit papers that wi1l give the reader some idea of the town as seen by other journalists.
      [This source not given:]
      A good town to do business in is generally a good town to live in, natural conditions being favorable. Here in Sedro the natural conditions are superb, and the town stands out prominently as one the of best interior points in Western Washington. It is located beside the largest river emptying into Puget Sound, at the head of permanent deep water navigation, and is the center and distributing point for more lines of railroad than any other town in the new Northwest. It is located upon and surrounded by land unexcelled in fertility, has excellent drainage but no steep hills, is blessed with abundant water as pure as the driven snow, fuel and building material in inexhaustible quantities, and a climate second only to that of Southern California. It. is far better than that for vegetation, but the frequent rains, gentle though they are, make it a little less enjoyable to those who like perpetual dry weather. Sedro isn't booming to any great extent, but it is a splendid town to tie to for more reasons than one. Some excellent business and manufacturing openings may he found in Sedro.
      Speaking of the great coal mine near Sedro, the Sedro Press says:

      There is nothing new to report from the Bennett mines, except the excellent progress of the work of development. Superintendent Cumminsky has a force of fifty workmen engaged at the tunnel, which is being driven at the rate of eight to ten feet per day, the men working in eight hour shifts, thus keeping the work in constant progress. There isn't a doubt but that the thirty-eight-foot vein and a number of time smaller veins will have been pierced by the time the railroad for its conveyance out of the mine has been completed to the mouth of the tunnel.
      The Stillaguamish Times directs attention to some of Sedro's points of excellence in the following language:
      Nowhere in the Northwest is there more work going on, considering the size of the place than at Sedro, the thriving town now rapidly building up on time Skagit River in time center of Skagit County.
      A trip up the river reveals agricultural land second to none in the country. As for timber, Sedro is especially fortunate. At or near the town is magnificent. fir and cedar, some of the trees being sixteen feet in diameter. Just north of town is a fine body of pile timber.
      East of Sedro there is coal in inexhaustible quantities, and near the coal, mountains of iron. and near the iron, limestone. In the near future such a combination of resources means iron works and smelters for Sedro. Further up the river is marble, and in the Cascades, gold, silver and lead.
      Two railroads are in construction, [one] east from Sedro, one in operation north, and still another constructing both north and south, and by next winter the Canadian Pacific will reach Sedro. All these railroads center in the town. There are two large lumber mills, several general stores, hardware store, furniture store, five hotels, five restaurants, drug store, forty residences, a weekly paper and 500 inhabitants.
      Work is progressing on the trestle, and bridge work is under contract by the San Francisco Bridge company, for the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railroad at Sedro]. This road has extensive depot grounds in the town. Over 500 men are at work on the three railroads and in the logging camps at Sedro. Building is going on at a rapid rate and new arrivals are daily coming to Sedro to stay.

(Old Sedro Map 1891)
Albert G. Mosier's 1891 map of old Sedro by the Skagit. The "wye" of the Fairhaven & Southern railroad was located at Jameson avenue, which was also the eastern extension of what was called the county highway at the time, a loose term to say the least. The left tine of the fork was the rail line coming southeast from Fairhaven and the right tine was the line going northeast and then north to the Cokedale mines. That is now Railroad Street and the Minkler or Lyman highway. You can see Mortimer Cook's wharf on the river, which was the ultimate terminus of the rail line. That is where the town began in 1885.

Washington/Pacific magazine
      Washington magazine launched in October 1889, four months after the Great Fire of June 6. E.W. Wooster was the editor and J.C. Steele was the general manager. According to Frederic James Grant in the History of Seattle (1891), it was "a monthly . . . illustrated periodical and devoted to the interests and resources of Washington and the northwest." During boom times it did well. In December 1890 it was sold and it became Pacific magazine. The new editor was Lee Fairchild, a Unitarian minister who also wrote for the West Shore of Portland. Steele apparently stayed on as manager, at least for awhile. Stephanie Karnosh, the Reference Librarian at the Washington State Library, discovered that after Fairchild left, Ella Higginson from Fairhaven was listed as the "editress" of the July, August and October 1891 issues. She also wrote for the West Shore. The Pacific publisher of was B.P. Kunkler, but we know nothing about him. The publisher of was B.P. Kunkler, but we know nothing about him. When the first signs of the coming nationwide Depression appeared, the magazine ceased publication with the April/May 1892 issue. [Return]

1. Ultima Thule
      Rarely used any more except in more formal writing, the term ultima thule was a cliche of sorts in the late 19th century when pioneers and explorers where pushing back the boundaries of wilderness and uncharted territory. The term derived from the latin root, ultima, feminine of ultimus, or farthest; and thule was derived from Greek and Classical sources, meaning island. For sea explorers those islands were represented at various times by those in the far north, often in northern Great Britain, such as the Orkneys or Shetland Islands, or in Scandinavia, or some referred to Iceland or Greenland or Saaremaa in the Baltic Sea. Thus ultima originally denoted any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world." In the 1890s, outside writers considered Sedro the last point of civilization on the Skagit River, although the settlers at Birdsview and Marblemount would likely have begged to differ. [Return]

2. Bug and Sedro post offices
      At this point, we realize once again that another writer had his leg pulled by either Mortimer Cook himself or by other pioneers who passed on more folklore than history. In reality, the name Bug only lasted a few months. In a memoir, pioneer Eliza Van Fleet noted, "Mortimer Cook came among us in 1884, employed Mr. Batey to build a residence and store, and made arrangements to apply for a post office and christen the place "Bug." I did not like the name, so persuaded several of our neighbor women to go with me, and talk to Mr. Cook about it." At that point, things become a bit murky. Some say that David Batey's wife, Dr. Georgiana Batey, was the active leader in demanding a change.
      Regardless, we learned more about the short existence of the Bug name when Clear Lake historian Deanna Ammons found a small item in the May 12, 1885, issue of the Skagit News in Mount Vernon. The reporter noted that as of May 2, David Batey had completed Cook's house near his general store and that the village name had changed to Sedro. Just three weeks before, the News had reported that the name was still Bug on April 28. You can read more about the progression from Bug to Sedro in this Journal feature about "Bug to Sedro". We do know that there was never an official Bug post office, nor was there another town named Cook or any variation thereof. And from Cook family records, we have learned that it was Cook's wife, Nan, who objected highly to moving from the relatively cosmopolitan town of Santa Barbara to join her husband in some wilderness town named Bug. She and their two daughters arrived Sedro on the steamer Glide on June 20, 1885. [Return]

3. Large hotel, business blocks, and grading and planking of streets
      As with all matters concerning old and new Sedros, we have to warn readers that we have precious few actual contemporary articles from the 1890s on which to base our conclusions about the towns. Almost all copies of the two newspapers of that time, the Skagit County Times and the Sedro Press, burned in various fires, except for some from 1899 that are still in the Courier-Times archives and a dozen or two that we have found in complete or partial copies over the years. That is one more reason why we ask at any opportunity for readers to send us copies of any such newspapers that may be in their family collections; we do need the originals.
      Regarding the mentioned hotel, that was the Hotel Sedro, the grand hotel that was built in 1890 where the high school gymnasium now stands. We do not even have a photo of it, only an architectural drawing that was used in various booster-magazine articles. Sedro-Woolley researcher Roger Peterson discovered that the hotel was apparently already in bankruptcy by the time it opened in late 1890, and contractors were suing to recover funds. There were at least two fires in the hotel, one vaguely mentioned in 1897 that could have meant the death knell. This grand, three-story hotel should not be confused with the more plebian Sedro Hotel, which stood at the southwest corner of Fidalgo Street and Township Road during the days when it housed the crews that were building the F&S Railroad line and clearing the Sedro townsite in 1889-91 and later served as the first Episcopalian Church and then the St. Elizabeth's County Hospital. We ask any readers who have a family scrapbook or photo collection of Sedro to look for such a photo.
      As far as the business blocks go, you need to understand that back then, instead of a block meaning the whole area between two streets, it often meant a particular business building. For instance the Pioneer Block in new Sedro stood about where the office of the high school is today. The Sedro Land & Improvement Company had another block at the northwest corner of Jameson and Third streets. The Pioneer block burned in a large fire sometime in 1895, as did the Hotel Sedro. We have no information at all about the streets being graded and planked except that Jameson Avenue was at least graded with sand and gravel and horse races were regularly staged on it. [Return]

4. Board of Trade
      These Washington magazine articles are the only record we have of the Board of Trade in new Sedro or Kelleyville. The writer of another Washington magazine article, dated May 1890, noted that "Sedro is ably managed by the Board of Trade," and he listed the officers: Albert G. Mosier, president; Mr. Suiter, secretary and editor of the Sedro Press; E.F. Blaine, representing Nelson Bennett's Fairhaven Land Co.; John Y. Terry of Seattle; William Wood, one of the original four British bachelor homesteaders of 1879; and a Mr. Smith, who is unknown at this time. [Return]

5. Sedro Press
      That was the first newspaper in either town, launched on April 18, 1890,.by publisher George Hopp, who became the first mayor in 1891 and the second Sedro postmaster — after Mortimer Cook, in December that year. Hopp was a North Dakota native who followed his brother Tom out to Washington; Tom launched the Marysville Globe in 1889. We will profile George this spring. The paper hung on until 1895 under an editor named Ed Palmer, according to a Dec. 28, 1939, letter from pioneer J. Elmer Bovey to the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times. One of the frequent Sedro fires destroyed the printing plant and the Press ceased publication. That fire also burned out banker Charles Bingham and druggist Albert Holland and they soon led the move by many businesses to competing Woolley, where the Skagit County Times newspaper survived the nationwide Depression of the 1890s. [Return]

6. Bennett mines
      You can read more about the Bennett coal mines in the other article in this issue that is a transcription of an 1891 issue of The Graphic magazine. The mine, soon known as the Skagit Coal & Transportation Co., was the reason behind Nelson Bennett building the Fairhaven & Southern Railroad between Fairhaven, on Bellingham Bay, and old Sedro. After Montana silver-king C.X. Larrabee bought the mine in 1891, the town that grew around it became known as Cokedale for the 50 beehive coking-coal ovens at the site, four miles northeast of Sedro. [Return]

7. Stillaguamish Times
      This newspaper was originally located in Centerville/Stanwood in 1889. In the summer of 1890, the new town of Haller City arose on the south side of the forks of the Stillaguamish River and the Times "jumped towns," moving almost overnight to the new town. Haller City was platted on April 24, 1890, less than a mile north of Arlington, which was platted on Jan. 25, 1890. On Sept. 14, 1891, the Twin Cities of Arlington and Haller City were merged to form the present-day town of Arlington. At first the paper published out of tent, competing with the Arlington Star. The publisher, George Morrill, changed the name to the Haller City Times and published under that flag until 1894. Calvin L. Marsh, a West Virginia native, bought the paper that year and changed the name to Arlington Times and continued as the publisher until 1906, according to the Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties (1906). [Return]

8. Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern trestle
      That is the trestle that still stands in the Skagit River, just east of the bridge south to Clear Lake. Originally built as a draw bridge in 1889-90, it was tended by John Batey, a son of pioneers David and Dr. Georgiana Batey. The SLS&E was the third railroad that built through Sedro and Woolley and its depot and coal bunkers stood just west of the present high school football field, on the east side of the tracks. Like the Hotel Sedro, the depot quickly failed after its original grand promise, left in the coal dust as a Union Depot was built just north of Northern Avenue in Woolley town, in the triangle that the crossing of all three rail lines made. [Return]

Links, background reading and sources
Issue 43 stories
      These five articles in Issue 43 provide a transcription of the first outside record of the railroad boom of 1889-91 in the towns of Sedro and Woolley. If you are not yet a subscriber of the Journal online magazine, see details here for how to subscribe. Each is extensively annotated to familiarize you with names and places. Since we try not to be redundant, you might want to check the endnotes of each article for an explanation of terms or names unfamiliar to you.

Background articles, early Sedro and Woolley

Part of this story was originally posted on May 5, 2005; totally updated for subscribers on April 23, 2008, last updated Dec. 25, 2010
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This article originally appeared in Issue 43 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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