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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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Woolley has a leg up

      Philip A. Woolley's Skagit River Lumber & Shingle Mill, circa 1890. It was built at what was later the southern end of the Skagit Steel & Iron Works complex, north of the Seattle & Northern Railroad and west of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern.

Graphic magazine, Chicago, undated 1891
      On the whole Coast there is not a town that, age and size considered, has more push and enterprise resting upon a solid basis than Woolley. It is fortunately located just about the geographical center of Skagit county, one of the richest in timber, mining possibilities and agricultural resources in the state, and it is very probably the county seat will be removed here soon.
      Next to substantial resources the most important factor in the development of a city is its transportation facilities. In this particular, Woolley has been from its inception preeminently favored, the Skagit River furnishing excellent navigation for vessels to and from Puget Sound, of which it is the largest tributary stream, while the Great Northern, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern, the Seattle & Northern and the Fairhaven & Southern railroads connect here. The railroads of Woolley lead out in five different directions and there are eleven incoming and outgoing trains daily, besides the logging trains, which are very numerous.
      This gives Woolley the benefit of not only the liveliest competition between important lines of railroads, but also the added advantage of water competition on all goods destined for shipment by vessel at the Sound. A handsome and commodious union depot will be erected here during this fall.
      One year ago the total value of taxable property within the present limits of Woolley was $100; today it is $433,000. That is very well for a yearling. The taxable property of the entire county in 1889 was $1,833,030.; in 1890 it had increased to $5,936,340, or a gain of $4.1 million in one year. Woolley was incorporated as a city April 9, 1890, and now has a good school system under its direct control. Its handsome new school house would do credit to a city many times its size.

      Its chief industry is the lumber and shingles mills owned and operated by Col. P.A. Woolley and his sons. This mill, the largest and best equipped in the Skagit valley, can cut 30,000 shingles per hour and 100,000 [blurred] feet of finished lumber can be turned out each day. Shingles are shipped to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and other Eastern states, and to home and foreign ports of the Pacific by vessel. Eastern agencies have been established with the S.K. Martin Lumber Co. of Chicago, and Wood, Jenks & Co. of Cleveland. They are of the very best grade manufactured and command the highest market price everywhere. There is enough refuse fuel wasted at the Woolley mills to run a score or more of small factories, all of which would be given free to such establishments.
      The fir timber of this section is superior to oak, and is consequently in strong demand for [railroad] car and bridge building, and much is prepared by the mills for that purpose. The supply of fir and cedar along the Skagit and all the lines of railroad is practically unlimited. One man sold the timber from seven acres of land in the vicinity of Woolley for over $28,000.
      The price of timberland, however, is not regulated on the basis of this phenomenal yield. Quarter sections of good timberland can be bought, on an average, for $3,000. There is an abundance of fine finishing and hardwoods — maple, ash, oak, alder, cherry and laurel. The cottonwood trees are very large and abundant, and furnish the most superior material for the manufacture of excelsior. A factory for that purpose will soon be located here. Another industry greatly needed and which has been started, is a sash, door and blind factory. Its success is assured because of the cheapness of the raw material and the active demand for the finished product.
      The rich agricultural bottoms surrounding Woolley extend twelve miles westward, twelve miles eastward, eight miles to the south and four miles to the north. Individual holdings of this land can be bought at from $100 to 150 and sometimes even as low as $50 per acre. If this looks to our Eastern readers like a large price, let them remember that thousands of acres of this land yield and average of 120 bushels of oats per acre. Timothy and clover yield three and one-half to four tons per acre and bring from $16 to $20 per ton.
      The school lands situated about five miles from Woolley were appraised at $80 per acre, but brought $156 at public sale. Business property in Woolley sells at from $3 to $8 per front foot; residence property from $1 to $3.
      The mining interests of Woolley's territory are large and varied. Asbestos and coal deposits, of high grade, have been found within three and one-half and five miles respectively from the city, and a company will be formed to operate them. The coal mines of the Skagit Coal and Transportation Company are also about five miles from Woolley and are now in active and successful operation. Other good coal deposits have been found across the Skagit on the north branch of the Nookachamps and further up the Skagit are immense deposits of iron, while at the mouth in the Cascades, at the eastern boundary of the county, is the great Monte Christo [actually Cristo] silver district.

(Fir log)
This photo of a huge fir log was taken, circa 1890s, and is courtesy of the late Art Hupy of LaConner.

      The iron deposits which line the Skagit river for miles, in the vicinity of Woolley, are pronounced, by experts, to be of a very superior [text covered]from 55 to 71 percent of pure metallic ore, very strong and of a [text covered] adapted to the manufacture of steel. The ore is said to be very easily reducible. Another resource at present entirely undeveloped, but which may, in time, prove far more valuable than is now suspected, is a large formation of excellent onyx, a few miles out of the city.
      Men of moderate means can find at Woolley a sure and profitable opening in either fruit culture, dairying, or poultry-raising. The soil produces peaches, pears, apples, plums, prunes, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, gooseberries and currants luxuriantly, with small expense for cultivation, while potatoes, onions, celery, cauliflower, beets, cabbages and almost all varieties of garden vegetables are remarkably prolific
      With its rich and varied lumbering, agricultural and mining resources, its splendid transportation facilities and the broad and enterprising character of the citizens at the head of whom is Hon. William Murdock, Mayor, who these interests in hand, Woolley cannot fail of a large and rapid growth and a prosperous future.
      The facilities of Woolley for handling the products of its mills, farms and mines are most excellent. The local roads are well equipped and reach the best sections of the Skagit valley, while the number of outlets reaching different territory open to the enterprise of its citizens almost boundless scope for operation. Their advantages are such that they touch the east and west alike, and their resources are varied enough to enable them to offer to each community some important and valuable article of necessity. Already prominent in the manufacture of lumber, there are few fields of industrial enterprise in which Woolley may not aspire to excel, an few that possess the elements of prominence in so convenient and accessible form, and the rapid development of those interests is assured.

1. Graphic magazine
      Graphic magazine debuted in Chicago in 1886, the same year that The Sporting News was born in St. Louis and the same year that the Chicago Tribune installed its first Linotype-machine typesetter. After nearly 15 years of searching for the source of this dated article, we were finally pointed to Chicago by Paul Dorpat. We wondered at first why a Chicago magazine would be covering a small frontier town in Washington, but Dorpat pointed out that in 1890, Graphic lauded the West Seattle harbor.
      The Graphic was published by G.P. Engelhard and located in Hyde Park, which was the home of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 — the White City. Engelhard absorbed both the Current and America magazines and by the time of the Fair it was known for its editorial reviews that leaned towards Republicans and for its quality literary material that included both serial and briefer fiction and poetry. It also became known as a training ground for up-and-coming authors, including Mary Hartwell Catherwood, Vance Thompson and Florence Wilkinson. The graphic part included not only photographs but original illustrations from etched copper plates. Like other magazines nationwide that prospered during boom times or in growing economies, the Graphic folded in 1894 during the severe nationwide Depression. In 1891, however, when this article was published, the magazine was well on its way to publishing success and obviously reporting on regions as far away as the Pacific Northwest. We note here that the New York Times was also reporting on the boom times in Sedro and in Washington, mainly under the byline of Frank Wilkeson. [Return]

(Railraod Triangle)
      This photo was taken by Darius Kinsey in 1899. He was looking south from the Woolley mill location towards Northern Avenue, the first planked street in the town of Woolley. The Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern train is on the diagonal track in the foreground and the Seattle & Northern train is on the horizontal track in the back, next to Northern Avenue. Both tracks still exist today.

2. Woolley mill
      As you will read in our two-part feature on the Woolley family and town, within days of Philip and Catherine Woolley arriving in Sedro on Nov. 27, 1889, he went to Mount Vernon and bought 40 acres of land where three rail lines were destined to cross in 1890, just north of present-downtown Sedro-Woolley. Over the next few months, Philip and his sons, Philip (Bert) and William (Bill) built their Skagit River Lumber & Shingle Mill at the south end of what would become the Skagit Steel and Iron Works complex two decades later.
      After the nationwide Depression of the mid-1890s slowed railroad expansion to a crawl, Woolley began looking far afield for new opportunities. On Jan. 26, 1899, he sold his mill property to the Sedro Mill Co. and he soon secured a construction contract with the Seaboard Air Line, which operated three railroads out of Savannah, Georgia. [Return]

3. Excelsior mill
      Excelsior was produced from the shavings of the ubiquitous cottonwood trees along river and stream waterways of the upper Skagit River especially. Freight shipment was usually by barrel or wooden box in those days and usually by very rough transport on rail, ship or wagon, so the excelsior protected products just as those Styrofoam pellets do today. A small excelsior mill may have been built near Mortimer Cook's Sedro townsite on the north shore of the Skagit River in the 1900-01 period, but the major Sedro Box & Veneer Co. mill opened there on March 23, 1905, and soon provided a major payroll. It continued operating through the early 1920s when it became the Royse-Hankin Mill, but it burned to the ground in 1924. It was soon rebuilt but burned again in 1926. Nothing remains at the original Sedro townsite, but there is one concrete abutment at the mouth of Hansen Creek that remains from that mill. [Return]

4. Sash and door factory
      This goal took longer to reach than did the Excelsior mill. In 1893, Homer H. Shrewsbury came north from California to Anacortes, where he opened Anacortes Sash & door Co., which burned a year later. He moved to Woolley in 1895 and became a bookkeeper for the Davison & Millett Mill north of Woolley town and after marrying Catherine Z. Bovey in 1896 he and a partner, W.G. McLain, bought out his mill bosses. They established a new sawmill Big Lake and soon sold it in 1899. In 1904 he became sole owner of his Shrewsbury's Lumber Co. Mill in Sedro-Woolley. He sold that in 1907 and became a building contractor but by about 1910 he opened a Sash and Door factory, just north of where Bank of America stands today, also carrying a stock of builder's hardware. He was still in that business when he died on Sept. 8, 1921. [Return]

5. Skagit Coal and Transportation Company
      If you have read our series on the boom years of the two early towns of Sedro, you know that Nelson Bennett was such a key figure, with his Fairhaven Land Co. and the Fairhaven & Southern Railroad between Sedro and Fairhaven that he was honored by the two streets north and south of Sedro-Woolley High School, Nelson and Bennett. Before he boomed those towns 25 miles apart or built the rail line, however, he came to Skagit County to invest in potential ledges of coal, which was the most prized mineral of those times in the long run, even more than gold.
      He bought a crude coal camp called the Crystal Mine, about four miles northeast of Sedro, just east of where Northern State Hospital would be laid out two decades later. He assigned the project to John J. Donovan, a mining engineer from New Hampshire who worked across the plains and Rockies alongside Bennett when they were building the Northern Pacific Railroad westward. Donovan soon determined that the coal veins had great potential for both blacksmiths and for steel mills that needed coking coal. As soon as the F&S was completed on Christmas Eve, 1889, Donovan set about building a wye of tracks, just north of old Sedro on the river, that extended the line to the coal mines of what become the Skagit Coal and Transportation Company.
      By then, a wealthy mining investor from Butte, Montana, named Charles X. Larrabee had invested in both the mines and the railroad. When Larrabee sold the F&S to James J. Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railroad, in 1890, Larrabee bought out Bennett's interest in the mines. Larrabee continued building up the property, with about 50 beehive ovens, and named the mines and the town that sprang up around them, Cokedale, in 1894. He sold the mines to Hill in 1899 and they continued producing profitably until 1902. For the next two decades work there was intermittent. Today there is not a sign of either the town or the mines and all the shafts have long ago been filled in. [Return]

6. Iron ore
      In the 1880s and early '90s there was almost as much excitement about iron ore hereabouts as there was about coal. Coal Mountain, on the west at 2,800 feet high, and Iron Mountain, 2,500 feet high on the east, rise steeply from the southern shore of the Skagit River across from Hamilton, with the Cumberland Creek flowing between them, named for the Cumberland, Maryland, coal area. When John J. Conner of LaConner developed the coal resources there after Amasa Peg-leg Everett and Lafayette discovered coal ore in 1874, he also took iron ore to San Francisco and the Feb. 24, 1883, issue of the Puget Sound Mail (LaConner) announced, "almost adjoining these coal veins are inexhaustible deposits of iron ore. . . ." An 1884 U.S. Department of Interior report confirmed that initial finding.
      In her 1995 book, Ghost Camps & Boom Towns, JoAnn Roe noted, "In September, 1887, the Oregon Improvement Company bought about 1,600 acres of coal land for $860,000 and sold it within the year to Nelson Bennett, Edward M. Wilson and two others. Bennett planned to enter the deposit with the machinery used to bore the Cascade Tunnel in Stevens Pass but nothing seems to have come of this venture." Bennett's attention shifted to the Skagit Coal and Transportation Company near Sedro, as noted above.
      In his book, Mining in the Pacific Northwest (1897), Lawrence K. Hodges wrote:

      The mountains in this district are formed of granite, of which the direction is northeast and southwest, and are cut in the same course by true fissure ledges of quartz carrying galena, iron and copper sulphides and some copper. As in other districts, the croppings occur in the rocky beds and walls of the gulches and on the cliffs above timber line, so that they are traceable with small difficulty, though at times covered by soil or rockslides. Feeders run into the main ledges from all directions, the principal ones running north and south.
      After very positive initial tests, Conner successfully sought financially backing from the Grove Adams & Co. of San Francisco and others, and the Tacoma Steel & Iron Co. was soon organized. Two tons of coal and iron ore that were shipped to Philadelphia were so well received that the company convinced C. B. Wright, a principal in the development of Northern Pacific Railroad and Tacoma, to finance expansion of the enterprise. Unfortunately the registration of claims in the area was very messy and the company spent more time in court than in the field over the next decade. The company languished. You can read more about this in the book, Washington, West of the Cascades, by Hunt and Kaylor, published in 1918.
      With the possibility of a future iron or steel mill in the area, a town called Cumberland was envisioned for the south side of the river but it never developed. Harrison Clothier, one of the founders of Mount Vernon in 1877, platted the town of Bessemer 1890, right next to the little town of Birdsview, as he planned to cash in on the iron ore trade, but it died soon like Conner's companies. Roe notes that in 1893, a coal and iron exhibit was forwarded to the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, and again in 1894 to St. Louis, but those were Depression years and nothing came of the efforts. [Return]

7. William Murdock
      We still are seeking information about Murdock before and after his appearance on the Skagit River and we hope that a family member or researcher will contact us with details. He was first in the Skagit Valley in the journal of logging-camp owner Winfield Scott Jameson in 1879. Murdock and Jameson were logging that year "six miles above Minkler's Mill," which was near where the town of Birdsview rose later on the north shore of the river and where Concrete would form in 1909. We are unsure if they were logging on the north or side at that time.
      In the 1880s, Murdock became the partner of Charles Harmon, Jameson's cousin, in the Washington Hotel, which was then located about where Main Street is today. The hotel burned in the spectacular Mount Vernon fire on July 13, 1891. He was tending bar there when Philip A. Woolley rode from Sedro to the courthouse to purchase the 44 acres that would be centered on his sawmill and his new company town. Murdock soon took the opportunity to buy the adjoining 80 acres east of Woolley's land, where he platted the Grand Junction addition to Sedro. Today's Murdock Street was the demarcation boundary and was the original eastern boundary of Woolley town.
      When the town of Woolley was incorporated as a City of the Fourth Class on May 11, 1891, Murdock was immediately elected the first mayor, just two months after the combined Sedros incorporated. Murdock was just warming up the mayor's seat because P.A. was elected to succeed him in the first regular election that fall. We know from researcher Carolyn Murphy that Murdock was a Canadian and researcher Roger Peterson of Sedro-Woolley discovered his marriage license from Aug. 22, 1891, when he married Lennie McDonald. But then his trail turns cold, so we are still searching for more information. See our profile of Murdock at this Journal website from our original domain. [Return]

8. ". . . local roads are well equipped and reach the best sections of the Skagit valley . . ."
      We had to chuckle a bit at that hyperbole. The Graphic writer must have had his leg pulled by town boosters because we know that roads were pretty well non-existent at the time. In this Journal website you can read the excerpt from Mrs. Catherine Woolley's diary where she noted: "November 27, 1889, leave at eight on the stage [from either Mount Vernon or Sterling to Sedro]; my first ride on a stage in my life and I never could imagine such roads; arrived at Sedro at noon."
      The wagon roads that connected towns and market centers were a sea of mud during at least six months of the year. A wagon road followed the dike on the north shore of the Skagit River from Riverside (now northern Mount Vernon) through the very new town of Burlington and on to Sterling and Sedro. Jameson Avenue was platted at 90 feet wide in new Sedro and was planned to be part of the upcoming Skagit County Highway.
      In a memoir, pioneer Eliza Van Fleet of the Skiyou district recalled the first attempt by pioneer David Batey to form a wagon road through Sterling on Dec. 2, 1884. Clear Lake Historical Association director Deanna Ammons has also researched the first wagon road on the south side of the river to the logging camps upriver starting in 1885 and we will soon post a story about those efforts. In his biography, Booming and Panicking on Puget Sound, pioneer financier George Bacon is quoted about a crude wagon road that stretched 30 miles upriver and ended near Amasa Peg-leg Everett's ranch on the east side of the Baker River, across from future Concrete. In the Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties (1906), Birdsview pioneer August Kemmerich notes that a better upriver wagon road from Mount Vernon was cut through in about 1896. It was based on a route that pioneer Frank B. Hamilton blazed when he herded cattle upriver overland to his claim where Ovenell Ranch stands today. [Return]

Links, background reading and sources
Issue 43 stories
      These five articles in Issue 43 provide the first outside record of the railroad boom of 1889-91 in the towns of Sedro and Woolley. If you are a subscriber, check back to the table of contents of that issue for links. 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
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This article originally appeared in Issue 43 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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