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(S and N Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition
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, the hub of Skagit County

      This photo is courtesy of Dennis Blake Thompson's book, Logging Railroads in Skagit County (1989), which is still for sale in a second printing. He explained that the locomotive was the first one that Ed English owned for his logging operations after his initial motive power consisted of oxen, and that it showed marks of having been an original lokey of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad. The SLS&E preceded the Seattle & Montana and the Great Northern on a route north from Seattle to the Canadian border.

Washington/Pacific magazine, Vol. III, No. 3, November 1890
      The riches and resources of the Skagit Valley are so well and widely known that it is a pleasure to chronicle the developments being made of her treasures from time to time and to point out the rapid strides she is making. Probably no district in this magnificent Northwest is replete with so many natural advantages or has such a wealth of mineral and timber and agricultural lands, and last but not least, such a vast and growing network of railways by which these immense resources can be easily and cheaply handled and distributed to the markets of the world.
      The new town of Woolley is situated in the Skagit Valley on the north bank of the famous river and about one mile from its silvery waters. It is just midway between the Cascades and the sea, and holds probably the most important position, as a railway center, of any city or town on the pacific Slope. The sketch we give, of the railways intersecting the townsite, at once, gives a wonderful idea of the possibilities within its reach, and places it unmistakably in the front rank of great railway centers.

Railroads the biggest factor in sudden growth
(SLS&E excursion train)
The SLS&E featured these excursion trips for tourists in the early 1890s.

      The Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern, from the Queen City [Seattle] to it junction with the Canadian Pacific railway at Mission, in British Columbia, runs through Woolley, bringing to her doors the resources of Canada and the United States and opening these channels for all the rich wealth of mineral, timber and agricultural produce, of which Woolley is the reliable receiving point.
      The Great Northern railway from Fairhaven, going east to the immense coal fields and large iron deposits adjacent, stretching out its strong arms across the mountains to the east, and the Seattle & Northern line from the seaboard, all join at this point and are in active operation, doing a large business. The Northern Pacific railway, one of the largest and most wealthy railway systems in the world, have surveyed an extension to catch up with these other rivals for the handling of the immense traffic, and in a few months will have a sure footing here; while the Seattle & Montana (already grading at the Mount Vernon) from Seattle will push to this point and beyond it, without delay.
      The reason for all this railway competition to this point is not far to seek. The vast area of the finest timber lands surrounding it and all easy of access and capable of being cheaply handled, must come to this point and furnish immense traffic for them. These timber lands contain fir, cedar, hemlock, spruce, maple, alder and other woods suitable for manufacture of furniture, etc., and large belts of tie and pile lumber, practically inexhaustible.
      The Skagit River Lumber & Shingle company's mills, with a capacity of 60,000 feet of finished lumber per day, is in active operation, and their shingle mills, turning out 300,000 per day is also doing its full quantity milling night and day to meet the growing demand, giving employment to a large number of hands. A contract has been made by P. A. Woolley & Sons, a firm there, to supply one of the largest railway companies running to it, with 11,000,000 feet of lumber to be cut mostly in cross ties.
      This is the point to which also will be attracted and handled a vast tonnage of mineral. The coal mines immediately to the north and east of Woolley are in active operation and in the near future will turn out a large daily output of high-class bituminous coal. This class of coal ranks amongst the best in the state; its high percentage of carbon and lowness in ash, and absence of sulphur makes it very valuable, not only for steam and domestic purposes, but its suitability for coke-making leads to the conclusion that it will some day play an important part in the iron smelting industry and in the development of the finished-iron business, which, in the natural order of things, will be attracted to this central railway point. The full extent of these valuable coal fields is not fully known; that they extend from Woolley, east to a point above Lyman, has been proved; but how far their northern limit extends, has not been fully demonstrated; they have been traced to the Nooksack, and this area is sufficient to justify the statement that this coal field is not only very extensive, but very valuable, and will play an important part in building up the natural wealth and permanent prosperity of Woolley.

(St. Clair Hotel)
This drawing of the St. Clair Hotel in this issue was the first evidence we had of it. Located where the Gateway Hotel is today, it was financed by C.W. Waldron of Fairhaven, later became the Osterman House and burned to the ground in September 1909. Click on thumbnail above for full-sized drawing.

      The remarkable iron deposits to the east of Woolley and, by virtue of the railway development, contributary to it, ranks as a wealth-making product second to none. During the current year, large sums of money have been expended on the development of these mines, and their immense extent and value is now priced beyond all question, while the limestone at the mouth of the Baker River, in close proximity to the railways converging at this point, emphasizes the fact that, as an iron manufacturing centre, it will most assuredly, at no distant day, occupy a prominent position; all the raw material necessary for making pig iron is within very convenient distance and it is within the range of possibility and highly probable that almost every branch of this trade will, in time, be represented here.
      The fine farming lands contiguous are worthy of special mention. Large patches of beaver- and reclaimable marsh lands are contiguous, and these lands possess a wealth of soil, the character of which, is such that, to tell of its productiveness, seems to savor of a Munchausen tale. Yet the fact remains, that last season, the average yield of oats on these lands was over 100 bushels per acre and from four and one-half to six tons of timothy; and these crops are given without relative change or fertilizing of any kind what-ever. This is essentially a fruit country, where the vast forests of timber are cleared, fruit orchards take their place. Apples grow abundantly and arrive at a condition of almost perfection, while pears, cherries, plums, prunes, blackberries and strawberries yield large crops.
      The position of the town of Woolley is well situated, occupies an almost level plateau gently sloping to the south, so that perfect sanitary arrangement can be made and the health and comfort of its inhabitants be assured. Water is abundant and pure. Already, 220 acres of land has been platted and the town is growing and assuming a busy appearance. The Hotel St. Clair, recently completed, is replete with all modern conveniences and offers good accommodations. The introduction of manufacturers of wood products of various kinds and the completion of the numerous railways joining here point to the fact that in the near future the town of Woolley will become one of the most industrious and busy centers of the Evergreen State.

(Northern Pacific promo)
The Northern Pacific sent these promotional flyers all over the nation and to Europe to entice settlers and business owners to visit and invest in the Pacific Northwest.


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. 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. The railroads
      There was such a profusion of railroads, both real and imagined — often called "paper railroads, that this boosterish writer and many others got caught up in the wild claims and hyperbole that accompanied all the rail booms of the frontier. Nelson Bennett's Fairhaven & Southern railroad, which connected Sedro and Fairhaven, on Bellingham Bay, was indeed changing hands that year, bought by James J. Hill, owner of what would become the transcontinental Great Northern Railroad. And the Seattle & Northern line was just then completing its line east to Woolley from Ship Harbor/Anacortes. The Northern Pacific, however, was still experiencing one of its roller-coaster dips and was not in a position to be a major player in Skagit County in 1890. They would, however, eventually take over the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern line, then building north from Seattle. As of Thanksgiving weekend that year, the SLS&E would share the S&N tracks to complete a connection to Anacortes; the line also built north to its connections with the Canadian Pacific. The Seattle & Montana line was more trouble than anyone envisioned at that point. While the SLS&E was purposely built inland by Seattle interests, so as not to build up competing port cities on Puget Sound, the S&M was purposely built close to the Sound and through port cities. That was because S&M was really a front company for Hill, whose ultimate goal was to build a vast steamboat line for trade with the Orient and other markets. [Return]

2. Woolley's mill
      This paragraph fails to connect the fact that the Woolley family owned the Skagit River Lumber & Shingle Company and that the company was awarded that contract. Although no source actually addresses this, we infer from several sources that the railroad in question was the Seattle & Northern, which would also soon be owned by James J. Hill of the Great Northern line. [Return]

3. Bituminous coal
      Again the writer seems to have been the victim of hyperbole. The coal of the Bennett Mines, soon to be known as Cokedale, was actually of the lignite variety, which was generally inferior to bituminous. Within just a few years, C.X. Larrabee, a mining magnate from Butte, Montana, would buy the mine property from Bennett, name the property Cokedale in 1894, and sell the property to James J. Hill in 1899. [Return]

4. Munchausen
      The adjective Munchausen was a catch-all term for tall tales. Baron Munchausen was a character from The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolf Erich Raspe, tall stories published in 1785 and loosely based on German adventurer Karl Friedrich von Münchhausen and several other figures, fictional and non-fictional. [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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