(SLSE Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition, where 450 of 700 stories originate
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.

History of Skagit County

Violet Burmaster, unpublished manuscript, circa 1916
This building is where attorneys argued cases from 1893 through 1923. This photo from Larry Kunzler's Skagit River History website shows the Matheson Building, the original Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon, erected in 1893 after the 1892 election that confirmed that Mount Vernon would remain the county seat. It still stands at the southeast corner of First and Pine streets, but the upper floor was removed after a fire in 1909 and the building was converted to retail and office use after the new courthouse was erected in 1923. We do not know the year of the photo but we suspect that it was taken during one of the three very-high water stages during the 1894, 1896 or 1897 floods. Note that Pine Street, to the left, is a wide thoroughfare and that the hills behind are still showing first growth trees.

      The first settlements in the territory of Washington were due to fur trading and agricultural interests. Olympia, Steilacoom, Seattle, Port Townsend and Whatcom, and settlements on Whidbey Island, were among the first on the northern area of the West Coast.
      In 1848 the gold rush in California attracted more people to the territory of Oregon. In 1858 the Fraser River gold rush in British Columbia again attracted people to the Northwest but settlement was delayed because of the Civil War.

Fidalgo island settlement
      Starting in the late 1850s settlement of what would become Skagit county began at Fidalgo island. Charles Beale, Horace Martin, William McFarland, Lt. Robert H. Davis, Robert Beale, Charles Pearson, John Hughes and a Mr. Brown were hunting on Fidalgo Island. The men came over from San Juan but they were so enraptured over the beauty of the county that Charles Beale and Lt. Davis took claims on Fidalgo Island. Davis sold his claim to William Bonner, of Utsalady, and as a result of the Civil War breaking out, he returned o the Confederate Army.
      Later Bonner sold his share to William Munks, who remained on the land until his death. In 1859 Josiah Larry [probably Joe Leary, an Ohio native who settled near his eponymous slough near Bay View] came to Fidalgo island and in 1860 Enoch Compton came. In 1862 Robert Beale took his brother's claim, but Charles Beale returned in 1867 and took a claim across the bay, which he still owned in 1906. Between 1863-67 James Cavanaugh, Shadrach and Richard Wooten, H.C. Barkhausen, George Ensley and George Cagey came to Fidalgo, followed in 1869 by John and Almina (Richards) Griffin. Mrs. Griffin was the first white woman on the island and soon started a subscription school. By 1873 there were still only eight settler women on the island.
      The occupation of most of the settlers was farming and Munks and Compton brought cattle that they purchased at Whatcom. Munks planted an orchard, started a dairy and raised grain crops and potatoes. He ordered farming machinery, including primitive mowing machine and thrasher, before 1870. Munks opened the first store and was the first postmaster at Fidalgo (Dec. 27, 1870). Mail arrived twice a week via the steamboats and sternwheelers that serviced the mills and settlements at the San Juan islands, Utsalady and Whatcom.
      The first railroad excitement centered on Fidalgo island and Whidbey island in the early 1870s, and the family of former territorial governor Isaac I. Stevens invested at what would become Anacortes two decades later, but the national financial panic of 1873, along with the failure of Jay Cooke & Co. and the National Pacific Railroad, brought such plans to a halt. Amos and Anna (Curtis) Bowman began investing in the same area, starting in 1877, when the only village on Fidalgo island was Ship Harbor, located where the international ferry terminal is today. The first post office opened in the future Anacortes area on March 13, 1879.
      At the same time that Mr. and Mrs. Griffin came to Fidalgo island, James Matthews and H. P. O'Bryant settled on Guemes island, across the channel from Anacortes. Bryant secured his claim from a French trapper for $40. Several other settlers made claims there in the early 1870s and in 1876 copper was discovered. Although the resulting mine produced limited amounts of paying ore, by 1878 30 people lived on that island in permanent cabins and homes. In that same year, Larry Kelly, known regionally as the "king of smugglers" also was based there.
      The first settlers on the mainland included Samuel Calhoun and Michael J. Sullivan, who rowed over independently from Utsalady with Indian guides, and made claims in the mid-1860s and planted crops near Pleasant ridge, east of LaConner. Both were absentee farmers in the beginning and did not establish actual farms until the early 1870s. They soon built handmade dikes to keep the salt water from intruding on their cropland. They were followed by John Cornelius, Robert White and James Harrison, James Williamson and Edwin T. Dodge, among others. J.S. Conner and his wife Louisa Ann came to the Swinomish slough in 1870 along with Conner's brother, J.J. Conner and they soon established the village of LaConner, named by a variation of the wife's name, just as Anacortes was named for Anna Curtis Bowman.
      In the first half of the 1870s trade steamboats began to stop at Swinomish slough while on the way from Seattle to Whatcom, a round trip taking up a week's times. Freight rates were $3.12 per ton, but sometimes competition brought them a dollar or less. Calhoun showed that diking could help produce profitable crops and many others soon raised grain crops on the Swinomish slough. Floods, or "freshets," broke through the dikes temporarily during the major flood of Christmas Day, 1875. In 1876 Calhoun bought a steam thresher, the first of its kind in the region

Settlement of the lower Skagit river area
    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.

      The first stream of settlement began along the forks of the Skagit in 1869 and the early 1870s, centered initially on Mann's Landing (renamed Fir in 1880) and Skagit City, on the South fork. As crews began hacking away at two substantial log jams in 1876-1880, Harrison Clothier and Edward English established a trading post and a small village in 1877 at the bend of the river north of Skagit City in between the two jams. Settlers petitioned the U.S. Congress for aid in clearing the river channel, but private subscribers and volunteers completed the work, led by Donald McDonald, Marvin Winnick, Dennis Storrs, Joe Wilson, John Quirk, Daniel Hines and Fritz Dibbern. Major parts of the lower jam broke away in a relatively minor flood of 1877.
      As early as 1871 the logging industry grew along the lower reach of the river. At the same time, settlers began growing hops profitably, from A.R. Williamson, near future Lyman, on downriver to other growers at Riverside, near Mount Vernon, Fir island and the LaConner area.
      In the mid 1870s the first mining of coal began in earnest, originally by Amasa Peg-leg Everett, a Maine native who lost his leg during the original prospecting; Orlando Graham, of Fidalgo island and Lafayette S. Stevens, who made discoveries of ore on Coal Mountain, across the Skagit from future Hamilton. That venture, along with another mine in Marblemount and an iron-ore company on Iron Mountain, next to Coal, faded for economic reasons, mainly because of the cost of $10/ton to transport the ore around the log jams downriver.
      Otto Klement, who arrived in the valley in 1873, lived at Avon, then Lyman, where he had an early trading post and effectively boomed the town along with Birdsey Minkler, then had a hardware store at Mount Vernon and finally retired to Lyman where he built a beautiful home that overlooks a bend in the river today. Lafayette Stevens settled at Sterling, one of the first long-term settler there when it was known as Ball's Camp, and then later moved to Clear Lake, the base of his mining operations and where he built his hotel.
      In November 1883 Whatcom County was divided into Whatcom and Skagit counties, along the border between townships 36 and 37. The chief town in that region was Edison, which was founded in 1869. Starting in 1872-72 many new settlers began farming there and public schools were established early along the Samish flats, the first being for seven pupils in the house of Lyman Cutler, a principal figure in the 1859 "Pig War."
      In 1873 the financial panic of the eastern United States stretched out to affect the Northwest too. The National Pacific railroad [hereafter NP] halted work and immigration was even suspended for a time. What trade and exports continued were mainly to California, the chief market. January and February of the winter of 1875 were exceptionally cold. Spring blossoming was late and autumn brought more heavy snows, which led to a flood on Dec. 25, 1875, that was the largest witnessed by settlers to that time; settlers remarked that snow covered Fir island and the flats near Swinomish for the first time.
      Grain was a bumper crop in 1876 and the Gaches brothers of LaConner sold 1,515 sacks of oats to the San Francisco market, followed by shipments of 3,840 sacks and similar large amounts at two-week intervals. In 1876 the Calhoun brothers sold 400 tons of oats and barley from their 320 acres on the Swinomish flats, even though 40 tons were lost in a shipwreck. Seattle newspapers reported that 60 bushels of barley or 70-75 bushels of oats could be harvested per acre. At Pleasant Ridge 2,752 acres of farmland were under cultivation.
      James Moores recalled in the 1906 history book, Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties [hereafter the 1906 History] prices that included $1 for eight pounds of sugar; flour for $7 a barrel; tea for 50 or 60 cents a pound; salt for a penny per pound; butter 75 cents a pound; nails seven cents a pound; hay for $14 per ton; oats selling for $17-30 per ton; carrots for $15 per ton. Beef was hardly attainable for any price and wages for ordinary labor ranged from $40-75 per month.
      Charles von Pressentin settled in Birdsview in 1877. Five settlers lived above him on the Skagit and two below him, in the Riverside area near Mount Vernon. Birdsey D. Minkler built a power sawmill on the south side of the river at his namesake Birdsview in 1878 and obtained the first post office on the upper river on Oct. 6, 1881. August Kemmerich settled on his claim on the northern shore in 1878 and gave Birdsey his nickname. The town of Birdsview eventually gravitated across the river, too, rising to a small village just north and west from the Pressentin ferry landing.
      No roadway extended downriver until a crude path that was dug out in 1895-96. The Great Northern Railroad [hereafter GN] reached Hamilton in 1891 and made Rockport its terminus in 1900. By that time all the dreams of a transcontinental railroad laying tracks along the river and over Cascade Pass had been dashed by James J. Hill's decision to locate the GN terminus in Seattle.
      The town of Sedro that Mortimer Cook founded in 1884 had a hotel and his general store and very little else at the location of the present Riverfront Park. George Arnold, our neighbor who had a farm and mill at the Skiyou slough imported the first team of horses in the area besides those of Frank Hoehn, who constructed the plank road from the Skiyou mill to Sedro. Several other villages had no roads connecting them to speak of and many towns still depended on sternwheeler and canoe for transportation.

My family arrived at Utopia district
      In 1889 my grandfather, Joseph Lederle, and his family moved to a claim with two miles of Arnold's farm. Grandmother and the children came on a sternwheeler to Sterling. There they remained until grandfather walked to Arnold's farm to get a team to carry their belongings. My mother tells a few characteristics of the upper-river road at this time. It was a mere trail built between or around trees. If a tree was in the way, the team made its way around. In many places the b ranches were low, even touching the wagon bed. Very little was done to improve these conditions until much later. Hamilton was a booming town, with two stages started out from here one for Mount Vernon returning the next day, and the other toward Sauk, it also returning on the following day. Presently J.H. Burmaster owns the land taken up by Joseph Lederle as a claim.
      The first court session in the Skagit valley, before the new county was formed, was the district court, held at LaConner on June 4, 1878. Jr. R. Lewis was chief justice; G.W.L. Allen was sheriff of Whatcom County and Howard H. Lewis was clerk. James D'Arcy and John Dale were admitted to practice law at the bar of the territory. The principal case of the session of court was that of an Indian named Laws who was charged with murder. The verdict was guilty of manslaughter, with a sentence of five years in the county jail. Also, George Connor was charged with "exhibiting a pistol in a rude, angry and threatening manner in a crowd of two persons," and upon conviction he was sentenced to six months in the county jail and a fine of $10 and costs.
      In 1879 land given to the NP railroad was restored to the public domain after NP failed to complete the line as a transcontinental route. In 1879 the sternwheeler Josephine made regular trips up Skagit to the trading posts, including Mann's Landing, Skagit City, Mount Vernon and Ball's Landing, which was part of Jesse B. Ball's logging camp at Sterling. At one time it went up as far as Birdsview when the river was deep enough that year. In 1880, after the spring floods following the deepest snowfall in history, some boats even went up further, charging Argonauts $12 for passage to a point as near to the Ruby City gold fields as possible.
      Logging has always competed as the most important industry. In 1898 17 logging camps dotted the foothills between Conway and Lyman. Fishing has grown rapidly and now ranks in second place. Salmon fishing and canning has grown to such an extent that presently Skagit county has some of the largest canneries in the country located in Anacortes. James H. Moores was the pioneer of the fishing industry in the valley; he put in his nets on the west bank of the river above Mount Vernon. In 1879 he put 15 barrels and sold it at $10 a barrel.
      In 1880 Frank R. Hamilton, Theodore Sunter, Eli Frome, Orrin Kincaid and S. Anderson settled along with Amasa Everett along the Baker river. Sunter's mother-in-law, Emily Glass, was the first white woman in that area and Frank R. Hamilton's wife, Adelaide (Glass) Hamilton, was the second. In mid-decade Hamilton and Frome blazed a trail from the lower river when they brought a bull upriver and that later became the present River road along the north shore. Surveying was delayed until Indians along the river attended negotiations and agreed to stop harassing the surveyors in the field. Skagit county also did not escape the controversy and sometimes the violence that accompanied the agitation about Chinese laborers, especially on the railroads.
      The volume of home-seekers increased substantially from 1889 onwards. In that year the population of the county was 6,111 in the Territorial Census. By the 1890 Federal census the population grew to 8,730, a gain of 2,619. About that time Congress appropriated $75,000 for the dredging of the Swinomish and Skagit sloughs, the latter a problem whenever high water or floods floated log debris down into the narrower sloughs nearer the mouth of the river.
      In 1890 a flu epidemic swept the county and it became a real scourge to the Indian camps. In the locations of the most death, white settlers went to the camps to aid with burial and to burn the buildings in the worst cases. The Skagit County Pioneer Association formed at a meeting in Mount Vernon on April 25, 1891, and they hosted the first annual picnic at Skagit City on June 6. That year the crops were poor but land prices continued to rise.
      In 1892 contracts were let for bridges over the Swinomish slough, north of LaConner, and across the Skagit river, at Mount Vernon. Westerman and Yeaton Co. of Seattle won the latter contract. After the county seat had been located at Mount Vernon for nearly eight years, in 1892 boosters for Sedro-Woolley, Burlington, LaConner and Anacortes agitated for a vote in order to win the seat. Anacortes actually won the election with 873 votes, compared to Mount Vernon, 867, Sedro, 636, and Burlington, 164. But a plurality was not enough for a change to another city. With that settled, the county let contracts for a new three-story courthouse at the southeast corner of First and Pine streets. [See Endnote 1 for details about the building and for details of the other county seat elections.]
      In May and June 1894 a very high flood occurred, which settlers considered the worst to that time. At one point downtown Mount Vernon was underwater and damages altogether were estimated at a half million dollars. But the pioneers soon learned the impact of even more disastrous floods, back to back, in November 1896 and then the largest in November 1897, and then again in early-December 1909.

Journal editor's note about this transcription:
      We were challenged by a unique problem when we decided to post this history by Violet Burmaster. We found a carbon copy of her original essay when we researched in the stacks of the University of Washington library in 1992. It seemed to be a draft version, in that many typewriter typos were included and no corrections had been made to awkward sentence structure and obvious problems with syntax. We concluded that this was an early version, but we could not find any explanatory notes about it in the library's Sedro-Woolley file. Usually, we post transcriptions with very little or no editing. In this case, we had to reconstruct paragraphs and edit spelling considerably, especially of names. But the basic research was well done and Violet provided a good, brief summary of the facts from the 1906 History book and added details and memories from her interviews with her historic family and her equally historic neighbors and friends of the family. Her stated sources included:
(bullet) 1906 Illustrated History
(bullet) Mrs. George Arnold
(bullet) Mr. and Mrs. J. Herman Burmaster

      We dated the manuscript by noting her remark that she was writing it seven years after the major early-century flood and we know that historic flood to have occurred in 1909, so broad in extent and damage that Fir island the Snohomish flats were under water for multiple weeks at a time. See Lloyd Seabury's memoir of the 1909 flood from his perspective of observing it from his Skiyou home, shared from Issue 55 of our online subscribers magazine. And see our annotated transcription of the 1906 History. With the year 1916 in mind, we infer that she wrote this essay for her senior high school class.

Journal profile about Violet Burmaster and her family
      We plan to profile both the Lederle and Burmaster families in more depth in upcoming issues. They are most important historically for being the principal farmers in the Utopia area and we infer that the Burmaster family dug out the original trail, which extended east from the Fairhaven & Southern Railway tracks — that eventually became their eponymous Burmaster Road, still a major road today. Joseph Lederle, a German immigrant from Baden, and his family homesteaded land near the crook of the present Hoehn road after arriving here in the spring of 1889 from Kansas, where they had farmed after emigrating to the U.S. The daughter Annie Lederle married John Herman Burmaster on May 3, 1896.
      J.H. Burmaster also brought his family to the Utopia district in 1889. His parents originally emigrated from Germany to Wisconsin in the U.S. in 1869 when he was an infant. At age 19 he bought 40 acres in Utopia plus lots in Woolley for $150. He soon owned a Woolley meat market with a partner named Grethus, and they sold it in 1897 to Dave Donnelly, who was forming a butcher business.
      Violet Rose Burmaster was born on July 26, 1897, in Edgecomb, Washington. She graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School in 1916 along with her brother Fred and another future teacher, Violet Shellhammer, from Lyman. She attended Utopia Graded School, on the River/Utopia road, but did not attend Utopia High School. On May 5, 1917, she married Elza E. McDugle, the son of another Utopia family. They had two children, Donald, born on Sept. 29, 1921, and who now lives in Anacortes, still performing on saxophone and clarinet in a jazz band with Ernie Tyree. He has been very helpful in providing information for this article. Their daughter, Marie, was born in 1918 and married Elmer Wolf and still lives in the Mount Vernon area. Marie is 93 and Don is 90 in 2011.
      As Don recalled, his mother and father lived in Sedro-Woolley until the late 1920s when they moved temporarily to Bellingham while his father sought work there and his mother attended refresher courses at the Normal School. They moved to Anacortes in 1928 when Don was a boy and Elza was hired as a butter-maker for West Coast Creamery there. Over a two-decade span Violet worked as a substitute teacher, mainly in Anacortes schools and occasionally other districts. Her only full-time teaching job was at the Skiyou school in the 1920s. Don recalls that even though she was a voracious reader, he does not recall that she ever wrote about history again. Elza bought the old Wagner dairy in 1935 and the resulting business was originally called the McDugle-Wagner Dairy. Other family members also operated a branch on East State Street after World War II, where they had a small restaurant and a walk-in dairy in addition to delivering milk on a route upriver. Don started delivering milk in 1939 and eventually put in 27 years.
      Lawrence Burmaster, Violet's younger brother, followed the family tradition of the shoe repair business just as his grandfather Joseph Lederle Sr. had been a cobbler at the turn of the 20th century. He opened his shop in 1943 in the Courier-Times building on Metcalf street and then he moved it to Ferry street and then back to Metcalf, in the 700 block. Violet was the only girl in the family and she had four brothers.


County seat elections
      The various county seat elections and agitation never failed to provide amusement. In the first one, in 1884, voters were polled about making the temporary county seat in LaConner permanent. But LaConner lost out to Mount Vernon. In 1936 ex-governor Henry McBride recalled the shenanigans: "I was a member o the Republican central committee back in 1884. LaConner, where I lived, and Mount Vernon were fighting over the location of the county seat of Skagit County. Both of them wanted it, and it came up for an election.
      "I heard that about a hundred persons in Sedro-Woolley, who hadn't been in the district long enough to vote, were going to vote anyhow — for Mount Vernon. So I saddled up a horse and rode over on Election Day and challenged their votes. They didn't vote. But when the polls closed and I went outside to ride home, my horse was gone. His saddle and bridle were on the steps outside the door. There was nothing for me to do but pick them up and walk ten miles to Mount Vernon and get another horse."
      In 1909 the frisky boosters of Burlington decided to "steal" the courthouse from Mount Vernon. They cited that a change was timely because no permanent courthouse had yet been erected. They and upriver towns eagerly fought for a courthouse more centrally located in the wide county but enthusiasm waned when Mount Vernon struck back and publicized memories of pioneers who recalled how often the Fairhaven street thoroughfare in Burlington was underwater during floods, capped off with a few photos illustrating those floods and citizens rowing up and down the street. See this Journal feature for the hilarious story. Ironically a fire occurred in the courthouse during that year of argument. [Return]

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted Aug. 24, 2011
Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 56 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.
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) See this Journal Timeline website of local, state, national, international events for years of the pioneer period.
(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?
(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.
(bullet) Read about how you can order CDs that include our photo features from the first five years of our Subscribers Edition. Perfect for gifts.

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) Joy's Sedro-Woolley Bakery-Cafe at 823 Metcalf Street in downtown Sedro-Woolley.
(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.