Skagit River Journal
(Howard Stumpranch) Howard Royal and his family's Birdsview Stump Ranch
of History & Folklore
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Al Sebring's Skagit county profile 1902

Sebring's Skagit County Illustrated, December 1902
(Timothy hay)
This photo of timothy hay, one of the most prodigious crops of the flats near the forks of the Skagit river, was taken by Asahel Curtis in an unknown year and is from the book, Skagit Settlers. A caption for the same photo in the book, Chechacos All, notes that these hay cocks are on the Gus Pearson farm with the Charles Elde house in the background. That caption explains: "This is a 20th-century picture, but the hay cocks of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s would have looked much the same, though the farm buildings might not. The photo was from the Skagit County Historical Museum, where both books are for sale.

      In writing upon the resources of Skagit county, and what it contains, it is impossible to give an exact account of the condition of affairs as they exist today, and if the if the writer attempted to describe them in detail, the space allotted to this article would not begin to allow a full description. In fact the whole of this edition could be devoted to the county alone, and then the matter would not be overdone. So we will only attempt to give a brief and accurate account of this rich commonwealth from data gathered from various sources during our travels over the county the past two months.
      Skagit county is bounded on the north by Whatcom county, on the south by Snohomish county, on the east by Okanogan county and on the west by Puget sound. It is twenty-four miles [long] and about eighty [wide], its north line being twenty-four miles from British Columbia. In the western end of the county, scattered over the Sound, there are a number of islands, among them being Fidalgo (on which Anacortes is located), Cypress, Samish, Vendovial, Guemes, Sinclair, Glynn, Hat, Hope, Rock, Burros, Allan's, Loon and a few smaller ones which have no names.
      Until the year 1884 this county was a part of Whatcom county, but by an act of the Territorial legislature of that year, the commonwealth was divided and the southern part named Skagit. The bill which caused this division was drafted by Messrs. Orrin Kincaid and Harry Clothier and presented to the legislative bodies. A hard fight was made against the bill on the part of representatives from Whatcom, but Mr. Kincaid, who was a power in state politics at that time, stayed with the division proposition and fought for it to the last, finally having it enacted into law, thus gaining his hard fight. LaConner was the first appointed place to get the county capital, but a short time afterwards the people took a vote on a permanent location for the county seat, and the present city — Mount Vernon — won the day.

Natural advantage: agriculture is the basis of all wealth
      In considering the natural advantages of the county, first and most prominent among them come the agricultural possibilities, although Skagit county has many other wealth-producing industries, which will be touched before the article is completed. Agriculture is the basis of all wealth. The commodities which man demands primarily are those which sustain life; in a word, food and raiment, and these things exist as the primary reason for his industry, his activity and the accumulation of wealth. In one way or another, agriculture furnishes the human race with its primary needs. And therefore it becomes the initial principal of commerce and manufacture, since to subsist is man's chief reason for expending his energy.
      In Skagit county are found farming lands of untold fertility, capable of producing a variety of crops with but little preparation and this can be accomplished by means of a team of horses, a plow, and a man to hold its handles or ride the soft seat of a riding machine which turns up the soil.
      While there are many farms in various parts of the county capable of producing large crops, yet the richest and most productive sections of the county, if not in the world, is the Swinomish flats, together with the Beaver marsh on the east and the Skagit delta on the southeast. This remarkable body of land has been fertilized by the sea and river, and by the rank growth and decay of salt and fresh water grasses and rushes, and has proved a mine of agricultural wealth to those enterprising and persistent toilers who have reclaimed it from the ocean tides and river floods, and it will continue to sustain and enrich for future generations.

Riches of Swinomish flats
      A beautiful view can be hand of the Swinomish flats and Beaver marsh country, which forms such a vision of agricultural productiveness and prosperity as is seldom found, whether seen in the spring time, when hundreds of strong, well-fed teams are preparing the fertile soil for the seed. Or in the summer, when a sea of beautiful dark green stretches as for as the eye can reach, interspersed with many thrifty homes with neat farm houses and great, roomy barns and granaries. Or in the autumn, when the whole landscape is yellow with golden grain, thickly dotted with shocks, showing the bountiful yield, in the midst of which, stationed at regular intervals, are many large and up-to-date steam threshers.
      The land which is for sale (and not much of it can be bought for any price) brings all the way from $75 to $200 per acre. The Beaver marsh adjoins the Swinomish flats on the east, and is probably a continuation of the same. It contains about 8,000 acres of as fine land as the sun ever shone on. The soil on the Beaver marsh has been found to be excellent for the growing of hops, as well as hay and oats. The delta of the Skagit is, like the Swinomish and Samish flats, formed by the rich alluvial deposits from the river. This land also is devoted principally to oats and hay. As all the land lying between the mouths of the Skagit and Samish rivers may be considered practically one body of earth, what has been said of the Swinomish flats in the foregoing will apply with equal force to the other portions. Owing to the great humidity of the atmosphere, a few cereals cannot be successfully grown. Barley, wheat and corn, for instance, do not thrive well. Besides, there is more money in raising oats and hay [grains for farm-animal feed during the logging days].
      Never in the history of the country has there been a failure of crops in Skagit county. The soil in the above-named regions is from six inches to six feet deep, composed of vegetable humus, or peat, mixed with clay and sediment from the river floods of centuries ago. When under cultivation these lands are not swamps, but are as solid as any land of like richness and depth of soil. Oats frequently yield more than 125 bushels per acre (36 pounds to the bushel). The average yield is about 95 bushels to the acre. Hay is equally prolific, large fields often yielding six tons to the acre. Cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips and indeed nearly all vegetables grow to great size and yield enormously. All kinds of fruits do well also; apples and pears bear quickly and grow to large size.

Samish flats, Olympia marsh and other crop areas
(Olympia Marsh)
This photo was from the Jess Knutzen collection and is in the book, Skagit Settlers. The caption reads: "Cedar puncheons to be used in the drainage of Olympia marsh, probably between 1910 and 1915. In this drainage project, ditches were dug, edged lengthwise with cedar timbers, well below the surface, and then covered with cedar puncheons. After this, earth could be graded over the top and the field cultivated as if the covered ditch were not there. this was called "punching for drainage." Men in the picture are W.J. Knutzen in front and Joe Conn in the rear. The Knutzens were early Marsh pioneers, had a creamery there that burned, and retail buildings in Burlington. Historian Ray Jordan grew up on the Marsh area and explained that much of it was over a peat bogs, which the Indians told him had been burning underground for maybe more than a century. Puncheons were cedar logs that were either halved and scraped out or cut into arc shapes to form crude wooden pipes.

      The Samish flats, a level strip of country at the mouth of the Samish river, is a continuation of the Swinomish country, from which it is separated by a low, rocky ridge, crowed with trees. The principal products are hay and oats, the latter often selling for $22 to $30 per ton, while hay brings all the way from $8 to $16 per ton. The average yield of oats is from 90 to 100 bushels per acre; hay, four to six tons to the acre. The Olympia marsh is another large body of rich land, and like the land described above, yields very heavy crops of oats and hay. The soil is a rich black loam, composed of rich vegetation, and varies from ten inches to ten feet in depth. On the Olympia marsh are some of the most prosperous farmers in the country, all having beautiful homes, palatial residences and large barns.
      While the country described above is the heaviest producing section of Skagit county in the way of crops, yet in other parts of the commonwealth there can be found soil equally as rich and large crops are produced, but no on such a large scale. The county is an ideal one for the productions of potatoes, hops, apples, pears, prunes, plums and all kinds of small fruits, and the woods in proper season are full of all kinds of wild berries, and especially the blackberry, which is the choice of all other berries among those can hundreds of gallons each year. The dry summer, which occurs during the maturing season for fruits, guarantees them a richness of flavor and soundness of quality scarcely surpassed by California orchards.

Dairy and poultry
      Dairying is fast becoming an important industry in Skagit county and no place in the world offers greater attractions. The rich pasturage twelve months in the year affords food for stock without the necessity of but little grain feeding, and the easy access to the markets of Seattle makes it a paying business.
      The raising of poultry is another business in which there is lots of money to be made in Skagit county. It is a nice, easy business and does not require much capital. In his own county the raiser of chickens has a good market right at his door. Eggs at the present are being sold for 45 cents per dozen, and chickens bring from 12 to 15 cents a pound. These prices, of course, cannot be secured the year around, but even at the lowest price eggs sell for 20 cents, while chickens bring eight to ten cents. An average price for butter is about 25 cents per pound but for several months during the year it brings 30 and 35 cents a pound. Milk sells for five cents a quart, and there is always a big demand for it.
      While the cleared farming land in Skagit county sells all the way from $75 to $150 an acre, yet good farming land, the most of which is clear of stumps, can be bought for $25 to $30 an acre. Logged-off land can be purchase for $5 per acre, and many newcomers are investing in this kind of real estate, most of them having cleared the stumps off and now have soil just about as fertile as that on the Swinomish. This logged-off land makes excellent pastures for dairying purposes, as it was seeded to blue grass and clover while being logged. A person with a small amount of capital to invest can be no better than buy 200 acres of this land and stock it with cattle and sheep, as many winters not a flake of snow falls to interfere with the feeding of stock. The demand for all kinds of meat is so great — as very few people engage in this industry, that more than one half of the beef, pork and mutton consumed on the Coast is shipped from eastern states.
      The growing of hops in Skagit county is among the best paying industries and especially is this true of the condition of affairs the past three years. At the present time hops are bringing 26 cents a pound, yet some of the growers are holding for a larger price and will no doubt get an advance over this price before spring. The river valley soil is especially adapted for the growing of hops and one grower, Charles Storrs, who resides two miles south of Mount Vernon, harvested 2,500 pounds to the acre the present year. Even at 26 cents a pound, the market price, Mr. Storrs would reap quite a net sum of money for his little hop ranch. There are a number of other hop growers in the valley who had nearly as large a yield as did Mr. Storrs. [Ed. note: The Storrs hop ranch was on five acres and in 1902, Storrs refused a 26 1/2 cents offer in the fall of 1902 and held out for a higher price.]

(Sauk ferry)
      This photo from the collection of the late Wyman Hammer shows a horse team and wagon crossing the Sauk river on a very early ferry, possibly before 1900. These ferries were a godsend to settlers for crossing the river with goods and crops and on family outings before bridges were built.

Mineral and water resources
      Now for the mineral resources of this great and glorious county. There are thousands and millions of dollars worth of all kinds of ore locked into he rugged embrace of the Cascade mountains in Skagit county, only waiting to be taken out the earth by the strong arms of the miner, taken to the smelter and mist and sent abroad throughout the world as a medium of exchange. The boom mining camps of Cripple Creek, Alaska, and other parts of the country have offered their phenomenal fortunes, but their greatness is ephemeral.
      The gold, silver and talc mining of Skagit county is only in its infancy, but it is a fact that the "goods" are here, and as soon as the proper means of transportation — a railroad, taps the mining districts of this county, the world will hear of riches being taken out far beyond that of other sections of the country, which have already created the greatest excitements. Stamp mills have been in operation in a number of the camps for the past three years, but the mining could be carried on only in a limited way, for the reason above stated: no way of getting large amounts of ore to the smelter. That which has been taken out was transferred by means of pack trains, which is very slow work. The countless wealth in the mines of Skagit county is full conceded by those who are in touch with the situation, and each year eastern and local capitalists are planting their faith in these mines by investing large amounts of money in stock and putting in new machinery.
      The fishing industry in this county has grown to great proportions and each year witnesses more canneries being built here, which of course means an increased number of men to be employed, and the bringing of Skagit county of thousands of dollars of foreign capital each year. Look at the immense canneries located at Anacortes the past few years! Millions of dollars have been spent at that place in the construction of these institutions, much of the money being British capital. During the fishing season at Anacortes hundreds of extra men are given employment and the citizens do double the amount of business while the canneries are in operation. The fish with which to supply these canneries are not all caught in traps, as is supposed by many, but men who fish with gillnets also supply a liberal amount of the finny tribe. At LaConner, and all up and down the Skagit river, gill-netters ply their vocation during the run of fish, selling their catch to canneries.

Ten billion feet of timber
      It is thought by many that the timber resources of Skagit county will soon be exhausted, but this is a mistaken idea. It is estimated that at the present time that at least ten billion feet of good merchantable timber stands within the borders of this county, and that three-fourths of it is tributary to the river so that it can be towed to salt water and distributed over the Sound to various mills. With the exception of one county in the state, Skagit has the largest amount of standing timber and during the past year large syndicates have been buying all the timber land purchasable. [Ed. note: one was the Dempsey brothers syndicate from Michigan, which joined with Ed English to establish camps and build the famous Puget Sound and Baker River Railroad upriver.]
      A trip up the river to Marblemount and return will soon convince one that there are thousands of acres of timberland that has not yet felt the woodsman's ax. Our fir and cedar logs are at the present time in great demand in all markets on the Sound, and loggers have no trouble in disposing of their timber. As the fir of this state has been tested and found to be stronger hip builders, Jim Hill is shipping it to the Great Lakes to be used in construction of this largest vessels and only a short time ago, a number of Boston shipbuilders ordered a lot of fir timbers to be shipped to them to be used in the building of their vessels.
      It will be only a matter of a very short time before those owning timber in Skagit county will have a chance to sell their timber direct tot he eastern manufacturers, who desire strong wood for building purposes, at big prices. There are a good many logging camps in operation in the county at the present time, among the largest being the Lyman Lumber Co., who operate camps at Hamilton and Lyman, and are now putting in another large one three miles south of Mount Vernon [the English operation]. For the purpose of hauling their logs from the woods to the river, a railroad track has been put in place and a railroad locomotive is used to do the hauling. [To read more about the English companies and his logging railroads, look for the fine book by Dennis Thompson, Logging Railroads of Skagit County.]
      When it comes to shingle mills, the county is well supplied, and as near as can be learned some fifty mills are in operation with a daily capacity of from 60,000 to 250,000 shingles per day. The men employed in those mills receive from $2 to $6 per day, and last amount being paid to experts at the business. There is such a great demand for Washington red cedar shingles that during the season of the year when the great lakes are not frozen over, the mills of this and every other county in the state are taxed tot heir fullest capacity to fill orders. The lasting qualities of this shingle has demonstrated to the people of the east that they are the best manufactured, and it is getting so that eastern contractors will use no other shingle. [Journal Ed. note: Mortimer Cook started that industry at his future village of Sedro in 1885. See our Cook website.]
      The county auditor's annual statement for the year ending 1902 shows that the county treasurer collected in taxes $258,852.55; that the sum of $2,886.91 was expended in building new county roads, while $1,251.10 found its way into new bridges; the total road and bridge fund expenditures amounted to $25,267.62, and the grand total collections for the year sums up to $341.162.52. The net county indebtedness is $112,995.33.
      Throughout Skagit county there are a number of prosperous little towns where newcomers can buy town lots cheap and build for themselves neat homes for a small expenditure of money. Every town in the county at the present time is in a prosperous condition, and the past year has witnesses more solid and legitimate improvements in them than at any other time during the history of the county.
      For the sportsman, we doubt if there is another county in the state that furnishes such good hunting and fishing as does Skagit. At this time of the year, and until spring, ducks flock to the sloughs and rivers by the millions, and hunters from Seattle, Tacoma and other places on the Sound come within the borders of this county when they want shooting in its truest sense.
      In conclusion we will say Skagit county is recognized all over the state as the best and most prosperous commonwealth on the Pacific Coast, for our resources are unlimited and any person who comes here to live, and has the right kind of metal [mettle?] in him to get out and work, can surely be living on the sunny side of "Easy Street" in a few years.
      [Also see our comprehensive history of Skagit county that was written by Charles Dwelley, publisher of the Concrete Herald, in 1953.]

      Journal Ed. note: Al Sebring was a longtime newspaper editor in Skagit county and later in other parts of the state. Up here, he was assistant editor for the Skagit News in Mount Vernon, then became a Populist and launched the Mount Vernon Record and then launched this magazine, which did not survive its first issue. For more information on Sebring, see the transcript of his Oct. 7, 1897, Record newspaper.

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Story posted on July 22, 2004
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