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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Home Page Stories & Photos
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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History of the Anacortes Hotel

By Noel V. Bourasaw, ©2006, based closely on the research of
Claudia Lowman, 2004, and her unpublished manuscript
(Anacortes Hotel)
      The Anacortes Hotel was opened by George F. Kyle in January 1891 as the grandest of any hostelry in the county. What Mr. Kyle didn't know, but maybe suspected, was that it opened too late and that the magnificent Anacortes railroad and real estate boom was already fizzling. The grand dream that Amos Bowman conjured in 1879 fell like an old-time cake in the oven. Possibly the most gothic of any structure in northwestern Washington outside of Fairhaven's grand hotel, the Amacortes Hotel soon lost customers and its pride, the bank anchor customer folded and it faded into a secondary retail center, a school and finally a residential hotel. It soon became the symbol of a boom gone bust.
      Claudia Lowman concluded after conducting her extensive research: "The neighbor kids, including Nancy Plancich, Claudia Lowman, Jim Williamson, and Dick Iversen, called this the 'old hotel.' It was built in 1890 by F.A. Kyle and was once an elegant establishment. During early days in Anacortes before the choice for a main street was clearly established, "I" Avenue was in the running for that distinction. This explains why the hotel was built in a seemingly out-of-the-way location. The hotel was later owned by cannery owner/businessman, Will A. Lowman, starting from 1910, but its grandeur was long past even before he let it go on taxes in 1942. In its history during the Lowman decades, the main floor was used for a variety of purposes including a school, before Whitney Grade School was built in 1926, and for businesses (a bank, a hat shop, a music studio, and a stove repair shop). The upper floors were apartments. Will's son, Ray Lowman, and his family occupied it for many years during the Depression. In the later years, before it was demolished, the old hotel was used for storage by Efthemios 'Mike' Demopoulos." Photo from Claudia Lowman and original at the Anacortes Museum, which hosts the Wallie Funk photo collection exhibit, 2006-08.

The birth of the hotel, 1890-91
      The Anacortes Hotel is an excellent model for the biggest, the fastest and shortest-lived railroad/real estate boom in the early history of Washington state. As with William Munks's failed hotel at March's Point, by the time the Anacortes Hotel opened in February 1891, the boom had already fizzled and the dream that started in such a vibrant range of colors had turned to stark black and white.
      The final judge was the bottom line and many of the boom-time businesses were already hemorrhaging red ink. What a shame. This hotel of four stories and an attic, with its turret and many of the Gothic trappings of the Victorian Age must have looked like the very symbol of success as it rose at the corner of 8th Street and J Avenue in the summer and fall of 1890.
      George F. Kyle financed and built the hotel. He did not leave much of a paper record but media of the period described him as a successful, wealthy contractor of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Looking about for a place to make his accumulated wealth grow through speculation, he chose Anacortes out of the half dozen or so Puget Sound villages who were betting on being named the western terminus of a transcontinental railroad. Anacortes had a good story to tell and founder Amos Bowman had told it all over the world for 11 years. After Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island, Mukilteo on the east side of Puget Sound and Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula failed early on in the race, competing interests bet on Fairhaven on Bellingham Bay and Anacortes, the brand new town just east of Ship Harbor, the first settlement on Fidalgo Island.
      Kyle's Hotel was one of a dozen hostelries that rose on the acreage on the south side of the Guemes Channel. Bowman, who had almost given up in the mid-1880s on waiting for the boom, returned from the Sumas Valley in British Columbia in 1888 to organize landholders to pledge land parcels to the railroad companies who convinced Bowman that the talk was real this time.
      The key to the renewed interest in 1888-89 was the prospect of railroads finally connecting Fidalgo Island with the mainland and with products that originated in the area east of the North Cascades mountain range and were ultimately bound for ports in California and in the Orient. There were no bridges across the Swinomish Slough at that time, so the island was only accessible by sternwheelers on a route between Seattle and Tacoma to Victoria, B.C., or by canoe or scows that became primitive ferries. The railroad barons such as Nelson Bennett and James J. Hill sought ports for the ocean trade and Ship Harbor possessed one that had advantages that compared favorably with Bellingham Bay (Whatcom and Fairhaven), Elliott Bay (Seattle) and Commencement Bay (Tacoma).

(Anacortes 1890)
      This is possibly the most important of the 1890 boom photos that has survived. It was taken by D.B. Ewing, who arrived in the Territory in 1885 and was a partner with J.O. Booen in a LaConner photography business by 1890. For this photo, he was looking northwest. The shell of the Anacortes Hotel is to the right. Stumps still litter the land rising from the waterfront and some of the cedars show the wedge holes for the springboards that loggers used. At the upper left you can see a sailing schooner at the Bowman dock and the Taylor Hotel just to the right. In the far background, you can just barely see the Island House Hotel that Bowman began erecting in 1889, with his house and store to the right and west. Cap Sante hill rises to the right. Surviving captions indicate this was taken in early summer 1890, while competing interests led by James McNaught still vied for a business center at I and J avenues. The foundation was in place for the Anacortes Hotel at the right, with the ground floor partially finished.

      When you drive west today from downtown Anacortes towards the International Ferry dock at the old Ship Harbor location, if you take a quick detour to 8th and J, you might wonder why Kyle chose that location. But at that time in 1890-91, three factions supported by different financial interests proposed divergent plans for the commercial center. One faction supported the "I" Avenue district of Anacortes; another favored the district around 10th Street and "M" Avenue, coming up from Fidalgo Bay; and a third favored "P" Avenue. The latter survived the shakeout of the busted boom and the following depression and became the commercial center, with "P" Avenue eventually renamed Commercial. Back in 1890, all three competing groups quickly built wharfs at their waterfront ends to serve the newcomers and interested investors who ventured to the town by steamer starting in January 1890, and all three believed they were on equal footing. Judge William V. Wells, Sr. recalled in a retrospective from Dan Wollam's 1965 booklet, The Anacortes Story, "The supremacy of one or the other might determine the principal four corners for many years to come."
This was the view east from the McNaught/Oregon Improvement Company dock. From the 1891 Anacortes Illustrated magazine.
      Why do we call that boom the biggest and the fastest? The evidence is in the old copies of the newspapers of Anacortes, some of which can be viewed by appointment at the Anacortes Museum). The Daily Progress began publication on Aug. 3, 1889, just in time for the big boom. It replaced Bowman's former newspaper and source of his promotional materials, the Northwest Enterprise, which folded on Feb. 20, 1887, years after he sold his interest and pursued his business as a geologist in BC. The newer version suffered the same fate as the Anacortes Hotel, ending publication on Jan. 22, 1892, after the boom went bust and as the Northwest economy went into a trough just before the nationwide Depression and Financial Panic began. The Anacortes American began publication at the height of the boom, launched by Douglass Allmond and F.H. Boynton on May 15, 1890, at the corner of 10th Street and M Avenue.
      In 1965, Dan Wollam culled many stories from the boom period and afterwards in a small booklet called The Anacortes Story. In one chapter he reviewed how, in 1889, only a few businesses stood on the townsite, but by February of 1890, 141 houses and 110 tents had sprung up to house speculators and workers, with about 200 other people "floating," which presumably included the con artists, gamblers and pimps who always appeared suddenly in a boom. The population grew suddenly from about 40 at the end of the year of 1889, to 3,000 on March 15, 1890. On everyone's lips was talk about the railroads. The boom grew in anticipation that one or more of three railways, the Northern Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Canadian Pacific, would locate in the new community. Construction began on the Anacortes Hotel.

Hopes soar with the Grand Opening
(McNaught Building)
Click on this thumbnail for a full-size photo of the original McNaught Building.
      As the Anacortes American boasted, the exterior of the hotel was colorful and stood out on the rise above the wharf, featuring red brick manufactured locally at John See's Brickyard. In her book, First Views, Theresa Trebon explains that John See was a "well known Tacoma brick mason and builder," who moved his business from Tacoma, at the behest of his Tacoma friend, David Wilson, who was also building his own hotel out of the same brick. The Wilson Hotel, which defaulted and became the New Wilson, and is currently being remodeled in 2006, was erected at the southwestern corner of 8th Street and P Avenue (now Commercial), which was sometimes then referred to as the south end of old business district. He was a civil war veteran, having served in the Union Army cavalry.
      At See's new brickyard, he showed his commitment to the new town by erecting a kiln capable of burning 75,000 bricks at a time, just two weeks after he moved his family north. The factory was located near 23rd Street. He was also reported to have helped design and build some of the earliest brick structures. The first brick building in the new town was John Platt's Bank of Anacortes, which opened on May 22, 1890, and replaced his original woodframe building.
      Kyle's placement of the hotel and his bet on the West End appeared to be a wise move as other business buildings and mansions rose nearby in the same period. The district's most substantial structures were erected for James McNaught, the Seattle-based Northern Pacific Railroad attorney who was the mover and shaker behind the West End speculation. The McNaught Building rose at 8th Street and I Avenue and his own mansion rose nearby, just a short walk up the hill from the McNaught/Northern Pacific wharf. As early as 1883, the Northwest Enterprise pegged him as the leader of a consortium of Seattle speculators who were investing in waterfront land on the northern end of Fidalgo Island. He was the first of the Seattle heavyweights to respond to Bowman's flyers and special promotional issues.
      Nearby residents of course followed day by day the construction of the basic hotel and the addition of the exterior gingerbread and the commanding turret above the corner. Those outside of the island learned from articles like this one from the Anacortes American on Jan. 29, 1891, a front page story about the hotel, which read as follows.

Hotel Anacortes To be opened to the Public Saturday
A Splendid Caravansary In Architectural Beauty and Elegant
Furnishing Equal to Any on the Sound

(Hotel and pond)
Larry LaRue found this fascinating photo of the Hotel in the background, probably taken in late 1890 after the shell for all the floors had been erected. The unknown photographer was standing at the edge of a pond — near 10th and K and looking northwest at the back of the hotel. Lowman emphasizes the lack of stumps in contrast to the 1890 Ewing story. As noted in this 1891 story about the hotel opening, a 2,000-acre swath on the island had been cleared in anticipation of the building boom. The swamp area was filled in and that land became a residential area, as it still is today.
      The Hotel Anacortes, that handsome and imposing pile of brick and stone, at the corner of Eighth street and avenue I [sic, actually J], is just now the scene of the greatest activity. Carpenters and upholsterers by the score, and workmen engaged in different occupations throughout the rooms and corridors, are busy from morning till night in pushing the work to completion and getting the hotel in proper shape for the grand opening on Feb. 1. The opening of this splendid hotel will be a most valuable and important addition to the city. Mr. J.A. Baker, the manager, who is well and favorably known throughout the east and northwest as a most successful hotel man, returned from Portland and San Francisco, where he had gone to purchase supplies and engage help. He is now personally supervising the work of fitting up the building.
      The Hotel Anacortes is the handsomest building yet erected on the island, and in architectural beauty has none superior in the northwest. It is built of brick and stone, is 45x100-feet in size and four stories high. The first story consists of a dining room, storeroom and lobby, bar and billiard rooms, reception room and office, while the northeast corner is occupied by that substantial institution, the First National Bank. The bank room, which is a model of neatness and convenient arrangement, is 21x37 feet in size. The bar and billiard room in the northwest corner is 22x43.
      The main entrance to the hotel is on avenue J and is approached by an archway of beautiful design. The lobby, 12x43, is centrally located, with a winding staircase leading from it to the upper stories. The dining room, which fronts on avenue J, is 23x45-feet in size. A storeroom of the same dimension joins the dining room on the south. These rooms are connected by an arched doorway and can be turned into one if occasion requires. The three upper stories have forty rooms, all light and airy, and fitted for the convenience and comfort of guests. Each room contains two windows, while the large corner rooms, or suites, contain three or four. The hotel parlor on the second floor is a commodious room and pleasantly located. All the rooms are finished throughout with cedar wainscoting and hard oil finish.
      The building is furnished throughout with wire for electric lighting, and enunciators in every room connect with the office. It will be heated by steam from a large furnace in the basement. The furniture is of hardwood and of elegant design. The floors will have the finest quality of Brussels carpet, and the halls and stairways will also be handsomely carpeted. The cuisine department will be in charge of an experienced chef, and a force of colored waiters from San Francisco will attend to the wants of patrons at the tables. Busses will run to and from the hotel to connect with all trains and boats.
      The rates for the new hotel will be $2.50 and $4.00 per day. Mr. Charles Milner, a young man of large experience in the business, will be chief clerk. It is expected that the hotel will be ready for the reception of guests by Saturday. In the fitting up of this magnificent hostelry, neither pains nor expense are being spared. Al fixtures and appurtenances are of the most expensive and substantial character. The Hotel Anacortes will prove to be not only a popular resort, but a splendid advertisement for the city

      On Jan. 31 1891, George F. Kyle hosted a grand ball for all Anacortes and the world to see the amenities of his new hotel. Newspapers reported that the ball rivaled any in the Northwest at the time and the reports emphasized that "colored waiters being brought here and a staff of chefs sufficiently large to properly look after a much larger institution."
      An 1891 issue of Anacortes Illustrated magazine also noted that the first National Bank of Anacortes was the anchor tenant on the ground floor, on the corner formed at the intersection of 8th and J. The July 9, 1891 official report to the Comptroller of the Currency on the condition of the bank shows it was capitalized for $50,000 and had deposits of $54,829.83. The report also indicated that the bank was organized in November 1890, before the hotel opened. Fred Ward, former cashier of the Seattle National Bank and a heavyweight in Washington banking circles, was president and George F. Kyle was one of the directors, along with E.L. Shannon, noted as a capitalist. As we know from another Journal feature, Shannon was one of the earliest landholders on the island, from nearly 20 years before. H.E. Perrin, from Jackson, Michigan, was the cashier and V.J. Knapp, from Parsons, Kansas, and Colfax, Washington, was the assistant.
      Worth noting is that the profile of the hotel in the same issue does not mention Kyle's affiliation, but mentions that the manager was a J.L. DeVoin:

      The hotel cost to build and equip about $40,000, and is a very handsome four-story and attic brick building. The house is run on the American plan and contains forty-five rooms; it is equipped with all the modern improvements, such as bath rooms on all the floors. The table is excelled by none and the service, and everything connected with the hotel is strictly first class.
      James J. Hill had visited Anacortes in September 1890, arriving in his private railroad car, the Manitoba, and as with the other towns on Puget Sound, he convinced the eager developers that Anacortes had a shot at the terminus of his line. He looked over the Seattle & Northern line, which stretched from Ship Harbor to Sedro, with trestles in between that connected Fidalgo Island, March's Point and Padilla Bay. The first scheduled trains crossed back and forth, starting in August 1890 and a track-laying crew was extending the line to Hamilton, about ten miles east of Sedro.
      Everything in Anacortes's future depended on the railroad connection, especially because of its location on the island and the restriction to water access, but Hill left without sealing the deal and that fall, the Northern Pacific acquired control over the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern line that was building north from Seattle to Sumas, and took over the S&N from the Oregon Improvement Co., which had encountered financial difficulties. On Nov. 25, 1890, the first train of this combined trackage arrived in Anacortes at six p.m., with 400 investors and visitors from Seattle and Tacoma aboard.
      Those events were enough to convince locals that the transcontinental line was on the way, but that never happened and as the months wore on without a terminus being established, the investors left, one by one. As the Anacortes American reported on the front page of the Feb. 29, 1912, issue, "the Anacortes hotel was among the first institutions to feel the depression and before it had been open a year it was definitely and permanently closed, the furniture was auctioned off and the property passed into the hands of the Seattle National bank."
      There were positive moments along the way. In the winter of 1890-91, Edward McTaggart Sr. moved to Edison after successes at Edison and Utsalady and built a substantial home at 6th Street and N Avenue. He had been appointed as the timber inspector for the territory and then the state by seven governors, starting in 1879 and his expertise at log scaling attracted several mill investors, who built mills on the east side of Fidalgo Island, most notably the Skagit Mill. Trebon wrote in First Views that the Anacortes American noted in March 1891 that the town's wharves enjoyed a rapid increase in business. As hoped, farmers and loggers shipped raw materials to the Anacortes docks for shipment to outside ports, but the American also warned that "Anacortes has arrived at the point where manufactories are a necessity." Captain J.A. Matheson soon arrived from New England and started processing codfish. Claudia Lowman points out that the boosterism described by Allmond in the Dec. 15, 1927, article posted in the Wollam 1965 book differs somewhat from her Lowman family history:

      After the bursting of the real estate boom, the collapse of the chamber of commerce and scattering of the real estate speculators to other fields, there was a lull in the situation, during which the leftovers who hadn't enough money to make a get-away possible, lived on remittances and claims. Later came the organization of the board of trade which met in the justic [sic] court and functioned principally by telling each other of the things that ought to have been. Those were the days when one who worked for the 'best interests' of the city did so without remuneration for services or expense money. Thus it was difficult to get a worker on committee assignments. But at a meeting one evening the chairman discovered the late Melville Curtis asleep in his chair and promptly appointed him to head an important committee. This committee did effective work, using the wires as freely as Mr. Curtis' pocketbook would permit of, and brought to the city Lowman's barrel factory.
Will Lowman said that he was influenced by John McMillan of the Roche Harbor Lime Co., whom he met back east. McMillan could have just been the initial contact, however, with follow-up contacts made by the Curtis committee.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Huntoon Building)
Huntoon Building
(1914 Anacortes Hotel)
Anacortes Hotel 1914
(Anacortes Hotel 1942)
Anacortes Hotel 1942
(Burgess House)
Burgess House 2005
Upper left: This photo of the Huntoon Building sometime during the 1890s Depression shows that it was already looking a little seedy. The Huntoon brothers, John and Isaac D., were boomers in both Hamilton and Anacortes and their cousin Bert was an early Cascade Pass surveyor, principal of Pacific American Fisheries and the father of the Mount Baker Lodge.
Lower left: In this circa-1942 view of the hotel, we look southwest. By then the street was paved. The parking strip in the middle lane of 8th Street is covered with grass and has a curb all around. Those strips were removed in about 1961.

Upper right: This fascinating photo of the hotel was taken in 1914 by George Bower, who operated a stove sales and repair business on the main floor and was a frequent photographer in the city. He was related to Will A. Lowman, who owned the hotel by that time. The scaffolding on the north side shows repair work on the roof, 24 years after the initial construction. The ground-floor business to the right may have been Brisky's Grocery. Mrs. Billie (Demopoulos) McKee owns the negative.
Lower right: After the hotel was razed in 1889, Kathryn and Art Burgess purchased the property and built a new home on the lots. They told an Anacortes American reporter that they were very sensitive to the historical significance of that corner to Anacortes old-timers. They built a turret into one corner.

Death of the hotel and its founder
      As promoters prepared for incorporation of the city in early 1891, Kyle was a prominent choice for mayor, but the complicated process dragged on and by the time the election came in May, Frank Hogan was elected as the first mayor. The Anacortes boosters did not give up easily as we can see from the election in the fall of 1892 for the location of the county seat. Back in 1884, Mount Vernon had wrested the seat away from LaConner, where it was originally located when the county was formed in November 1883.
      Promoters in the towns of Sedro and Anacortes mounted a spirited campaign in the summer of 1892 but the effort turned to be the last hurrah for both towns because the oncoming nationwide Depression brought the end to the boom period in both sections of the county, as well as in Fairhaven to the north. The final vote tally from November 7 showed 873 votes for Anacortes, 866 for Mount Vernon, 636 for Sedro and 164 for Burlington. A few rounds of drinks may have been purchased on Fidalgo Island for the victory in the battle, but Mount Vernon had won the war. In order to move the county seat, the winning town was required to win two thirds of the votes.
      According to a retrospective article in the Aug. 9, 1989, issue of the Anacortes American, Kyle and other investors lost their fortunes on the hotel. There are other contradictory notes about the exact timing of the failure, however, such as the full-page ad dated April 13, 1893, that named Kyle as president of the bank. In an article in the Dec 21, 1893, issue of the Anacortes American, we read that the Lowman Manufacturing Company, the barrel hoop factory that Will Lowman and his father Jacob came to Anacortes to establish, was in the hands of a receiver; H.D. Allison, Esq.: "The affairs of the company are somewhat complicated owing to the Bank of Anacortes failure. The bank held the company's paper and also was the owner of about half the stock, and the Lowman Company, not being able to make immediate payment and wishing to avoid harassing litigation, sought the protection of a receiver." One of the hotel's creditors that suffered the most from its failure was John See, who was never paid in full for the thousands of bricks that faced the Anacortes Hotel.
      By the dawn of 1894, both the country and the region were deep into a Financial Depression and capital had dried up. Kyle was noticeably absent in the social columns as well as the business news after 1894, so he could have possibly moved to Seattle at that time, or back to Whatcom County, where he was reported to have other interests in 1890. He died in Seattle in 1905, according to these regrettably brief obituaries that do not mention either a wife or children:

George Kyle Passes Away; Builder of the Anacortes Hotel
Dies at the General Hospital In Seattle

Anacortes American, Jan. 12, 1905
      George F. Kyle, well known in Anacortes during the early boom days, died at the Seattle General Hospital, Friday of the past week. Mr. Kyle constructed the old familiar land mark on 8th street known as the Anacortes hotel. He opened a hotel which was boasted as the best north of Seattle. The hotel, like other establishments and businesses in the city and on the Sound at that time was obliged to close after a short success. In their hurry to build up the city our early boomers forgot to first establish the industries that back up a growing city. After the boom Anacortes suffered the collapse, which carried down many of its early citizens, among whom were numbered the deceased.
      Mr. Kyle was identified with the Canadian Pacific railway and was 62 years of age at the time of his death. He has a sister living at Port Hope, Ontario, who has been notified of his death. Mr. Kyle is remembered by many old friends in the city who regret his death.

George Kyle obituary
Seattle Post Intelligencer, Jan. 6, 1905
      George F. Kyle, a pioneer of Puget Sound, died yesterday afternoon at the Seattle General Hospital from a complication of troubles. Mr. Kyle came to Puget Sound between thirty-five and forty years ago and settled in Snohomish county near the present site of Stanwood. He engaged in mercantile business and remained there some time.
      During the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway [hereafter CPR] he was in the employ of Andrew Onderdonk, the contractor of the British Columbia divisions. For his rare capability and integrity he was promoted by Mr. Onderdonk until he held the highest position under him, and was finally left by Mr. Onderdonk to operate the road until it was turned over to the Canadian government and to sell off the enormous plant and close up all of Mr. Onderdonk's affairs in the West.
      Since then, except during one or two engagements on important work in Chicago and in Louisiana, he has resided continuously in Seattle, except a year at Anacortes, of which city he was the first mayor. Mr. Kyle was about 62 years of age at his death. He was a man of a lovable disposition and absolutely upright character, and possessed a liberal and capable mind. It is said that during his long residence on Puget sound, he never incurred the enmity of any honest man. He had been in the hospital only ten days. C.T. Conover, an old friend, telegraphed Mr. Kyle's sister in Port Hope, Ontario, yesterday, and instructions regarding the funeral are expected today.

(Brisky Grocery)
Claudia Lowman found this photo of the interior of John Brisky's grocery store that dates from circa 1915. Brisky is the best example of a retailer who took advantage of the lower rent on the ground floor of the hotel, apparently concluding that he did not have to pay the much higher lease downtown, ten blocks to the east by then, clustered along P/Commercial Avenue. Briskey married W.A. Lowman's eldest daughter, Ella, in 1918 at the Lowman home nearby at 7th and K. John and Ella Brisky moved on to Mount Vernon where he became a county prosecuting attorney and then a judge.
      Claudia Lowman questioned whether Kyle may have been destitute when he died, since he was recorded at the General Hospital, which is often dedicated to the poor. While that is generally true, in this case, Seattle General was founded in 1895 as a Protestant competitor to the Catholic Providence Hospital. It was moved to Sarah B. Yesler's home (now on Seattle Center ground) in 1897, and then in 1900, the Deaconess Home Society of the Methodist Church opened a new five-story hospital building at 909 Fifth Ave. Two years after Kyle's death, a special wing was dedicated to children and that is how Children's Orthopedic Hospital was born.
      As we noted before, our genealogical record of this most interesting man is very sparse, so we hope that a reader who is a family member or who knows more about him will contact us. At this point, we are even unsure if he was married and had descendants. We have also been unsuccessful in finding many mentions of him before and after Anacortes. Lowman found a census listing from 1870 that may be a clue. An unmarried man named George Kyle was born in Nova Scotia and lived somewhere along the Stillaguamish River, with a post office at Utsalady, and was listed as a merchant, so that melds in with the obituary above.
      CPR's general manager and engineer hired Andrew Onderdonk to build the western section of track for the railroad, some of it through sheer cliffs and along the wild rivers of British Columbia. Onderdonk estimated that he needed at least 10,000 men to build his section of the railway from Port Moody to Eagle Pass. Although many politicians in the province tried to ban immigration of Chinese labor, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald agreed that they were vital. Onderdonk was not an idealist. As James H. Marsh, editor-in-chief of The Canadian Encyclopedia, explains

      He paid the Chinese less than whites, only a dollar a day, forced them to buy all their supplies from the company store, and made them build their own camps. Onderdonk reasoned that if they could build the Great Wall, they could surely build a railway. In 1881-82 Onderdonk shipped at least 6000 workers from Hong Kong. The railway would not have been built without them.
      Onderdonk and Kyle's contract expired when Lord Strathcona drove home the final spike in track near the village of Craigellachie, British Columbia. From then until Anacortes, we lose track of Kyle. We wonder if he was sought out by Amos Bowman, who was very active in British Columbia at that time. Onderdonk, by the way, was hired largely because of his success at building the seawall at San Francisco Bay.

The dark years of the hotel; doubled as Whitney School
(Business College)
Claudia Lowman found this advertisement on the front page of the Sept. 24, 1903, Anacortes American.
      After the hotel's failure, the retail spaces in the building along 8th Street and the huge dining room facing J Avenue were boarded up. In the middle of the Depression, space was still needed for elementary school students. The Whitney School district — named for the Padilla pioneer, Rienzi E. Whitney, who died in a buggy accident on August 5, 1891, needed more room. The school negotiated with the receiver to use the ground floor space of the hotel. Will A. Lowman's son Ray, who would become a key tenant of the hotel in later years with his wife, Jean, attended kindergarten in the hotel space in 1895-96; old-timers began to refer to the building as the Whitney School. The Currents magazine of 1992 also recalled that Anacortes Business College operated at the hotel location from 1893-1896 after which time it moved to Fourth and Q for an undeterŽmined time, but Claudia Lowman found a 1903 ad for the business in the hotel and she has inferred that the business college moved in after 1896.]
      The Feb. 29, 1912, issue of the Anacortes American, mentioned above, also explained that for a period of several years when the hotel was out of investor hands and into the hands of the Seattle National Bank, apartment residents who had been occupying upper floor rooms in the building were allowed to live rent-free to maintain the insurance.
      The hotel was in a limbo period until 1901, when some Skagit County capitalists formed a syndicate and bought the property "for a song" — $1,000, as also noted in the 1912 issue. Judge E.C. Million of Mount Vernon, one of the most powerful Republican politicians of the early days of the county, joined Grant Neal, Gus Hensler and W.V. Wells. After paying the $3,000 in back taxes, their total purchase cost was 1/10th of the cost to build the hotel. As a young man, Hensler was an agent for McNaught and he was later active in both real estate and insurance. Neal was the Skagit County Auditor. Wells was police judge and the Anacortes city attorney during the Depression years and later served as justice of the peace, mayor, and representative and senator in the State legislature, along with recording local history. While they owned the building for the next seven years, a few businesses located there, joining the schools mentioned above, and upstairs guest rooms were leased as apartments.

(1979 hotel)
This 1979 photo of the hotel, looking forlorn and boarded up, is on exhibit at the Anacortes Museum. Even though the Flying Dutchman Associates bought the hotel after the death of owner Mike Demopoulis and had grand plans about restoring it, the plans fell through and the building was razed in 1989.
      Meanwhile, the West End faded as a competitor to be downtown. Some buildings were actually moved to the P Avenue downtown cluster, most notably the McNaught building. Having also suffered financially during the Depression and having relocated to New York state, McNaught apparently decided, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In The Anacortes Story, a 1927 article by W.V. Wells recounted how Mrs. Frank Kimsey (nee Bullock) remembered the details of how business buildings were moved in that period. She said that in 1907, she watched "the Mercantile Building being moved from its former site on Eighth and I. Drawn by horses, operating a sort of turntable, the big three-story building was successfully transported to its present location at Fifth and Commercial [P Avenue]." Claudia suspects that the year was even earlier. The contraption Mrs. Kimsey recalled was a much larger version of the capstan that loggers and farmers used to pull giant stumps from the ground, using horses to go round and round in a circle around the center spring. That building still stands, now reincarnated as the Majestic Hotel since 2005:
      "Of all the buildings that were moved from the west end of the city to the present business district, there are none around which center more of interest and more of Anacortes history than the building which is now owned and used by the Anacortes Mercantile Company. This building was built in 1890 by the McNaught Land company and stood on the present site of the J.D. Carroll residence on the southwest corner of Eighth street and I avenue. Immediately after its construction the office rooms in this building were filled with doctors, lawyers, architects, and real estate men. It was in this building that the lots in what was then called the 'West End' were sold, and afterwards the lots in the Northern Pacific addition. The late R. Lee Bradley purchased this building from the McNaughts in 1907 and moved into his present site at the northeast corner of Commercial avenue and Fifth street."
      In a follow-up story, you can read how Will Lowman purchased part interest of the hotel in 1908, how Anacortes prospered during that time of revival and how his family was intimately involved with the hotel building for another three decades.

1. John See and his brickyard
      John See moved his wife, Nellie Grace See, and their young family to Anacortes in 1889, where they originally lived in a tent. You can read more details about the family in this Journal website, which is based on a 1970 obituary for their daughter, Nora See Hastie (old domain so links will not work). His business reputation was originally based on his work in the state of Texas. Various sources place his brick factory in three locations: along the waterfront overlooking the Guemes Channel, 23rd Street or 35th Street. We are still checking early maps to determine its actual location. [Return to story.]

2. James McNaught
      James McNaught and his brothers were very active in Anacortes development as part of a family syndicate that invested and developed land and businesses here from 1883 until after the turn of the 20th Century. You can read about them at this Journal website. [Return to story.]

3. American Plan
      Hotels advertised their lodging package as being either American Plan or European Plan. In the American plan, the meals were provided by the hotel dining room. The European Plan indicated that the quoted rate was strictly for lodging and did not include any meals. All food provided by the hotel is billed separately. [Return to story.]

4. Jacob and Will Lowman
      You can read a profile of the Lowman family at this Journal website . . . members of the Lowman family have been fixtures on the Anacortes scene for well over a century and more stories about them will be added in the near future. [Return to story.]

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(bullet) Story posted Dec. 12, 2006, last updated April 30, 2007
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