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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Robert "Lee" Bradley, Padilla and Anacortes Pioneer

(R. Lee Bradley)
By Claudia Lowman, © 2008
      R. Lee Bradley was the youngest of eight children born to Valentine and Matilda "Josephine" Bradley. He was a native Washingtonian, having been born on Whidbey Island in 1869. Following is the verbatim biographical sketch of Mr. Bradley as it appears in An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties. A particularly interesting tidbit of Skagit County history instigated by Mr. Bradley in 1904 follows this biography.

An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, 1906
      Hon. R. Lee Bradley, representative from Skagit county in the state legislature and one of the leading business men of Anacortes, is also a native son of Washington, his parents being among the early pioneers of Puget sound. The fertile tide and valley lands, the magnificent, endless forests of fir and cedar, and the beautiful, bold shored inland waters of the sound, which distinguish it so enchanting to all strangers have formed his lifelong environments and have been his continual inspiration from childhood. Unlike many, he has recognized his opportunities and grasped them without going to a strange country, and almost within sight of his birthplace has won what success he has attained thus far.
      The little village of Oak Harbor, Whidby island [alternate spelling of Whidbey Island], was the family's home when R. Lee Bradley was born January 3, 1869. Valentine B. Bradley, the father, a Virginian by birth, was, as he has been informed, a cousin of W.O. Bradley, the well known governor of Kentucky. Sailing from New York in 1862, the elder Bradley came direct to Washington Territory, by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and located in 1863 on Whidby [Whidbey] island, taking a homestead in the little settlement being gradually formed on the peaceful shores of Penn's Cove. At that date Skagit county's only settlement was a very small one at the head of Fidalgo bay, while the only settlements on the entire mainland between Seattle and Whatcom were trading posts at Mukilteo and Snohomish City.
      The great tide flats for the most part were still reigned over by Neptune and the sound of the woodman's ax had as yet scarcely been heard in virgin forests. Even nine years later, when the Bradleys took up their abode on the flats at the mouth of the Stillaguamish river, the reclamation of those rich lands had been barely begun and the town of Stanwood was years from its inception. Upon that pioneer claim, the elder Bradley passed away the same year in which he settled. Mrs. Josephine (May) Bradley, the mother of R. Lee, was born in Missouri. She came with her husband to Washington in 1862, shared with him the privations and dangers of pioneer life on Puget sou
      After attending the public schools of Snohomish county until he was thirteen years of age, the subject of this review accompanied his mother to La Conner. There he received instruction from a teacher who was later to reach the foremost official position in the state, Henry McBride, now ex-Governor McBride. After supplementing his public school work by a course in the normal school, Mr. Bradley, at the time only fifteen years old, took up the serious duties of life on the farm with his brother-in-law, Rienzi E. Whitney, one of the leaders of his time in this section of the state.
      Five years later, in 1890, the young man went to Seattle and entered a store as clerk, but a few months afterward purchased from Mr. Whitney the farm on which he had previously worked. He farmed this place in the Swinomish flats twelve years with marked success, selling it in 1902 to enter the mercantile business at Anacortes, as the successor of Lewis Foss. As in other lines of activity, Mr. Bradley has attained success in this venture, his business keeping step with the advance of that prosperous little seaport. For many years a loyal, active Republican, he was honored by his party in 1904 by being elected a representative to the legislature, an office which he is filling with credit to himself and those who placed their trust in him.
      Miss Jessie Stearns, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Earl H. Stearns, of Edison, a full biographical sketch of whom appears elsewhere in these chronicles, was united in marriage to Mr. Bradley at Bay View, in 1895, and thus two pioneer families were united. Mr. Stearns, a Pennsylvanian by birth and descent, is a pioneer of Kansas. He came to Skagit county in 1883 and is at present a well known Samish farmer. Mrs. Margaret (Closson) Stearns, whose death occurred in June 1905, was a native of Kansas, and before her marriage taught school several years. Coming with her parents to Washington from Kansas, where she was born December 1, 1875, Mrs. Bradley attended the public schools here, completing her education by a course in the normal at Whatcom. She then took up the teaching profession and at the time of her marriage was known as one of the most successful teachers in Skagit county. She is a prominent member of the Methodist church. Mr. Bradley is affiliated with but one fraternity, the Odd Fellows, being a past grand of Bay View Lodge No. 128. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bradley are highly esteemed in social circles for their genial, sterling qualities, and in his sphere Mr. Bradley is recognized as a leader of ability and substantial virtues.

How the McNaught Building Became
the Anacortes Mercantile Company

by Claudia A. Lowman
      One of the most intriguing events in Anacortes history was initiated by Mr. R. Lee Bradley but was not mentioned in the biographical sketch about him in An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties. The incident was the uprooting and moving of a large, three-story (plus attic floor) structure, the former McNaught Building, from its original location at the corner of Eighth Street and I Avenue to its new location at Fifth and Commercial, three fourths of a mile away to become the Anacortes Mercantile Company.
      In the boom times of 1889 when residents of Fidalgo Island anticipated that Anacortes could become the site of the Western terminus of more than one rail line, three different factions vied to establish the commercial hub of Anacortes. James McNaught, a Seattle attorney for the Northern Pacific Railroad, spearheaded one of the factions. He built a dock, the McNaught Wharf, at the foot of I Avenue (now the site of the Guemes Ferry Dock) and bought up large tracts of land in the vicinity in anticipation of lucrative returns once the railroads turned Fidalgo Island into the "Manhattan of the West," as promoted in one early circular. McNaught also built an impressive professional building at the top of the I Avenue hill on Eighth Street, two and a half blocks up from his wharf. In the beginning, a cadre of professionals occupied office space in the building: real estate agents, doctors, and dentists. Even G.W. Shannon's hardware store, a later fixture in downtown Anacortes, first located in this building.

(McNaught Building)
      This photo by D.B. Ewing was taken circa 1890-1891 when the McNaught Building stood at the top of the I Avenue hill (corner of Eighth Street and I Avenue). The Anacortes Hotel is barely visible to left beyond the McNaught Building at the other corner of the block. Mr. Bradley bought the McNaught Building in 1904 and moved to a new location in downtown Anacortes where it became the Anacortes Mercantile Company from 1904-1927.

      At the other end of the block, an impressive hotel was rushed to completion — the Anacortes Hotel. This was a four-story, red brick structure boasting castle-like architecture with a turret corner at Eighth Street and J Avenue. Like the McNaught building, the hotel was subsidized by another railroad man, George F. Kyle. The hotel, said to have been the grandest this side of San Francisco debuted with a huge inaugural ball for its early 1891 opening
      But the boom was short-lived and when the dust settled, railroad companies had selected Tacoma as the chosen site for the Western terminus. With that decision, the speculative building of hotels and professional buildings, such as the Anacortes Hotel and the McNaught Building, left their investors with little more than the shirts on their backs. Eventually, Amos Bowman's part of town with a dock at the foot of P Avenue became the commercial center of Anacortes and not long afterward P Avenue was renamed Commercial Avenue.
      With the business center of town established, commercial buildings were left empty or underused in out-of-the way locations in Anacortes. One by one many of them were moved by their owners or purchased by hopeful entrepreneurs who relocated them downtown. The McNaught Building was a particularly large structure left in need of a new purpose and a more favorable location. As a wood structure, it could be moved; sadly, the Anacortes Hotel, made of bricks, had to stay put. The hotel died a slow death over several decades finally standing derelict in a part of town that became solely residential. Until its demise in 1989, the hotel silently served as a reminder of the boom and bust of a long gone era with its dreams of what might have been — Fidalgo Island, the Manhattan Island of the West.

(Anacortes Hotel)
      The Anacortes Hotel, which later served as the first Whitney School, was built by George Kyle on the other end of the block fron the McNaught Building. By the time this photo was taken, the McNaught Building had already been moved to downtown Anacortes.

      In 1904 R. Lee Bradley purchased the McNaught Building. He previously sold his acreage on the Swinomish flats to go into the mercantile business, taking over the Anacortes Mercantile Company from his predecessor, Mr. Louis Foss. This mercantile business had been operating at Fourth and Commercial but a "local bank had other plans for the Platt Building, which housed his business. . . . With news that the Platt Building was no longer available to him, R. Lee Bradley purchased lots one block south at the Fifth and Commercial. Then, rather than build a new structure, he purchased the McNaught Building to be moved to his lots.
(Platt Building)
Early photo postcard of downtown Anacortes. On the right in the foreground is the Platt Building at 4th and Commercial with its corner door. This was the location where the AMC first conducted business. On the left in the middle of the postcard is the former McNaught Building that Lee Bradley purchased and moved from to this site and began a 23 year stint as the Anacortes Mercantile Company. The last part of the AMC sign appears in this photo on the third floor. Notice also the pointed roof that distinguishes the building from others.

      According to an Anacortes Museum paper on the McNaught Building, "On May 12, 1904, the Anacortes American reported that Bradley was ready to move the building, a process that ended up taking the entire summer due to the laborious effort of horses dragging the building over long timbers to the corner of 5th and Commercial. Not until September 1, 1904, did the Anacortes Mercantile announce it was in its new location and ready for business."
      Mrs. Frank Kimsey (nee Alice Bullock), a longtime resident of Anacortes, was just a girl when the process of moving the McNaught Building was happening in town. In an Anacortes American article she said that it was one of the thrills of her early childhood. She described the process in which a team of horses pulled the three-story structure sitting on some sort of turntable but other explanations only indicate that the building was dragged over logs.
      Once in place on Bradley's Commercial Avenue lots, the AM Company served local patrons from 1904 to 1927. Now converted into the Anacortes Mercantile Company, the building was described as "the largest store in Skagit County" in its day. The store terminated in 1927 with the death of Mr. Bradley, who did not have heirs to sustain his business.

(AMC Building 1916)
      This photo shows the Anacortes Mercantile Company early in 1916 after a big snow. In this photo the top attic floor with its pointed roof is barely detectible. The photographer was standing at the corner of 5th and Commercial looking NE. The Guemes Channel is a few blocks to the left of the AMC at the northern end of Commercial. Click on photo to see a larger version.

      After Mr. Bradley's ownership, the building passed through various hands over the years: Lee Foster bought it first and completed massive renovations to include apartments on the two top floors. He sold out just a few years later to Archie Allan who operated a grocery store on the main floor for thirty years. Then the old building stood mostly neglected for a number of years as the pulse of commerce crept southward on Commercial. Today the structure enjoys a new, more regal regeneration as the Majestic Inn & Spa in Anacortes. The Majestic serves customers with guest rooms, a restaurant, pub, spa and salon. Patrons can even get enjoy recuperative massages at the premises.
      With the exception of some old timers, few Anacortes residents are aware of this building's unique history. With many newcomers and retirees moving to Anacortes, the focus is on what is, not what was. So, when you visit Commercial Avenue in Anacortes, take a moment to stop and marvel at the size of the building and think, "This huge structure was moved to this location more than 100 years ago . . . without the use of heavy equipment. How amazing!"

R. Lee Bradley, Skagit Pioneer, called by death this morning
Respected Anacortes merchant and Skagit pioneer
victim of heart attack — died at 3 this morning at home

Obituary: Anacortes American, Wednesday, April 14, 1927, page one, courtesy
of the Anacortes Museum. No changes made to spelling/capitalization

      For the last 25 years one of the most well known and highly respected business me of Anacortes, R. Lee Bradley, 58, president of the Anacortes Mercantile company, died at the family home on Ninth street at 3 o'clock this morning. Although Mr. Bradley had not been in the best of health since 1924, his death was entirely unexpected and came as a distinct shock to the family and man friends in Anacortes and in all parts of the state. Funeral services will probably be conducted from the family residence at 2:30 o'clock Sunday afternoon. Other details of the services have not been definitely decided upon.
      Death of the pioneer Skagit county business man was due to a heart attack. He had been troubled with his heart since his first serious attack in 1924, but was thought to have been in excellent health. He worked in the store all day yesterday and seemed to be in good spirits. No warning of his coming death was given until he awakened his wife shortly before the end this morning. He died before the doctor arrived. Mr. Bradley had gone to Mount Vernon Tuesday to attend the funeral of William Dale, another pioneer of the county.
      R. Lee Bradley was born near Oak Harbor, Whidby Island, January 3, 1869. His father, Valentine B. Bradley of Virginia, was a cousin of W.O. Bradley, at one time governor of Kentucky. His parents located on a homestead on Whidby Island in 1863 and later came to Skagit county to make their home. [Valentine Bradley died on Oct. 14, 1871.]
      When he was 15 years old Mr. Bradley went to Seattle, where he entered a store as a clerk. In 1895 he purchased a farm on the Swinomish flats from Rienzi E. Whitney, his brother-in-law. He was a successful farmer for 12 years. In 1902 he moved to Anacortes, where he purchased the store of which he was president at the time of his death.
      Mr. Bradley and Miss Jessie Stearns of Bay View were married 1895. Mrs. Bradley is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Warl [should be Earl] H. Stearns. Besides his wife he is survived by two sisters, Mrs. Kate B. Whitney of this city and Mrs. Constance B. Lynch of San Francisco, Cal., and several nieces and nephews.
      Mr. Bradley represented Skagit county in the house of representatives of the state legislature in 1904. He lived at Stanwood in the early days. He attended school in LaConner and at the state normal school in Bellingham.
      The deceased was active in local lodge circles. He was an active member of Fidalgo lodge 77, F & A.M; Anacortes lodge 1204, B.P.O.E., and of the local aerie of Eagles. He was an active member of the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Skagit county game commission.

      Mr. R. Lee Bradley is buried in the Fern Hill Cemetery, Anacortes where other Bradley family members are buried. Mrs. Bradley (nee Jessie Stearns) is buried where her Stearns family resides in Bay View Cemetery, Skagit County. Her birth and death dates are 1875-1959.

1.      "Mr. C. N. Miller, in remarking the peculiarly advantageous position occupied by Fidalgo Island, says 'Fidalgo Island, Pointing the route for commerce to all Pacific Ocean countries, occupies a position on the Pacific Coast similar to Manhattan Island on the Atlantic Coast, pointing the route for commerce to all Atlantic Ocean countries. Fidalgo Island is destined to become the City of Anacortes as Manhattan Island became the City of New York; and as New York and Manhattan Island became synonymous terms, so will Fidalgo Island and Anacortes.'" Anacortes Illustrated, published and compiled by George P. Baldwin, printed by Allmond and Boynton, of the Anacortes American, Anacortes, Washington, circa 1891, page 22. Quote provided for this paper by the Anacortes Museum. [Return]

2.      Anacortes Museum one-page paper on the McNaught Building. No author or date given. [Return]

3.      Photo of original McNaught Building shared with Claudia Lowman by Larry LaRue of Anacortes. [Return]

4.      "Hotel Anacortes: To Be Opened to the Public Sunday," Anacortes American, January 29, 1891, page one. [Return]

5.      Photo postcard from the personal collection of Claudia A. Lowman. [Return]

6.      Louis Foss is identified by this name in the Anacortes Museum paper on the McNaught Building but is given as Lewis Foss in the biographical sketch of R. Lee Bradley in An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties. [Return]

7.      Same Anacortes Museum one-page paper as above. [Return]

8.      Same Anacortes Museum one-page paper as above. [Return]

9.      Photo postcard from the personal collection of Claudia A. Lowman. [Return]

10.      Same Anacortes Museum one-page paper as above. [Return]

11.      "Memory is Near 'Total Recall,'" article reprinted from Anacortes American story by Dan Wollam, The Anacortes Story, Second printing, 1975, page 28. [Return]

12.      Same Anacortes Museum one-page paper as above. [Return]

13.      Same Anacortes Museum one-page paper as above. [Return]

14.      Census reports for Skagit County do not record any children of R. Lee Bradley and his wife, Jessie (Stearns) Bradley. [Return]

15.      Photo from the personal collection of Claudia A. Lowman. [Return]

16.      Same Anacortes Museum one-page paper as above. [Return]

17. online description. [Return]

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