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Skagit River Journal

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Town of Allen, finally explained
Part One: Allen and Roray families and the mill

      The remains of the town of Allen, 1955. Looking west across the highway that proceeds north to Chuckanut Drive. We hope that readers will have more photos of Allen and environs in their family collections, as well as photos of Joy Busha and other Allen-area pioneers. Photo from 1955 Bellingham Herald article.

(C.S. Roray)
Clifford S. Roray Jr., as a young man. Photo courtesy of Andrea Chorney.

      We have searched for years for an explanation about the conflicting names of the town of Allen that was located on the Interurban line about a mile north of the intersection with the east-west Cook Road. Now the townsite is just a crossing on the Chuckanut Highway on the way to Chuckanut Drive with a handful of businesses. Why did the Interurban attempt to name the town Roray while the residents rose up in indignation and insisted on the name, Allen?
      A few people confused the inspiration for the name as having something to do with G.W.L. Allen, the early Skagit Valley settler who founded the nearby town of Atlanta on Samish Island and who acted as sheriff of Whatcom County before Skagit was split off in 1883. As far as we know, Sheriff Allen had no role in the town.
      Others attributed the name to a shingle mill at that intersection that was owned by a Mr. Roray and his father-in-law, Mr. Allen. Very few details were provided, however, and no first names or details about those men, so we were determined to discover what lay behind the town and the name. We thought it especially odd that there would be a conflict over the two names since the families were related. Finally, in 2006 we connected some of the dots, and then in 2007, we were contacted by a descendant of the family. We can now present at least a partial answer to this question although our research continues. First, we review the conflict, as Allen old-timer Euphronious E. "Frone" Watkinson explained it to Jack Sigurdson, a Bellingham Herald story of Nov. 27, 1955.

      There literally was "nothing here" when he settled at Allen, but a shingle mill was opened by two men, a Roray and his father-in-law, Mr. Allen. The settlement still was nameless until the interurban railway company laid its rails to Bellingham. [Journal ed. note: Stone and Webster Co. of Boston, through its Pacific Northwest Traction Co., began interurban service from Whatcom County to Skagit County in 1912.]
      "They wanted a right-of-way over Roray's property," Watkinson explained, "and he wouldn't yield unless they named the station after him. That's just what the interurban did: place a sign here reading 'Roray'!"
      However, the people of the surrounding area didn't take to the railway's concession so easily. They ripped the "Roray" sign down and in its place installed their choice: "Allen."
      To avoid a civil war, apparently, the interurban finally compounded the confusion by designating the station as "Allen-Roray," and apparently it satisfied everyone for the station existed several years under that title. All this took place about 50 years ago, Watkinson recalled.

The James W. Allen obituary leads to answers
(Kate Allen)
Kate Allen, 1899, three years before she married Clifford Roray. Photo courtesy of Andrea Chorney.

      For the first ten years that we researched this question, we were hampered because none of the sources even provided the first names of the gentlemen involved. Once again, we are indebted to Susan Nahas, coordinator of the Whatcom County Rootsweb forum, who posted the obituary for James W. Allen, which we found in 2006:
Apoplexy causes the death of J.W. Allen
Well Known Citizen of Bellingham Passes Away After Illness of Only Two Hours

      James W. Allen, a well known citizen of this city, died at the family residence, 1333 Grant Street, last evening at 6 o'clock at the age of 58 years, death being due to a stoke of apoplexy, which occurred about two hours before. Allen came to this city with his family seventeen years ago from the state of Michigan. He is survived by his wife, who was at his bedside when the end came, and one daughter, Mrs. Clifford S. Roray, wife of a prominent shingle manufacturer of Skagit County. Allen was prominent in fraternal circles, being a member of Bellingham Bay Lodge, No. 44, F. & A. M., Bellingham Bay Court, No. 1957, Independent Order of Foresters and the local lodge of Yeomen. The body lies at the residence. The funeral arrangements are to be announced later. (From The Morning Reveille, Bellingham, October 22, 1907)
      Once we had some names to work with, we had the building blocks for research and we soon found some answers. According to the 1880 Federal Census, Clifford Swing Roray was born in Pennsylvania in 1871 and he was the eldest of three children. Clifford S. Roray married Kate Allen, a daughter of James W. and Katherine (Rodgers) Allen, in Washington state in 1902. The first Northwest record we have of Roray is from Clearbrook, a few miles west of Sumas on the Canadian border, where he was listed in 1899 as a lumberman in Nelson, B.C.

Investments by Roray and Allen
      Soon after his marriage, Roray joined his father-in-law in business. Their first venture launched in February 1903 on Bellingham Bay as the three towns there prepared to consolidate as the city of Bellingham. The Whatcom Blade newspaper reported that Roray, James W. Allen and D. Daun Egan had purchased a block of tide land from Victor A. Roeder, son of the late Whatcom founder Henry Roeder. The Fairhaven Times reported that the partners' new business, Kulshan Lumber Co., planned to construct a large new shingle mill on the waterfront "at the foot of Lynn street, adjoining Loggie Bros.' big plant." That was near the Great Northern Railroad tracks, just above what later became known as Squalicum Fill. The big plant was apparently the Bellingham Canning Co., opened in 1898 by Vancouver interests and the Loggie brothers, owners of the large Whatcom Falls cedar mill. Allen and Roray projected that their mill would have a daily capacity of about 200,000 shingles.
      Egan had a lot of "grease," as they would have said in those days. A New York state native, he came to Fairhaven in 1889 at age 25 and soon became the city clerk while dealing in real estate. In 1892 he became an agent for Pierre B. Cornwall's Bellingham Bay & British Columbia Railroad and eventually rose to become chief clerk and auditor and Egan married the daughter of the railroad's chief engineer in October 1892.

(Roray-Allen wedding)
Wedding photo for Clifford S. Roray Jr. and Kate Allen, 1902. Photo courtesy of Andrea Chorney.

      Also in 1903, Roray and Allen launched their second venture as the Allen-Roray Shingle Mill roughly halfway between Blanchard and Burlington where the south fork of the Samish River crosses east to west. Unlike the villages that developed on the new 1902 route of the Great Northern north-south line, the little village of Allen formed specifically around the mill. According to the August 1907 edition of Wood Craft: A Journal of Woodworking,
      The Allen-Roray Co., manufacturer of red cedar shingles, Bow, Wash., has incorporated under the name of Allen, Roray & Sanborn, Inc., with a capital stock of $15,000. J.W. Allen is president; E.A. Sanborn, the new member of the firm, is vice-president; C.S. Roray Jr. is secretary and treasurer. Mr. Allen has retired from active business.
      Mr. Sanborn, who for the past five years has been in business near Nome, Alaska, will have charge of the merchandise department. Mr. Roray, who has managed the business since its inception, will occupy the same position under the new arrangement. The company is operating a shingle mill equipped with upright machines and with a capacity of 80,000 [shingles] per day.

      We do not know from the context whether Allen retired at that point or at some later date. The town around the mill developed slowly, according to the 1975 book, Skagit Settlers,
      Allen became a minor trading center with the opening of a road to Avon and the location of the Allen-Roray Shingle Mill there in 1903. The school had only one room until 1906 when it was replaced by a new two-room building. Bill Watkinson built a dance hall and roller rink in 1907; Grange meetings were also held there. The old school building was used for church services until a church was built and dedicated in 1915. Allen became a station on the Interurban in 1912. There was a store in town but no saloon, the only community of any size other than Avon which was consistently dry. With the coming of automobiles and the improvement of roads the importance of Allen declined but it has remained a rural center.
(Kate Allen Roray)
Kate Allen Roray, circa 1939. Photo courtesy of Andrea Chorney.

      An advertisement in a 1908 newspaper noted that the potential farmland around the Allen-Roray Mill was being marketed:
Northwest Skagit Advocate, Bow, Oct. 10, 1908
      The Lake Whatcom Logging Co. will give away logged off lands on the main road between Burlington and Bow, near Roray's mill, one acre free for each acre cleared. Parties availing themselves of this offer may leave two large stumps to each acre, but otherwise land must be ready for the plow. One year's time is given and not over ten acres to one man nor less than five acres. We have 250 acres good land for sale in this vicinity at prices ranging from $40 to $60 per acre and in lots to suit, from eight acres up. For further information apply to our agent, P. Halloran, Farmer's & Merchant's Bank, Edison, Wash.
      That item addressed two interesting points. The road to which the ad refers must have been the early wagon road between Burlington and Bow, rather than the Avon-Allen Road, which evolved in the next decade as an important wagon road. The original cited road did not extend to Blanchard in 1908. Other wagon roads such as the Ershig and Worline roads extended northwards along the Great Northern route but in the first decade of the 20th Century, most people rode the passenger train or shipped goods via the GN freight cars.

The Interurban arrives and the name conflict arose
      After ten years of stops and starts, the Interurban Railway finally came to the Skagit Valley in August 1912 as the Stone and Webster Co. of Boston and its Pacific Northwest Traction Co. PNT established an electric trolley line that ran south from Bellingham alongside the eventual Chuckanut Highway/Drive route. The village around the Allen mill was unincorporated and it did not officially have a name yet although locals had called it Allen for some time in favor of the mill.
      As Frone Watkinson explained to Sedro-Woolley historian Ray Jordan in 1962, however, the construction of the Interurban line caused quite a dustup in the village that had no official name. As Jordan wrote:

      "They wanted a right-of-way over Roray's property," Watkinson explained, "and he wouldn't yield unless they named the station after him. That's just what the interurban did: place a sign here reading 'Roray'!"
      However, the people of the surrounding area didn't take to the railway's concession so easily. They ripped the "Roray" sign down and in its place installed their choice: "Allen."
      To avoid a civil war, apparently, the interurban finally compounded the confusion by designating the station as "Allen-Roray," and apparently it satisfied everyone for the station existed several years under that title. All this took place about 50 years ago, Watkinson recalled.

      Eventually, the townspeople settled for two names, as did the folks a few miles north who called their town both Fravel and Blanchard until 1913. In this case, the official PNT schedule stop read Roray but the townsfolk kept calling the little burg, Allen. In the long run, they the locals had the last laugh. After the Interurban railway went out of business in 1929-30, at the beginning of the nationwide Depression, the rails were ripped up and the Roray depot was moved and converted to a private home.

(Edison depot)
      This Edison depot on the Interurban line is likely very similar to the Roray depot. We hope a reader will have a Roray depot sign or an Allen town sign in a family collection. Photo courtesy of Dan Miller.

The Rorays and the Allens
      Back then the folks around there might have summed all that up by remarking, "All's well that ends well." But curious historians aren't like normal people. The first question that arises for us is: "Why did Cliff Roray risk a local mini-civil war by insisting on his name for the railway stop rather than that of his father-in-law?" Was there a rift in the family? We have never found a local residence for any of the partners. Both the Allen and Roray families had Bellingham addresses in the first two decades. Also, keep in mind that when the conflict arose, James W. Allen had been dead for five years. Was there a family conflict over their mutual holdings? We wish Jordan had asked Frone in that last interview with him; Frone died three years later.
      When Claire Drummond Roray Phillips read our original story in 2007 and contacted us, she was able to help fill in the Allen and Roray genealogy but she is unaware of the details about the mill or the town of Allen. We discovered from her copy of the 1861 obituary of Kate Allen Roray that James W. Allen and his wife came west from Saginaw, Michigan, in 1882 and settled in Fairhaven where he established an Iron Works. Their daughter Kate was eight and she stayed back home and attended school until joining them in Whatcom County in 1892.

(The Lees at home)
Kate Allen Roray; her mother, Katherine Allen Lee; and her second husband, Bellingham architect Alfred E. Lee

      After James W. Allen died in 1907, his widow, Katherine, married again to Alfred Lee (1843-1933), whose first wife died in 1915. Lee came west to Oregon as a child of five with his father in a covered wagon in 1848 and was a wagon maker there from his teens until 1892 when he came north to seek his fortune as an architect. At that time, Whatcom promoters were advertising the town as a "town of opportunity" for "men with ambition." Although he did not have professional credentials, he soon became a prominent architect, obtaining commissions from the Morse and Roeder families, the First Congregational Church and Whatcom and Fairhaven high schools. His lasting legacy was the grand new city hall of 1892 that is now the Whatcom County Museum. He went on to design Old Main, the first building on the campus of the Western Normal School and the old St. Joseph's Hospital. He died in 1933 and Katherine died five years later.
      Clifford S. Roray Jr. grew up in Camden, New Jersey, the oldest of three brothers born to Clifford S. Roray Sr. and his first wife, Elizabeth. Clifford Jr.'s parents stayed on the East Coast when he migrated to the Pacific Northwest sometime in the early 1890s; he may have settled in British Columbia first. In 1902, he married Kate Allen (1874-1961), a daughter of James W. Allen (1849-1907) and Katherine (Rodgers) (1848-1938). After James's death, Katherine Allen moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, who were living in Bellingham. James Allen "Al" Roray was born there two years later, the son of Clifford and Katheryn. The father of our correspondent, Claire Phillips, died just months before she was born. Her mother, Ruth, married James A. Roray; both her parents are deceased. Claire had one brother, Robert Roray, who died in 2006, and his widow, Rita, supplied family information. Clifford Roray Jr. died in Vancouver, B.C., in 1931 and his wife, known as Kate, died on April 14, 1961, and is buried in Bayview cemetery as are many other members of the family.

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Story posted on Dec. 15, 2007 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue xx of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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