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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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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Conway, Thomas P. Jones & Charles Villeneuve

(Conway, 1890s)
     This view from an old postcard is the main street of Conway in the 1890s. Can you identify the buildings or do you have any memories of these stores?

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2002
      We had the great joy of introducing Tonya Senkbeil to the town that her great-great-grandfather helped found in the early 1870s. The Skagit Valley Herald sent a reporter and photographer along in June as we enjoyed a late lunch with Justin Sheridan at the tremendous Conway Pub and toured Pamela Howard's Conway Antiques and Brad and Jo York's Curious Goods. Charles Villeneuve first settled here in 1872, joining Thomas P. Jones as they built the town of Conway, and two decades later he and his son helped build the old town of Woolley. This story will illuminate Villeneuve's role in forming Conway. In the near future, we will share the story of how he and his son helped build old Woolley.
      Here is a handwritten description of early day Conway that was written by famed historian John Flood Conrad in 1950. He knew Conway well, having grown up near LaConner when his father Charles farmed the old Downey place. Flood was his middle name because he was born during the freshet of 1894 that started the terrible trio of floods that included 1896 and 1897. Conrad logged lives and deaths all over the county for decades, continuing the work of pioneer E.A. Sisson. We are very grateful to Conrad's nephew, Morris Erickson, for sharing with us some extensive Conrad notes. Morris was a good friend of my late brother, Jerry, when we grew up in the Utopia district, upriver.

Conway, Thomas P. Jones and Charles Villeneuve Sr.
      Conway in Skagit county, Washington, was first settled in 1874 when Thomas P. Jones, an 1858 immigrant from Conway, Wales, homesteaded 120 acres of valley bottomland. The tract extended from the Skagit River to the present State Highway 99 and included the townsite of Conway.
(Charles Villeneuve Jr.)
Charles Villeneuve Jr. grew up in Conway and later became marshal of Sedro-Woolley. See him in the bank robbery reenactment on Sept. 8, Founders Day, in Sedro-Woolley.
      Arriving earlier in 1872 was Charles Villeneuve from Canada, who bought land for a home on a small island now spanned by the bridge trestle on the Conway side. In 1886 he rented the hotel at Fir, which was owned by Magnus Anderson, a Norwegian emigrant of 1869. Anderson moved from his homestead on North Fork [of the Skagit] to a tract of land purchased north of Conway in 1887. In 1888, Villeneuve was the first operator of the new Lafayette ferry a mile north of Fir and he established a home and a small store at the east landing, near the present-day Will Olson home [2001: just south of Britt's Slough]. His was the first store on the Conway side.
      With the coming of the Great Northern Railway in 1889 and its completion in 1891, the new depot took the name of Fir from the only post office of the day, located across the river. Fir had originally been called Mann's Landing. When the railroad began operating in 1891, Mr. Jones sold business sites for the new town, calling it Conway in honor of his old Welsh home. Mr. Villeneuve moved his store to be near the depot and started the new Conway post office. In 1895, he sold to Magnus Anderson, who later turned it over to his son-in-law, John Melkild, who continued the business until selling it in 1919.
      The first school on the Conway shore was a one-room affair called the Jones school, which opened in 1888 about a quarter mile south of the present town and on the river bank just west of the Tiedeman home. A road extended east from there, on up the hill by the Gilbert Hanstad home. Another ran up the riverbank to the ferry.
      Miss Jennie Anderson, Now Mrs. A.A. Peterson of Bellevue, was the first teacher and the six-month term ran from March to September, avoiding the muddy winter months. Many of the pupils came from the Fir side by boat, saving them the muddy walk to the Fir school near Dry Slough. The latter school began about the same time with Tom Hayton as teacher. The next three years of school at Conway was taught by Miss Courtney, a native of Arkansas. In 1892, Miss Emma Herren was in charge, followed by John Zig Nelson in 1893. Following his term, the little building was dismantled and moved to the high land at the Vike place, about a quarter mile south of the present Conway school.
      A possibly incomplete roster of pupils attending these first terms at various times would include [married name and present city in ()]:
      William D., Edward and Maud (Mrs. James Hayton) Good of Dry Slough; Mattie (Mrs. R.H. Abrahams, Seattle), Mame (Mrs. W.A. Hammack of Conway) and Alice (Mrs. John Melkild, Conway) Anderson. Charles Jr., Cecelia, Ida, Zella, Eugene and Bennie Villeneuve; Wiliam, Chester, Leo, Jessie and Lillie Lloyd; Mamie (Mrs. A. Moen, Fir) Johnson; Charles Carpenter; M. Clayton; Mary Ann (Mrs. Frank Mann) and William Lish; Gustav and Elida (Mrs. Alfred Knutzen, Bellingham) Vike; Gertie (Mrs. George Johnson, Conway), Kella (Mrs. Dahle, Mount Vernon) and Oscar Vike; GClarinda, Willis and Cleon Gates (Jasper, father); William and George Starbird; Clarence, Maggie and Bert Manning; Arthur and Albert Nelson; Arthur Hayton; Edward Engen; Roy Silvernail; Leland Sanstrom; Sofie Johnson; Lucy Sleeth.

      Please email us here if you have corrections of the spelling of any names or have memories of these pioneer families. Also we are seeking scans of photos of Conway to help illustrate future stories; we never ask for your originals. Does anyone know what happened to Thomas P. Jones?

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Story posted on April 30, 2002, last updated Feb. 16, 2009
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This article originally appeared in Issue 3 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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