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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
(Seattle & Northern 1890)
Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered:
Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated
to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness

Noel V. Bourasaw, editor 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Capsule biographies, Big Lake area,
Montborne, Ehrlich, south and east

(Ehrlich shingle mill)
This photo of the Hughes and Blake mill and general store at Ehrlich is from the fine book Skagit Settlers, which is still for sale at the LaConner Historical Museum.

      Over the next few years, we will add capsule biographies of key families from the Big Lake area. Do you profiles of your own family or another family from any region of Skagit county? If you do or you have newspaper stories or family research, please mail us a copy or if you have already logged it your computer, email us with the story as an attachment. These capsule biographies will be featured for every area of the county.

Theiler family, Ehrlich pioneers
John Conrad obituary notes 1970
      Ed. note: This brief story is based on the 1970 obituary notes that John Conrad prepared for the annual Skagit county Historical Society August picnic. Conrad prepared the profiles from 1949-73 and we have transcribed them at this portal website: http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/SkagitCtyRiv/Library/Conrad/ConradIntro.html We add to his notes our own research from various sources.
      Born in the heavily timbered county at Ehrlich near Big Lake was Lena Bean, 83, of Burlington. Her parents, Joseph and Anna Theiler, came to Puget Sound in 1885, and to LaConner in 1886. That same year, the ambitious couple took up a homestead on stump land between McMurray and Big Lake. It was an isolated region in the five years before the coming of the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railway (later the Northern Pacific railway).
      Mr. Theiler cleared his land by hand and horsepower and was too busy to work at [logging] camps first. There were two logging outfits nearby, the L. Holton Co. and the Nelson-Neal Lumber Co., the latter with a sawmill at Montborne, which logged the Montborne, Walker Valley and Devil's Lake area, with a cookhouse and camp at Ehrlich. Pingree-Day Shingle Mill was an early industry and the store and men named Hughes and Blake operated Ehrlich Post Office. The first school for the Theiler children was at Montborne and one of the first teachers was Ethan Allen, followed by Will Hammack of Mount Vernon, then Josephine Garl, a Burlington girl for whose folks Garl street [later Hwy. 99] was named. Mrs. Minnie Look of Bay View [her husband was Tom Look] taught at Big Lake at the same time.
      When Ehrlich School later started, the first teacher was Julia Werner, [followed by] Miss Dickson and then Mr. Vaughn, both of the Sedro area. The NP railway ran two or three passenger trains each way daily, so much shopping was done in Sedro-Woolley and Arlington [in Snohomish county]. There were no roads to the west except a narrow cedar puncheon road for hauling shingle bolts to mills. The Theiler girls remembered many enjoyable evenings at dances in neighboring communities, usually going by train and walking home later via the tracks — not today's conveniences, but they said they enjoyed it more. Sister Lottie met her husband, a shingle weaver, on one of those outings. Lottie, who died three years ago, was the first baby born in Montborne and the attending doctor was Dr. Hyacinth P. Montborne, who laid out the town named for him.

Journal research:
      In the first issue of the Skagit News in March 1884, Dr. Montborne announced his office and his plans for building a hospital in Mount Vernon. His planned town preceded Big Lake but he did not actually lay it out. That was done by the Fairhaven Land Co. [FLC] of Nelson Bennett, who had big plans for the Fairhaven & Southern [F&S] rail line that would cross the Skagit at Mortimer Cook's village of old Sedro and then continue south to Seattle. Bennett and Edgar L. Cowgill filed an initial plat for the proposed town on the east shore of Big Lake on Nov. 27, 1888. By the time that the plat was actually accepted on May 21, 1890, by Skagit county, however, F&S had stalled at Cook's wharf on the north side of the river. The Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern rail line, which stretched from Sumas to Seattle, gained the right-of-way through Clear Lake and Big Lake. The town of Montborne died during the Depression of the 1890s but people who live in that region still say they hail from there.
      We attended the fine Big Lake history open house on April 7, 2004, in the grade school at the north end of the lake and received a great basic education about the Big Lake-Montborne area. Madlyn Yarcho, Melba Hall, Onnalee Woiwood, Fred Meyers, Penny Schons, Mary Ann Seehorn and more than a dozen volunteers have hosted this open house every two years for the past decade and the results are stunning, with photos, documents and family scrapbooks providing pieces of the area history that fit together. Here is a summary they produced that briefly explains how Montborne formed and then Ehrlich, at the south end of the lake, to the west of a swampy area.

Montborne and Ehrlich basics
      Walker valley and Montborne [to the east of Big Lake] were the first sections around Big Lake to have settlers, mills and schools. In 1887, while Hugh Walker was settling in Walker valley and building a mill, Dr. H.P. Montborne built a shingle mill and homesteaded in Montborne. His was the first home to be built there. Material for his house was hauled over a trail from Mount Vernon. Dr. Montborne was a much better doctor than lumberman, however, and the shingle mill soon collapsed and went into receivership.
      An area just south of Big Lake was homesteaded in 1886 by Joseph and Anna Theiler of Switzerland. There was just a trail from Mount Vernon to their homestead and Mr. Theiler carried the household goods on his back to their new home in Ehrlich. The Weppler family moved from Finn Settlement [between Big Lake and Lake McMurray to the south] to Theiler Spur in 1897, the Charles McInnes family came next and after the Depression, in 1898, a railroad station was built. In 1900, Frank Ehrlich built a shingle mill and Theiler's Spur became known as Ehrlich. Various mills ensured and by the 1920s, much of the first-growth timber was gone and the mill and dry kiln were torn down and stores and buildings of the town were dismantled and the lumber was used for other homes around Big Lake. For more information about this area and schedules of upcoming events and open houses, you can write to: Melba Hall, 1749-A Hwy. 9, Mount Vernon, WA 98274.

Story posted on August 13, 2004
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