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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition 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. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of 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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James V. Van Horn and his namesake town

      Ed. note: We have had many questions about one of the smallest of the upper-Skagit villages, Van Horn, which, like many others in the county, was born and died as a timber town. We have excerpted below all the known sources about the town and its founder. We hope that a descendant of his family, or of another family who lived there — such as the Jackmans, will supply family memories or copies of documents or photos that will supplement our transcriptions of the stories below. [See the story of the Andrew Jackson Jackman family and their related upriver families in Issue 27 of the separate Subscribers Edition. Jackman creek flows through the site of Van Horn.]

(Van Horn Hotel)
      Charles Dwelley captioned this photo in the 50th anniversary edition of the Concrete Herald on June 21, 1951: "Van Horn in its heyday had an even more impressive array of buildings than Concrete. This is the hotel there in 1904, with Joe Larkin, proprietor, and family posing for the photo. Also in the picture is Al Gardinier [Gardiner?], Van Horn barber at the time. The old hotel was destroyed by fire in August 1917."

Biography of James V. Van Horn
Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, 1906, page 815
      James V. Van Horn, merchant, real estate owner, mill man and postmaster of Van Horn, has done much in developing the northwestern counties of the state of Washington, and as a slight token of the honor due him for the great services, he has done this section, two towns have been named for him, or at this suggestion, Van horn in Skagit county and Hartford in Snohomish county. In both of these places as well as in many others Mr. Van Horn has left the imprint of his character and energy. He has been an active factor in every place in which he has resided.

(Town of Van Horn)
      Caption from the same Concrete Herald on June 21, 1951: "J.V. Van horn operated this general store near where the Van Horn Service is now. In 1904 this was a thriving community with the Tower Mill Co. in the background, employing a large number of men both in the mill and in the woods." John Conrad provided more details of the town in his obituary notes for the 1970 annual Pioneer Picnic. He was eulogizing Mabel Conner Gordon, daughter of LaConner's founder, John S. Conner, and the town's namesake, his wife, Louisa Ann Conner. "The Conners raised a family of six children — three boys and three girls, and daughter Mabel fits very well into our Gordon story as she was to become belle of the town and eventually the bride of our subject, Bill Gordon. [Like her parents,] she married in Coupeville. The Gordon couple's first home was Van Horn where Bill was bookkeeper for the Tower Mill Co. sawmill, which was owned by [Wyman] Kirby and [J.T.] Hightower. [Gordon] moved on to the Concrete State Bank, then established an insurance agency there from 1911-17. After that he moved the business to Mount Vernon where the firm has continued since. Mr. Gordon was a very active citizen, serving many years as Mount Vernon city treasurer; he was a charter member of the Mount Vernon Kiwanis club, and a member of the Presbyterian church and Elk's Lodge." This photo could have been taken during the record snow of 1916.

      He was born in Jones county, Iowa, Sept. 14, 1854, the son of James P. Van Horn, a native of Pennsylvania, who, after marriage, removed to the Hawkeye state and lived the life of a farmer until 1866, when he went to Nebraska. In 1885 he went to Dakota [territory] and farmed until he passed away in 1902. Mrs. Mary (Raver) Van horn, the mother of the pioneer of whom this is written, also was a native of the Keystone state, received her education there and remained until her marriage, after which she followed the fortunes of her husband, [and she died] in 1874, when James V. was twenty years old. She left nine children: George, now deceased; William A. Isaiah, James V. Cassandra, Ames (deceased), Valdora, Jefferson D. and Milo, now deceased.
      James attended school until seventeen years old, then bravely started for himself. He first went to Nebraska and worked at farming until 1875, then continued farming in Dakota until 1892. He was ever alert for any opportunities which nature or the development of a new country might offer. When he left Dakota he came to Snohomish county, Washington, and saw the possibilities in the shingle and mercantile business in the new town, which afterwards was named Hartford, at his suggestion. He entered these lines of business, and was the first postmaster, a pioneer representative of the United States government in this new community. All parties recognized that no better man could be secured for the postoffice and he retained the position for ten years under Republican and Democratic administrations.
      Again on the lookout for good town locations he came to Skagit county and went into the shingle mill business on a more extensive scale. He started shingle mills and a settlement sprang into existence, which was called Horn, but which was changed to Van horn by the postoffice department in recognition of his services. He was again made postmaster. The postoffice receipts at the new office of Van Horn were $4 the first quarter. His first quarter's receipts when he was made postmaster at Hartford were $3.75. At the new town in Skagit county, Mr. Van horn's energy, foresight and executive ability have of as great value to the new community as they were at Hartford. He is interested in shingle mills at both places and also had a sawmill.
      In 1879 in Dakota, Mr. Van Horn married Miss Catherine Lyons, who was born in Wisconsin Dec. 25, 1859. On the death of her father when she was a little girl, she was taken into the home of Captain W.D. Lucas, a retired officer of the United State army, then residing in Dakota. Mr. and Mrs. Van horn have two children: Ray G. and Cassie Louisa. In fraternal circles Mr. Van Horn is a member of the Benevolent and Protective order of Elks and of the Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoos. His business holdings include two shingle mills, a sawmill, store and stock and a hotel. The shingle mills have a daily capacity of two hundred and fifty thousand shingles and the sawmill twenty thousand feet. He also owns three thousand acres of excellent timber land, sixteen valuable lots in the resident district of Seattle and two fine lots in the business part of Everett. Mr. Van Horn is a man wide awake to possibilities, energetic in all that he undertakes, quick to see a point of business vantage, and a man who stands high among his fellows.

      Page 323 — [Ed. note: this brief note explains why Van Horn originally named his Snohomish county Harford and also notes his continued investment in Skagit county along with others members of his extended family.] George and John F. Hart, who were engaged in the saw-mill business on the river, built the Hart hotel and opera house upon the corner of Pacific avenue and Maple street. This building is still standing and is known as the Van Horn house. The public hall part of was the main resource of Everett for many years for public gatherings.

      Page 364 — Mrs. I. Van Horn owned the Hotel Monroe in the town of Monroe. [Presumably the wife or widow of James's younger brother, Isaiah.]

Page 375, re: Hartford
      The junction point of the Bellingham and Monte Cristo divisions of the Northern Pacific, founded in 1891, at the time the first named division was being constructed. A year later the construction of the other branch made Hartford a junction point. James V. Vanhorn [sic] and his wife Kate platted the townsite June 23, 1891, and soon thereafter a thriving village sprung into existence. Fire destroyed the place early in September 1901, wiping out the four buildings constituting the business center, including J.W. Phillips's general store, B.E. Lee's saloon, and his hotel. However, new buildings soon replaced those burned and to-day there are the usual business houses to be found in a village of perhaps seventy-five people. Lake Stevens, a growing summer resort, lies only half a mile away.

Town of Van Horn was Close Neighbor
From the book, So They Called the Town Concrete, By Charles Dwelley, 1980
      The town of Van Horn was established in 1902 by James V. Van Horn of Snohomish. He had moved West in 1892 from Nebraska and in 1893 was instrumental in forming the town of Hartford in Snohomish county, starting by building a mill there. He later built and operated a hotel. He was [also] the first postmaster of Hartford [in Snohomish county].
      He was interested in setting up a mill in the Skagit valley and chose a location about three miles east of the present town of Concrete. The [Great Northern] railroad had come through the year before. He first called his settlement, "Van," but when the post office was granted the department chose to enlarge the name to "Van Horn." He built a general store and hotel and became the first postmaster. A number of homes soon were built in the vicinity of the mill.
      During the early years when the hills above Van Horn were being logged by rail, the town was a terminus where the logging trains met the main line. The rails crossed Jackman creek about a half-mile from the intersection, then came down the east side of the creek. A water tank for the locomotives was filled from the stream.
      The Van Horn Hotel burned in 1917, but as it was apart from the rest of the buildings, the store and mill were saved. In 1920 another fire wiped out the mill, after the location lost its status as a coming town site. In later years a service station was built on the highway, a grocery added [Albert Frank], and a sawmill erected. The sawmill met the usual fate by fire in 1951. There is still a small shake mill, a well-settled surrounding area, and the name is still carried on the maps as definite identification of the locality.

Concrete Herald, June 2, 1932
      After many months of weary waiting, the new highway between Van Horn and Sauk is at last open to travel, which is gratifying now to all who have occasion to visit the upper valley. The old road, with its steep grades and sharp curves, need no longer be used. The new road was opened last week and is now in regular use.

Blaze starts in fire room — entire mill afire in matter of minutes
Concrete Herald, June 21, 1951
      An early morning fire at the Rusdick Mill at Van Horn cost the community a valuable payroll Wednesday when the mill was burned to the ground. Estimates of the loss are upwards of $100,000 in mill equipment and finished lumber, and around $9,000 a month in payroll. The mill was completely covered by insurance and present plans are to rebuild as soon as possible.
      The blaze started in the furnace room and was discovered by the watchman about 4 a.m. He had other danger spots as usual during the night, but when the fire broke out he was unable to start the pump. By the time he had roused the residents nearby the entire mill was a raging inferno. The state fire crew arrived on the scene early but also had pump trouble and it was not until the Concrete pumper was secured that any appreciable water was put on the fire.
      The local pumper [Concrete], having its first real workout, proved an excellent fire-fighting machine and is credited with saving several thousand dollars worth of lumber. The mill was too far gone to be saved within a few minutes after the blaze was discovered, so no effort was made to control it. Office buildings and other small structures were saved. Besides all mill machinery, one box car was burned and thousands of feet of lumber ready for shipment, including one pile of timbers headed for South Africa. Spar trees and logs cold-decked beyond the pond were untouched.
      The mill is owned by Russell Ross and Richard Buffelen of Tacoma, who flew in Wednesday morning to check their loss. They gave Fred Desseau, local manager, orders to continue cold-decking logs and to plan on rebuilding.
      The mill was taken over by the present owners in 1945 and had a capacity of 30,000 [feet of] logs for an 8-hour shift. They specialized in finished dimension lumber.

Van Horn from Various Sources
      Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, June 29, 1939 — Van Horn dies in Seattle, April 14, 1910 (name misspelled as G.V.).
      1913-14 R.L. Polk Skagit County Directory. Van Horn, a post office on the Great Northern Railway, 30 miles by air northeast of Mount Vernon, two miles from Concrete, the banking, express and telegraph point. pac Tel & Tel Co. Mail daily. Residents: George Barkley, Edward Hawkins, Lars Moen [maybe the namesake of Moen road?], C.F. Olson, harry Robertson, Samuel Thompson, F.D. Yeager [the late Howard Miller bought Yeager's farm, south of Van Horn and Faber, and east of Moen road, and built his famous cabin there]. Businesses: E.C. Bingham sawmill; Van Horn Shingle Co.; Springsteen's Van Horn Hotel; Harvey Clark Ely's General Store and Post Office.

      Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, June 29, 1939 — J.W. Feed Co., originally S-W Grain Co. (1916), combined with Gould & Co. in 1926. Walter Van Horn bought it in 1928. That was the old feed store just west of the Northern Pacific tracks, on the north side of west State street. We do not find a sibling named Walter in the family, but we did find a Walter Van Horn born in Oregon in 1874.

      Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Sept. 24, 1953 — In about 1905, John Stendal came to Van Horn from shingle mills in Ballard and then moved his wife and seven children including P.A. "Puss" Stendal, future mayor of Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times. In 1907 they moved to a farm near Sedro-Woolley and later moved their house on log rollers into town.

      Skagit Settlers book, 1975, says Jesse V. Van Horn founded the town. This appears to be a misspelling. There is no record of a Jesse in the family and certainly not as founder of Van Horn.

      Logging Railroads of Skagit County, Dennis Thompson, 1989 — The year 1927 found the Van Horn operation at its height with 20 miles of railroad and 175 men employed.

Story posted on April 15, 2005
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