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A few years ago at a garage sale, I found an innocent-looking little brown leather field notebook, the kind that engineers tuck in their breast-pocket, which was entitled Rainy Pass, Route, 1895. On the inside front cover the author had inscribed "aug. 1895, BW Huntoon, Eng'r State Road". Not a bad buy for 50 cents but for a long time it was a mystery. Over the years since then I have been collecting newspaper articles and combing websites and a clear picture of Bert Huntoon is emerging. He may very well be one of the most important pioneers to bridge both Whatcom and counties with his impact. And even if he is second to Nelson Bennett in financial impact on both counties, his long-range effect is deeper and more sustained. If you've ever driven relatives up to Mount Baker to show off the mountain, you can thank Bert for starting that custom back in the Teen years before there were navigable roads for cars.
1. Bert Huntoon and Cascade Pass
By Gretchen A. Luxenberg—From the National Parks Service website: http://www.nps.gov/noca/hrs2-4b.htm
Washington Board of State Road Commissioners (1895)
Efforts for an overland route continued, and in 1895 a new commission was created. The Washington Board of State Road Commissioners was appointed under an Act of the State Legislature on March 22, 1895 to survey four different routes through the North Cascades. These routes would take the surveyors through the mountains via Slate Creek, the North Fork of Thunder Creek (Park Creek Pass), Cascade Pass, and Rainy Pass. [Washington Board of State Road Commissioners. Records 1895-1896. Washington State Library Manuscripts, Olympia, Washington: 1896, p.2. Hereinafter cited as WBSRC.] All four routes brought the surveyors well into today's national park.
Between July 22 and September 11, 1895, engineer Bert Huntoon and commissioners E.M Wilson, R.O. Welts, and J. Howard Watson traversed approximately 500 miles of the North Cascades. Whenever possible the group followed trails established earlier by Indians and miners. Still, they were often forced to open new trails along most of the Rainy Pass route and "travel without a trail over a part of the Thunder Creek route." [WBSRC, page 1.] Because of these conditions and the speed of the pack animals, progress was slow: on good trails they covered upwards of 18 to 20 miles a day, on poor trails or in places where extensive survey work was required they made as little as three miles in a day. Barometric altitudes and profiles were recorded and tabled along the way, as well as elevations of six mountain passes and distances between major points. A map of the country was compiled with natural features delineated including all streams and their true courses, as well as the names and locations of settlers' cabins encountered along the way: "This map is of inestimable value to the state, as all of the present government and state maps of this section are woefully erroneous and misleading." [WBSRC]
Photos like this one of bathers at the Mount Baker Lodge made Bert Huntoon famous as a photographer. Heather Inn is at the far left and Mount Shuksan is in the background.|
The four-man group departed from Marblemount where they had obtained horses and "pack outfits" for their trip, examining the Slate Creek route first. Their observations of the upper Skagit River region in 1895 are a valuable source of information today:
The trail to Slate Creek from Marble Mount runs for seventeen miles through the forest and along the Skagit River, over a fairly-level country, but after the first four miles some rock is found. In the tenth mile the "Devil's Dream" (a trail made in front of a rock wall by rude bridges above the Skagit River to avoid rock work) is reached. The trail then runs along level bottom land mostly until the end of the seventeenth mile is reached. The eighteenth mile begins with a rock point, where the Skagit Canyon and rapids are first encountered. The trail here passes along a very high rock bluff, and the work is heavy for the first mile, but some lighter in the nineteenth mile, which brings us to the site of the old goat trail bridge, which washed away in the floods of 1894. At this point the celebrated "Goat Trail" begun [sic] and extended to Cedar Bar [Davis Family Homestead location], a distance of 2 1/2 miles; and, up to within a few days of our arrival, the only mode of travel over it was on foot, using a ladder to scale the most difficult points. The volunteer work [by miners] done in the spring of 1895 by blasting half tunnels through perpendicular cliffs and constructing rude bridges across chasms made it passable for small horses, but still the grades, in places, are excessive, and the bridges and trail dangerous and difficult for even the lightest pony traffic. . . . It is a picturesque place and rugged enough for the most ardent mountain climber. [WBSRC, page 3-4.]
From Stetattle Creek, near Cedar Bar, the party continued upriver about three miles, coming to the junction of the "old Thunder Creek bridge." The Thunder Creek route branched off at this point. Continuing up the main river trail, the party climbed around Sourdough Mountain noting: "this climb being necessary as the Skagit River here runs in a rock canyon where road building is impossible without extraordinary expense. . . ." [WBSRC, page 4] The surveyors determined that the only route for a wagon road in this area would require dropping down to the Skagit River at the mouth of Ruby Creek after crossing Sourdough Mountain. [Ed. note: this is where the Skagit Queen mine would be created in 1906. See the full story with photos.]
Second leg in the Methow Valley
At the junction of the Methow and Twisp Rivers the party embarked on the second leg of their assignment, which would return them to Marblemount via Cascade Pass. Following the Methow River to the confluence of the "Twitsp" River, the men pushed on, crossing the latter to the north side and proceeding along an established trail. After crossing Twisp Pass the party dropped down to the confluence of Bridge Creek and the Stehekin River.
WBSRC routes for survey 1895 from website. We are publishing this excerpt and map because the National Park Service website was not available due to a dispute between federal agencies. Gretchen A. Luxenberg has researched and written the most in-depth and valuable profile of the Cascades, migration patterns and surveys that is available. Her work is immaculate and entertaining as well as being very well footnoted.
Going up the Stehekin River valley there is an easy water grade on bottom land for seven miles . . . From Pershall's [an early Stehekin valley settler and miner] cabin (the seven mile point) there are steep side-hills, with slide rock for about one mile, to the head of the Stehekin, when a stiff climb is made to the pass 2 1/2 miles, (or three miles by the engineer's estimate) of 2,400 feet . . . . Cascade Pass has an icy appearance even in summer as the Glaciers hug it close and snow remains in the shady side of the pass generally all the summer. [WBSRC, page 7]
From Cascade Pass the surveyors proceeded down the western slope of the ridge, noting that "the old trail is down a very steep slope and decidedly uninviting, no perceptible work even [sic] having been done on it." [WBSRC, page 8.] Within two and a half miles the party reached Gilbert Landre's cabin on the Cascade River. Landre was an early settler and miner in the region who ran a roadhouse in the backcountryxx. From Landre's cabin, the group followed a good, mostly level trail to Marblemount, a distance of about 20 miles.
The next excursion was the Thunder Creek route leading the surveyors over Park Creek Pass. Retracing their steps along the Skagit River and the Goat Trail to where Thunder Creek joins the Skagit River, the party noted:
Thunder Creek here comes through a rocky gorge, a rare picture of beauty, but expensive from the road builders point of view. It empties into the Skagit River which here runs through a rocky canyon, and unless one stands directly in front of Thunder Creek its place of entrance into the river is hidden by the close towering walls. [WBSRC, page 10]
Continuing up Thunder Creek the surveyors traveled along an established miner's trail noting "the route is easy, the present narrow trail being fairly well graded, but needing a great deal of work." [WBSRC] At the ten-mile point a "tree" bridge redirected the trail across the creek where it then continued up toward Thunder Creek Pass (Park Creek Pass today) traversing a steep slope on which a trail had never been built. From the pass the party descended to Bridge Creek. Having already traversed the route along Bridge Creek to Twisp Pass, the men retraced their steps and returned to Marblemount.
The last route led the surveyors along the previously traveled Slate Creek route to Granite Creek. Beginning at Marblemount and traveling to Ruby Creek the party crossed Rainy Pass, "along which a trail had never been even blazed," and then proceeded down Bridge Creek to State Creek, up State Creek to Washington Pass, and then down Early Winters Creek to the Methow River valley. [WBSRC, page 12-13.] Except for the initial part of the journey this route led the surveyors outside the boundaries of today's park.
The upshot of the survey, in 1896
The commissioners published their findings in a report in 1896. Photographs were taken on the four routes depicting scenes along the Skagit River and Ruby Creek. The "Approach to Devil's Corner" (the footbridge visible and accessible today) and Devil's Corner itself (not accessible today) were also photographed. Apparently impressed by the ingenuity of miners, the commissioners elaborated on their efforts:
[the] Goat trail is truly picturesque and shows the energy displayed by the active interests of the Slate Creek mining district in opening a way of ingress and egress. There is considerable of this [photo depicting a trail beneath a rock overhang] which is built in the most available places without regard to grades and the roof just high enough for pack horses to pass under safely. [WBSRC, page 8.]
After careful consideration of all four routes, the Board determined: "the route up the Twitsp [sic] River, over Twitsp Pass, down Bridge Creek, up the Stehekin River, over Cascade. . . Pass and down the Cascade River the shortest and the most feasible and practicable." [WBSRC, page 15.]
Road work did actually commence as a result of the 1895 survey. In the spring of 1896, and with a road width of forty feet established, foremen and laborers were hired to begin the work. On the east side of the mountains, Stehekin valley settler Merritt Field contracted with the state to operate "the boarding houses [for laborers] at the two central camps on lower Bridge Creek and Stehekin, doing all of the packing and moving of these two camp outfits, as desired, free of cost to the State." [WBSRC, page 18.] The road crew was able to construct a road from Stehekin to Bridge Creek, running past Coon Lake (a later road, a mine-to-market road, was built from Bridge Creek to Horseshoe Basin in the 1940s). The "road" to Bridge Creek, however, was not without faults: logs lay across it and large rocks were never removed. Consequently, the road was not used. Today, portions of this route have become a hiking trail within the national park. Some valley residents contend the early road can still be followed in its entirety, despite the vegetation that has grown over it.
In 1896, a road on the west side was built twelve miles up the Cascade River but it too was never completed across Cascade Pass. Ironically, the road that would eventually traverse the mountains followed a route that the commissioners had determined to be the longest and "the most expensive part of the Slate Creek route." [WBSRC, page 14.] The North Cross State Highway, also known as the North Cascades Highway, was completed 77 years after these men surveyed the region — more than one and one half centuries after the first recorded crossing of the North Cascades was accomplished by a Euro-American.
—Gretchen A. Luxenberg, Author, Cultural Resources Division, Recreation Resources and Professional Services,
Pacific Northwest Region, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1986
I am indebted to several individuals whose earlier efforts researching the history of the North Cascades provided an excellent base from which to begin my work: Erwin Thompson, whose History Basic Data was invaluable; Gay Robertson, who recorded oral histories from more than two dozen people and then painstakingly transcribed all of the tapes; and Carol Stone, for her stamina in completing extensive newspaper research.
2. Bert Huntoon jumpstarts Sehome Hill Park
The following is the third in a series of articles recounting the history of Bellingham's Parks, taken from "A History of Bellingham's Parks" by Aaron Joy (available for sale at the Whatcom Museum and Henderson's Books). From a great collection about Happy Valley by John Servais in the Whatcom Watch magazine online: http://www.whatcomwatch.org/v9i9.html. Whatcom Watch is a marvelous magazine that is also available in hardcopy by subscription.
On the morning of June 27, 1922, Bellingham Mayor E. T. Mathes, members of the Bellingham park board, and a Bellingham Herald reporter made an ascent up the incomplete Huntoon Drive (today Arboretum Drive) to a 600-foot elevation on Sehome Hill, about forty feet below the summit. This was the first ascent up Sehome Hill by automobile, an Overland sedan driven by Park Commissioner Bert Huntoon.
About two weeks later the road was opened to the public and a year after that it was extended to the summit. The finished road formed a complete loop over the hill, going up the hill behind the college to the summit (where the trails are today) and then down the back on what is now Arboretum Drive.
On the day of the excursion in 1922, the Bellingham Herald reporter wrote, "Both Mayor Mathes and the park commissioners are enthusiastic over the possibilities of this drive for bringing Bellingham to the attention of the tourist world. They believe that every year the Sehome Hill trip will be the greatest attraction Bellingham has to offer within its own precincts."
But, the drive up Huntoon Drive, "overlooking the city and its magnificent harbor" (Bellingham Bay Reveille), marked more than just the creation of a new tourist attraction. It was also the semi-official inauguration of a park that had been desired since the 1890s Sehome Hill Park, called "one of the grandest natural parks in the U.S." by the Bellingham Sunday Reveille of April 29, 1923.
Bert Huntoon took this photo of the Mount Baker Lodge before it burned in 1931 (click on thumbnail for full-size photo).|
Sehome Hill was named after a Clallam tribe subchief whose daughter married early settler Edmund C. Fitzhugh. The first records of development to Sehome Hill start in 1855 when surveyor J. Wilson Lysle acquired the land by staking a donation claim. He wanted to mine coal on the hill, but its steep slope prevented any development along this plan.
During the 1870s, logging cleared much of the hill's old growth timber. This continued until 1904 when better quality logging sites were discovered in the Chuckanut Hills.
During the 1890s, Sehome Hill was also the site of the Sehome Quarry, a quarry carved into the Chuckanut Sandstone formation. Chuckanut Sandstone, a rock that is durable and excellent building stone, was used in the foundations of Western Washington University's Old Main, the courthouse that is today the site of Fouts Park, the DeMattos Block (Sunset Building on State Street), along with numerous other buildings and residences in Whatcom County.
Sandstone was originally discovered around 1856 on Chuckanut Bay, the future site of the Chuckanut Quarry, by one of Bellingham Bay's first white settlers, Captain Henry Roeder.
The sandstone formation includes rocks that were transported to the area about 48 to 55 million years ago by meandering rivers that existed before the Cascade Mountains. The Chuckanut formation is one of the thickest sequences of non-marine sedimentary rock in the world.
3. Bert and Mount Baker
From the website: http://www.bellingham.org/baker/Lodge.asp
Bert Huntoon and nine Whatcom County developers formed the Mount Baker Development Company in 1923. They proposed construction of a luxury lodge at Austin Pass Meadows. The company leased a 5-acre tract from the U.S. Forest Service for $125 a year over 15 years, with renewal privileges. On the company's guarantee to build, backed by $25,000, the federal government agreed to fund construction of a nine-mile extension from the end of the road at Shuksan to the new hotel.
In 1925, the Mt. Baker Development Co. issued its first $250,000 in stock. More than 850 shares, valued at $100 each, sold within two hours. That year, forest rangers completed the trail to Table Mountain, overlooking Austin Pass Meadows. In 1926, the hotel site was renamed Heather Meadows (Hwy. Mile 55) to avoid confusion with Austin Pass. By autumn, the road to Heather Meadows was finished.
Bert Huntoon took this photo of a pack train near Highwood Lake Heather Meadows |
Thanks to Huntoon and local legislators, Washington state paid for the final section of Mount Baker Hwy. They lobbied for an Act making the highway (from Bellingham east) part of the Pacific Highway being built along the West Coast.
The new highway led to the Mt. Baker Lodge, which opened to a grand celebration on July 14, 1927. Total cost for the resort was $500,000, Each of the 100 guest rooms had hot and cold running water and a telephone. Fir pillars supported cathedral ceilings, cedar shakes covered the roof and interior walls. The lodge even had a hydroelectric power plant on Bagley Creek.
The Forest Service estimated that 11,700 guests visited the lodge its opening year. Hollywood stars were among them when William Fox Films shot 'Wolf Fangs" there. In 1928, a 32-room annex was built to increase capacity.
By 1929, the highway department finished the road 3 miles beyond Heather Meadows to Artist Point. The 58-mile Mount Baker Hwy. finally was completed at a cost of $800,000.
At 5:20 a.m. on Aug. 5, 1931, tragedy struck Mt. Baker Lodge. An electrical fire swept through the main hotel, igniting oil tank and sending flames 1,000 feet into the air. By 7:45 a.m., the building was gone. Fortunately, no lives were lost. Guests were housed in the annex, and the resort stayed open through the Depression, though it was falling into disrepair. A last "hurrah' came in 1934 when Twentieth Century Pictures chose Heather Meadows and the Nooksack River to film "Call of the Wild." Cast and crew stayed at the lodge.
[Ed. note: of course, that film starred Clark Gable and Loretta Young, and on the way back home, they . . . But that's another story for another time.]
4. The Huntoon Building in Anacortes, 1890
by Bill Mondhan, from: The Anacortes Story, magazine published by Anacortes Museum of History and Art,
Dan Wollam, Ed., 1965, p. 11, Reprinted from Anacortes American (unknown date),
In May of 1890, contractors Trafton and Anderson completed the handsome Victorian building for John Huntoon, a Boise City, Idaho banker. It was valued at nearly $6,200.
Huntoon opened his building for rental in June. Commanding a key position at the head of McNaught's wharf, the structure boasted six retail outlets on the ground floor and ten rooms on each of the two upper floors. Investors stepping from steamers found this impressive structure a sure sign that Anacortes was destined for prosperity.
But in 1893 the Boom collapsed and Huntoon Building, by then known as the Fidalgo Hotel, was acquired by W.G. Beard. Following extensive renovations, Beard moved his family into the abandoned building.
As a leading businessman and the city's third postmaster, Beard considered moving the Huntoon Building to a Commercial Avenue location. However, after viewing the cost of such an enterprise he erected the building that now houses Andrew's Variety. In more recent years Mr. and Mrs. Bart Claghorn Sr. (Mrs. Claghorn is a daughter of Beard) lived in and operated an antique shop in the building.
5. Bert Huntoon and Mount Baker Lodge
From an undated 1940 article in the Bellingham Herald
For fifty years he has spread fame of county's scenic playground
According to the Chinese proverb, "a picture is worth 10,000 words." If that is true, the #1 publicist of the Pacific Northwest is Bert W. Huntoon, whose outdoor photographs, printed in magazines and newspapers throughout the county, have been "read" by millions of persons.
"Huntoon photo" is the hallmark of excellence. Yet Mr. Huntoon clings to his amateur rating and his scenics, into which he is able to put "that something" which gives them outstanding distinction, have been made and distributed, not for profit, but for spreading the pictorial story of the natural beauty of Whatcom county.
Some of the panels and murals in the Washington exhibits at the New York and San Francisco World's fairs last year were reproduced from Mr. Huntoon's negatives, and a large number of his pictures have been used by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads in their advertising programs in the East.
Mr. Huntoon, who has been a resident of Bellingham bay for fifty years, during most of which time he has been engineer for the Pacific American Fisheries, Inc., is in no small measure responsible for much of the scenic highway development in the county, including the Mount Baker Highway. He was manager of Mount Baker Lodge several years during and after the construction of the original buildings, and no name is more closely associated with that development than his. He was formerly county engineer and also served for years as a member of the Bellingham park board, during which time he was active in bringing about the development of Sehome hill park. Huntoon drive was named in his honor.
Mr. Huntoon still is one of the city's most ardent outdoor camera enthusiasts, and The Herald still counts on him for superlative scenic shots, some of which appear in this edition.
Story posted on April 13, 2002
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