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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, 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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The Genesis of Belfast

      This photo from the late Howard Miller was taken looking north from just south of the Samish river. We have no idea of the year. The Holiday Ballroom, which many baby boomers will remember from their proms, was apparently openeded after World War II on the east side of the road, just north of the river and bridge. Belfast was clustered along the Great Northern Railroad and the Bloedel-Donovan Railroad, and the Pacific Coast Highway and Hwy 99 was built over the latter's right-of-way. That's Bow Hill in the background and Jarman Prairie at the upper right. The town began to fade after the Great Northern built their cut-off to Chuckanut in 1902-03, and eventually died out a while after the Bloedel-Donovan Logging Camp 6 closed in 1912. You can see the diagonal tracks to the northwest of that cut-off when you drive north on old Hwy 99 north of the Cook road.

By Ray Jordan, Yarns of the Skagit Country, 1976
Transcribed by Larry Spurling, special correspondent to the Skagit River Journal

      Where is Belfast? U.S.A., that is.
      About the only landmark left in the vicinity is an old two-story house on the east side of Old Highway 99 about one-half mile north of the Samish River. There is little else to indicate where the town proper once stood grouped around the site now occupied by the present Reichlin home a little farther north and about 5 miles north of Burlington.
      So there is nothing left but a few meager records, and memories to point out that it was once a busy, thriving little town fed by the logging camps nearby, the log and shingle bolt drives down the Samish River, and bolt drives down Friday Creek, a mill and a main line railroad.
      William Gilmore, Sr., pioneer merchant of Edison, was the father of Belfast according to one of his early day friends, B.F. Smith. He supplied the Belfast area in the earlier days and expecting a large town to sprout up with the coming of the railroad financed several businesses there. And since he was a native of Belfast, Ireland, he named the place for his hometown.

      In 1889, the Fairhaven & Southern Railroad Company, ramrodded by "Uncle" John Donovan, built a line south from Fairhaven by way of Lake Samish down Friday Creek to just below the Samish Fish Hatchery, then easterly along the north side of Jarman Prairie and on into Sedro Woolley, the first permanent, conventional passenger and freight railroad in the county, though ownership soon passed to the Great Northern Line. [Built in 1888-89, the first F&S train pulled into old Sedro on Christmas Eve, 1889. It was sold to GN in 1890.] This pioneer ribbon of steel passed within about three-fourths of a mile of what later was called Belfast.
      The first industry in the vicinity was a logging operation promoted by W.E. Gilkey and Fred Parker who had a camp and lumber mill near the present Frank Reichlin, Sr., residence (A.A. Moody, former owner). Exact dates are not known, but R.F. Smith of Samish Island, who arrived at Belfast in 1891, found his first employment with Gilkey and Parker. This company drove logs [that] it didn't saw down the Samish to salt water.
      The same year of Smith's arrival, the Great Northern extended its line from Belleville through Belfast and joined the Fairhaven & Southern (which it had acquired) at the Samish Fish Hatchery. Belfast was now on the map.

Belfast mushrooms overnight
      In a short time a community mushroomed complete with hotel, restaurant, the inevitable saloons, and a small railroad depot which sat (during the writer's time) on the west side of the railroad near the Reichlin homes. A county census of 1900 gives Belfast precinct a population of 206, compared with 525 for Burlington precinct.
      According to R.F. Smith's memory, two Callahan brothers and a man named Green built the next plant, a shingle mill, on the south bank of the Samish River east of the present Old Highway 99 bridge. This company fell into financial difficulties and passed into receivership. A man from Anacortes leased the mill from receivers for one year, after which time, in the mid-1890s, the Moody family bought the mill. The train stop there was known as Moody.
      The Moodys operated the mill and fairly extensive logging operations under the name of Belfast Manufacturing Company. For a time they drove their logs down the Samish River to salt water then switched to shipping by railroad. In 1906, the Moodys sold out to the Bloedel-Donovan Company. There after the operation was known as Bloedel's Camp 6 [Julius Bloedel].
      During its heyday as a railroad town there was stage and mail service between Belfast, Bow and Edison. A Jim Fern was one of the early day stage drivers.
      According to an interview with Mrs. J.J. (Sallie) Conner in 1963, she came to Belfast in 1901 and left in 1909. She was post-mistress from 1901 and left in 1903 when the post office was moved to Moody, on the Samish River. [See this Journal website about Sallie and her husband, Julius "J.J." Conner: ]
      At this time mail was sorted at Belfast and delivered by one of the Gilkeys to Bow, Edison, Equality Colony, and Blanchard. Her husband fired donkey for Isaac Frankenberger, upriver logger, from 1901 to 1903. There were two saloons during her stay, one of which was run by Cole Queen, and Bill Elmore ran a general store. At one time Jim Wiles had a store there too, she remembered.
      But evil days at last came to Belfast. In 1902, the G.N. built the Chuckanut Cut-Off from Belleville to Bellingham and not long afterward abandoned the passenger service through Belfast, though it continued to handle freight.
      The writer well remembers the countless log trains that rolled through Belfast until Bloedel-Donovan finished logging at Camp 6 about 1912. The steel was not removed until sometime between 1917 and 1920, however. The present Old Highway 99 from Belleville to the Samish Fish Hatchery occupies the old railroad right of way.
      The first (pre-railroad) wagon road started at Allen, snaked its way over the southerly portion of Bow Hill, then northerly past the big, two-story George N. Shumway home that stood so majestically on the bench west of Camp 6, then up the valley to Belfast. This road was originally pioneered by settlers and loggers.
      Later, the more direct Indian trail north of Belfast between Bow and Friday Creek was widened to a passable wagon road, probably to improve stage and delivery service between Edison and the railroad at Belfast.

Early Belfast settlers
Ginseng was a very important crop in the valley at the turn of the century. This ginseng farm was located someplace between Belfast and Belleville. Photo courtesy of the fine book, Chechacos All, which is still for sale at the Historical Museum in LaConner.

      Among the earliest settlers of Belfast, aside from R.F. Smith, were Cole Queen (saloon keeper), Charles Taggart (restaurant proprietor), George N. Shumway, Isaac Frankenberger, Jules Conner, the Moodys and George Graves, [a] one-armed blacksmith and millwright who once live in what is now the oldest standing house in Belfast, built in early days by R.F. Smith and Abraham Hickson.
      As R.F. Smith remembers it, a Mrs. McLaughlin was the first school teacher and two of her daughters taught there later. Perry Gable, he thinks, sang the swan song for the saloonkeepers. He also recalled an [unknown first name] Noyes who once had a logging camp near the Friday Creek bridge, and who sent a huge log from the east side of Friday Creek, requiring three railroad flatcars to carry it, to the Worlds Fair at Chicago in 1893. Initial construction on the Samish State Fish Hatchery started in 1898. Improvements and expansions have continued through the ensuring years.
      Later comers were the John J. Ruthfords and the Lafe Jordans, both families arriving on the same rainy day in 1909, the Jon Edvald Jonassons, Joe Sandman, Walter Hansen, and the Will Wymans, to mention a few.
      With the loss of railroad passenger service to the Chuckanut Cut-Off [Great Northern Railroad, 1902-03] the fortunes of Belfast proper began to decline, though Camp 6 still boasted quite a community until closure of the logging camp and mill during 1912-13, after which Bloedel-Donovan confined operations to the Alger vicinity.
      Farming, since the turn of the century, increased in proportion to the disappearance of the timber resources and consequent loss of payrolls. With the closing of the Alger logging operations in 1928, Belfast lost it last large nearby source of employment and has since merged into the farming community it is today.
      Gone are the snoosh-chewing loggers and mill hands, the bawling ox teams, the big horses toiling over skid roads, the toot of steam donkey whistles as the powerful machines yarded fortunes in timber to the landings.
      Long since torn down in the old Cole Queen saloon building with its cork-scarred floors where we learned to swing the gals around the squeaky tunes of Lew Stuckey's fiddle, but the memories linger on.

Links, background reading and sources

      See this Journal website for a timeline of local, state, national and international events for years of the pioneer period.
      Search the entire Journal site.

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(bullet) Story posted on Dec. 14, 2003, and last updated on July 29, 2006
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