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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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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Early history of Burlington, Washington

(Burlington Farm Journal office)
Burlington Farm Journal office in Burlington at the turn of the century. Photo from Sebiring's Skagit County Illustrated, December 1902

      Ed. note: we found this story in the files of the Burlington Library and we want to share it with you because it was written in the flowery language that was contemporary to the late-19th century. The Burlington Farm Journal article was dated March 16, 1967, we guess, because the stamp is unclear. The introduction says that Mrs. Lloyd Hartman of the Skagit County Historical Society gave a talk on the early origins of Burlington. That society was formed in 1958 so the story could not have been dated as 1957. Although the Journal editor does not elaborate about who wrote the material, we do not think it was Mrs. Hartman. We suspect that she was quoting an earlier author. As you will read below, the author says she was alive in Burlington in 1887. Since we know that Lloyd Hartman was born in 1901, we doubt that his wife was 20 years older than Lloyd.
      Update: We have discovered that this was Mrs. Hazel Hartman, who was a very early Society member. She was born in 1897 and passed away in 1984, so she could not have been the original author of the memoirs. Once again, we point out the sad practice of omitting from articles the first names of married women, which was not corrected by editors until the 1970s in most cases, especially in weekly newspapers. Additionally, in most obituaries through the 1960s, the maiden name and family of deceased married women was usually omitted, a practice that vexes genealogical researchers.
      From various clues, we deduce that the original author wrote her memoirs in the mid- to late-1920s, before the electric Interurban railway failed. Whoever the original author was, he or she uses very evocative prose that will appeal to many of your senses, explaining not only the sounds and sights, but also the smells of a tiny logging village. We only wish we had more manuscripts about early Mount Vernon, Sedro and Woolley like this one. We have been fortunate to discover such manuscripts about early LaConner and Avon, in addition to these memories about Burlington Hopefully a reader will find such memoirs and journals in an old trunk and share them with us so that we can then share the information with readers. Information within [ ] includes our explanation from other sources or guess at words when the copy was illegible.

History of Burlington townsite
By Hazel Hartman, Burlington Farm Journal, March 16, 1967
      Somewhat over 30 years ago, a primeval forest whose spires pierced the clouds above, whose roots extended in all directions in the moist, moss-covered earth below; a place where devil's club, vine-maple and fallen, half decayed logs mingled within chaotic profusion with tangled vines, fern bracken and thimbleberry bushes.
      A dense undergrowth, dark, impenetrable, where bands of elk and deer and roamed at will; where numerous black bear reveled in peace and plenty, feeding on rots and berries in summer and curling up in dens in hollow logs or beneath upturned roots of fallen trees securely housed for the winter; where the startling scream of the cougar far up the mountainside broke the stillness of the night; where innumerable frogs held their nightly chorus in the stained waters of the marshes, where wandering tribes of Siwash Indians ate their clams or dried their salmon and venison by the smoke of their campfires; where the sound of revelry floated up from the river bank when they held their time honored Potlatch, the beat of the tom-toms, the monotonous chanting, the dancing forms in the shadows cast by the dark forest in the flickering firelight, weird and impressive scenes now beheld no more. Then a new epoch began.

The recent past, white man influences
      Attracted by the magnificent virgin forest, representing untold wealth, the white man came. The wild creatures fled superseded by them whose destiny it is to subdue the earth. The mysterious silence was broken and the mysterious sounds of the deep woods were lost or unheeded by the ringing of axes as they buried themselves in the hearts of the sturdy fir trees and the magnificent cedars, and the boom! boom! boom! echoing from the wooded hills proclaimed that one by one the mighty monarchs of the forest had been brought low.
      The spicy odor of bruised cedar boughs, of trampled ferns and the pitch and gum of fir and spruce made the air sweet to the nostrils.
      This was the camp of Millett and McKay and established upon the spot where Burlington now stands. Many rudely constructed bunkhouses of cedar shake occupied by the woodcutters clustered around a large long building known as the cook-house.
      There were only two women in the camp, the wives of the proprietors, and one child about two years old, when I first saw the camp in 1887. This child was Maude Millett and the pet of the whole camp. The shanty in which the Milletts lived is still standing, mute reminder of pioneer days.
      After the finest of the timber had been felled and transported on tramcars to the river landing, dumped down a chute into the water, encircled by the protecting arms of enormous boom-sticks to be towed to various sawmills to be converted into lumber, the scene again changes.
      The logging camp was deserted with its thousands of blackened stumps, its innumerable skid roads, a veritable labyrinth of desolation. Then preparations began to be made for the foundations of a town, later christened Burlington. The shanties were occupied by land promoters, and other people flocked in. The Burlington Land and Improvement Company filed their Articles of Incorporation in 1890.
      The site of the old logging camp was bought from Jack Millett and William McKay by George D. McLean [of Mount Vernon, agent for Roswell Skeel of New York City] and platted the lots and streets donated and dedicated to the "public forever" on December 31, 1890, and filed the next day for record. The [Great Northern and the Seattle & Northern railroads crossed] at right angles at Burlington. When the railroads came it was a happy event, for then the settlers far and near would not have to walk to Avon or Mount Vernon for supplies, crossing the Skagit river in dugout canoes, rowed either by themselves or "Bulldog" Davis the ferry man.
      At that time they had been forced by necessity to purchase provisions, tools and everything they needed and could get at prices par with those now being paid, and to carry them in packs on their backs along uneven skid roads or blazed trails to their homes.

(Railroad crossing Burlington 1902)
      This photo from the December 1902 Sebring's magazine noted above shows the crossing at the Great Northern railroad. The street shown from the bottom to the upper center of the photo is probably Fairhaven, but it could be Anacortes avenue, the original main street of town.

Mount Vernon like Psyche sitting perilously near the edge of a sylvan stream
      Mount Vernon at that time consisted of one narrow street along the waterfront and resembled nothing so much as a few tipsy buildings ready to topple over into the water, or if one wanted to be poetical, like Psyche, sitting perilously near the edge of a sylvan stream, watching her reflection in the flowing stream — ahem!
      With the coming of the railroad, the infant town of Burlington began to grow. Houses were built and planks were laid in places to keep pedestrians out of the mud if they walked carefully single file and were good on the jump.
      The first store was built by [Walter] Burton and son. His "son" now keeps an up-to-date butcher shop. The first hotel was built by a Mr. [W.A.] Gould and known as the Gould Hotel, later the Warfield Hotel [owned by Zachariah Warfield]. It is now crumbling into ruins. It was dedicated by the gathering of families far and near to a dance, the orchestra a violin and a cornet. Plenty of sandwiches and hot coffee, the latter made in a huge wash-boiler on the one heating stove where the perspiring cancers were celebrating the occasion with all the grace possible while wearing heavy, and in some cases, hob-nailed shoes. [Ed. note: we are very curious about why the author placed "son" in quotation marks. Hopefully a reader will know about this family, which is credited in all the early Burlington manuscripts as being the first business owner.]
      The IOOF [Odd Fellows] hall was built in 1892. The Public school the same year. Previous to this time the un-graded school was taught in the building since known as the Maccabee Hall, by Miss Clara Garl. The history of the next few years is almost identical with that of other cities of the county. You who remember the time known as the Big Boom can appreciate the strenuousness of those stirring times, how everyone in the whole county was imbued with bright colored dreams of sudden wealth; it seemed that golden apples were nearly ripe on every bush. The millenium, if not actually dawning, was standing on tiptoes to peep over the horizon to see what Skagit people were doing.

Mosquitoes on every corner
      A Fourth of July orator in a neighboring town became so excited while exploiting the wonders of the city [Anacortes] that he shouted, "Here you see the ships sailing the ocean, whales spouting in the streets, and sharks on every corner."
      Not so with the interior mushroom cities; of them it might have been truthfully said "skunk cabbage growing in the marshes; stumps standing in the streets, and mosquitoes on every corner." The marshes were drained, the stumps eliminated and mosquitoes disappeared. [Ed. note: as we learn from Baldy LaPlant of Sedro-Woolley, the mosquito problem was addressed back then by pouring oil upon the marsh insect-nests, a solution that would be outlawed several decades later. The ultimate solution, according to other Burlington histories, was to drain the marshes and swamp along the river.]
      In 1893-94, along came the [nationwide financial] panic and Burlington suffered with the rest. Shingle mills shut down or shipped carload after carload of shingles at barely the cost of production. The first shingle mills were those of Dale and Halloran [Patrick, known better for his pioneering in Edison, northwest of Burlington], later bought by Larson et al. [Mr. K.] Fox & Sons built a mill just north of town. [Emerson] Hammer and [George] Green owned it later and built a store on Anacortes avenue, which was then the principal street with a wooden plank pavement, but as no automobiles or even buggies were known or owned by anyone in the county, it was considered quite an improvement over dirt streets.

Burlington now in the late 1920s
      Burlington is now the railroad center of the county, the railroads and electric lines reaching out to every point of the compass like spokes in a wheel, thus giving to Burlington the name of the Hub City. Burlington has a graded and a high school [and a hospital that] is well equipped with a staff of competent physicians and nurses.
      There are five churches, viz.: the Methodist being first to be built, the Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian and the Catholic. A splendid water system with water 99 percent chemically pure.
      The Skagit County Fair is held here every year and because of the unexcelled railroad facilities, interurban lines and fine, smooth roads leading to the fairgrounds there is always a good attendance and fine exhibits. Broad and well paved streets have replaced the old corduroy and plank affairs of the early days.
      Electrically lighted, the usual quota of stores, shops, hotels, warehouses, halls, societies, banks, autos, moving-picture theatre, a weekly newspaper that should be better patronized, all the things that go to make up a thriving village. Surrounded by a rich farming community she is the logical trading center for farmer and fruit grower. Red Cross of 40 members shows her patriotism and a number of her sons have enlisted in the service of Uncle Sam.
      Burlington has one park, which with a small amount and labor and expense could be made a beauty spot, but then Burlington is surrounded by natural parks of hill and valley.
      Although Mount Burlington has been stripped of her verdure, all healing nature is striving to cover her naked sides — all strewn with fire-swept, blackened stumps and fallen trees — with a new growth of young firs, cedar and hemlock. Far up her sides near the summit is a favorite place for student, teacher and tired citizen to hold their picnics, or on moonlit evenings a wienie-roast and the blaze of their campfires and sound of voices mingled with the accompaniment of the strumming guitar or tinkle of mandolin sound very pleasant as it floats down to the listener below. An American flag floats from the summit.
      The last census shows a population of about 1,500. Time will not permit a history of the early social life, or the political life, or the educational, either past or present. Her future is unknown. She may boost, but she will not boast. There is a difference between boosting and boasting. We hope her loyal citizens will boost her until she grows to such proportions that she will never feel small enough to boast of her achievements; that she will grow into a busy, bustling city so thoroughly imbued with a sense of civic betterment that she may be known far and wide as Burlington, The City Beautiful.

      Ed. note: the author's mention of Mount Burlington is most interesting because we have never heard it called as such. The earliest name we have found was Little Mountain. Sometime by 1896, when T.W. Soule platted the town in hopes of incorporation as a city, Tinas Coma, an Indian name, was appended to it. By the time that this editor grew up in the 1950s, it was universally called Burlington Hill. Once again, in the 1990s, the top of the hill was denuded for a development. We hope that it is landscaped and the natural growth encouraged to make it green and lush again in the near future. Finally, we wonder if this hill, as Little Mountain, was the one referred to in the April 8, 1884, Skagit News newspaper. In a short article that still leaves us scratching our head, we found reference to a C.F. Hess building a hotel in a clearing of a forest that swept up the side of a Little Mountain. What confuses us is that the writer referred to the slough nearby as Skyou slough. The only such slough is Skiyou slough, east of Sedro, but was Skyou an early name for what we now call Gage's slough, which flows to the southeast of Burlington hill? Was it wide enough to necessitate a ferry as mentioned in that article? We hope that an old timer can answer that question.

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Story posted on March 13, 2003, and last updated on July 29, 2005
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