Site founded September 1, 2000, passing 300,000 page views in January 2005
These home pages remain free of any charge. We need donations or subscriptions/gifts for students, military and family. Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

(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

(Click to send email)

Fred G. Abbey, Samish pioneer
Lookout/Alger founder, judge, postmaster

Based on the 1938 WPA book, Vol. 3, Told to the Pioneers [see story below about the source]
Fred G. Abbey in 1939

      The subject of this sketch, Frederic George Abbey, was born Oct 15, 1859, in Pelham, Hampshire county, Massachusetts. John Abbey, patriarch of the family in America, came from one of the middle counties of England, and was accepted as a member of the Salem colony, early in 1634.
      Abbey left Massachusetts in February 1880, then lived in Shenandoah and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and later in western Kansas. He had heard of the Puget sound country through the letters of a former schoolmate and in April 1884, he landed from the old steamer Idaho on Samish island in what was then Whatcom county in Washington territory. He headed across the bay in a sailboat to Edison and there he joined his friends of the Shumway families who had preceded him two or three years before.
      Settlers were coming in great numbers and all looking for claims; every acre of land above tidewater was covered with timber. At that time Abbey located on a claim near Warner's Prairie. Another man came on it at the same time. Each day they visited each other and ordered the other man to get out. After a few days of this, a mutual friend persuaded the boys to sign an agreement to allow the mediator to arbitrate the matter. His verdict was that he had found the claim was too valuable to divide so the mediator would take it for himself and would try to locate the boys on other lands.
      Nearly all the newcomers were after timber, which could be readily sold after final proof had been made, but Fred had a vision of a home and wanted land that was suitable for a home. His quest led him up the west fork of the Samish river, where in Section 7, Township 36 north, Range 4 east.
      [Ed. note: for clarification. Warner's Prairie was where Capt. John Warner and his son Charles took up claims after several years in British Columbia and Edison. Their property was on the north side of present-day Prairie road, west of Hwy. 9. That was then about four miles north where Warner's friend Mortimer Cook landed in June 1884, and within a year, set up his village of Bug, which became Sedro. The legal description of Abbey's claim places it nearly exactly where the village of Lookout soon formed, which later became the town of Alger.]
      He found a beaver marsh about two miles below Lake Samish and there on May 22, 1884, he posted his location for a notice of preemption. He built a cabin that summer but he had to get work on the farms along the tideflats and keep an eye on his claim at the same time. Logging was the only industry and there was not much chance for a 'Chechaco" [Chinook jargon for newcomer] to get into a camp.
      One morning in February 1886, Fred rolled up his blankets, which included all his food, clothes, frying pan, coffee pot and eating tools, axe and shotgun. With a map and compass he laid his course for Whatcom, 15 miles north northwest, through the timber and over the Chuckanut range. On the first night he camped about a mile above the lake in ten inches of snow. Five days later he landed a job in a British Columbia logging camp, walking every step of the way, except when an old Indian woman set him across the Nooksack river in a canoe. For that service he paid her a "short bit," ten cents. [In comparison, Indians charged settlers a "sitcum buck," or fifty cents, to portage them around the log jam in Mount Vernon or to cross the Skagit river further south.]
      He made another round trip hike to the claim in May and decided to extend his journey to the land office in LaConner, where he changed his preemption claim to a homestead filing. Claim jumping was very much vogue at that time and an actual homestead claim allowed an absence of six months.

Time out for a bride, followed by fire at the homestead
      In June 1889, pioneer Abbey went back to Massachusetts and married Miss Abi S. Hitchcock of the town of Heath on July 3. [That qualified Mrs. Abbey and her descendants for membership in territorial pioneer associations such as the Territorial Daughters of Washington.] The newlyweds returned soon via Boston, Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Seattle. Mrs. Abbey was left in Edison while furniture and supplies were taken to the new cabin in the woods. One wagon load was hauled from Whatcom to the upper end of Lake Samish, then across the lake in a boat. From there the goods were packed overland through the brush to the cabin. That was the summer that the Fairhaven Southern railroad was built through to Mortimer Cook's Sedro on the Skagit. All along the line, fires were burning. On the day that Fred Abbey went to Whatcom for the second load, a forest fire swept through his claim and destroyed every vestige of his home and improvements, including five acres of oats and hay, along with his chickens and pigs.
      The newlyweds moved into a shake shanty a mile away and started all over again. That was a tough winter in that old cabin with cracks in the floor wide enough that skunks came in and looked things over at their leisure during long winter nights.

Friday Creek, Russell A. Alger and the homesteads
      You ask these people how they could endure such hardships and they will laugh and assure you that was one of the happy phases of pioneer life. The abbeys were the first white settlers in the valley of the west fork of the Samish and Friday creek. The creek was named for an old Indian who lived near the junction — Friday Consark, as listed in land office records.
      In 1891, several families came into the valley. The Grover Cleveland administration sent out some sleuths to look for fraudulent land grabbers and seized twelve timber claims owned by [former] Gov. Russell A. Alger of Michigan. Those claims were all on the hillsides above the valley and were heavily timbered, thus rightfully timber claims. Those entries had been made several years before and sold to different loggers in 1885-86. Among other timber companies from Michigan came Gov. Alger's timber interests, who bought up several sections of timberlands east of Blanchard and operated a large camp for several years. The cancellation of those claims by the government land office was fought vigorously in the federal court in Seattle and was ultimately decided in favor of the company. The government took an appeal from Judge Hanford's court decision to the court of appeals in San Francisco, where it was held up for three or four years.
      In the mean time, families moved onto the claims to be there if and when the land was opened up to resettlement. They cut a few pieces of brush and built cabins and were determined to stick around until starved out, then sell the cabins to other hopeful souls and leave. That was repeated several times. Near the last of the Cleveland regime, the original entries of those were finally cancelled on the grounds that they were more valuable for farming than for timber and stone. They were quickly taken by homesteaders and proved up on as soon as possible. Now, 40 years later, only one of those twelve claims has ever been cleared and farmed. Every one of the new entrymen sold their timber to a logging company and left the area.

Abbey helps start village of Lookout and deals with the Indians
(Abbey Home)
This photo of the Abbey home at Lookout was taken later than the one below, maybe around 1905, when Fred built a barn behind it and his landscaping was starting to provide shade. Photo courtesy of the fine book, Skagit Settlers, number 3 in the Skagit County Historical Society series, still for sale at the LaConner Museum.

      In 1891 a post office was established with Mr. Abbey as postmaster, who named the place Lookout. He held that office until he moved his family to Anacortes 14 years later. He laughingly relates how at one time he held the offices of postmaster, school director, justice of the peace, road supervisor and assessor.
      When Abbey located in the valley there were several Indian families living along the stream below: Oyster Bob, Mowitch man, Jimmy Gumboots, Johnny Bob, Johnny Williams, Old Alice and Moxt Stick Charlie, who had been a cripple from childhood and walked with two canes. Abbey always employed these Indian neighbors to clear land because "they were always honest and dependable, would do a job just exactly as they agreed to do. He adds, "when I went east in 1889, Oyster Bob had just taken a contract to clear five acres for me. I told him I would be gone for "moxt moon" and that I knew he would do a good job though I was away. He solemnly pointed to the sky and said, "Sakhalie tyee kloshe nanitche nika mamook," [God will kindly watch my work]. I learned to speak the Chinook jargon and always maintained friendly relations with my Indian neighbors."

      In 1893 the settlers built a small log school house was built and District 48 was established. The flooring and lumber for desks, casings and shutters came from the old Frankenburger mill in Fairhaven. When it was ready to be shipped, J.J. Donovan of the F&S railroad [and later the Bloedel-Donovan Logging Co.] had the backed onto the mill track [in Fairhaven] and the lumber was piled in the aisle of a passenger coach, through the rear door. When the train arrived at the little log school, which was close to the track, the train was stopped and the train crew and some of the passengers unloaded the lumber and in fact carried it up the bank to the building.
      The friendly pioneer spirit was manifested in many ways nearly unknown to most of the younger generation. In 1901 a fine two story schoolhouse was built on land donated by the Abbeys. The village of Alger came into being at the same time. A brickyard and shingle mill were established; both were dismantled many years ago. Today this is a thriving farming community with a fine State-built highway running through it.

Abbeys move to Anacortes
      We find that five children were born to the Abbeys while they lived on the farm at Lookout. The eldest, a son named Mason, was drowned in Lake Campbell at the age of 24 years in 1915. Miss Cressa Abbey lives with her parents in Anacortes; she has been a cashier at the Bank of Commerce there for several years. One daughter, Mrs. Henry H. Hattie, lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and has one child. Another, Mrs. Francis Benefield, lived in Bremerton, and has a young daughter. Their son, George F. Abbey, was the youngest child and is a teacher in the city schools of Anacortes. He is married and has two small sons.
      In the autumn of 1905, the Abbey family moved to Anacortes, where Fred found employment in the saw mills. He served one term as the city [county?] assessor and in 1908 he was appointed assistant postmaster. He held that position for 16 years, when he reached the age limit for retirement under the civil service rules. In the fall of 1926, he was elected Justice of the Peace and Judge of the Police Court for a term of four years and was reelected in 1930 for a second four years. At that point he felt he had served the public long enough, so he retired from active service.
      Mr. and Mrs. Abbey are charter members of the Skagit County Pioneers Association [formed in the summer of 1891]. Fred has served one term as president and has been secretary for 16 years. They have both also been active members of the state Pioneers Association.
      In 1909, the family became members of the Pilgrim Congregational Church of Anacortes. Abi Abbey was the first woman of the county to serve on a jury and she has been active for many years in the work of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Red Cross. In 1935 these two pioneers enjoyed a six months visit in the Hawaiian Islands. They are now living in their comfortable home, happy and contented, with the feeling that in a small way they have helped to make Skagit county a good place in which to live.
      [Ed. note: Abi Abbey had possibly the most alliterative name in Skagit county; we suspect that she was named Abigail, but she always went by Abi in records, including the census. She died in 1946 and her remains were cremated. Fred died on March 12, 1949, after living with his daughter's family in Bremerton. His daughters Prudence E. and Fanny M. were teachers in Anacortes as late as the 1920 federal census. We do not know how he was related, but a Corporal Abbey was reported as an infantryman who returned to Skagit county from the Spanish-American War.]

(Abbey cabin)
      The Abbey family around their cabin near Lookout before the turn of the century, soon after Fred built this second house in 1889. He went back to Massachusetts to marry Abi Hitchcock in July that year and brought her out to Edison to wait while he carted their new furniture and belongings to the original cabin that he built for her. The day before they moved in, someone staying there temporarily started a fire that leveled it. Photo courtesy of the fine 1973 book, Chechacos All, number four in the Skagit County Historical Society series, still for sale at the LaConner Museum.

Told to the Pioneers,
the source for this story

      One of our favorite reference works for quotations from pioneers is the three-volume book collection called Told to the Pioneers. It was the product of the Works Progress Administration [WPA], established in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Created when unemployment was widespread, the WPA was designed to increase the purchasing power of persons on relief by employing them on useful projects, under the leadership of one of FDR's New Dealers, Harry L. Hopkins.
      WPA's building program included the construction of 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, and 651,000 miles of road and the improvement of 800 airports. Also a part of WPA's diversified activities were the Federal Art Project, the Federal Writers' Project, and the Federal Theatre Project. Close to 10,000 drawings, paintings, and sculptured works were produced through WPA, and many public buildings were decorated with murals, including the Sedro-Woolley Post Office, which was built in 1939.
      At its peak, WPA had about 3.5 million persons on its payrolls. Altogether WPA employed a total of 8.5 million persons, and total federal appropriations for the program amounted to almost $11 billion. There was sharp criticism of the WPA in a Senate committee report in 1939; the same year the WPA appropriation was cut, several projects were abolished, and others were curtailed. A strike of thousands of WPA workers to prevent a cut in wages on building projects was unsuccessful. In Seattle, a program of the Federal Art Project brought together painters who formed what became the Northwest School of painters, including many artists who made Skagit valley their home.
      In June, 1943, the agency officially went out of existence after severe cuts due to World War II priorities. But luckily for us, the writers hired in Washington went out to every county and interviewed pioneers and their descendants for first-hand stories of the frontier experience in our state. A copy of this collection is at the Mount Vernon Library and the Sedro-Woolley High School library. In Volume 3, I found a list of documents that were considered for the project but not included. That started a four-year search for them through several agencies. In 2000 we found the right person. Suzette Q. Black was kind enough to look them up at the Washington State Library and she sent us copies of several, including the unsigned raw document about Fred G. Abbey, which we edited for this story.

Stories about the towns of Lookout and Alger and the pioneers
      This is one of a series of stories about the town of Lookout, which began as a market for nearby settlers and loggers around Lake Samish in the 1880s and then was named Alger at the turn of the century. And we include links about future Judge Fred G. Abbey, one of the most important settlers. Both the books quoted from above are still for sale at the Historical Museum in LaConner.

Story posted on June 25, 2003
Did you enjoy this story? Please consider subscribing to the optional Subscribers Edition. That is how we fund this grand project.
Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. Thank you.

You can read about our prime sponsors:
Read the history websites of our sponsors and supporters, who help fund research of local history:
Heirloom Gardens Natural Foods at 805B Metcalf street, the original home of Oliver Hammer.
Oliver Hammer Clothes Shop at 817 Metcalf street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 82 years.
Bus Jungquist Furniture at 829 Metcalf street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, 36 years.
Schooner Tavern/Cocktails at 621 Metcalf street in downtown Sedro-Woolley, across from Hammer Square.

Peace and quiet at the Alpine RV Park, just north of Marblemount on Hwy 20
Park your RV or pitch a tent by the Skagit river, just a short driver from Winthrop or Sedro-Woolley.

Would you like to buy a country church, pews, belfry, bell, pastor's quarters and all? Email us for details.
Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find"
Search this site powered by FreeFind
Did you find what you were looking for? If not, please email us and tell us what you seek and we will put it on our list to research. The more details, the better.
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.
Sign Our Guestbook Get your own FREE Guestbook from htmlGEAR
View Our Guestbook
Remember, we welcome correction and criticism. Please click on the email slot at the right to report any problems with these pages or to suggest ideas for future stories. This is a completely free site. We fund it by providing an online magazine for paid subscribers. If you are not already a subscriber and you would like to help support our considerable research costs, you can subscribe for just $20.00 per year. As a paid subscriber, you will receive eight yearly issues plus many rare treats between times, including scans of photos and documents that illustrate local history, before they are shared with anyone else. You can go here for Subscription details and you can read the preview edition to see examples of our in-depth research. You may also order gift subscriptions for friends, family or clients who are interested in local history or students or military people who are away from home. Or you can email us for more details. Do you have scanned photos to share? Or you can mail us copies. See addresses to right.
Email us at:
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to street address: Skagit River Journal, 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.