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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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Pioneer Euphroneous Watkinson and
the towns of Edison and Allen

(Mr. and Mrs. Watkinson, 1955)
Mr. and Mrs. Watkinson, 1955. From the Nov. 11, 1955 Bellingham Herald

Introduction to the Watkinson brothers
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2003
      Not long after the beginning of the new year 2003, we toured the Edison-Allen area with historical researcher and author Tom Robinson. When we reached Edison, we were reunited with Dana Rust, a fellow alumnus from 1960s Western Washington University in Bellingham. Dana and his wife Toni moved here 25 years ago and bought the buildings that were once the dry goods and general store in Edison of the famous Watkinson brothers, along with the feed store next door. The Watkinsons were among the earliest loggers here and then yanked out the stumps from their property so that farmers could harvest bumper crops from the rich soil of the Samish river delta, once proclaimed the most productive soil in the world.
      Dana and Toni remodeled the back part of the buildings into a beautiful home that boasts a spectacular view of the creek that meanders behind them. That creek was once the main thoroughfare for generations of Indians and then for Blanket Bill Jarman, who was the first settler on the mainland that became Skagit county, in the 1850s and '60s.
      To the west is Samish island, where pioneers, G.W.L. Allen and George Dean platted the competing towns of Atlanta and Samish in 1883. To the east is the village of Bow, which sprang up as a railroad stop for the Great Northern in 1902. And to the south is Allen, the town that formed around G.W.L. Allen's sawmill. Just a short stroll away is the very shallow bay that was dotted with schooners and steamers more than 100 years ago. To the north is Chuckanut Bay, where a road was chopped out of the cliffs after the turn of the 20th century, and the town of Blanchard (originally called Fravel), where a coastal telegraph line was strung at the end of the Civil War, and where broadcaster Edward R. Murrow grew up. We can recall the pea-viners that used to rise out of the fog here, processing in the field the crop that once grew here on hundreds of acres.
      Dana, a noted artist himself, showed us how he has replaced the original dry goods bins and shelves with an art gallery that features revolving shows of painters and sculptors in the warm-weather months from April to September. Dana and Toni call their gallery the Edison Eye. Dana's day job was as a fisherman and he knows well the many streams and sloughs of the area. The climate is ideal since he knows firsthand the 20-degree-below-zero weather of Montana. He has encouraged other artists to come here to paint and he built a studio right next to the creek where another artist creates year round. He pointed out a series of concrete beams embedded into the soil by the creek side, which reminded us of a corduroy skidroad. He theorizes that boats may have been built and launched there on his property and the beams may have been "ways" down which the new boats slid.
      The two profiles below describe the life that pioneer Euphroneous Watkinson led here until his death at 99, and a short history of the town of Allen, where he moved at the turn of the century. Although his mother may have loved the mellifluous sound of his given name, the pioneer must have shuddered at the thought of introducing himself that way to the toughs in the woods, so in his teens he took the nickname, Frone, and he was known by that or by his initials E.E. for the rest of his life. Several other artists have discovered the peaceful nature and serenity of the old town of Edison and a short walk along the dike and through the town will bring you to several shops displaying their art. You can also see the remaining buildings of Cain's Court, where pioneer Tom Cain reigned in the decades of the 1880s through the 1910s. We will soon feature a schedule Rust's art gallery shows, which will begin again in April 2003.

Euphroneous E. "Frone" Watkinson

(Watkinson store)
Watkinson Bros. dry goods store in Edison, circa 1920. Photo from Larry Harnden collection. Descendant Judy A. Watkinson Smith discovered more details about the building: "Built in 1888 by William Gilmore Sr., the building served as a general merchandise store, fronting on Edison Slough, the principal highway of the time. There were three outstanding carpenters working in the area at that time, Silas Butler, Pat Collopy, and John White, so one or more undoubtedly worked on the building. When a passable road was made through town in the early 1900's, the entrance to the general merchandise store was made to face the road. Sometime later it became the Edison Hardware."

By Ray Jordan, Yarns of the Skagit country, 1962
      He is the last of the Samish River log drivers. "There was nothing here but a big marsh covered with virgin timber," he says.
      Many of us can measure our experiences with a yardstick, but the grand old gentleman of the Lower Samish, E.E. (Frone) Watkinson, needs a rule 80 years long to scale his activities since wading through the swamps in 1882 at the age of 16 to what was to become a pleasant little community of Allen.
      And, likely and alert at 96, he is still adding to the score.
      It was rather a circuitous route that brought him here. He was born in Scio, Linn County, Oregon, on February 4, 1866, of pioneer parents who met and married in Oregon after coming west by different wagon trains.
      When he was three, in 1869, the family loaded a wagon and made the overland trek from Oregon by way of Olympia to Union City on Hood Canal in Washington Territory. After a time here they moved to Seabeck where they resided for about one year.
      The next move was to Lilliwaup on Hood Canal where his father, Robert Watkinson, had homesteaded. They were the first white family to settle here. (Lilliwaup Falls was on this property.) With only Indian children for playmates the white youngsters soon learned the Indian tongue. Here the Watkinsons remained for about two years.
      At the age of 14, E.E. Watkinson found himself laboring in the logging camps on the Canal at the usual beginner's job: walking ahead of the slow-moving oxen, greasing skids with smelly dogfish oil.
      His first sight of the Samish country was during his fourteenth year when the steamer Colfax landed him at the deep channel (called "Stup-us" by the Indians) at the northeast end of Samish Island. The purpose of this trip was to visit his brother-in-law, Billy McRae, who had a farm on Joe Leary Slough.
      When he arrived at the ripe age of 16, in 1882, he came to Edison looking for his chance. The only road anywhere near was from Bay View to LaConner. To reach it you walked the dike from Edison to Bay View Hill. The Samish Valley in the vicinity of Allen was a watery, little known region covered with timber unmarred by the ax.
      His brother, Melbourne Watkinson, had preceded him in 1880 and had been working in a logging camp on the Skagit River near Burlington. Several of the crew, desirous of entering the logging business on their own, had been told by Davy O'Keefe that there was good timber on the Samish River.
      With this in mind they rolled their blankets one day and threaded their way across the oozy bottoms to the Samish. The logging show looked promising so they staked claims and formed the Samish Lumber Company in 1881.
      Partners in this venture were: Melbourne Watkinson, Richard Holyoke, John McPherson (for awhile), William McRae, William McCreavy, David O'Keefe, John Brown, William Tracy, and Martin Thorpee.
      Thorpee, the last named partner, was a man who must have delighted Paul Bunyan. According to creditable witnesses, this gentleman after downing a drink at the bar had the singular habit of chewing up the glass and washing down the splinters with another shot of red eye. Doctors could hardly wait for his end to see what was inside of him.
      E.E. Watkinson wanted to homestead, but of course was too young so he took a job with the newly formed Samish Lumber Company in order to earn his bacon and beans.
      A camp was established about one and one-half miles upriver from Allen on the edge of Bow Hill near the river. Mary (Watkinson) McRae was the first cook. Richard Holyoke, who had been a mill man at Seabeck, purchased logging gear for the Samish operation on Hood Canal. This outfit was towed on a scow to Samish Island, then towed by another scow, oxen and all, to Edison where it was transferred to a sled and hauled by ox teams to the new camp on Samish. E.E. took part in the move from the Canal.
      Active logging to the river by oxen started in midsummer. Since no logs had ever been driven down the Samish River before, E.E. and Melbourne Watkinson began the backbreaking task of cleaning out the river, which was, then a network of sloughs, islands and jams with no main channel.
      For this purpose several Indians were hired. Islands were cleared of brush, which was towed ashore on a slab raft and burned. During this campaign the river was cleared from about two miles above Allen to salt water, the crew camping along the stream to be near the work.
      A dam was built about a mile and a half upriver from Allen to back up water for log storage. In the fall the dam was opened at intervals and the logs shot through and down the river on the splash to the salt chuck. Every timberjack in the crew had to be on the ball when the round stuff was whooping through. Charlie Beeler, he remembers, was one of the dam tenders.
      Logs at this time were boomed at salt water and towed to mills on the Sound where they brought around $5 a thousand. Later, there was a mill at Allen.
      In connection with the log drives. E.E. gives us an interesting sidelight:
      "While driving logs for Pat McCoy about 1902, my sister-in-law (now Mrs. Louise Hayes), then 17, came down to the river and wanted to ride downriver on the logs with me to Melbourne Watkinson who lives near Conn's Bridge due south of Edison.
      "I found a log with a flat top and she climbed on board. The logs jammed once, but I shoved hers to shore until I could break up the jam. Then we continued on down to the bridge without mishap. It was a lot easier and faster than walking. Afterward, she hiked the three miles back to Allen by a trail that followed the river." (Mrs. Hayes says that in those days nothing bluffed her. We believe it.)
      The year following E.E.'s arrival on the Samish, his mother, Rebecca (Beeler) Watkinson, left Hood Canal and took a homestead, one corner of which lies in the present day Allen.
      After two or three years of operation, the Samish Lumber Company, the first loggers on the Lower Samish, sold out.
      Following this, E.E. worked several years in camps and driving the river, including the W.E. Gilkey and Fred Parker operation at Belfast in territorial days where he first met R.F. Smith. He also worked for some time for the one and only Pat McCoy who rates a close second to the fabulous Paul Bunyan in this neck of the woods.
      He remembers Pat's original "railroad" a wooden railed contrivance upon which "cars" were towed by a steam road donkey.

Frone moves his bride to Allen in 1901
(Watkinson store)
Another view of Watkinson Bros. store in Edison,
during the heydays of the turn of the century

      In 1900 while working in a logging camp for Fred Molsberg, he married Lena D. Lomsdalen (also spelled Lonsdale), a native of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. For a year they lived in a small house built by Pat McCoy for one of his engineers.
      His present home in Allen was started in 1901 on ten acres of land, a part of his mother's original homestead, which he had previously purchased from her.
      This well built, two-story house in which only the finest of lumber was used was erected at a cost of $1,000. With logs going for $5 a thousand and carpenters wages $2.50 a day, you can guess why. This sturdy dwelling was the scene of many dances before a dance hall was built in Allen.
      His face lights with a quiet smile when winds of the past blow up memories of the high times they used to have and the doing that it took.
      "At Edison on the 4th of July there would be a big picnic and a dance. One year, upon invitation from Tom Cain, the promoter, a group came from Mount Vernon.
      "A few months later, six couples returned the visit. They boarded a boat at Edison in the morning, traveled to Samish Island to catch the steamer that made the Whatcom to Mukilteo run. At Mukilteo they unloaded and waited for the sternwheeler to take them back up north by the Inside Passage, then upriver to Mount Vernon.
      "They left Edison at 6 a.m. and landed at Mount Vernon at 9 p.m. After dancing all night they returned the same route.
      "After Melbourne Watkinson and Ada Gilkey were married at Edison in 1882, they started in a sailboat for Sehome on their wedding trip.
      "Bill McRae and his wife Mary, Sarah Thomas, myself and some others whose names I don't remember followed in a rowboat much the same as today's hecklers chase a newly wedded couple with cars.

(Frone's Family)
      "There was so little wind that the sailboat was delayed until 12 p.m. that night in reaching Sehome, allowing the rowboat powered only by willing muscles to beat them there. (We wonder if modern endurance would stand up to this,)
      "The first road building was done by the property owners themselves. In some instances, they even donated money for the cause. Some settlers worked out their taxes this way. The first road across the Olympic Marsh from Allen to Avon was built of puncheon. Everywhere it seemed there was water.
      "During one long period in the early days we had mail only once every two weeks. Fred Watkinson, my brother, made the trip from Allen to Edison for it. The papers we took then were the San Francisco Examiner and the Spokane Spokesman Review. They were somewhat old when we received them, but you bet that we devoured them anyway.
      "Living was mostly produced at home. We raised our own vegetables, meat, berries and fruit. Our cows furnished milk and butter. And of course there was the farm flock that gave us our eggs and Sunday dinners. We shopped in town only for a few necessities, Sugar was $5 a hundred and flour $4 a barrel.
      "After the Avon-Allen road was built we shopped at Avon by horse and buggy, and later, as roads were extended and improved, at LaConner and West Mount Vernon.
      "By 1903, the Allen-Roray mill was in operation."
      Allen took on a metropolitan air in the August of 1912 with the arrival of the new electric Interurban line connecting the place with Sedro Woolley, Mount Vernon, Burlington and Bellingham. The stop was called Allen-Roray.
      Though the place had been known as Allen for some time, the line officials offered to add the Roray, if Roray, one of the mill owners, would donate right-of-way through his property. There was some opposition to the double-barreled name, but it was continued by the Company until the demise of the line in 1929-30. Since that time the Roray part has withered on the vine. One remarkable thing about Allen was that it never had a saloon in the old days.
      "When I came here I was too young to take up land, but I could have had all I wanted at $2.50 an acre. Later while working for Pat McCoy, another young man and I did a lot of cruising around looking for homesteads or timber claims and found the bottom land pretty well taken up.
      "There was worlds of hill land covered with the best of timber, for instance, Bow Hill; that I could have had, but thought it was too inaccessible to be logged with oxen. So I worked for others until the country around was pretty well logged off, then turned to farming."
      Viewing the smooth green fields and modern surroundings from E.E.'s comfortable home leaves you awed by the fact that you have been talking to a man who has seen it change from uninhabited, watery jungle to its present state, and who at 96 still faces the future with the same calm courage that he did in 1882. (The above was written in 1962. Mr. Watkinson passed away on April 5, 1965.)
      Story transcribed by Larry Spurling, 2003. Thank you, Larry, for your help.

Allen old-timer recalls era of virgin timber
By Jack Sigurdson,
Bellingham Herald, Nov. 27, 1955
(Town of Allen 1955)
The remains of the town of Allen, 1955. Looking west across the highway that proceeds north to Chuckanut Drive

      Bending slightly for a better view of the area outside his comfortable home, the Skagit county pioneer's mind raced back nearly three-quarters of a century.
      "When I first came here," he remembered, "there was so much virgin timber and brush in this area that a person could not see a hill, or the sky, except in certain places."
      The area to which he referred is located midway between Edison and Burlington, known as Allen. And it's doubtful if anyone is better versed on that section of Skagit county history than [Euphroneous] E. Watkinson, who first saw that heavily timbered area 74 years ago.
      In fact, his mother, Mrs. Rebecca Watkinson moved to that vicinity a year after the 16-year-old "Frone" started to work in the first logging camp on the Samish river. His mother staked the first homestead in the mid-western section of the Skagit mainland where Allen later developed.
      E.E. Watkinson, in 1882, walked into the tree-covered section of what was then Whatcom county looking for work he had been told was available in the bustling logging camps. It didn't take him long to sign up with the pioneer Samish Logging Co.
      In the summer there was water all over the ground around here. There was no main channel in the Samish river when I started logging . . . but the logs we drove down enlarged and cleared out the main flow for the river." The Samish river cuts by right at the north limits of Allen.
      "In fact," Watkinson continued, "this whole area seemed to be sloughs. Later, many of those sloughs dried or were diked and made good farming land.
      "When I came here first, there were no roads . . . no railroad. Travel was by foot or by boat." Watkinson followed logging camps until he was about 34 years old, drove logs down the Samish river a few years after that, and then settled down just after the turn of the century. He bought a ten-acre section of this mother's original homestead, on which he and his wife still live.
      There literally was "nothing here" when he settled at Allen, but a shingle mill was opened by two men, a Roray and his father-in-law, Mr. Allen. The settlement still was nameless until the interurban railway company laid its rails to Bellingham. [Ed. note: Stone and Webster Co. of Boston, through its Pacific Northwest Traction Co., began interurban service from Whatcom county to Skagit county in 1912.]
      "They wanted a right-of-way over Roray's property," Watkinson explained, "and he wouldn't yield unless they named the station after him. That's just what the interurban did: place a sign here reading 'Roray'!"
      However, the people of the surrounding area didn't take to the railway's concession so easily. They ripped the "Roray" sign down and in its place installed their choice: "Allen."
      To avoid a civil war, apparently, the interurban finally compounded the confusion by designating the station as "Allen-Roray," and apparently it satisfied everyone for the station existed several years under that title. All this took place about 50 years ago, Watkinson recalled.
      A steady stream of people settled in the Allen vicinity, principally taking up farms in the rich area surrounding the town. At first, oats was the main crop yielded from the newly developed agricultural section, and crops were shipped by boat through the many sloughs still existing.
      Among the family names of early settlers are: Berger, Malsberger, Ekstran, McRae and many others still evident in the community.
      Today dairying is a big business around Allen and farms turn out prime crops of peas and berries. The town never has had a jail or police force; in fact never has had a need for either.
      "This is a good town," Mrs. Watkinson, "and the people are friendly and good. True, it's a small town, but everyone knows everyone and we all get along fine."
      The Allen Methodist church, still active, was organized about a half-century ago. The church's youth program, according to Joy Busha — who has operated a general store in Allen for 34 years, includes an active list of more than 90 from Allen and surrounding area. The Allen Grange was first started in 1913, but lost activity until it was reorganized in 1925. It has about 90 active members today.
      About six years ago, Busha (pronounced Boo-shay) spearheaded a move to obtain PUD water for Allen. Signing up more than 100 homes, the community got the water supply. As a result, Samish island was able to tag onto the end of the line and improve the water situation.
      Figuring property loss through fire at close to $100,000 in 15 years, the Allen Volunteer Fire Department was organized about four years ago. Since then, fire loss has been negligible. With 18 volunteers in Allen, the department is part of the three-department District Five, including Edison and Samish island. Busha, Leonard White and Don Coble of Blanchard are directors.
      Busha explained that the district soon will purchase a tank truck and a fire truck for Samish island, and will then have three completely equipped departments. All present equipment is modern and in first rate condition.
      Part of the existing industry are three grass driers, one located just south of Allen and two located just to the west. The plants dry grass for feeds, rabbit pellets, mash and other uses. During grass season, it takes more than 450 acres to supply one plant.
      Figuring present population of the unincorporated town at 45 in the immediate area, Allen is looking ahead to a bright future.
      However, confusion still seems to haunt the friendly town. Since the interurban dissolved [in 1929-30] and the town reverted to just one name you would think the problems were over. But the truth is the people have a Burlington telephone exchange and a Bow mailing address and most of their outside activities are in Bellingham, 20 miles to the north, Or Burlington and Mount Vernon, four and eight miles southeast.
      To leave no doubts, though — despite interurbans, telephones and mail — the town in Allen and its people aim to protect its individuality.

Genealogy and Watkinson descendant notes
      Several Watkinson descendants have responded to our original article and provided details about the family, along with photographs. Gary Melbourne Watkinson and his 91-year-old mother, Marie Watkinson; Gary notes: "Melbourne Watkinson was the father of my Grandfather Melville Watkinson from Bow Washington." Brother and sister, Jerry Watkinson and Judy Watkinson Smith reported in.. Midge Nelson, says "Lena Lomsdalen Watkinson was my great aunt, my grandfather Charles Lomsdalen was her brother." Victoria Watkinson, cousin of Judy Smith: "My great grandfather Melbourne and her grandfather were brothers."
      Victoria Watkinson explains about the mother of Euphronious and Melbourne: "Rebecca Beeler arrived in Linn county Oregon about October of 1853 at the age of 16. Her parents were John and Jane Powell Beeler. According to my records Robert Watkinson married Rebecca Beeler on Nov 9, 1854. Rebecca was born somewhere in Missouri on Dec 13, 1837. And Robert Watkinson was born on Aug. 10, 1827 in Manchester England.
      We have learned more about individual members of the family. From John F. Conrad's Pioneer Picnic notes 1951: "Mrs. Ada Gilkey Watkinson [died 1950, born in Pennsylvania], who with her mother and sisters were the first white women to come to Edison, was the daughter of Franklin Gilkey. He was a member of the Skagit county board of commissioners appointed by the legislature when the county was formed in 1883, and he was also called on for the first official jury to serve in the new county. [She was the wife of Melbourne Watkinson.]"
      And these are individual genalogical notes for the brothers and their families: Euphronious E. Watkinson, died 1965, age 99, born Oregon . . . Lena D. Watkinson, died 1961, Age 80, born Minnesota . . . Melbourne Watkinson, died 1939, age 81, born Oregon . . . Ada Galena Watkinson, died 1950, age 85, born Pennsylvania . . . Georgia May (Watkinson) Busha, died 1988, age 86, born Washington . . . Walter Eugene Watkinson, died 1980, age 76, born Washington. All but Walter are buried at Bow cemetery.
      From the obit of Frone's son, Herbert Watkinson, in the Skagit Valley Herald, we learn that Herb apparently inherited the longevity gene from his father. Herb died at age 90 on Dec. 12, 1995. He was born on Jan. 18, 1905, at Allen, presumably at their home. He graduated from Burlington High School in 1923, and operated Herb's Shoe Repair on Fairhaven Avenue in Sedro-Woolley until he retired in 1982. On June 21, 1965, he married Margo Logan in Seattle. She and his parents and his siblings all passed away before Herb did. Margo died on April 13, 1995.

      [Ed. note: We hope that a reader will have more information and copies of photos to share about this beautiful region of Skagit county. We especially want to know more about Joy Busha, the pioneer of Allen, the Eckstrans and the other families who worked so hard to convert the logged land. Later this month, we are adding two profiles of the Watkinson brothers from the 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties.]

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Story posted on Feb. 22, 2003 and updated on April 17, 2006
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