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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Edison: market crossroads for
northwest Skagit County.

(Watkinson store)
Watkinson Bros. store in Edison, circa 1920. Photo from Larry Harnden collection.

      Ed. note: This page includes some of the best early profiles of Edison, the town in northwest Skagit County that started as a crossroads village almost a decade before Mount Vernon. It is the first of a six-part series we plan on Edison, which is just two miles from the site of the Equality Colony, the subject of a profile elsewhere in this issue. We also profile the sustained influence and impact on the village by Thomas Cain, who was one of the earliest pioneers and merchants. Edison is still a quiet country town, known for its beautiful old buildings, a great country tavern, artists, views of the bay and tens of thousands of birds who feed in the delta of the Samish River. The only omission that surprises us in this collection is the lack of mention of William "Blanket Bill" Jarman, who landed on the bay in 1848 as the first permanent European settler and named the bay for his wife, Alice, a Klallam Indian. See the link below for his story. Also omitted was Capt. John Warner, whose lived near Edison before establishing themselves at Warner's Prairie to the east.
      If you came to this story via the Free Homepage, this is the first in a series of stories we are sharing that profile Edison. Subscribers are now reading that series and you can find details about subscribing here. We will also soon profile the other nearby towns of Belfast, Blanchard, Bow and Allen.

Introduction to Edison section, rare documents
and Thomas Cain, Edison pioneer

Transcribed from: Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish counties , 1906
      At various points in this work we have described the character of the lands in western Skagit County bordering the sound. We have seen the great development which these regions have enjoyed through the diking, clearing and cultivating of the rich lands subject to overflow which border the streams, sloughs and inlets of that portion of the county. We have also seen how the timber resources, the pastoral resources and the commercial resources work there hand in hand with the agricultural, thereby producing a variety of industries and a general strengthening of enterprise such as cannot be easily matched in many other portions of the state. In natural response to demands created by these varied industries there have grown up at many places small, yet active and enterprising towns, which, even more than the large cities, represent the vital forces concerned in the upbuilding of the great state of Washington.
      A type of these numerous small towns may be found in Edison, located in the far-famed Samish valley in Skagit County. Edison, which derives its name from that of the "Wizard of Menlo Park," is located upon both sides of the north branch of the Samish River, which is also called Edison slough. [Ed. note: the wizard nickname was for Thomas Alva Edison, whose inventions at the turn of the century changed American life from top to bottom.] It is about a mile from the bay and., at high tide, is accessible to steamers of medium draught. Immediately around the town is the reclaimed tide land, while rising slightly above those lands is a belt of fertile valley densely timbered in its native state, but, cleared first by the hands of the loggers and then of the farmers, now a rich farming region. A few miles to the south of it lies the picturesque Bayview [now Bay View] ridge, and at about an equal distance northward may be seen the green heights of the Chuckanut hills. Far to the eastward, dominating the entire landscape, tower the majestic peaks of the Cascade mountains.

(Edison advertisement)
      As noted in the 1906 story, the town was named for Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor and "Wizard of Menlo Park."

Village began in 1869
      Edison's beginnings may be said to date from the year 1869, when several settlers took up their abode on the tide-swept flats and began reclaiming them from the sea. Among these men were Ben Samson, who took the claim upon which the town site of Edison was later platted. A year later came Edward McTaggart, who settled immediately northwest of Samson and adjoining him. Gradually others gathered around this nucleus until the settlement became so large that a post office was demanded. To further this project Mr. McTaggart called a meeting for the consideration of the matter. It was held at the McTaggart place March 26, 1876, forty-six settlers being present, and a petition drawn and signed asking for the creation of Edison post office with Edward McTaggart as postmaster, he suggesting the name of Edison in honor of the celebrated electrician. The office was established the following June with Swen Johnson as the first mail carrier. For a long time the office was kept in the house of D. P. Thomas. situated in a little grove on the northwest side of the slough opposite Samson's place.

Early businesses from 1880 on
      The opening of the post office naturally led to the establishing of a trading post for the convenience of those on the flats, the honor of being the pioneer merchant belonging to Captain A. J. Edwards, a sloop trader. His little store was opened about the year 1880, or perhaps a year later, directly on the slough, occupying a small tract of land donated for the purpose by. McTaggart. Mr. McTaggart says that Dan Dingwall built Edison's first hotel in 1882 on a little tract of his (McTaggart's) claim adjoining that on which the store stood, though some claim that this hotel was erected a little earlier. At any rate, Dingwall did erect a hotel and lodging house there about that time especially for the convenience of his force of loggers at work on the slough.
      Not very long after this Dingwall failed and through foreclosure proceedings his property passed into the hands of Colonel Granville O. Haller, the well-known Coupeville pioneer who also at the same time came into possession of Samson's claim. Upon a part of that property, the Samson land, Colonel Haller, in 1886, platted the original Edison town site, consisting of only four acres or even less. More land has been platted from time to time by the Haller interests, which still own the greater portion of the site, as also much surrounding property. A small tract of the McTaggart claim is also included in this site.

Travel by canoes and early bridge-building
      Settlement in those early years progressed slowly as the reclamation of the fiats and the densely timbered bench lands was expensive. All traveling was done in canoes, row-boats and flat-boats, says Mr. McTaggart, as the flats were so badly cut up by sloughs and the ground was so slimy and spongy that land traveling was an impossibility. In 1885 a bridge was built across the south branch of the Samish, half the cost being paid by the county and half by the settlers, the latter's portion being guaranteed by Mr. McTaggart. Just previous to this, in the year 1881, the settlers built another bridge across the North Samish near Edison, using cedar logs for bents and cedar logging for flooring. William Dean did the pile driving. This bridge proved a valuable improvement indeed. A dike was also early completed across the flats to Samish island, affording the interior easy connection with the Seattle-Whatcom steamers on the sound. and ferry boats established between the island and the mainland. The late Swen Johnson was the first ferryman, followed by Joseph and Charlie Matthews, William Brown and son and John White successively. Too much praise cannot be given those early navigators, for the labor of rowing against tides, winds and during storms, waiting, etc., was extremely exhausting and trying.
      The Bellingham Bay Mail of April 27, 1878, contains a mention of the prospective immediate establishment of the town and post office at Edison. In the Skagit News of February 9, 1886, we find mention of the place as a "lively little town, beautifully situated on Edison slough." It is there stated that William Gilmore had become the leading merchant and was doing at that time an immense general merchandise business with the entire region thereabouts. We learn from other sources that Mr. Gilmore, with his three sons, William N.. John A. and Hugh J., had come to Edison from Seattle in the summer of 1882. He bought out the pioneer store of A. J. Edwards, which was situated almost behind the present Gilmore store. Mr. Gilmore conducted this business until 1900, when his death occurred and the business passed into the hands of his two oldest sons, who continue it to the present. In 1884 Thomas Cain's saloon and Boyce & Churchill's store were erected. A year later Boyce sold out his interest to Churchill, who was succeeded in turn by John Doser. This business seems to have undergone many changes, W. H. Peters, W. E. Gilkey and George Zimmerman conducting it by turns; and in 1891, having in the meantime fallen again into the hands of Mr. Doser, the store was burned but rebuilt by Doser two years later, still again becoming the property of Wheeler Brothers of Blame. Among other early business men of the place was Howard J. Lee, who sold out subsequently to Iddins & Company, who still conduct the business. Charles Taggart and W. E. Gilkey were in partnership in the mercantile business from 1891 to 1896, when Taggart retired and Gilkey conducted the business until 1903, when he was succeeded by E. E. Rodgers, who still conducts the business.
      Among the other early business enterprises may be mentioned that of Dave Webble, who became the first blacksmith in 1885. The next hotels to be started after that of Dingwall were the Edison hotel of 1884 or 1885 and the Union hotel in 1887. The former was conducted by Michael Glenden until its destruction by fire in 1891. The proprietor of the Union hotel was Thomas Cain and he is still in business at the old stand.
      We learn that in 1886 D. P. Thomas was acting as justice of the peace and also as postmaster. There were at that time also four mails a week, three from Samish and one from Prairie. The mail from Prairie was carried on horseback and that from Samish by row-boat across the bay, a distance of five miles.

1893: first big fire
(Drainage Crew)
One of the most important steps in establishing the town and markets was to drain and tile the soggy ground of the Samish River delta. This photo from the Skagit Settlers book indicates that it was taken in 1910 at District No. 18. The men in the front row were, l. to r.: Bovitz Omdal, Roy Brown, Charlie, Henry Abel, John Haaland (in white shirt), Jim Taylor and Roscoe Taylor. On the bank: Ingvalf larson, Pete Hansen, John Taylor, Mr. Tucker.

      The year 1888 was marked by the coming to Edison of the first physician of the place, Dr. J. L. Jackson. In March, 1891, the first druggist appeared in the person of O. A. Loomis. His store was burned in 1893, but was rebuilt in 1895 and George Halloran purchased the business. On January 23, 1893, Edison was visited by a disastrous fire. This fire originated in the warehouse of Colonel Haller and quickly spread to warehouses belonging to Orrin Smith and John Doser, together with the general merchandise store of the latter, including all its contents. Thomas Cain s saloon, Loomis's drug store and J. A. Jonak's harness shop were destroyed also, with all their contents. This was the only serious fire which ever visited the town and it entailed a loss of about twenty thousand dollars. The burned buildings were, however, soon replaced and the prosperity of the place was not affected. During the years following the foundation period of which we have spoken Edison has gone on with steady improvement corresponding to the growth of the country immediately tributary to it until it has become one of the most substantial and well built of the small villages of the county. The different lines of enterprise which have been demonstrated to be singularly successful in the region round about are farming, gardening, dairying, logging and milling. The Samish flats produce the most prolific crops of hay, oats, fruit and vegetables. Among the last it has been shown that sugar beets of the finest quality can be produced and there has been much talk of starting a beet-sugar factory in the town. The farmers live in elegant homes and have all the surroundings to make life attractive and prosperous. The dairy ranchers are equally prosperous with the general farmers, since the rich, succulent grasses and clovers of the land redeemed from the swamps and forests will maintain cattle throughout the year so generously that cows have been known to produce milk to the value of six dollars per month for the whole twelve months.

Important industry: mills and harvesting the bay
      Within three miles of Edison arc located four large mills, the Winner mill at Bow, the Sound shingle mill above Bow, the Blanchard shingle and saw-mill a short distance north of Edison, and the Edison mill company's establishment in Edison itself. In addition to the great business opportunities of the land are equally remunerative ones upon and under the water. Great quantities of salmon, besides herring and smelt, are found in the waters of the sound and the sloughs connected with them. One special industry which is in process of inauguration at Edison is the oyster business. The shallow waters adjoining Samish island furnish the natural home for the very finest of these luscious bivalves and it is only a question of time when this business will rival that of Olympia or Toke Point. Turning to the special business directory of Edison, we find one of the most important to be the steamboat business. The steamers Clara Brown and Edison make regular trips, besides which other boats call as business justifies, while a continual stream of sloops, scows and small boats may be seen in the sloughs and bay.

(Edison 1890s)
      This photo accompanied a story in the Aug. 27, 1983, Skagit Valley Herald. The caption reads: "These Edison buildings, Watkinson Bros. General Store and Flour and Feed, located on Cain's Court, are still in use today, although only for storage. The high placement of the buildings was meant to keep store goods dry during frequent floods. Photographs like this, taken in 1909, were used on postcards by early Skagit County residents [and] were mailed with a penny stamp. Photo courtesy Laura Dietz. You will read about these businessmen in this profile and a separate link listed below. The buildings still stand and are the home and Edison Eye Art Gallery of Dana and Toni Rust.

Present businesses
      The business enterprises of the town proper are as follows: General merchandise: John Berentson, Gilmore Brothers & Company, Iddins Brothers & Company.
      Hardware, Unger & Loop.
      Blacksmith shops: Klesper & Newland, A. Lindquist.
      Hotels: the Edison, Mrs. A. J. Whittle; the Central, Mrs. Thomas Toner.
      Drug store, George Halloran.
      Confectionery, Oscar A. Loomis.
      Livery, Lamaster & Englebretson.
      Doctors: Dr. Josiah Jones; J. L. Jackson.
      Contractors: John A. White; Patrick Callopy; Silas Daniels.
      Harness shop, J. A. Jonak.
      Real estate and insurance, James A. Halloran.
      Barber, Edward Watkinson.
      Meat market, Kosack & Triebess. Edison creamery, F. M. Kaupish, manager, expending four hundred dollars a week for cream.
      Edison Lumber Company, Lockhart & Roberts, proprietors.
      The Samish Water and Supply Company, consisting of Thomas Cain, G. O. Haller, Robert P. Carter, Patrick Smith and John Doser, organized in 1890, reorganized in 1901 and providing an excellent water supply from Whitehill creek on Chuckanut mountain three and a half miles north of the town.

Social life, education and churches
      The social and mental life of Edison, as represented by its schools, churches and fraternal orders, is such as to be highly gratifying to the fortunate inhabitants of the place. The first school district was organized in 1874. The first school building is still standing in front of the Hall place directly east of town. The land upon which it was built was donated by John Morgan and the materials for the building were contributed by William Dean, Edward McTaggart and Daniel Dingwall. The first teacher was Charles Setzer, who came there from Orcus [now Orcas] island. The old building was used until the erection of the present structure in 1892, when it was turned into a warehouse, which use it still fulfills.
      The present attractive and well-located building, Standing upon the bank of the river and surrounded with beautiful trees, was erected at a cost of four thousand dollars and located upon land given for the purpose by Colonel Haller. The district has now maintained for a year a union high school. The school board at present consists of John Gilmore, John Dale and Nicholas Shumaker. The present principal is Professor A. Knapp and the assistants W. A. Robinson and Mrs. W. A. Robinson. The enrollment of scholars for the past year was sixty-one.
      There are three churches in Edison, the Catholic, the Lutheran and the Congregational. The Congregational was the pioneer in time, being founded in 1889 by Rev. George Baker, but the church building was not erected until 1892. The Catholic church was both organized and established in the present church building in 1890. This church is now conducted in connection with the La Conner [LaConner] church in charge of Rev. Father Woods. The Lutheran church is located at a point two miles south of Edison, but ministers to the members of that denomination in and around the town. The present pastor of the Congregational church is Rev. W.A. Hughes, who succeeded Mr. Baker May 1, 1905.
      The fraternities of Edison are the Edison lodge, No. 45, I.O.O.F., and the Fraternal Union, No. 154. The former was organized February 21, 1887, with five charter members, Jacob Harden, Edward Ames, W. E. Gilkey, D. P. Thomas and W. H. Ewen. In 1890 this lodge erected the Odd Fellows' hail, which is also employed as a place of public gatherings. The present officers are: C. N. Iddins, P. G., N. G.; V. G. [sic]; J. A. Jonak, Dr. Josiah Jones, J. E. Bland, secretary, and A. S. Lockhart, treasurer. There are now twenty-nine members. The Fraternal Union consists of forty members, and its officers are: George Halloran, fraternal master; J. R. Cowell, justice, and J. E. Bland, secretary.

Thomas Cain, key Edison pioneer
Transcribed from: Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish counties , 1906, page 763
(Thomas Cain)
Thomas Cain, turn of the century

      Thomas Cain, one of the wealthy and influential citizens of Edison, Washington, was born Nov. 15, 1847, in Port Calborn, Canada. His father, John Cain, a native of Ireland and by occupation a shoemaker and farmer, was brought by this parents to New York state at the age of eight years, becoming a pioneer in Erie County. He died there at the age of 98. Mrs. Bridget (Quinn) Cain, the mother, also born in Ireland, died in Canada in 1862. She was the mother of ten children.
      After receiving his education in the public schools of Canada, Thomas Cain, at the age of fifteen, went to work in the lumber camps of Michigan, where he remained ten years. In 1873 he located in Colorado, but soon moved to Texas to accept a position with the Baltimore Bridge Co., engaged in constructing railroad bridges. One year later, he migrated to Wisconsin and took charge of a logging camp. In 1876 he came thence to Washington. He was in Tacoma a few months, then came to Seattle and for two years managed a logging camp at Port Ludlow, owned by Arthur Phiney, who at that time had the most extensive lumber business in the state. At Mr. Phiney's death, Mr. Cain was appointed one of the administrators of the estate, which was closed up in eight months.
      He then assumed the management of a logging camp on Whidbey Island, owned by Edward Oliver, but three months late he broke the bone in his hip and for nearly a year and a half afterward he was disabled. He entered the custom service at Port Townsend under A. W. Bash, in 1881, and continued there until the spring of 1884, when he resigned and entered into partnership with Messrs. Churchill, Boyce & Sweeny, to put in the second store in the town of Edison. Later he built the first hotel there, which he owned and operated 17 years. During this time he purchased 530 acres of land near the town, all heavily timbered and he now has 225 acres of it cleared and in cultivation, the cost of clearing a part of it being $100 an acre. Recently he has let a contract for clearing the trees and stumps from 100 acres of his timber tract. He gives special attention to raising cattle, keeping some fine Durhams.
      In Edison, in 1894, Mr. Cain married Miss Eliza M. Duffy, who was born in Canada in 1862, the daughter of James Duffy, a native of Ireland. Her father is a well-known pioneer, now residing in the province of Ontario. Her mother, Mrs. Mary (Kelly) Duffy, was born in Canada and died there in 1888. Mrs. Cain received a thorough education in her native country, graduating from Brandford in her native country, graduating from Brandford University, and for a number of years she was one of the most popular and successful teachers of Skagit and Whatcom counties.
      Two children have come into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Cain. Arthur T. was born in Edison on Feb. 24, 1896, and Eugene was born in Edison on Dec. 16, 1899. Mr. Cain is prominent in the Knights of Pythias fraternity, and he and his family attend the Catholic Church. He adheres loyally to the principles of the Republican party, always attending county and state conventions and giving his influence to every movement that he considers promotive of good government. For many years he has been importuned to accept office, but has refused, contenting himself with efforts to fill posts of trust in private life. He was, however, postmaster of Edison from 1889-93, under appointment by President Harrison. Unselfish devotion to the interests of county, state and nation is one of the marked characteristics of this all-around man, who holds the unbounded confidence of all who have had the privilege of association with him. His genial, social disposition, combined with strict integrity and high ideals, has given him an honored position in the community.

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Story posted on April 23, 2002, and last updated on Feb. 16, 2004
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