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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. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Early settlement of Mount Vernon area

(Mount Vernon waterfront, 1880)
            The view in the photo above is of the east side of the Skagit, about where downtown Mount Vernon is now. Various publications indicate either 1879 or 1881; the village of Mount Vernon began in 1877. The photographer was standing about where the west end of the bridge to Mount Vernon and the Memorial highway is now. From left to right, you will see the Bonanza Saloon with Henry Cooper (of later Lyman fame) in front; Clothier & English general store — the first building in town, with Skagit Ned's upstairs; the second hotel in town, owned by Brann and Moran; the first hotel — Ruby House/McNamara Hotel and billiards room, owned by M. McNamara; a floating house on the river; Drug store, owned by Dr. D.Y. Deere; a logging camp. The steamer Glide is on the river. Can you tell us anything more about this photo?
      ]Update 2004: With the help of research Tom Robinson, we have determined that Brand and Moran was actually the hotel originally opened as the Mount Vernon Hotel by partners George V. Brann and a Mr. Moran who was not around for very long. Brann also owned logging camps, including at least one on Whidbey island, and he also owned a hotel-saloon at LaConner that was originally called the Tremont House. The 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, notes that Brann came to the Skagit river area very early, in 1881, and sold the Mount Vernon Hotel in 1890. At that point, he concentrated on the liquor business, which was still his trade in 1906. Michael McNamara was the owner of the Ruby House, which he built in 1879 and named for the mini-gold rush at Ruby creek in the upper Cascades.]

Early history of Mount Vernon from 1870 is recalled;
local community was first permanent inland town started in county
      Ed. note: We found this undated 1940 article clipped from what was then the Mount Vernon Daily Herald. There was no byline but we know that Harry B. Averill was the publisher. We know that his personal knowledge of local history was vast because as a young man he conducted many of the interviews of local pioneers and research for for the 1906 "bible" of local history, the Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties. Oh, how we wish we could find one of his descendants who knows where his notes might be. They would be a gold mine of information.

      Fifty years as one of the famed agricultural areas and dairying communities of the Pacific Northwest is the achievement that Mount Vernon celebrated in 1940. It was in June 1890 that the history of Mount Vernon as an incorporated municipality began. Fifty years of growth and prosperity have followed, developing the present city which serves as county seat for the 37,502 [people] residing in the 1,774 square-mile area called Skagit county.
      Lest you misunderstand, the beginning of the city was not in 1890. That was the year of the incorporation of the then small village and that year marks the birth of the official city of Mount Vernon. No, the actual beginning was not even in 1880 nor in 1875, for as early as 1870 two pioneer families had settled near the big logjam in the Skagit river to lay the foundation of the present Mount Vernon. Jasper Gates was the first to settle here, preceding Joseph F. Dwelley by a few months. Several settlers came during the next year and by early 1872 the first school in Skagit county was started in a building originally intended for a barn on the [David] E. Kimball [actually spelled Kimble] ranch here.

First permanent town
      Mount Vernon had the distinction of being the first permanent inland town started in Skagit county. Guemes, "a land of many deer, wild life, and a thousand wolves," was the first Skagit territory to be occupied and Anacortes was the first community to be founded. Early pioneers landed in the Fidalgo and Guemes country between 1853 and 1860; and it was in 1867 that the second Skagit settlement, LaConner, was started by Alonzo Low. Edison was first settled in 1869 while Skagit City, a flourishing village destined to an early extinction, was also established in that year.
      Following Mount Vernon were the founding of Conway in 1873 (the actual town was not founded until 1891); Fir in 1876; Mountain View (later became Clear Lake) and Hamilton in 1877; Sedro-Woolley and Sterling in 1878; Eagle Harbor (later Cypress) in 1881; Burlington, Bay View, Avon and Padilla-Whitney in 1882; Atlanta (later Point Williams on Samish Island) and Bancroft in 1883; Lyman, Montborne and Sauk City in 1884; Baker (Concrete on east side of Baker river) in 1888; Dewey in 1889; Fidalgo, McMurray and Bessemer (near Birdsview on the north shore) in 1890; Thorne (just south of Prairie) and Rockport in 1900; Bow in 1901 (first homesteaded in 1869); and Cement City (what we now think of Concrete) in 1905. [Ed. note: Some of these dates are strangely wrong. Mountain View was not platted by the Bartl family until 1890. Sedro was informally started by Mortimer Cook in 1885 and was platted in 1889 and incorporated in 1891. Woolley was platted in 1890 and incorporated in 1891. He also switched the location of Cement City, which was started by Amasa Peg-Leg Everett on the east side of the Baker river, and Baker, which was started where downtown Concrete stands today.]

Two log jams
      Two huge log jams in the Skagit, one centuries old, proved major obstacles in the community's development but the hearty pioneers with brain, brawn and perseverance, finally were victorious and, following the opening of the river [1878-79], the community [of Mount Vernon] grew rapidly. The largest of the log jams was located abut a mile above the present city while the second was a half-mile below. So dense and solid were the jams that even large trees grew on top of the debris.

First farmers
      Samuel Calhoun and Michael J. Sullivan were the first of a group of foresighted farmers who set foot on Skagit mainland soil, seeking to reclaim it and convert it into farmland. Ignoring the scoffings of pessimists who said such tide swamps could never be conquered, the settlers persisted and thereby laid the first foundation for Mount Vernon as the heart of a prosperous agricultural section. By 1874 Mount Vernon and the upper valley had enough settlers to seriously consider means to break the log jams that Indians reported had been "always existent." Appeals to the U.S. Congress, however, were fruitless.
      Skagit City [located near the fork of the north and south branches of the river on the delta], meanwhile, flourished. Steamboat service was established between Seattle and Skagit City in 1874 and mail service, which was then available only at Utsalady and LaConner, was demanded. In 1877, Mount Vernon received its first mail, coming from LaConner to Skagit City by skiff and packed afoot by Jasper Gates to Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon founded
      The year 1877 also saw the actual founding of the town of Mount Vernon with Harrison Clothier and Edward G. English playing the leading roles. The first hotel was erected in the same year, a rather plain building on Front street, built at a cost of not to exceed $100.
      Mining excitement in the Ruby creek district [starting in 1878, peaking in 1880] created a new interest in the Mount Vernon country and by 1881 the town had a population of about 75 people. The first church, Baptist in denomination, was established in 1884, as was the first newspaper, the Skagit News. The Methodists were organized two years later but it was not until 1889 that the city had its first church building. It was "a comfortable and tasty church," built at a cost of $2,500 and opened as the First Baptist Church on Nov. 17, 1869, at the corner of First and Division streets, just across from the old Condensery building. [That was a key spot then because parishioners took a ferry across the river where the bridge was later built in 1892].
      History of other parts of the county was by this time speedily interweaving into an interesting narrative which would require unlimited space here to retell, but which had direct bearing on the development of Mount Vernon.

Demand incorporation
      By 1889 the community's population was estimated at "nearly 1,000" and the people began to demand that the city expand by incorporation. Obstacles were encountered at the start, however, as an application to the district court was returned unsigned. The presiding judge was of the opinion that the state incorporation law was unconstitutional and refused his signature. Special meetings were held throughout 1889 in an effort to incorporate the community but the judge continued his refusal.

      And that is where the story ends. We hope that a reader will know of subsequent stories in the Herald that elaborated on this history. Please email us if you do.
      Several readers have asked why we research so much about Mount Vernon and the Delta since our focus is on Sedro-Woolley and the upper Skagit river. To understand the settlement of the river area, we need to learn about the very early days of settlement of the downriver region first, the islands, and second, the delta and Fidalgo Island. We are not trying to recreate the wheel, nor are we taking the time to chronicle the vast history of Mount Vernon and its environs. Instead, we want to reprint very early histories and point to those who later wrote about Mount Vernon and those who are now conducting in-depth research. If you are such a researcher or know someone who is, please email us. We would love to feature their work in this ongoing tapestry. We also hope that you will share scans or copies of early photos of Mount Vernon and the delta. Thank you.

Story posted on April 1, 2001 and updated on Jan. 7, 2004
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