Blackman Grocery Store, 1889

snohomish stories

In the late 1940s, an automobile dealership on the south side of First Street collapsed toward the Snohomish River, its foundation compromised by continued flooding. A block-long row of connected, one-story storefront buildings, built of local brick, was condemned and sat empty for nearly twenty years.

During this time, Snohomish’s main drag moved to Second Street, which was extended to reach the new U.S. Route 2, north of town — splitting the old cemetery in two. By the 1960s, however, the question on business leader’s minds was how to bring people back into our empty downtown? Urban renewal funds supported a study that recommended tearing down all of the old buildings on the river side of First Street, along with those condemned two decades before, then update the remaining buildings to give Snohomish the look of a Riverside Shopping Mall!

snohomish storiesArtist rendering of a First Street urban renewal proposal in 1965. Implementing this plan would have prevented Snohomish’s downtown from being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

An editorial on October 28, 1965, summed it up this way: “Snohomish hasn’t sunk that low, yet.”

Two buildings designed by J. S. White would have been lost with that scheme: the A. M. Blackman Grocery Store (913 First) and Wilbur’s Drugstore Building (1201 First). Gone, too, would have been at least two stories about the flourishing of frontier Snohomish. The Lot Wilbur story is told here. It’s Arthur M. Blackman’s turn this month.

snohomish storiesBorn in the State of Maine in 1865, Arthur’s family settled in Oakland, California when he was only 11 years old. At age 20, Arthur set out for Snohomish arriving on Christmas day, 1885.

Since the California Blackman’s had grocery store business experience in their background, we suspect that the Snohomish cousins requested Arthur’s help in opening Blackman’s first grocery store at the northeast corner of Avenue C and First.

Within in a couple of years, however, Arthur was ready to open his own store and commissioned the contractor J.S. White to build the handsome building that is currently home to the Oxford Saloon.

Arthur’s grocery store ​ ​failed in 1894, as did a lot of businesses, victims of the 1893 nationwide depression.

“Then it was a furniture store, a shoe store, and became the Oxford Pool Room during the Prohibition,” reported David Dilgard, History Specialist with the Everett Public Library on his 2006 walking tour, “and apparently began its career as a tavern during the Second World War.”

It was on David’s tour that I first heard the name “J. S. White.”

Arthur turned to logging work on the river until appointed Snohomish Postmaster in 1896, serving with distinction until his retirement in 1913. He died in 1929, but records are not clear if he is buried in Everett or in our local GAR Cemetery where a simple stone marker with his name is holding a spot alongside his wife Adeliza, who preferred to be called “Buddy.”

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, August 20, 2014

The Building That Stopped a Fire!

snohomish stories

Meticulously captured by photographer Otto Greule for our project documenting architect White’s surviving structures from 19th-century Snohomish, the Burns Block (1118 First Street) bears the historic name of its eccentric owner, Samuel John Burns.

“A Man Who Loves Money More than Comfort,” announced The Eye’s sub-head in a report of his paralysis in 1892. “John Burns, the long-haired old fellow, with unkempt beard and a small dog,” the report begins, “has lived in the low wooden shack that stands in the shadow of the brick block bearing his name.”

Knowing this, you have to wonder about Burns’ relationship with his architect/contractor J. S. White … a little gossip would help my story just about now. In any event, their collaboration resulted in Snohomish’s grandest building, and a hero, as well, if a building can play that role.

It was the great Snohomish fire of 1911, when in the middle of night, the wooden buildings on both sides of First Street, starting near Avenue B, were fully engaged in flames and smoke. On the south side of First, the fire burned the wooden buildings built on pilings until it ran out of fuel at the intersection of Avenue C.

Across the street, however, the fire’s raging westward movement was stopped by the three story tall Burns Block acting as a firewall.

This story was one of the favorites told on our tour with Emerson third graders this past May, judging by their thank you notes.

snohomish storiesThank You note from an Emerson third grader for leading a walking tour in May 2014.

The building is related to fire from another direction, as well. In 1889, the older, waterfront part of Seattle burned to the ground started by the infamous glue pot. The lesson taken from that disaster, which the Snohomish Fire Department helped fight, was that all commercial building would be built of brick. And the Burns Block is built of home made bricks.

Today, our grandest building wears its red bricks as many badges of courage, standing tall in the afternoon sun.

As for the miser Burns, who listed himself as a “capitalist” in the 1888 Polk Directory, he died at age 66. A single man, his body was returned to New Brunswick, Canada for burial in the family plot. His extensive real-estate holdings in Snohomish were divided among his six siblings.

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, July 16, 2014

J. S. White’s Building, 1893

snohomish stories

The graceful red brick building at 924 First Street was called the Princess Theater Building when I led my first walking tour of historic downtown Snohomish in 2005. Six years later I went digging for more news about the Princess Theater for a HistoryLink.org Cybertour, and came up surprisingly empty handed. Surprising because who ever heard of a theater that didn’t advertise?

snohomish storiesThe Princess Theater. This fuzzy image included on page 46 of the Snohomish Historical Society’s “River Reflections, Volume One,” published in 1975, evidently gave the building at 924 First Street its name over the years although no record has been found of the theater’s life in Snohomish; nor a better photograph.

Reaching a dead-end and a deadline, I wrote what I had about the building which you can read today on the HistoryLink.org website; but do it soon, because the entry will be changed to reflect its new name, “The White Building.”

The story begins with a four line report in The Weekly Eye, December 29, 1888:
“E. C. Ferguson this week sold a portion of the lot at the corner of First and A streets, with 25 feet frontage to J.S. White, the architect and builder; for $40 a front foot.”

But no follow up and no building appears on the Sanborn Insurance maps? Three years later, in the December 22, 1892 issue, a news item jumps out announcing that White’s corner lot is being graded for a shooting gallery! The plot thickens whenever guns are involved.

Fast forward to a mention in the April 27, 1893, issue:
“A scowload of stone for the foundation of J. S. White’s building at First street and Avenue A has arrived from the Chuckanut quarry.”

Picture a barge floating low, loaded down with stone coming upriver.

The following month, an issue over property lines was raised in the City Council Chambers by White’s attorney Hart who claimed that the Palace Saloon, next door, was four inches over its property line and asked the council to have it removed.
“The council were not convinced of their duty to do so and instructed Mr. Carothers to survey First street from D to A and fix the corners,” the report concluded. A subsequent meeting recorded the numbers without determination if the saloon was over the line.

White finished his two-story building and welcomed his first tenant, The City of Paris boutique occupying the first floor. The same issue, August 10, 1893, reported this tidbit about the odd layout of the second floor:
“People who have observed the arrangement of the rooms in the second floor of White’s new building have wondered what they were intended for. The plumbing is unusually elaborate, there are two bathrooms, a kitchen with a place for a range, a dining room, ample closets, and all necessary accommodations for housekeeping on a large scale. Yesterday Mr. White disclosed the fact that he put up the building and arranged the upper story as described at the instance of a city physician who desired to occupy it as a hospital. Mr. White added that the physician had changed his mind and that any responsible party who wants to rent a hospital is invited to call and inspect the premises.”

In a plot twist from the pages of a mystery, the new Bakeman Furniture Building, just down the street on the southeast corner of Avenue B, burns to the ground on September 15, 1893, following an unsuccessful incendiary incident in July.

SONY DSC

The Weekly Eye, September 21, 1893
No loss of life reported, but the city council lost its meeting place. The editor showed restraint with no mention of how fitting it was for our council members to be meeting in a hospital.

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, June 18, 2014