The Widow and Our First Cemetery

warner's imageThe interpretive sign for Act 1, Scene ii of our proposed Birthplace of the County Heritage Trail would be the one facing Union Street where this amazing portrait of Mary Low Sinclair welcomes visitors to Snohomish while still in their cars.

Union Street marks the joining of the western and eastern claims that were platted and named “Snohomish” in 1871 by Emory and Lucetta Ferguson who had the western claim, then confirmed the following year by Mary Low and Woodbury Sinclair — the same year that Woodbury, age 47, suddenly died.

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Born to John N. Low and Lydia (Colburn) Low in Bloomington, Illinois, on December 11, 1842, Mary and her family were members of the Denny Party that arrived at Alki Point in 1851. Many of the Denny Party became the first settlers of Seattle. The Lows, however, settled in Port Madison, Kitsap County, where Mary worked as a teacher, and ended up marrying her boss, the school district clerk, and lumberman Woodbury Sinclair, on March 4, 1862. Two years later, Woodbury found himself in Cadyville (the first name for Snohomish) where he purchased the namesake’s claim on the north bank of the Snohomish River. The purchase included a small shack that Woodbury and a partner named William Clendenning planned to open as a store catering to the local loggers.

snohomish stories imageLabeled as the “County Seat, 1865” by historian William Whitfield in the 1920s, this image is believed to be the first photograph of Snohomish, credited to the New York photographer Sammis. It shows the Ferguson home and his Blue Eagle Saloon on the left, while the Sinclair/Clendenning store is shown on the right. We would like to believe that the man posing in the foreground, on the south bank of the river, is Woodbury Sinclair.

Mary, their infant son and the household goods arrived on May 1, 1865, which she described in her 1911 remembrance:

“As the steamer landed at the gravel bank near the foot of Maple Street, a small clearing appeared in the otherwise unbroken timber. The town consisted of a rough log house on the bank in which supplies were stored. The store farther back was a twelve by sixteen-foot shack. The old building still standing (1911) at the corner of Maple and Commercial Streets, without windows, doors, or floor, in time was used for the store, with living rooms in the back.”

The infant Alvin died 20 days after Mary’s arrival.

“There was no time to be lonesome,” Mary remembered in 1911. “There was much to do, but the pioneers were hustlers and could turn their hands to anything — no specialists in those days. The women, young and hopeful, fearing neither danger or privation, soon began to make things look homelike. A large fireplace assisted considerably in clearing the dooryard, in which later bloomed old-fashioned flowers — Sweet Williams, Marigolds and Hollyhocks. Frogs sang cheerily in the nearby marshes; mosquitoes kept the people busy building smudges. Wild game was plentiful. The Indians brought venison, wild ducks, fish and clams. Also, the ranchers from Snoqualmie Prairie brought delicious hams and bacon of their own curing.”

A second son was born on November 14, 1866, who they named Clarence Wood Sinclair, and he lived to become a popular captain of the favorite steamship Nellie in the 1870s. Mabel “May” H. Sinclair was born on April 28, 1869.

At Woodbury’s death, the Sinclairs were in the process of donating three acres on the eastern edge of their plat, alongside the Pilchuck River, to establish the county’s first graveyard. As the story goes, there was an accidental death of a young Caucasian woman the previous year, which left the frontier community helplessly aware that they had no burial ground — no proper place for a proper lady to rest in peace.

Mary ordered a headstone of white marble, standing some three feet tall, to create a memorial for Woodbury in the new cemetery, where she also moved the remains of her infant son Alvin and added those of her second son Clarence in 1905, who died from a sudden illness. Mary died on a Sunday, June 11, 1922. She was 79 years old, still living in her home on Pearl Street and still active. She was cremated in Seattle, and, according to sketchy records dating from the 1940s, her remains were included in the family plot in Snohomish’s first cemetery — which was lost to time.

snohomish stories imageWoodbury’s headstone is the first stone installed in the first cemetery. In the late 1960s,it was found tipped over and buried in overgrowth of the abandoned early cemetery. Today, it marks no grave but is the featured marker of a recreated cemetery by the Snohomish Historical Society.

Writing 46 years later in the November 24, 1911, issue of the Snohomish County Tribune about her earliest memories, Mary does not mention the fact that she was the first Caucasian woman to take up permanent residence in the place that was to become Snohomish City. She also fails to note that even by 1911, she is considered to be the founder of education in Snohomish by opening her home as the first classroom. Plus, she skips over the intriguing fact that by learning the native languages of the area, she served as a translator for visiting officials and journalists. The last recorded event was two years before her death, at 79 years of age, when she helps a reporter from Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer interview Snohomish’s famous Pilchuck Julia.

snohomish stories imagePortrait of Pilchuck Julia ca. 1910, was taken by the unique Rigby Studio of Everett and Snohomish, owned by two sisters.

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Featured Image above: Photograph of Mary Low Sinclair (1842-1922), by Seattle’s LaRoche Studio, ca. 1905, courtesy UW Special Collections (UW26773).

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“Mary Low Sinclair arrives in Cadyville (future Snohomish City) on May 1, 1865.,” accessed April 1, 2019,