3. Sylvia Lenfest (1869-1952)

ferguson family

We continue our celebration of the Snohomish Aquatic Center, located on the site where the Ferguson family home and farm once stood, with this story of Sylvia Ferguson’s marriage into early Snohomish’s leading Democratic family at a time when politics mattered most.

Not only was Sylvia raised in a solid Republican home, but her father, E. C. Ferguson, had just been through the bruising incorporation battle of 1890, that ended with him losing the mayoral election in a stunning upset to Hycranus Blackman, Democrat, and her future husband’s uncle. However, Blackman’s duration in office lasted only until the regular election later that year, when Ferguson was returned to office.

The wedding notice was published in The Eye, on November 28, 1891, it read:
“There was a wedding Tuesday at the residence of Mayor Ferguson who gave his daughter Sylvia’s hand in marriage to Mr. Elmer Lenfest, our county surveyor.”

Elmer Lenfest, along with his parents, Mary and Eugene, arrived in Snohomish the year Washington gained statehood. Mary Ursula was the older sister of the famous lumbermen, the Blackman Brothers, who moved to Snohomish in 1872 from Maine and six short years later each brother had a home on Avenue B. Only Hycranus’s has survived to become the Blackman House Museum at 118 Avenue B.

With statehood, Snohomish’s existing articles of incorporation under territorial law became invalid, so while Sylvia and Elmer got to know each other, lines were being drawn to define a larger city. Ferguson’s contentment with Snohomish continuing on as Village was not shared by the majority of voters. The tally was 360 to 21 for incorporation as a city of the third class in the election of June 16, 1890 – the same election that interrupted Ferguson’s continuous run as mayor.

We imagine it was not an idyllic setting to carry on a romance, especially with the daughter of the man referred to as our “tax-dodging leader” in the press. Contemporaneous historian, William Whitfield wrote, “ For the first time in its history Snohomish enjoyed all the thrills of city politics.” And he didn’t even mention the Ferguson/Lenfest courtship.

Perhaps a residue of hard feelings explains why it was not a big wedding held the following year, only “parties immediately interested” were invited. It certainly was not because Sylvia was great with child – the arrival of their only offspring, Norman, was a respectful three years off.

snohomish stories
From the Ferguson Album, c.1905. Left to right: Norman Lenfest, his mother Sylvia, grandmother Lucetta, Aunt Ivy and Uncle Cecil Ferguson, and his father Norman, pictured in the Ferguson family home, the historic site of the Snohomish Aquatic Center.
All images courtesy of the Ferguson Family | Snohomish Historical Society Archives

Sylvia and Elmer became a leading couple of Snohomish, active in both civic and social affairs. Elmer died in 1938, at the age of 74, while Sylvia continued one to reach her 82nd year. It’s Sylvia we have to thank for saving and donating many papers of her father’s and of the city to the Special Collections of the University of Washington Library.

Perhaps you’ll remember this story while walking against the current of the Lazy River, a surprisingly vigorous feature of the Aquatic Center, and that Sylvia lived and loved on this very spot, not so many years ago.

. . . .

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, March 18, 2014

2. The Ferguson Family

ferguson family

ABOVE: Ferguson Family Portrait, c.1890.
From the left: Ivy Maude, born 1875, Lucetta, Sylvia M., born 1869, Emory Canda, with son Cecil, born 1881, on his lap. Taken around the time the family moved into their new home, a mansion, located on the site of Snohomish Aquatic Center.

All images courtesy Ferguson Family | Snohomish Historical Society Archives.

Our story about the founding family of Snohomish began last month with a photograph taken by Ivy Ferguson of her family home. It was under construction in 1889, and it’s possible that this month’s studio portrait of the Ferguson family was taken to celebrate the move into their grand new residence .

Let’s imagine we are going to call on the family to pay our respects and offer our congratulations on their new home.

20100104-fergusoncardFirst, we need to check Mrs. E. C. Ferguson’s calling card to confirm that “Wednesday” is in the lower left hand corner – this is the day the lady of the house receives visitors. Next, we will need to rent a horse and carriage, assuming we don’t own our own rig, since the home is too far out of town to walk with any dignity remaining once we arrived.

The oldest livery in town is Knapp and Hinkley’s on 2nd, but who among us knows how to a handle a horse and buggy? Chris Gee, president of the our historical society has the equestrian skills required, and with a little faith in time travel, we arrive at the Ferguson Mansion, north of town where the Snohomish Aquatic Center will be built in a 118 years.

Eldest daughter, Sylvia, greets us at the door. She is quite tall, with piercing eyes and a slow, knowing smile lights up her face as she scans our strange clothes. Sylvia thinks a lot about the future. The gossip around town is that her father is footing the bill for her journey to Hawaii, a destination made popular by Mark Twain’s book “Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii in the 1860’s.” Sylvia attended the Territorial University in Seattle, studying the Classics, and is comfortably self-possessed.

ferguson family

Her mother, Lucetta, is playing the piano, loudly, a tune we don’t recognize of course, but she stops immediately and stands to greet us, making us feel very welcome. Seated in the front room, we try to follow her plans for more furnishings, since the room seemed stuffed to our modern eyes, but we are fortunately interrupted by Ivy who has entered with a tray of tea cups, pot and a plate of really tiny cakes.

Lucetta was born in Iowa to Mary Jane (Trout) and Hiram D. Morgan. By the time Lucetta Gertrude Morgan turned 11, the family was living in Olympia Washington Territory. Eight years later, she met Emory Ferguson during his service as a legislator. What a lucky break for both seasoned pioneers. An eligible woman from hardy stock meets the founder of his own town who now wants to found a family. They were joined in marriage, July 11, 1868, at the home of her parents in Thurston County.

“And I was born 13 months later,” announces Sylvia, stopping the conversation cold.

To be continued….

. . . .

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, February 19, 2014

1. Ferguson Family Home, 1900

ferguson family

Above: The Ferguson Family Home, c.1900 A photograph from the family album credited to Ivy Ferguson.

One of the Ferguson family stories passed down to the living descendants is that Ivy Ferguson was an amateur photographer and family members credit her for this month’s deteriorated, but still a gem, taken of the family home, celebrating a recent snowfall.

Ivy (sometimes spelled “Ivie” even “Ivia”), was the middle child of E. C. and Lucetta Ferguson. Her father, Emory Canda, was often referred to as the “father of Snohomish,” in his lifetime, which means that Ivy, along with her older sister Sylvia and younger brother Cecil, could be referred to as “the first family of Snohomish.”

2014-02_nowNow: Apartments at 214 Maple Avenue.
The site of their family home is today the location of the Snohomish Aquatic Center.

North of the gracious home, its southern face appearing rather ghostly in Ivy’s photo, was the farm, labeled as “The Ranch” in the family album. (If any readers know when most of the Ferguson’s thirty-two acre farm passed on to the school district, please let me know.)

That’s Ferguson Creek flowing into the bottom frame of the historic photo. It’s called “Swifty Creek” today, and it flows into a culvert at the east end of the sports field, emerging for several blocks at Fifth Street, before going underground again all the way to the Snohomish River. This course of outflow from Blackman Lake created the infamous Snohomish Gulch that I have written about in the past.

ferguson familyRight: Ivy Ferguson, c.1890 (click to enlarge)

Ivy, a single woman in her late twenties, moved to Olympia for a position as a stenographer with the state insurance company. Returning to Snohomish for a visit, Ivy died “after an illness of a few days” on July 22, 1912, in the family home. She was only 37 years old.

At the time of her death, we imagine that the Ferguson family home looked pretty much the same as when Ivy captured it with her camera after a light snowfall.

. . . .

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, January 15, 2014