The Birth of Snohomish County

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Today, January 14, marks the creation of Snohomish County in 1861, following deliberations by the Washington Territorial Legislature meeting in Olympia while — “the white flakes drifted down upon our wintery scene,” reported the local press and recounted in Margaret Riddle’s excellent essay posted online at Historylink.org.

Margaret tells the story of the county’s birth in the lively, yet detailed precision of a gifted historian, bending adjectives over backward to tell how the Native Americans would not move quietly (and quickly) to the Tulalip reservation and leave the white settlers alone. There was the talk of the United States Army moving in which inspired a group of men in Steilacoom, a settlement south of Seattle, home to a military fort since 1847, to fantasize about a ferry service across the Snohomish River, a vital link of a military road heading north.

However, funding for the road was redirected for the Civil War and the Steilacoom group abandoned the ferry fantasy except for one man: E. C. Ferguson. He had his small house shipped to the future site of Snohomish City in pieces and reassembled near to where it stands today.

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Only the upper half of the south facade of the Ferguson’s Cottage is visable from the River Front Trail — and only then until the blackberries come in.

It was in this one-room home, referred to as Ferguson’s Cottage through the years, that a petition was drawn-up requesting the formation of Snohomish County by the Legislature. Besides the settlement on the Snohomish River, there was Fowler’s Store in Mukilteo and that was it within the proposed boundaries of the new county. A rough census of the non-native population counted 49 men and no women. The Legislature placed the temporary county seat at Mukilteo.

The first Snohomish County election was held July 8, 1861, when the yet unnamed Snohomish won the permanent county seat thanks to Ferguson’s superior effort to get out the vote with 17 to Fowler’s 10. Ferguson returned to Snohomish with the county records in his vest pocket, making his cottage the county’s first courthouse.

This two-part movie was posted on this blog in 2015, it features the late David Dilgard, the Everett Public Library History Specialist who took a special interest in the history of Snohomish and is responsible for discovering the historic home in the 1980s.

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Today, the City of Snohomish promotes itself as the Antique Capital of the Northwest and has since the 1980s when the tag line was coined by John Regan, the original owner of the Star Center Mall he opened in 1982. This was learned from an article posted on Herald.net “Something old for everybody in our state’s antique capitol,” January 7, 2019. “To be sure, it wasn’t antiques,” the article reports Regan’s thinking, “he felt like Snohomish needed a little something.”

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(Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Indeed, Main Street had become increasingly forlorn throughout the sixties & seventies. A city planner contracted with Urban Renewal funds proposed tearing down all of the buildings on the south side of First Street in order to open the city to the river but there was no money to act on the plan. As it’s said: Economic depression leads to historic preservation. Low downtown rents brought in more antique/collectible shops and the nickname stuck and is now “synonymous with Snohomish” as the Herald story pointed out. In other words, we are stuck with it.

Next month, I will make the case for an alternative tag line:
City of Snohomish: Birthplace of the County.

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