Why Not a Heritage Trail for Snohomish?

interpretative sign

Have you ever visited a city and found yourself on a Heritage Trail? Without a brochure or even intention, you were following informative, eye-catching interpretative signs that took you back to the origin of the place where you were walking and so you continued to walk from sign to sign?

This happened to me in my hometown of Minneapolis when we returned for a family reunion and our mother wanted to visit the church of her childhood located where Minneapolis/St. Paul began — the St. Anthony Falls Historic District.

“Minneapolis’ once thriving lumber and flour milling industries began at the St. Anthony Falls — the only major falls along the Mississippi River. This industrial history is on display along the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, a 1.8-mile loop around the city’s riverfront within the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Zone.” (p.68 “Hitting the Trail, Twelve Urban Historic Trails Where You Can Explore a City’s Past and Present,” Preservation Winter 2019.)

Upon my return to Snohomish, I began talking up the establishment of a heritage trail to anyone who would listen. Before that, while still a weekend resident, I led my first walking tour of the First Street/Riverfront Trail loop that shows-and-tells the story of early Snohomish.

. . . .

The renovation of the former St. Michael Catholic Church into our home and studio would begin on Fridays when we drove up from Seattle to touch base with, Roland, our carpenter/confessor, before he headed back to Seattle until Monday morning.

The place was ours for the weekend.

We walked around inspecting/admiring the new framing … then began loading our white Astro cargo van with Roland’s outtakes, many times a pile waist high. We had to make the dump-run before it closes, and we were looking forward to our reward of an Indian dinner out. It was a hole-in-the-wall place on lower Hewitt that we loved as an instant tradition begun on our first date. Always ordered the large bottle of Kingfisher Premium and together we’d wait for our food to arrive.

We were weekend residents until the turn of the millennium, living in a 300 square foot addition built over a carport on the south end of the church structure, vintage 1960s. No oven, but everything else and best of all, it had a private entrance. Karen worked on her garden and her thoughts of running for a city council seat; I joined the historical society.

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mary low sinclair banner“Snohomish is old enough for its own heritage trail,” I remember writing somewhere. My pitch for a trail was always enthusiastically received but never funded. In 2011, inspired by the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Snohomish led to the proposal for lamp post banners marking the event which was funded by the Historic Downtown Snohomish organization. Banners with the faces of the city’s founders hung from every lamppost up and down First Street for five years or so.

Working with Wendy, the city’s economic director, we have submitted a grant to the 2019 Historical Preservation Grant Program administered by the Snohomish County Historic Preservation Commission to establish the first trail for the City of Snohomish.

Its proposed name is Snohomish Heritage Trail #1. Birthplace of the County in Three-Acts.

The intention is to create interpretative signs that will lead visitors on a Heritage Trail loop of Snohomish’s downtown business district, including the River Front Trail, that shows and tells the highlights of the city’s 19th-century heritage, with emphasis on the people.

The plan is to repurpose the three, three-pole Wayfinder clusters installed on the south side of 1st Street at the former Visitor Center, Avenue D; Avenue B street end, near the public restroom facility and stairs to the River Front Trail; where Union Avenue also ends – and where our story begins.

interpretative sign
Mock-up of proposed interpretative sign at Union and First Street –a new use for the existing wayfinder infrastructure.

. . . .

“Walking around Snohomish is enjoyable and educational. Because so much of its historical fabric remains, it is a place where one can experience (at least in moments of reverie) what our region’s towns were like more than a century ago. Although there are other places that offer similar experiences, Snohomish is conveniently close to Seattle.”

Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, UW Professor, Department of Architecture

. . . .

Featured Image above: An example of an interpretative sign, on the left, outlines a brief history the former St. Michael Catholic Church and the establishment of AngelArmsWorks Studio in 1993 which may be viewed at 230 Avenue B.

The Birth of Snohomish County

warner blake photo

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.

warner blake photo
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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