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Roads and the Snohomish River

GS Heating
Published:06/19/2008 History
Roads and the Snohomish River    Print Snohomish Times    
Snohomish VIC Looking at Ave D and First
Snohomish River and Historic First Street

The first record of the Snohomish River was a map make by Commodore Wilkes in 1841, and for years after the white man came to this wilderness to establish homes, the river was the only practical means of transportation for settlers to and from "the outside", and for the Indians on their pilgrimages to the saltwater fishing areas. Its advantages did not include speed, however, for old records show that E.C. Ferguson, on his trips to Olympia, spent five days by canoe, to travel there.

The first team of oxen was brought into Snohomish County by Major J.J. Ban Bokkelin, from Port Townsend, in 1856. He, with a battalion of soldiers, came up the Snohomish to where Falls City now stands on the Snoqualmie, to establish forts along the route. After the forts were built, the oxen were used as food. The first oxen used as work animals were brought here to the valley by Jacob Fowler of Mukilteo. Although not built for speed, these beasts served the settlers well in the fields and the loggers in the woods. Oxen traveled at about two miles an hour, but no one was in much of a hurry those days. Jim Masterson, who homesteaded a tract of land on the Pilchuck, had the first team of horses.

1860 saw the flat-bottom scow, "The Minnehaha", with which E.F. Cady made a livelihood, hauling supplies for the settlers up the river from Port Gamble. The first steamer to make the trip was the "Traveler", commanded by Captain Horton, bringing Colonel Ebey and his Volunteers eight miles upriver to build a fort. Beginning in 1864 the "Mary Woodruff" made regular trips on the river from Port Madison and around 1880, the steamer "Nellie" was a common sight to the pioneers. She made the trip from Seattle to Snohomish in about ten hours two trips a month.

Early overland travel was done over a trail from the mouth of the river where Marysville now stands to Snohomish. It followed the valley, went around big trees and swamps, and was only wide enough for a single ox. This trail cut through dense forest and was used for taking supplies to several logging camps along the way. These camps bought their supplies from the Sinclair Store, and the loggers spent most of their wages in the Blue Eagle Saloon.

The first action of the Board of County Commissioners, after its organization on May 12, 1861, concerned roads, but real road progress began in 1864 when the first tax exclusively for road purposes was levied at the rate of $2 on "all persons liable to perform labor on roads". In 1901, twenty-one new roads were surveyed, nineteen old bridges were rebuilt, and improvements were made on existing roads, at a cost of about $50,000. As a result, Snohomish had the finest roads, in that year, of any in the state.




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