History of Snohomish

The City of Snohomish is located at the confluence of the Pilchuck River with the Snohomish River.  The first settlers of the area were the Sdocohobcs, Native American fishermen, hunters, and gatherers who were a subdivision of the Snohomish Lushootseed-speaking Native American tribe.  In 1855, members of the Snohomish tribe were on hand in Mukilteo to sign the Point Elliott Treaty. The purpose of the treaty was to sort out land disputes where natives and settlers were immediately adjacent to each other and to settle other “issues” with the Native Americans. The treaty included the establishment of four reservations. By the time white settlers began arriving at the confluence of the Snohomish and Pilchuck Rivers in the late 1850s, most Native Americans had relocated to the Tulalip Reservation near Marysville.


The first white settlers in what is now the City of Snohomish included Heil Barnes and Edson Cady. Their goal was to establish a settlement at the mouth of the Pilchuck River where it empties into the Snohomish River. Cady staked his claim for land and applied for a post office permit for “Cadyville”. Meanwhile, Barnes was staking a claim for Emory C. Ferguson right next to Cady’s claim. In 1859, he had a cottage shipped by boat from Steilacoom to the claimed land and re-assembled it for Ferguson’s use. That cottage still stands. Ferguson arrived a year later, in March/April 1860, and established a mercantile in Cadyville.


As more settlers arrived in the region, Snohomish County was established January 14, 1861. The first county seat was Mukilteo, but in July 1861 it was moved to Cadyville after a vote of the people. At the time 49 people, all men, called Cadyville home. 


Woodbury Sinclair purchased Cady’s stake in 1864 with the intention of establishing a store supporting the area’s booming logging industry. When his wife, Mary Low Sinclair, arrived in Cadyville on May 1, 1865, she became Cadyville’s first permanent white female resident. 


In 1871, Ferguson platted his claim giving streets running east-west a number and the north-south avenues a letter. A year later, Mary and Woodbury Sinclair platted the claim they had purchased from Cady and named the avenues after trees.


Cadyville became known as Snohomish in 1871 when the plat of Snohomish City Western Part joined Ferguson’s eastern claim with Sinclair’s western claim at Union Avenue. Ferguson is often called the “father of Snohomish” while Mary Low Sinclair is remembered as the “mother of Snohomish schools”.


Originally, Snohomish was established to support the surrounding agricultural community but soon became a logging town as well because of the area’s dense forests of Douglas Firs.  Brothers Alanson, Elhanan, and Hyrcanus Blackman migrated to Snohomish from Maine and established their first logging camp in 1875 on what was then called Stillaguamish Lake but is now known as Blackmans Lake. Hyrcanus went on to become the city’s first mayor after a special election in June 1890 to incorporate the new town (however, five months later during the general election in November, Ferguson was elected to be the Snohomish’s first full-term mayor). The first sawmill in Snohomish began its operations on the Pilchuck River in 1876. In 1878, the Blackmans opened their own sawmill which was located on the Snohomish River. 


By 1884, 700 people called Snohomish home. There was a courthouse, school building, six saloons, and one church in town. The Snohomish train station was built in 1888. The first train to arrive in town was a Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway train. Electric lighting followed the arrival of the first train in 1889. By 1893 the Great Northern Railway from St. Paul to Seattle was completed, including a stop in Snohomish.


When Snohomish was incorporated in 1890 it became the first incorporated city in the county. It had a population of 1,995 people which grew to 3,000 by 1895.


In 1897 the county seat moved to Everett after a disputed election.


Around the turn of the century Snohomish’s economy diversified to include the canning industry as the area’s soil and climate made for superior fruit growing.


A Carnegie Library was built in 1910 on the site of a one-room school house on Cedar Avenue. The Carnegie Building remains although it no longer houses a library. It is the oldest public building in the city.


In 1911 many of the buildings on First Street were destroyed in a fire that extended up Avenues B and C. They were largely replaced by brick and masonry buildings.


One of the largest employers in early Snohomish was Bickford Ford on First Street, which was founded by Lawrence Bickford in 1934. The dealership is still open and family-run, although it has relocated out of Snohomish’s Historic District to Bickford Avenue at the northern end of the city. 


Snohomish values and celebrates its history through various groups dedicated to the preservation of its heritage and unique character. In the 1960s there was a push to preserve the historical character of Snohomish and to encourage the commercial vitality of the Historic Business District. The Snohomish Historical Society was founded in 1969 and is headquartered at the Blackman House Museum, the old home of Hyrcanus Blackman. Local lumber, the first milled by the Blackmans, was used to construct the house in 1878.  


In 1973, Snohomish was the first city in the county to pass an ordinance establishing a Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Historic District is a 26-block area along the Snohomish River, containing a mix of commercial and residential uses. The City of Snohomish’s Design Review Board, an advisory body, was created in 1979 to ensure development in the Historic District is consistent with established historic standards. 


Historic Downtown Snohomish, established in 2004, is a non-profit organization of volunteers and businesses working to promote, preserve, and improve the City’s historic downtown business district.