History of Snohomish

The first settlers of the area that is now the City of Snohomish 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.  By the time white settlers began arriving in the area in the late 1850s, most Native Americans had relocated to the Tulalip Reservation near Marysville which was established by the Point Elliott Treaty.


The first white settlers 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 applied for a post office permit for “Cadyville”.  While Cady was doing his thing, Heil Barnes staked a claim for Emory C. Ferguson next to Cady’s claim, where he built a cottage for Ferguson in 1859 which still stands.  Ferguson arrived a year later, in April 1860, and established a mercantile.


Snohomish County was established January 14, 1861.  The first county seat was Mukilteo but in July 1861 a vote for the location of the county seat selected Snohomish, which at the time had a population of 49, all men.  Mary Low Sinclair was the first white woman to live in what was then called Cadyville. 


In 1868, Ferguson platted his claim giving streets running east-west a number and the north-south avenues a letter.  A year later, Mary Sinclair and her husband, Woodbury, platted their claim and named the avenues after trees.


Cadyville was renamed 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 Sinclair is remembered at 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.  The first sawmill in Snohomish began its operations on the Pilchuck River in 1876.  In 1884, the Blackmans opened their first 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.  In 1889, electric lighting closely followed the arrival of the first train.  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 the nearby growing town of 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 been relocated from First Street to Bickford Avenue. 


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 Snohomish’s first mayor, Hyrcanus Blackman.  


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.