Skagit City, Washington
Skagit City was a town at the divergence of the North and South Forks of the Skagit River, in the U.S. state of Washington. The Barker's Trading Post along the river, opened in 1869, was partially or fully responsible for drawing people to settle at the townsite, which became an important river transportation center at least one point along its history, most notably 1872. The city prospered until shortly before the 1880s, after the upstream community of Mount Vernon, Washington began to prosper. By 1906, only one building remained of the entire town, and after World War II, it had disappeared entirely. Today, the city of Cedardale, Washington, is the closest city to the former townsite, and the name "Skagit City" has become simply a placename on the northeastern tip of Fir Island at where two distributaries diverge and carry Skagit River water into Skagit Bay, which branches off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The city, however, played an integral part to the current settlement of Skagit County.
The first white settlement in the Skagit River forks area was in 1868, when a small store was established there by a man named Campbell. The Barker's Trading Post, established by John Barker in 1869, was a trading post near the divergence of the Skagit River into two distributaries named the North Fork and the South Fork. While the South Fork was navigable, the North Fork was the smaller channel that flowed into marshes, estuaries and sloughs in the northern part of the delta of the Skagit River. Two huge logjams, which often included tree trunks longer than 100 feet (30 m), shortly upstream in the river impeded navigation further upstream, which diverted more water traffic to the trading post rather than to upstream communities. This series of logjams was later destroyed, allowing ships to travel further upstream, and also spelled the end for Skagit City.
Shortly after the settlement of the region began, the first noted murder in the region also occurred, at a point between late 1869 and early 1870. It was said that a group of Native Americans had set up camp on the bank of the North Fork Skagit River directly across from the fledgling town. The only one killed was John Barker, and initial suspicions led to the hanging of two Indians. Later investigations led to suspicion of a nearby resident, Quimby Clark, who fled the area before he could be questioned. Eventually, it was determined that "the store showed plainly that the robbery and murder had been committed by a white man, for things which Indians would have taken were left and those which a white man would have taken were gone."
Notably, Campbell, as previously mentioned the founder of the first trading post along the Skagit forks, once journeyed upriver along the Skagit on an 1874 canoe trip. It was said that one night, he had "slipped off" into the forest across the river. His disappearance went unnoticed until the whole party was awakened by "piercing blood-curling shrieks", and it was later discovered that it was in fact Campbell himself, "shrieking over and over the name of a local Skagit River Indian, 'Ted-auh-an'." The owner of the LaConner hotel, John P. McGlinn, was known to later say that the incidence was a case of "religious dementia". They did not continue upriver, and Campbell was tricked into returning to Skagit City by a false letter by James O'Loughlin, the owner of a tin shop in the settlement.
In and around its roughly 1872 economic peak, Skagit City (sometimes confused with the "tiny [nearby] hamlet" of Skagit Forks) the city provided a sheltered harbor for sternwheelers on trade routes stemming from the city of Seattle and running to smaller settlements in the southern Puget Sound. The 100 feet (30 m) sternwheeler Fanny Lake, which played a key part in the settlement of the Skagit Forks area, as well as Skagit City and the nearby, growing town of LaConner, was the first ship to begin this route, though different sources cite this ship as being either launched in 1875 or having begun the route in 1874, having previously served on different Northwest routes. The ship sank on May 21, 1883, when it hit a riffle in the Skagit River locally known as "Dead Man's Riffle". Although its superstructure was destroyed in the collision, it was refloated in 1889 by Joshua Green and partners, who had founded the La Conner Trading and Transportation Company. Over the next decade, Fanny Lake was responsible for the rapid growth and settlement of the Skagit Forks.
...the wonderfully rapid development of the resources of the river in all its business interests; to say nothing of its extraordinary rapid increase in population, caused by the great number of new settlers, coming into the valley for homes on each trip of the Fanny Lake [Sternwheeler].
-The Skagit River Journal, circa 1877
The town was said to be a typical "river town", a long, narrow settled area stretching along a levee along the Skagit River. Businesses were built facing the river, in a row running along the levee road facing the river. A ferry and many other boats would dock in the extensive harbor of Skagit City, which occupied a wide and deep river channel. At its height, the city had many public buildings among its shops and houses, which included a church, hotels, a school, and a saloon. The aforementioned Fanny Lake was also used for transportation of grains and hay in the Skagit Forks area. In 1893, the Fanny Lake was destroyed for a second and permanent time when, in Sullivan Slough, it caught fire and sank.
The decline of the town of Skagit City began in the 1870s, when the two logjams clogging the Skagit River and blocking traffic upstream of the Skagit Forks were removed. The removal of the logs allowed the upstream community of Mount Vernon, Washington to prosper, while Skagit City gradually lost its residents and businesses. The demolition of the logjam, known also as the Skagit Jam, began in the fall of 1874, when General Michler of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied the possibility of opening a channel through the logjam. The jams, which covered roughly 2 miles (3.2 km) of the river, ranged in width from 1,000 feet (300 m) in the upper jam to 500 feet (150 m) in the lower jam. There were also a series of obstacles, presumably including sandbars, submerged rocks, and others, laid out between the two logjams.
...the lower jam, a channel had to be cut one-fourth of a mile long, through logs wedged in as tightly as possibly for water to wedge them, from the bottom of the river to the surface, and many 20 feet above the surface, and from bank to bank; with mud and sand in many places on the surface of the jam ten feet deep, and trees growing on it ten inches in diameter. They had to slash and [unreadable] the forest of young trees on the jam, before they could commence sawing and getting out he logs and rubbish of the jam proper.
Then when all the logs on the surface were sawed off and rolled into the water some six successive layers would rise to the surface that had to be treated in a similar manner. In this way a channel one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet wide was cut through solid mass of logs averaging from 30 to 40 feet high for one-fourth of a mile long. This part of the work, the removal of the lower jam, was finished in September 1876, since which time the town of Mt. Vernon and several logging camps have sprung into existence above it. Between the main jams were sufficient obstacles to require nearly one quarter of a mile of cutting before the upper jam was really reached; this took until March 1877. This part left in a body, blocking up the courses of the river, so that steamers could not enter until it was removed, which took about two months of their time. Work on the upper jam was commenced in May 1877. In clearing the lower river, five or six men had been employed for a short time so as to interfere as little as possible with its navigation. That is nearly all the extra help ever employed.
-Eldridge Morse, The Northern Star, 12 June 1878
Also in 1877, floods on the Skagit River tearing through the newly excavated channels carried away more logs from the slowly dissipating jams. In late 1877, the logjam blocking the mouth of the Stillaguamish River had been entirely destroyed.
The clearing of the logjams led to the increased settlement of aforementioned Mount Vernon, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) upstream of Skagit City. It was said that "the older town gradually began to decline, losing its business houses to Mount Vernon one by one." The town slowly "faded in importance" until, by 1906, only one original building remained standing, and that was the general store of Daniel E. Gage. It is rumored that one building, the hotel of Michael Horan, may still remain.
- "Skagit City". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
- "Where was Skagit City?". Skagit River Journal. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
- "Observing, clearing and opening the Logs Jams near Mount Vernon, 1870s".
- "Marblemount and the Buller and Clark families". Archived from the original on 2009-10-26.
- 1906 Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties
- "Marblemount and the Buller and Clark families". Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
- Morse, Eldridge. The Northern Star, June 12, 1878.
- Washington Standard, April 21, 1877
- Washington Standard, Dec. 1, 1877
Media related to Fir Island (Washington) at Wikimedia Commons