Marysville looks back on 125 years

MARYSVILLE — As Marysville celebrates its 125th birthday, Ken Cage looked back on its evolution, from community to village to town to city.

An aerial photo of Marysville in 1927.

An aerial photo of Marysville in 1927.

MARYSVILLE — As Marysville celebrates its 125th birthday, Ken Cage looked back on its evolution, from community to village to town to city.

The longtime president of the Marysville Historical Society has been supervising the building of the new museum, and reflecting upon his own history with Marysville, which began when he moved here in 1965.

Cage sees Marysville’s history as falling into roughly four eras: The lumber years, which began in the mid-19th Century and extended through the official incorporation of Marysville; the farming years, which stretched across the first half of the 20th Century; its transitional phase, which saw Marysville’s boundaries grow by leaps and bounds, even as it settled into being a bedroom community; and its more recent period of industry.

The Point Elliott Treaty was signed with what would become the Tulalip Tribes in 1855, and logging began almost immediately afterward.

“James Comeford was sold the land that made up the immediate vicinity of Marysville, because the folks who had logged it quit after they’d done all the easy stuff,” Cage said. “They’d gotten the logs that were closest to the water and sent them to the Seattle saw mills.”

Comeford bought 1,280 acres for $450 from Truman Ireland, John Stafford, Louis Thomas William Renton in 1878. He built a trading post, named the place “Marysville” after his wife, Maria, and applied for a post office in 1879.

“After that, plenty of others came along, who weren’t ashamed to go further afield for their logging,” Cage said. “They built skid roads, to drag the logs to rafts or yokes of oxen.”

Although Marysville was incorporated as a city in 1891, Cage estimated that logging kept on going through the 1910s. Lumber camps started cropping up in the 1860s, and early loggers cut 500 million board feet of timber a week, but it wasn’t until 1887 that E.J. Anderson opened the first mill along Ebey Slough.

“There wound up being about eight mills on the waterfront, from saw mills to shake mills,” Cage said. “Some of them made butter tub staves, that were shipped to Wisconsin and put together there to store butter in.”

The Soper family owned one of the mills further north, around where 116th Street is now, and Cage personally received the last of its two remaining big boards from Les Soper, who’d kept them as cherished artifacts.

“By the late Twenties and early Thirties, there was a lot of second-growth logging, but because they weren’t the big old-growth trees from the forest, they made for much smaller logs, so the mills had to get smaller too,” Cage said.

In the meantime, the mills were able to make shipments through steamboats that toured through Puget Sound in the 1870s and ’80s, before the Great Northern Railroad made good on its promise to build a track through Marysville in 1891, which included the bridge over Quil Ceda Creek. The original train depot, between Fifth and Sixth streets on Cedar Avenue, stood until 1969, when a 35-car freight train slammed into four rail cars.

As the trees were cut and the stumps cleared out, Marysville residents found themselves transitioning from loggers to farmers, as their budding government shouldered the burdens of urban growth. No less than four town marshals rotated through the post in less than four years, and the wooden sidewalks lining the businesses alternated with covered wells every 20-30 feet, to help the volunteer fire department combat sudden blazes.

The emergence of farming butted heads with the town’s increasing sense of sophistication in 1905, when the City Council was asked to consider whether milk cows and chickens should be allowed run freely on the streets. When residents asked whether Marysville was a village or a town, the Council agreed that cows could be confined if more growth occurred.

Kellogg Marsh became the site of Snohomish County’s first grange in 1903, and the first Marysville Chamber of Commerce organized in 1908, the same year that Kellogg Marsh farmers produced sufficient milk to attract the Swiss Cheese Company.

Cage noted that the 1910s and ’20s brought with them a number of Marysville mainstays, including Kuhnle’s Tavern in 1918, Hilton’s Pharmacy in 1919 and Carr’s Hardware in 1924.

“Just as loggers needed merchandise, so did farmers,” Cage said.

Like every other American town, Marysville weathered two World Wars and a Great Depression, but Cage attributed the town’s continued survival to a self-reliant spirit that was only strengthened by its hardships.

“Granted, not everyone did so well for themselves,” Cage said. “A lot of people didn’t have jobs. On the east side of town, the area we still call Whiskey Ridge got its name from the folks who made a living through their distilleries. We have two of those distilleries in the museum’s collection, one of which was last used in the Sixties, which is not that long ago.”

At the same time, the seeds had already been planted for what would become Marysville’s signature crop. Peter Due became the second strawberry grower in the area in 1910, after Bedford’s berries on Getchell Hill. The Leifer Farm joined them in the 1920s, while Biringer’s Farm was a relative latecomer in 1948.

“Those farms were amazing fun for the kids,” Cage said. “Boys and girls as young as eight or nine, including both of my own children, picked berries. It gave them something to do, and taught them to respect the value of money.”

Although Marysville’s strawberry fields had shrunk from a peak of more than 2,000 acres to less than 200 by the time of the town’s centennial in 1991, the Strawberry Festival that was started in 1932, by Marysville Globe publisher and editor Leon Stock and the Commercial Club, is still going strong today.

By the time Cage moved to Marysville in the mid-1960s, the town was once again struggling to define its identity as it outgrew its old boundaries.

“North of Grove Street was considered outside of Marysville,” Cage said. “In fact, one person I knew got in trouble with their boss, because during their lunch break, they’d gone to a restaurant that was around where the Safeway on State Avenue is now. They were criticized for going out of town and not supporting their local businesses instead.”

Even as the north end of town edged further and further north, to accommodate more retailers most Marysville residents did not find employment within the city itself.

“It was already a bedroom community back then,” Cage said. “It was a really nice place to live, but like me, you went to work in Everett and came home to sleep in Marysville. I wasn’t even involved in the community until much later in life.”

The widening of Interstate 5 only facilitated this commuter lifestyle, as did the arrival of Naval Station Everett in 1994, which brought not only military personnel, but also their families.

A sign of Marysville’s transition from farming to residential use came in 1962, when the Jennings family presented the deed for what had been the Cherrydale Farm to the city in 1962. That 13-acre plot has since been expanded into the 51-acre Jennings Memorial Park, which provides playground equipment, sports fields, picnic areas and walking trails for families.

Cage has seen more local jobs since Marysville’s centennial, which he attributes to the arrival of larger corporate chains, annexations of property and development by the Tulalip Tribes.

“We’re now the second-largest city in the county,” Cage said. “Over on Tulalip, they’ve built Quil Ceda Village, and that hasn’t hurt Marysville at all. Instead, I’d say that Marysville and Tulalip complement each other now, and not just in shopping opportunities. The management of the city and the tribes has grown very close, and it was not always that way.”

In 1996, the Greater Marysville Chamber of Commerce became the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce, incorporating the tribes, and by 2002, the Chamber had absorbed the Visitor Information Center on I-5, opened in 1986. Cage credited former Marysville Mayor Rita Matheny with being a “prime mover” in starting the center, and the Chamber with fostering the business growth of Marysville and Tulalip.

At the same time, Cage doesn’t want the community to forget its roots. He noted that Gary and Velda Blood started the Marysville Historical Society in 1974, back when Marysville was still just the place he laid his head at night, and asserted that the Masonic Lodge of 1902 and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1911 had contributed to the community’s good character.

“We got a lot of our early leaders from those two groups, including Mark Swinnerton, our first mayor,” Cage said. “They made sure we got started in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work left.”

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