Like many towns in the Pacific Northwest, Edmonds has a strong link to the water. It is believed that the Suquamish people frequently fished the waters and scoured the beaches for shellfish. European-American settlers did not come to Edmonds until the 1860s. The water provided many opportunities, but also isolated the area (as did the surrounding hills) so settlers faced challenges early on. The town’s settlement began in 1870 when a logger named George Brackett—who was considered by many to be the “founder of Edmonds” — discovered the town site by canoe. He, along with other important figures, helped build the early town.
By 1884, the area had a post office and an organized school system, and had been platted and officially named. Edmonds was incorporated in 1890, and the railroad came the next year. People also came by steamboat, but it wasn’t until 1900 that regular passenger ferry service came to Edmonds.
When Edmonds was incorporated in 1890, most access to the city was over water. The arrival of the railroad ensured contact with surrounding communities and the region. The economic growth of Edmonds in the early years was intrinsically tied to its relationship with the railroad and ferries. The Great Northern Railway was created in 1889 by James Jerome Hill, “The Empire Builder,” from several pre-existing railways and eventually stretched from Duluth and Minneapolis/St. Paul, west through North Dakota, Montana and Northern Idaho to Washington State. In 1890 work began on the Seattle and Montana Railroad which was to go northward along Puget Sound from Seattle, through Edmonds, to Everett and on to Canada. That same year Minneapolis Realty and Investment Company bought the Edmonds Township and adjoining property totaling 455 acres from George Brackett for $36,000.
The company re-platted the town and built the Bishop Hotel in honor of its president. It also constructed a new wharf and an office building which later became used as a post office. A land boom was anticipated but never materialized and in the panic of the early 90s, the company’s holdings reverted back to Brackett through foreclosure of mortgage.
What started as an isolated community became much more accessible through various methods of transportation. The railroads gave way to automobiles and auto ferries early in the 20th Century.
In 1923, the first auto ferry route was established between Edmonds and Kingston. “The City of Edmonds” made its first run on May 20, three days after it was to officially begin (it broke down during its trial run). “The City of Edmonds” left Edmonds at 9am, 2pm and 6pm, while leaving Kingston at 7am, 1pm, and 5pm. Fares were $1.25 one-way and $4 round-trip. The Puget Sound Navigation Co. started ferry service between Edmonds and Port Townsend in 1931, but was discontinued in 1939. Ferry service began from Edmonds to Victoria in 1935, with the “Olympic” making two round-trips daily. Edmonds had 4 ferry lines with 21 daily sailings at this time. In the 1950s, the private ferry system was taken over by the WA State Ferries.
Interstate 5 opened in 1965, and State Route 104 opened in 1974 – further easing transportation to and from Edmonds. Today, people still come through Edmonds by boat, car and train.
Edmonds was primarily a mill town. Early settlers made good use of the fir and western red cedar forest that covered the land and opened several sawmills and shingle mills in the area. The shingle mills were typically located along the waterfront west of the train tracks. As the years passed, and the available lumber moved farther and farther from Edmonds, the industry slowed. The last shingle mill closed in 1951, symbolizing the end of an era in Edmonds. The iconic smokestacks could be seen no more.
The Edmonds Marina was built in the early 1960s, and the Port of Edmonds operates the marina with water moorage and dry storage spaces for boaters.
The Historical Society is fortunate to have a building so well suited as a museum showplace. In 1910, a grant from the Carnegie Foundation enabled the City of Edmonds to erect a beautiful brick and stone building which served as a library on the upper floor, and as City Hall on the bottom floor. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Through the efforts of the Historical Society, the cooperation of the Edmonds City Council and then Mayor Harve Harrison, the building was made available to the Historical Society for museum purposes. It was formally opened on August 3, 1973. A brief timeline of the building’s life is below:
Edmonds received a $5,000 grant for the construction of its Carnegie Library, largely through the efforts of city librarian Rev. John Lockwood
Carnegie Library opened (19th Carnegie Library in Washington State). Upper floor housed the library, and lower floor housed city offices, council chambers and jail.
Ray Cloud, who ran the Edmonds Tribune newspaper for many years, wrote a book entitled, “The Gem of Puget Sound.” It was mainly a recap of all the newspaper stories up until 1953. It was also enough of a teaser to make Doug Egan, a fairly new resident to Edmonds, very curious about the history of Edmonds. He asked Mr. Cloud if anyone had ever considered an historical society and with the empty reply, the seed was planted and quickly started to sprout.
To accommodate rapid population growth and need for a larger City Hall and library, these functions were moved to Edmonds Civic Center in 1962; Parks and Recreation functions remained in the building for another decade.
A small group headed by Mr. Douglas Egan, decided to establish an historical society and museum. The result was the incorporation of a non-profit organization, the EDMONDS SOUTH SNOHOMISH COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY. By the generous donation of the city of Edmonds, the old Carnegie Library and City Hall was made available as a museum building. This handsome brick and stone building was built in 1910 and with renovation efforts of the society, it was opened August 3, 1973.
It was in December 1972 that a steering committee met at the Yesteryear Restaurant in Edmonds, now Claire’s Pantry. It was universally agreed that a Society form. Harve Harrison, then Mayor, was contacted about using the old library building for a museum. The building was being used by some volunteer groups of pottery and art classes, as well as the Parks and Recreation Department. A case was made to the City Council that the old building needed some loving care and that the newly formed historical society was the group to do it. With the unanimous Council vote, the group had the bear by the tail.
Grand opening: April 1973. By May, the historical society had 100 members and artifacts were coming in so fast they were having trouble keeping track of them. The next month a small display was open to the public, and in August the opening event of the Museum featured an upper level filled with photos and artifacts. In the following years the lower level was developed into a long-term exhibit called, “The Changing Face of Edmonds.”
Andrew Carnegie Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today The upstairs level features a changing exhibit gallery, a gift shop and the 1910 diorama of Edmonds. The Museum is run by a professional director and has received numerous awards for its exhibits and programs. The collection boasts over 5,000 photographs and hundreds of artifacts. Over 4,000 visitors from around the world enter the doors of the building, now restored and maintained by the same loving organization that brought it back to life 37 years ago.