It was August 1890.
For months there had been talk of incorporating Edmonds as a town, and the time finally seemed ripe to make this happen. It was the culmination of 18 years of growth and development that had seen George Brackett’s logging camp grow into a full-fledged town. An election was called for Aug. 7, so that town residents could decide this issue and vote yes or no on incorporation.
It began in 1872, when George Brackett purchased 147 acres of prime timberland in the Edmonds bowl from Morris Frost and Jacob Fowler of Mukilteo. They had acquired it two years earlier from the original owner, Pleasant Ewell, who had just gained title to the land from his 1866 pre-emption claim filed under the Homestead Act. The Act provided for settlers to gain full title to land claims after four years. Ewell occupied the land for the required four years, but no sooner had the deed in hand when he promptly sold it, took his profits and moved on.
But Brackett had no intention of moving on. He saw the land as a step in fulfilling his lifelong dream to establish a lumbering town. But he couldn’t start right away. He was heavily involved in major logging operations near Ballard, which were occupying all his time and attention.
Completing this work in 1876, he returned to Edmonds with oxen, wagons, axes, saws and a fierce determination to turn Edmonds into the top logging operation on Puget Sound. Setting to work with a vengeance, he built a house and a mill, dug drainage ditches, and — along with a small group of fellow loggers — went to work clearing the Edmonds old-growth forest, and milling lumber to feed the insatiable appetite of the booming construction industry in Seattle and other Puget Sound communities.
He was remarkably successful in this. As the forest was removed, Brackett began platting out the town. By 1884 this was complete. In subsequent years, more mills were built on the waterfront, population grew, families moved in, businesses were established, and Edmonds became known as a well-managed community with plentiful jobs and pleasant surroundings.
By the end of the decade, it was clearly time to incorporate Edmonds as an official town, and in early 1890 Brackett approached the Snohomish County Board of Commissioners to begin this process.
Part of this involved submitting signatures of local residents on a petition to incorporate. According to local legend, Brackett’s petition was two signatures short of the required number. Unfazed by this, Brackett is said to have added the signatures of two four-legged residents, variously identified as his favorite oxen Simon (or Issac depending on whose account you read) and Bolivar, a bull named Bolivar, and a dog named Bill. Several local historians have searched the archives for this document without success, so we may never know which of Brackett’s animals, if any, appear on the incorporation petition. But it’s a great story, and one of those indelible and oft-repeated pieces of local lore that has taken on a life of its own.
Regardless, the petition was accepted by the county commissioners. On June 7, they established geographic boundaries for the proposed town, and appointed a census taker to record the names of residents. When the census data came in later that month, they called for an election to be held at the Edmonds Odd Fellows Hall on Aug. 7 for the residents to decide on the issue of incorporation.
The election was held, the votes counted and on Aug. 11 the Board of County Commissioners found that a majority favored incorporation. They therefore declared that the community was now a “village fourth class” and would be officially named the “Town of Edmonds.” Since that time, Aug. 11 has been generally recognized as Edmonds’ birthday.
But then as now, government bureaucracy moves according to its own clock, and it took an additional three days for Washington Secretary of State Allen Weir to ratify the action of the Commissioners. But finally on Aug. 14, 1890, he formally issued the order creating Edmonds as a fourth-class town.
But regardless of whether you prefer the Aug. 7 election day, the Aug. 11 official vote count, or the Aug. 14 issuance of the order by the State of Washington, it’s time to break out the hats and noisemakers, throw the confetti, and join in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” to the place we call home.
Sources for this story include Ray Cloud’s “Edmonds, The Gem of Puget Sound,” Archie Satterfield’s “Edmonds, the First Century,” and Charles LeWarne’s accounts as published by HistoryLink.org.
— By Larry Vogel