Looking Back: Before Edmonds, there was the Ten-Mile Beach Settlement

Edmonds Oil Dock in the 1960s. (Photos courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

The 1880 federal census for the area we know today as Edmonds presents us with a look-back at an early and interesting part of the city’s history. Before George Brackett chose the name Edmonds for his town in 1884, the United States Census Bureau in June of 1880 conducted the 10th U.S. Census. The Census Bureau identified the settlement along the shores of Puget Sound and ten miles south of Mukilteo as the Ten-Mile Beach Settlement. As shown in the census record, there were several families living at the waterfront settlement during that time.

First in the listing was George Brackett (age 38), his wife Etta (age 21), son George S. (age 2), daughter Fannie (born in August of 1879), and adopted daughter Mary E. (11 years old).

The fourth family listed was that of James C. Purcell, a white man born in Indiana (age 70), a fisherman. With him was his wife Jennie (age 45). Jennie Purcell was identified as an Indian.

Shown in this 1880 census next to James and Jennie Purcell, with a home on the same property, was Indian Tom (age 40). Indian Tom was the brother-in-law of James Purcell, and he was also a fisherman. His wife was Louisa (age 30). Both of them were listed as Indian. Their children were: Alice (age 2) and Alex (age six months).

The next family shown to be living on the Purcell property was Bob Indian (age 27); another fisherman. Bob was the son of James and Jennie Purcell. Both Bob and Mary, his 22-year-old wife, were listed as Indian.

According to the 1906 publication “An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties,” in 1872 James Purcell was living on the property south and adjacent to the land that George Brackett purchased. By 1875 Mr. Purcell had filed his homestead claim for 79 plus acres of tide-land property. The Bureau of Land Management records show that in November of 1880, after living on his land claim for over five years and having improved the land and built his house as required by the Homestead Law, James Purcell’s land patent was issued.

In 1877 George Brackett married Etta Jones and the next year Mr. and Mrs. Brackett and their small son George Sumner moved permanently to the Brackett property. The already established Purcell family became the Brackett’s nearest neighbors to the south. In later years, when Etta Brackett was interviewed by the local newspaper, she spoke about those first days and of Indians living on the beach nearby. Without a doubt, Mrs. Brackett was referring to James Purcell’s racially diverse family and to the Ten-Mile Beach Settlement; not a tribal encampment located on the Edmonds’ beach as some have assumed.

As noted, James Purcell was already 70 years old when he received his land patent; the last listing for him was when he was 73 years of age. At that time Mr. Purcell and his wife were shown in the 1883 Washington Territorial census. The name of his wife in 1883 was given as Julia (age 50); she was also Indian. This seems to suggest that James Purcell’s first wife Jennie was deceased and that he had remarried. No further records were found for James Purcell or for Jennie’s brother Tom and his family. Perhaps they were all buried at a long-forgotten cemetery once located at the top of Dayton Street. Old newspaper accounts do indicate that the historic burial grounds were considered to be an Indian cemetery with several children buried there. Could this have been the final resting place of some of the members of the Purcell family? There are no records of the burials.

The Edmonds Tribune in 1910 noted that a street improvement project had begun and a major road was being built. This new roadway became Ninth Street. Since the road was being constructed right through the Dayton Street burial grounds, some of the bodies interred there were removed and supposedly buried in the IOOF Cemetery (our present-day Edmonds Memorial Cemetery). However, it was said that the Indian graves were not disturbed. Those graves remained untouched; some probably covered over by the new road.

Edmonds Unocal refinery.

By the 1890s, James Purcell and his family appeared forgotten. The Purcell property had become part of the town of Edmonds, and the old homestead land was little noted until 1920 when Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) became the owners of the property. In 1922 the company began clearing the land on the bluff at the south end of the old Purcell property in order to build oil storage tanks. A pier for the docking of the large oil tankers was later built, and in 1953 an asphalt refinery was added to the Unocal property. The two 1960s photos shown with this article are those of the former Unocal refinery and the long pier on the Edmonds waterfront. The photos are from the large collection of images of early-day Edmonds, which are found in the archives at the Edmonds Historical Museum. The images are shown here with permission from the director of the museum.

In our day the oil tanks, the refinery structures and the dock are all gone. On the bluff a large residential complex known as the Point Edwards Condominiums has replaced the oil storage tanks. Below the bluff and along the tide flats, Marina Beach Park is now a great place for families to gather. Also a portion of the Port of Edmonds’ boat storage and moorage is part of the 79-acres of land once occupied by James Purcell and his family. Edmonds Crossing and the wildlife sanctuary are also on portions of the old homestead land. Any trace of the Purcell family having once lived there is now a part of history. The recent photo shown here was taken at Marina Beach Park in Edmonds. Looking south, the Unocal dock and the oil tankers no longer obstruct the view.

Edmonds’ Marina Beach Park

James Purcell’s son, Bob (S’da-Da-Hath) Purcell, called Bob Indian in the 1880 federal census, was evidently later widowed. Sometime after 1880 he moved to the Port Madison Indian Reservation at Suquamish, Kitsap County, Wash. His second marriage was to Nellie (Kanim) Anderson, who was divorced from her first husband. Nellie was from the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Bob Purcell had at least four children: Eli, John, Louisa and William. In 1900, Bob and Nellie Purcell were living at the Port Madison Indian Reservation, and Bob Purcell was still working as a fisherman.

Records show that Nellie Purcell died in Bremerton on Nov. 14, 1910 and that she was first buried at the Snohomish Pioneer Cemetery in Snohomish. However, information from the Kitsap County Historical Society Museum in Bremerton indicates that Nellie Purcell is now buried at the Suquamish Memorial Cemetery in Suquamish. Robert Purcell died June 2, 1926. His grave is also located at the Suquamish Memorial Cemetery.

Early Edmonds newspapers tell some interesting stories of the history of the old Dayton Street burial grounds. Some of that history will be told in a future Looking Back column.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of South Snohomish County. She is also a member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.








  1. Betty Lou,
    This is a fantastic look back in time! You clearly did a tremendous amount of research for this story. Thank you!

  2. That is amazing stuff! I had no idea there was a burial ground near the corner of 9th and Dayton. I’ll be interested to hear how big it was; I can tell you that when I dug up the yard of my old house near 9th and Alder I hit charred wood several times (I assumed that wood was burned when it was cleared, whenever that was).

    1. John — from what I could gather from old news articles the burial grounds extended to the east side of Ninth and perhaps to Maple Street. I will have more on the burial grounds in a future Looking Back column. I was ten years old in 1937 when we moved to Edmonds from Alderwood Manor. Edmonds has changed a lot since then. One of my best friends was Peg Brackett, the granddaughter of the founder of Edmonds, George Brackett.

  3. Very interesting Information! Thank you, Betty. It seems like a small historical plaque marking the 9th and Dayton site and perhaps some other sites might be of interest to our community.

  4. Betty, I hope you continue with this series as it is very informational. Larry Vogel also has a wonderful presentation of the history of Edmonds too!

  5. Thank you Betty. Wonderful historical account. We moved to Perrinville in 1973 and we still live in the same house right next door to the Snohomish County Park. I remember when the old tanks were still at the old beach site. We now enjoy the park there. I was wondering if you had any history of Gerty Perrin. She was still living in the corner house at Olympic View Drive and 76th when we first moved to Edmonds. We use to visit her quite often. I believe there is a plaque at the opposite corner with some of her history. I haven’t checked it out yet. I need to do that. Anyway there have been a lot of changes just in the short time we have been here. I look forward to your next historical account. Thanks again.

    1. Yes, Don, I wrote a story about Gertie Perrin almost 3 years ago for my Looking Back column in My Edmonds News. You can Google it at: Looking Back: Gertie Perrin’s Perrinville – My Edmonds News.

  6. My great grandfather, Ole H. Erdevig and his wife (both born in Norway), married in Chicago and moved to Ballard in about 1898. Sometime between 1912 and 1917 they purchased and then built a home on 5 acres in the south end of Edmonds overlooking (before trees grew tall) Puget Sound. Union Oil built their tanks (1922?) next to that property. My mother grew up in that home. Over time, portions of the land were sold and much later (1988?) the home and remaining land was purchased by another family and a much larger home was built. My question is … who would my ancestor have purchased this property from? I see from a thumbnail history of Woodway that David Whitcomb purchased the land that would become Woodway in 1912 … perhaps from Allen M. Yost? Can anyone help me? Much thanks for any help you can give.

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