Looking Back: The birth and evolution of Highway 99 in south Snohomish County

A rare photo of very early-day Seattle Heights before the move to the highway. The Interurban station is to the left of the tall pole. (Photo courtesy of Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association.)

Part 1 of 2.

Most new highways open with a ceremony, including a ribbon cutting and some speeches by dignitaries — maybe even a brass band. However, the opening of Pacific Highway (Highway 99 or SR99) at the Snohomish/King County line was different. At the county line, the highway to Everett opened sometime very early on Sunday morning, Oct. 9, 1927, with little more than a whimper. It was what soon followed that began a wild and bumpy ride along a three-mile stretch of the highway — it would last for several years.

Seattle Heights: The days before the highway

About three miles north of the King/Snohomish county line, 18 years before 1927 and the opening of Pacific Highway, a group of businessmen known as the Seattle Heights Land and Improvement Company had been working to establish what they hoped would become a major town in south Snohomish County, Washington. Amid a forest, they cleared and platted about 11 acres of land and named it Seattle Heights and on January 24, 1910 it was recorded. Then they began selling their land in one-acre tracts. The land company had high hopes that the settlement they were planning would grow and one day become a bustling town—maybe even a city. The land company and a group of residents known as the Seattle Heights Improvement Club had big dreams. The improvement club members organized and rolled up their sleeves for the work ahead of them. Soon they built a clubhouse to serve the community, and in 1918 a one-room schoolhouse opened.

The center for the small settlement had its beginnings next to the Seattle Heights station of the Seattle/Everett Interurban Railway line, located at what is today 66th Avenue West; near the present-day 212th Street Southwest in Lynnwood. It was this interurban railway that fueled the dream of the community. The Interurban provided convenient transportation in a wilderness where there were no automobiles and the few roads were only rough and narrow dirt or puncheon roads; fit only for horses and wagons. To the east a short distance was Hall Lake and then a group of farms at Cedar Valley. To the west on what is today’s 212th Street Southwest, a rough wagon road led to Edmonds—a very lengthy four or five miles in the distance.

At first. the Interurban only ran about one mile further northeast of Seattle Heights to its final station at Hall Lake. However, workmen for the Interurban company were busily cutting their way through the tall trees and laying down track. On May 2, 1910, the railway line was open all the way to Everett. For the people living in this wilderness, it was the Interurban railway that provided their link to the rest of the world. For the men at Seattle Heights it meant they were able to reach the sawmills where they could earn a living to support their families. One of the main employers was a large sawmill on the eastern shore of Hall Lake. Another was the Hackett Mill nearby. They could even go south to the sawmill at Lake Ballinger or to King County’s Echo Lake. See the 2010 book Images of America, Seattle-Everett Interurban Railway by Cheri Ryan and Kevin K. Stadler for a glimpse into a time over 100 years ago when we had light rail transportation and threw it away in 1939.

One day in early April of 1910, 23-year-old Adrian Middleton left his parent’s Seattle home and arrived at the Seattle Heights station on the northbound Interurban. He was the new owner/proprietor of a general store next to the Interurban line, having purchased the business that same year from John Lambe, a Cedar Valley pioneer homesteader. Adrian Middleton had also just been named as the first postmaster for the newly established Seattle Heights United States Post Office, which was to be located in his store building. His appointment as postmaster was confirmed on July 30, 1910. At that time, the post office had 30 boxholders—all the way north from Martha Lake and south to Echo Lake.

Ten years later, the community had expanded; the roads improved and automobiles finally arrived and in 1920, Mr. Middleton moved his store and the post office to a larger building a short distance west at today’s 68th Avenue West and 212th Street Southwest.

The highway and changes

Another seven years went by, and in October of 1927, Pacific Highway opened and for the community of Seattle Heights, and for Adrian Middleton, everything would change. The new highway was a short distance from his store and post office, and Mr. Middleton knew it would be more profitable to have his business next to the highway. He made his third and final move—this time, west to the northwest corner of the intersection of the new highway and the still unnamed county road that led to Edmonds. By this time the west-bound road was graveled and much improved—today, it is 212th Street Southwest. On very early maps the first half mile west from Middleton’s store was sometimes called Holmes Road or other times Hoyt Road.

A.L. Middleton’s store on 212th Street Southwest. The person in the doorway is owner Adrian Middleton. (Photo courtesy Leroy Middleton’s private collection).

With the building of his new and more modern store, Mr. Middleton also added a gas pump for the convenience of the motorists who would be traveling this brand-new highway. Adrian Middleton remained as the Seattle Heights postmaster at that same location for 39 years and retired from the position on June 30, 1949 — he did continue to operate his general store for a few more years. Later, Mr. Middleton would speak of those early days along the highway and he admitted that although it was a very profitable place to have a business, with the location came crime. He was burglarized so many times, he began seriously thinking of closing his store.

It wasn’t long before the other three corners along the highway became occupied. At the northeast corner of the intersection, the Eisen brothers, including a young Carl Eisen, opened their Eisen Brothers Super Service Station, an auto repair garage and a Richfield service station. The Eisen’s business was directly across the highway from Middleton’s store. The intersection at Seattle Heights later became known as Eisen’s Corner and the large Richfield name at the front of the building became a well-known landmark. Carl Eisen later built his home next to the garage and managed the business.

At the southeast corner, a roadhouse, the Blakewood Inn, quickly appeared and soon began attracting a different breed of customers, as well as a few gun-toting gangsters with ideas of robbing the roadhouse of its illegal gains. The Blakewood Inn became infamous and a nuisance to its neighbors; and it was often reported during the prohibition years, that gin was conveniently made at the Blakewood Inn. That is, until the building was reduced to ashes during a suspicious nighttime inferno early Monday morning, May 20, 1935.  The Blakewood Inn never reopened and to the local people, the property often seemed to be under a dark cloud of gloom. Through the years, the property would attract diverse businesses, but none seemed to remain. For a time, it even became a popular spot in December to buy a Christmas tree from Donna’s Christmas Tree business—Donna’s became a holiday occupant of the property.

On the southwest corner, the Hoyt family, who were major land owners in the vicinity, built a sprawling ranch-style house. Eleven years later that house became my family’s home for eight years—it turned out to be a very interesting place to live. We moved to downtown Edmonds and the house is long gone, and for many years Magic Toyota has had its auto business at the location. The company is now in the process of rebuilding the agency; a restoration which is expected to be a good addition to the Edmonds’ planned transformation of Highway 99 — the old Pacific Highway.

Other businesses soon opened at Seattle Heights, including: Helen’s Lunch Room run by Helen Farr, a relative of the Eisen brothers; Puget Well Drilling Co.; Super Maid Inn Restaurant; G. H. Ritenour, a dentist; and the North Coast Stage Lines ticket agency. Seattle Heights began to look as if it might be on its way to fulfilling the long-time dream to become an important town in south Snohomish County. Following his 1958 retirement from the general store business, Mr. Middleton reminded readers of the failed dream when, during an interview, he told a reporter from the Edmonds Tribune-Review that in those early days “almost everyone believed that Seattle was going to burst over the county line and build out here.” It never happened. Adrian Middleton seemed to have no regrets — and appeared satisfied with the way it was.

A wild opening for the Pacific Highway

Who needs dignitaries and a brass band to open a new highway when you have two men with hot cars? Sometime early Sunday morning on October 9, 1927, the concrete-covered Pacific Highway officially and quietly opened for traffic at the Snohomish-King County line. The quiet didn’t last long.

Two Seattle men evidently decided the highway’s brand-new and smooth concrete was just right for a good race course. About 6:30 a.m., a man living along the highway near the corner on the Snohomish County side reported that two cars traveling at least 70 miles an hour were racing side by side northbound and had just passed the county line and his home when there was a loud noise of a crash. The deputy sheriff dispatched from Everett got there about an hour later and found that one car, a Jewett, was nothing more than a burned piece of twisted metal and ashes in the center of the road on the Snohomish County side of the highway. The other car, a Buick, was about 200 feet from the pavement straddling a log on the King County side. The two men had fled the scene in a third car. The driver of the Jewett, a Seattle resident, was easy to locate. The Buick was evidently stolen and the driver unknown. The only fatality was a dog whose body was found in the burned car.

The very next day, real crime with a tragic ending crossed over from King County and into Snohomish County. On Oct. 14, 1927, the Edmonds Tribune-Review reported that shortly before midnight on Monday, Oct. 10 — one day after Pacific Highway’s Sunday opening — an off-duty Seattle police patrolman was driving south towards Seattle on the new highway and was nearing the King County line close to McKenzie’s Bungalow Inn, one of Snohomish County’s newly opened roadhouses, when two young men driving in a car without headlights forced him to a stop. In what was reported as an attempted hold up, they ordered the officer at gun point to get out of his car. The patrolman pulled his own gun and after warning them, he shot and killed one, a 20-year-old young man. The other, a 21-year-old, was also shot by the patrolman, but only wounded. He managed to get to his car and drive away. At the Wallingford Police Station in Seattle, where the patrolman made his report regarding the attempted robbery and shooting, he was told that the young man’s father had driven his son to City Hospital in Seattle for treatment of a gunshot wound and he had already been taken into custody. Evidently, the wounded young man recovered, but did not learn a lesson from his friend’s death or his own close call. Four years later, he was committed to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla following a conviction for yet another robbery.

A new problem soon developed. Evidently, many motorists didn’t think too much of the law requiring vehicles coming from a side road to come to a full stop before entering the arterial highway. The signs signaling a stop were often ignored and a large number of drivers were given tickets. Some admitted they had seen the stop sign but didn’t understand why it was there and others confessed complete ignorance of the requirement and said they hadn’t even seen any stop sign. The worst offenders were those on the Edmonds road where it joined the highway just north of the Snohomish/King County line.

From the county line north three miles to Seattle Heights, roadhouses, tourist cabins, gas stations and an occasional café soon dotted the landscape along Pacific Highway. By far, in those first years, roadhouses won the race for attracting the majority of the motoring public—tourist cabins probably won a close second place. Even though the gas stations were necessary, the demand for liquor and entertainment seemed to far exceed the necessity of gas for automobiles.

(You can read more about the highway’s early beginnings in Larry Vogel’s May 11, 2018 story here.)

Coming soon — Part 2: Prohibition and beyond on the new highway.

— By 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 on the Edmonds Cemetery Board.

  1. I’m a 48-year Seattleite and a newcomer to Snohomish County, now in the Edmonds Bowl. Articles like this are a great introduction to the history of my newly adopted community. Please do keep them coming!

  2. Thank you Betty for this superb history. You enrich the community. And Teresa, with features such as this, you continue to be an irreplaceable asset to the community and the region.

  3. I grew up a few blocks north of Hall Lake on 54th & 206th. I love reading about the history of the area, but especially Hall Lake. It was my “happy place” growing up.

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