Transforming Highway 99: Roadway has roots as major highway — and a hotbed of vice

Traveling by horse-drawn wagon on Snohomish County Road toward Edmonds, May 5, 1909 (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Part 2 of our series on the planned transformation of Highway 99 through Edmonds. You can read Part 1 here.

Before Interstate 5 was built in 1969, the major north-south route running near Edmonds was Highway 99.

The first formal roadway connecting the nascent cities of Seattle and Everett began as a collection of rough wagon roads through the forest. Known today as the Old Highway, it didn’t follow the route of the present-day Highway 99, but was cobbled together from a patchwork of existing roads running around the north end of Lake Washington, east through Bothell, north to Mill Creek, and ultimately snaking back to Everett via Beverly Road, bypassing Edmonds and Lynnwood altogether (see map below). Crisscrossed by streams and waterways, frequently blocked by fallen trees, unpredictably plagued by patches of axle-deep mud, the route presented unpredictable and often harrowing challenges to the intrepid traveler.

Motor coach serving Edmonds, Richmond Beach and Seattle in mud, c. 1912 (Courtesy Edmonds and Shoreline Historical Museums)

With the advent of the automobile and the explosive growth in its use during the early years of the 20th century, the Washington State Legislature saw the need for an official motor route running the length of the state from Blaine to Vancouver. In 1913, it designated the Old Highway as part of the larger north-south Pacific Highway system.

This map shows the three major north-south routes connecting Seattle with Everett and other South Snohomish County jurisdictions. The map is available online in interactive format here.

The route of the original Old Highway from Seattle to Everett (labeled “1913 Original Route” in the accompanying map) as it existed in 1915 is described in vivid detail with turn-by-turn directions on The Historic Pacific Highway website.

For the first three decades of the century, these routes served the most of the needs of travelers and commerce between Seattle and southwest Snohomish County, although some improvement including brick and asphalt pavement were made along the present-day route of Aurora Avenue through today’s City of Shoreline to serve the Firlands Sanatorium for tuberculosis patients located near the county line. Interestingly, the name Aurora Avenue was chosen by Seattle City Engineer (and later mayor) George Cotterill (1865-1968) early in the 20th century, recognizing it as the highway to the north, toward the Aurora Borealis.

North Trunk Road (today’s Highway 99) at the county line looking north, circa 1920. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

The year 1932 saw significant improvements, most notably the completion of the George Washington Memorial Bridge (now known by most as the Aurora Bridge) over the Lake Washington Ship Canal. That same year, the multi-year project to realign the old North Trunk Road north of the King-Snohomish county line was officially completed, bypassing 84th Street Southwest and establishing the route of Highway 99 as we know it today (although the section between the county line and 210th Street was completed and in general use by 1927).

Walt Jr., Betty Lou and Bob Deebach in 1934, prior to moving to 212th.

Long-time Edmonds and Lynnwood resident, writer and historian Betty Lou Gaeng grew up at the corner of what is today the 212th Street and Highway 99 intersection, living there between 1938 and 1946, and recalls life on the highway as it was just prior to and during the war years. Her father, Walter Deebach, served as deputy sheriff during those years.

“We lived next to the southwest corner of the intersection, right across today’s 212th Street from Middleton’s Store, where the Jack-in-the-Box stands today,” she recalls. “It was called Holmes Road at that time on our side of the highway, but on the east side it was called Halls Lake Road. Eisen’s garage was across the Highway from us, and everyone just called the intersection Eisen’s Corner.”

A.L. Middleton’s store on 212th Street Southwest. Local historian Betty Lou Gaeng identifies the person in the doorway as Adrian Middleton, owner. (Photo courtesy Leroy Middleton’s private collection)

One of the main characters along the Highway, Adrian Middleton, was known among his customers as one to watch carefully, especially when he was weighing out your purchases.

“He had a heavy thumb on the scales,” Gaeng recalls with a smile, “and my mother bawled him out on several occasions.”

Gaeng particularly remembers the collection of roadhouses dotting Highway 99 during those years. With names like the Blakewood Inn, Rubinak’s, the Ranch and the Jungle Temple, they were hotbeds of drinking, gambling and prostitution. With her dad as deputy sheriff, the young Betty Lou heard about it all first-hand.

The Ranch Roadhouse, located near the corner of Highway 99 and 220th Street, circa 1940. (Photo courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

While the roadhouses were notorious for connecting prostitutes with their customers, according to Gaeng the “business end” of the transaction was typically conducted in a collection of motels and cottages, often conveniently located just across the highway.

“There’d be drunks staggering back and forth across the highway at all hours,” she remembers. “There were no streetlights in those days, automobile headlights were pretty dim, drivers could get rambunctious and reckless, and the people crossing the road were often — well — distracted. A bad combination.

“Hardly a weekend went by without several people being hit by cars as they tried to cross the highway,” she recalls. “And living next to the highway with my dad as a first responder, we were often the first to hear.”

While the roadhouses were busy all week “they really rocked on Saturday night,” Gaeng remembers. “On Sunday mornings my brothers and I would get up before church and walk up the highway to The Crossing (today’s 196th Street) to collect all the bottles discarded by the side of the road. We’d bring them back to Middleton’s Store and cash them in for the deposit, which we often spent going to the movies. We loved the movies!”

Aerial photograph of Edmonds/ Esperance, June 25, 1953 (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

With the end of World War II and boom economic times, the 1950s saw a heightened interest by the City of Edmonds to expand its jurisdictional borders, and the section of Highway 99 between the county line and 210th Street was seen by many as a prize worth pursuing.

Between 1958 and 1997, Edmonds passed more than a dozen separate ordinances annexing sections of the Highway 99 corridor to the City of Edmonds.

The section of Highway 99 that passes through Edmonds was brought into the jurisdictional boundaries of the city in more than a dozen separate annexations shown in the colored areas between 1958 and 1997. The white area to the left is the Esperance neighborhood which remains unincorporated.

These range from little swatches of land like the one-third acre around the traffic ramps connecting 240th Street Southwest, Edmonds Way and Highway 99, to a large swath just shy of 320 acres added in 1961 on the east side of the highway that included the residential areas around Lake Ballinger from the county line to 224th Street. One of the largest, almost 93 acres, was added in 1959 and is the current site of the Swedish Edmonds hospital campus.

County line looking north at 205th Street, circa 1962, showing Aurora Village sign and Campbell-Blume Chevrolet. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

The most recent piece added in 1997 brought four lots totaling 7 acres — three of those bordering Highway 99 on the west and one behind these, just north of 234th and west of Highway 99 — into the City of Edmonds. See the table below for the history of these annexations and the relevant ordinance number.

Annexations by City of Edmonds along Highway 99
741 1958-11-18 64.99 Area bet 214th/212th between Toyota and 76th
762 1959-05-12 92.99 W of 99 bet 228th/214th includes hospital
887 1961-07-26 318.05 Big piece E of hwy from county line to 234; Lake Ballinger neighborhood
1281 1967-03-07 0.34 Little swatch west of 99 at county line
1445 1969-11-03 9.51 Triangular piece east of 99 N of 236th
1484 1970-07-30 9.26 Traffic berms at Edmonds Way/99 interchange ramps
1734 1974-10-22 14.78 West side of 99 N of 212th to 210th
2096 1979-10-01 2.69 Little piece next to Lake Ballinger E of 74th at 236th
2365 1983-05-22 4.29 Triangular piece Ed Wy/hwy99/240th
2709 1989-07-02 9.47 Where Toyota is now, W side of 99 S of 212th
2997 1994-12-16 104.96 Triangular piece (S) 240th SW; (E) Hwy 99; (N) Maple Lane jogging down to 234th; (W) 88th Ave W jogs south to 236th, jogs south to 92nd, west to 93rd, south to county line.
3163 1997-12-01 7.08 W of 99 between 234th and 232nd, extended 2 lots west

Today the Highway 99 corridor in Edmonds is home to a host of vibrant businesses, a colorful international district, and a hospital complex offering world-class heath care. Recently the area has become the subject of a major improvement effort aimed at improving traffic safety and walkability, providing multifamily housing and attracting more businesses.

— By Larry Vogel

Editor’s note: Betty Lou Gaeng has authored a number of articles on local history. Her current project is a detailed history of crime and the roadhouses, which she plans to release later this year.



6 Replies to “Transforming Highway 99: Roadway has roots as major highway — and a hotbed of vice”

  1. Fascinating – thanks! I was at Lakeside when they were building the freeway and remember when they accidentally cut off our water in the spring of ’62. We had one teacher, Mr Bleakney, who used to tell us about riding a horse out to the campus in 1929 to watch construction – there were bears on campus then!

    Some history of University Village (on Olympic View Drive) would be interesting; I know of at least two original houses, and remember hearing from Vern Parrington about coming out to Edmonds on the steamer in the 20’s, to get to the summer homes here.


  2. The Ranch looks kind of fancy, but it was only a façade. The section of the building behind the stucco was built of rough boards. Most of the roadhouses were built that way–often not even painted. I suppose that is why most ended up completely consumed by fire. Once a fire started, there was little chance of containing it. The customers didn’t care about the outside looks anyway–it was the entertainment inside–the music, the dancing, the food and the drinks–and the gambling when they could get past the law. In the early days, most of the visitors were not local–they were from out of town–Seattle and as far away as Portland and Vancouver, B.C.


    1. Fascinating article. Thank you Larry Vogel! A few years back I was told I lived off the Trunk Road in Edmonds. Now I know the connection was to the north south highway which we know as Highway 99. History truly informs our future.


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