Looking Back: A history of garbage collection in early-day Edmonds, Part 1

The first garbage trucks to serve Edmonds, the North End Garbage Disposal Co.’s dump trucks in April 193.0 (Source: Edmonds Tribune-Review)

Garbage! A subject that may seem to be an unusual way to look back in time. It certainly is one that I don’t recall anyone touching on before in the telling of the history of Edmonds. However, even though it may seem a bit unusual, let’s take a look at Edmonds during the first half of the 20th century, and its history of garbage collection in the formative years when the town grew and developed from a village to become a city.

The disposal of garbage, refuse, rubbish, trash, waste, or whatever we label it, has been a fact of life we have had to contend with since medieval times. It seems as if people have had landfills or garbage dumps forever. Even in old England, Scotland and Ireland, they had places to dump their rubbish at what they called middens — a fancy sounding word for a simple place to dispose of an accumulation of society’s diverse refuse.

In our day, even though we may tend to think we are truly concerned about our environment, we have become very much a throw-away society, and we now produce more garbage — including hazardous waste — than earlier generations. However, in the present day, the problem of our throw-away rubbish doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem for us personally — we now have the waste removal specialists to relieve us of most of the responsibility.

For me, this interest in garbage and its collection in the early days of Edmonds began last year while I was doing research on an entirely different subject. While looking through a collection of old Edmonds newspapers at Sno-Isle Genealogical Society’s library in Lynnwood’s Heritage Park, a bit of news regarding Edmonds during the early part of the past century really caught my eye. It was an official proclamation by a former Edmonds mayor, which was published in The Edmonds Tribune in the spring of 1918 — over 100 years ago. Actually, the last few words in this proclamation was what stopped me cold. With that, the research for my planned project was set aside. Now, I have completely forgotten what that original project had been.

The 1918 proclamation definitely made me think about rubbish and to also wonder if the men with the wagons that the Edmonds mayor mentioned in the resolution planned to be waiting with their wagon loads of garbage for the arrival of the next out-going tide so that the rubbish could be swept away into the deeper waters of Puget Sound. Further research showed that was exactly what happened.

I have to admit that until I ran across this thought-provoking city announcement, I had never given the subject of garbage much thought.


I, J. A. Robertson, the mayor of the City of Edmonds, do hereby name and designate Wednesday, April 24, 1918, as clean-up day for the City of Edmonds, and urge all of our good citizens to co-operate with the city officials so that the best results may be obtained.  Said proclamation being in accordance with the following resolution adopted by the City Council at a regular meeting April 3, 1918.  

Resolved by the City Council of the City of Edmonds, that April 24, 1918 shall be known as Clean-up Day, all citizens being requested to thoroughly clean their premises of all rubbish of any nature, burning all that may be destroyed in this manner, and putting other refuse in boxes, barrels and other receptacles and placing it in such places as can be reached easily by our wagons, which will be provided to carry the refuse to the Sound. 

  1. A. ROBERTSON, Mayor Attest: J. T. McElroy, Clerk 

This 1918 proclamation and resolution definitely tweaked what some of my long-ago Edmonds’ school teachers referred to as a fertile imagination. It made me wonder if the men with the wagons planned to be waiting with their loads of garbage for the arrival of the next out-going tide so that the rubbish could be swept away into the deeper waters of Puget Sound. I just had to investigate.

Further research showed that was exactly what happened.

In our day, as we become more concerned about the environment, this method of a city clean-up day as mentioned in the year 1918 is mind boggling. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind, may have been the thought behind this plan. However, on a brighter side, in those early days, the majority of the garbage left to be disposed of — after the burning of much of it — appeared to be mainly tin cans and other metal objects. Plastics were limited to a relatively small celluloid market, not the endless plastic products of today. Toxic or poisonous materials were not much of a hazard either.

Former mayor J. A. Robertson had not been the first to address the garbage problems in the town. According to a copy of The Edmonds Tribune, the first mention regarding a need to do something about the rubbish was in May of 1909. However, that first year, the disposal of the rubbish collected was entirely different than it was during the following years.

Under the title “Clean-up Day for Edmonds,” The Edmonds Tribune had published a plan by the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce for a rubbish clean-up day in the spring of 1909. The news article announced: “Teams will be provided to gather up the rubbish and it will be hauled to the city park and dumped where some hole-filling needs to be done[ This will serve two purposes—get rid of the rubbish and save the park board from hauling a lot of dirt to fill the hole. Of course, some dirt will yet have to be hauled, but your old tin cans and discarded wash boilers will help fill the hole faster.” Residents were then asked to not only clean up their own premises, but to also spruce up any empty lot that adjoined their own property.

After the 1909 proclamation and the use of the city park as a dumping ground, the destination for the rubbish in the years that followed did become the waterfront of Edmonds. According to notices in the newspaper in spring of each year, the waterfront method of garbage disposal continued until the end of the 1920s.

It appeared that the City of Edmonds’ active involvement in garbage collection ended in April of 1930, when North End Disposal Co. of Seattle, a professional garbage disposal service, was approved to begin doing business in Edmonds. The company advertised weekly pick-up to residents at the cost of 50 cents per month — with service by an experienced company whose equipment was specially manufactured to meet all requirements, including steel dump trucks. And they further claimed that “the trucks were sterilized once a week so they came to your door free of germs.” Service began on April 3 with more than 60 Edmonds customers signed up. The company also served Richmond Highlands (Shoreline) and Echo Lake residents.

This professional garbage collection service was highly recommended by the Board of Health in King County. And by way of a letter to the businessmen and residents of Edmonds, published in the Edmonds Tribune-Review in April of 1930, the garbage service was heartily approved by Dr. O. W. Schmidt, Health Commissioner of Edmonds. Since 1911, Dr. Schmidt had been a strong advocate for a sanitary method of garbage removal, in order to prevent an epidemic of typhoid or any other diseases.

With this new development, the city council instructed the street commissioner to discontinue the once-a-year collection of garbage, although the street commissioner and the health officer would still direct the operation and maintenance of sanitary dumping places.

I would like to be able to report that the offensive and unsanitary garbage problem in Edmonds was solved in the spring of 1930.  Not so — the problem continued.

If you remember where Yost Marginal Way in Edmonds was located and also recall what controversial city business was located near the south end of that roadway — you are definitely a true Edmonds old-settler. Check it out when the story continues with Part 2.

To be continued. 

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood and Edmonds.









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