Looking Back: A history of garbage collection in early-day Edmonds, Part 3

Capt. William Hamlin of Edmonds. (From an Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, 1906)

Part 3 of historian Betty Gaeng’s series on the history of garbage collection in Edmonds.You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Entering the second half of the 20th century, the Edmonds waterfront slowly began changing — especially with the closing of the last shingle mill in June of 1951. Another major change was the beginning operation of the Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) asphalt refinery at the south end of Admiral Way — on the property the company had acquired in 1923 for the its bulk fuel storage and distribution terminal. Also, the newly established Port of Edmonds was working on its plans to make the waterfront an attraction for local people and visitors.

Since this article is about the garbage dumping grounds on the waterfront in Edmonds, some early history seems relevant; especially, as the garbage disposal problems in Edmonds occurred not on George Brackett’s land holdings, but rather on what was once part of land that had been known as Hamlin’s Flats.

The property that became the home of Union Oil Company of California saw many changes since it was the 79-acre tideland homestead of James Purcell and his extended Indian family in the 1870s and early 1880s.  Following the death of James Purcell and his surviving family’s departure from Edmonds, Capt. William Henry Hamlin, already the owner of a 52.50-acre preemption claim, bought the adjacent Purcell property, and began the building of ditches for the draining of the marsh, and also dikes to protect the businesses springing up along the waterfront, including Great Northern Railway’s right-of-way. Capt. Hamlin’s land holdings ran south from just north of Dayton Street and included the former Purcell property. With his own preemption property, plus the 79-acre Purcell claim, Capt. Hamlin became a major Edmonds’ waterfront property owner — and, for many years, his land holdings became known as Hamlin’s Flats. Until his death in 1907, Hamlin remained a strong force in the development of Edmonds, as well as the town’s second mayor (1891-1893).

Outlined in black are the land claims of William Hamlin and James Purcell. (Source: Plat map for Twp 27N, Range 3E, Sections 23 and 26, W.M., Snohomish County, from the Everett Library.)

With the forced 1949 closure of the garbage dump on the beach next to Chauncey’s Boat House, the city did soon open another dumping ground, this one on the property of Unocal. The garbage dump was located between the company’s asphalt refinery and the base of Point Edwards bluff — on the former Purcell/Hamlin property, Hamlin’s Flats. Partially used for the dumping of logs and other marine debris deposited on the beach, it was also used for the disposal of residential garbage. Although the dumping grounds seemed to be little noticed, it had become an unsightly and sometimes odorous addition to the waterfront.  However, it wasn’t until the Port of Edmonds was developing the boat harbor that complaints were noticed. By that time, the garbage dump on the Unocal property was being cleaned up. The cleanup process was evidently not fast enough for one very upset homeowner living nearby. In 1967, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Edmonds Tribune-Review, and with strong words voiced her opinion of the garbage situation along the waterfront of Edmonds.

Her complaint: “Isn’t it about time the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce and all those interested in the development and progress of this city took steps to eliminate a situation which certainly does not reflect any credit to Edmonds.” She then continued, “Visitors to the city last weekend, passengers aboard the Kingston ferries, boat owners visiting the Edmonds boat harbor, and adults and children enjoying the City Beach, were greeted by one of Edmonds’ outstanding views . . . a barge load of garbage tied to a buoy at the entrance to the harbor.” She then pointed to the captain who was the operator of the barge company, blaming him for the slowness in removing the odorous and unsightly mess, a practice, she complained had happened too many times in the past.

The clearly irate homeowner continued, “In addition, when strong winds come up, the garbage flies off the boat and onto the beach  It’s too bad that the city of Edmonds has to have a garbage dump in its front yard.”

With this letter, the editor of the Edmonds Tribune-Review included two photos; one of a garbage scow anchored at the entrance to the newly developing boat harbor, and the other photo, the dumping grounds on Unocal property. Both photos are shown here.

Garbage scow off Edmonds in 1967. (Photos from the Edmonds Tribune-Review)
Edmonds garbage mess on waterfront.

I am happy to say that the homeowner’s letter must have been a wakeup call, and little further was heard about the situation.  As cleanup progressed, Edmonds’ decades long struggle with garbage removal and dumping grounds, eventually came to an end.

We can all appreciate that both the beautification and the environmental issues along the Edmonds waterfront have greatly improved since those days, over a century ago, when a few men from the Edmonds’ street department picked up the towns’ rubbish and hauled it in their wagons to the waterfront to be dumped into Puget Sound — to be carried away with the outgoing tide.

One of the great benefits of the waterfront’s beautification has been the revival of a small part of the Edmonds Marsh. The marsh has developed into a great place for people to relax, enjoy and photograph the resident wildlife in their natural habitat.  Once the marshlands covered a major part of Hamlin’s Flats. As children in the 1930s, we called it the swamp. It was in later years we came to realize that by definition, the land was a marsh, not a swamp.

— 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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