Looking Back: The story of Edmonds developer Zophar Lanning Howell III

Zophar Howell III

The people who came to Edmonds when it was still a developing small town, came from various places and backgrounds.  Some had very little money and others were lucky to have a substantial bank roll. However, one thing they all seemed to have in common — hope for a good life in an evolving young town.

One prominent developer to make his way to Edmonds 118 years ago was Zophar Lanning Howell III. Although his name is not well-known in Edmonds today, it is a name that seems to have an influential ring to it.

When Zophar Howell arrived at Puget Sound’s little waterfront mill town in 1903, he chose to enter the real estate field.  He soon partnered with S. J. (Stonewall Jackson) Mothershead, who came from a prominent pioneer Edmonds’ family.  Together they formed the brokerage firm of Mothershead & Howell, Real Estate, Loans and Insurance — their office located at the busy corner of First and George (Main) Streets.

Actually, in our time there are two reminders of Zophar Howell’s presence in Edmonds. First, a few blocks south of Main Street, you may have noticed Howell Way. Just two blocks long, the street leads the way west from 5th Avenue to Third Avenue, and the north end of Edmonds City Park.

Second, according to the local newspaper, in May of 1908, Zophar Howell had plans to place on the real estate market 13 1/2 acres of his property adjoining City Park. Known as Howell’s Addition, the area today is a choice bit of real estate. If your home is located in the surrounding area, you may have noticed on your deed that your property is part of Howell’s Addition to the City of Edmonds.

The life and death of Zophar Howell

Zophar Lanning Howell III was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 12, 1873, the son of Francis C. Howell and Isabel Robb. Although, his father died in 1878, when young Zophar was only 5 years old, he did not grow up deprived of the best life had to offer. He was a member of the large and wealthy Howell family of Philadelphia, owners since the early 1800s of the firm of Howell & Brothers Wallpaper Hangings Manufactory, a prominent wall coverings business in Philadelphia. The company’s products were known and respected throughout much of the country.

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and his daughter Alice later said that her father spent a lot of his youth traveling the world. Before arriving in Edmonds, he was a volunteer in the Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery A of the Army, serving in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War. This was the first regiment accepted for service in the war.

After settling in Edmonds, Zophar Howell became a friend and supporter of the iconic James Brady, popular business man, teacher and mayor of Edmonds; and — like Allen Yost and several other prominent businessmen in Edmonds — he was admired and supported by the labor movement and the Socialist party.  The photo of Mr. Howell. which is shown here, accompanied a flattering article appearing in The Labor Journal of Everett on June 9, 1911.

Zophar Howell was involved in many different phases of Edmonds’ public affairs. He was the city clerk for two years, justice of the peace, president and early member of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as president of the Athletic Club, and secretary of the Independent Telephone Company. He was a member of Edmonds Masonic Order #165, and Lodge #96 of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows. He represented the Snohomish County Commissioners at the Portland Fair in 1908. In 1921, Howell was appointed as the postmaster for Edmonds, and still held that position until his death 10 years later.

According to his WWI draft registration card, he was described as a tall man, a bit on the stout side.

On May 16, 1906, three years after arriving in Edmonds, Zophar Howell married Louise “Lulu” Blanche Shank. The Howell family home in Edmonds was located at 6th and Alder Streets. They had four daughters: Annabelle, Helen, Alice and Frances. All four daughters attended Edmonds schools; graduating from Edmonds High School.

Zophar Howell had moved to Edmonds in order to make his own fortune. He prospered in the brokerage business and then, just like so many others, he lost everything during the early days of the Great Depression.

He died in Edmonds on Sept. 20, 1931, at the age of 58, the result of a heart attack, and he is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle (now Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park.)  Find A Grave lists him as buried at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, but that is incorrect. Both his death certificate and the records at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park, including a photo of his gravestone, confirm his burial in the Seattle cemetery, not Edmonds.

Zophar Howell’s early death left his family in deep financial straits. With little money, and daughters Helen and Alice still in high school and Frances, the youngest, in grade school, Mrs. Howell applied for a widow’s pension based on her husband’s service in the Spanish American War. When daughter Alice was still a teenager, in order to lighten the load for her mother, she boarded with a local doctor and his wife, where she worked as an au pair and tutor for their young daughter. Oldest daughter Annabelle was already out of school when her father died and working as a clerk at the post office.

Louise Blanche Howell survived her husband Zophar Howell by several years — she died in Edmonds on June 14, 1945.  However, she had married a second time — to Edmonds’ resident Ralph V. Hard. Like her first husband, she is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle.

— 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 early-day Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. She is also an honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.

    1. As ever a great read of local history Betty Lou Gaeng. As a developer where are some of his projects – outside of land near Edmonds City Park? I remain in awe of the treasure of facts you reveal for us!

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