Looking Back: The Cressey Family of Lynnwood and Edmonds, Part 4  

The Lewis Cressey Family. (Photo from the Lynnwood newspaper, The Reporter).

You can read Part 1 of this series here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Soon after Lewis Cressey arrived in South Snohomish County, his name became a familiar one. Through the years, the Cressey name remained well known in connection with Lynnwood, and because of this, on July 30, 1953, the Cressey family was honored in a Special Progress Edition of Lynnwood’s newspaper The Reporter.  Shown here sometime in the early 1920s are Lewis and Ruth Cressey, with their children, Charles, Rachel and little Thelma.

As told in The Reporter: “A FIRST FAMILY OF LYNNWOOD . . . the first bride and groom in Lynnwood, the first two children born in Lynnwood, and the builder of the first sidewalk in Lynnwood. All these firsts bring us to Lew Cressey and his family. Mr. Cressey came to this territory with his logging operations in 1906. He married Ruth A. Beager, the daughter of an even earlier pioneer.”

Cressey’s Corner and family history

Cressey’s Corner was the name once used to identify the intersection of 68th Avenue West and 196th Street Southwest in Lynnwood.  The corner was named for resident Lewis Cressey, a pioneer in the lumber industry. He was the long-time chief timber cruiser for Port Gamble’s Puget Mill Company, and soon became the construction supervisor for the lumber company’s planned community of Alderwood Manor.

Married in 1910, Mr. Cressey and his wife established their home on the northwest corner of what was once known as Forest Way (now 68th Avenue West) and the Edmonds Road (196th Street Southwest). The Cressey house remains to this day. However, the house was moved a few yards to the north and repositioned to face east toward 68th Avenue West instead of facing 196th Street. A strip mall on the northwest corner now occupies what was the original Cressey home site.

When Charles and Rachel, the two oldest Cressey children, started school in what became Alderwood Manor, Lewis Cressey built a puncheon (planked) sidewalk that ran east from the Cressey home to the Maple Leaf School — a one-room school once located about where K. C. Martin Automotive is today—that is, 48th Avenue West and 196th Street Southwest. Mr. Cressey didn’t want his young children to walk to and from school along the narrow, little-used and muddy roadway. The Maple Leaf School opened in 1904 to replace the very rustic Hunter School, which was once located a short distance west of what is now Alderwood Mall — near the north end of Lynnwood’s Pioneer Park. With a growing school attendance, a larger school was needed, and Maple Leaf School closed in 1918. For a time, the old school building served as a residential home.

Lewis Whartnaby Cressey—lumber industry pioneer

Lewis Whartnaby Cressey was born Oct. 5, 1877, in the small town of Marienville in Jenks Township, Forest County, Pennsylvania, the son of Civil War veteran William Henry Harrison Cressey, and his wife Rachel P. Walton. William Cressey’s biography states that he answered President Lincoln’s first call to duty on behalf of the Union, and served in the 20th Pennsylvania Infantry, sometimes called the “Scott Legion.”

During an economic boom in 1890, when Lewis Cressey was 13 years old, the family moved west from Pennsylvania to Skagit County in the brand-new State of Washington; living first at Anacortes. A year later, the Cressey family moved to Burlington, Skagit County, and with the help of his sons, William Cressey established a small dairy on land he purchased near the town of Burlington. William and Rachel Cressey are listed as Burlington pioneers.

By the time he was 20 years old, Lewis Cressey had left his parents’ home to manage a logging camp at Lake Stevens. In 1900, he was boarding with a family at Tulalip and working as a logger. He then became a “pole and pile man” for an Everett lumber company. He hired a crew and built a bunkhouse for the loggers on what became the Edmonds-Alderwood Road (196th Street Southwest) and Forest Way (168th Avenue West). At that time, Lewis Cressey described the roads as “lines of mud holes.”

In May of 1913, Lewis Cressey was listed as the owner of a 1913 Ford automobile — one of the first motor cars in the neighborhood. With the horrendous road conditions often mentioned in South Snohomish County history, automobiles were slow in making an appearance.

In 1917, Lewis Cressey was employed by Puget Mill Company, Pope & Talbot’s subsidiary, and as the company’s construction superintendent, he was given the task of developing the five and 10-acre farms for the Little Landers of Puget Mill Company’s Planned Community of Alderwood Manor. He retired in 1946 — his final posting was as timber appraiser for Pope and Talbot. As mentioned in the 1949 book Time, Tide and Timber, Lewis Cressey was one of the company’s most respected employees.

In April of 1942, as required by law, Lewis Whartnaby Cressey registered for what was called WWII’s Old Man’s Draft. This special draft was for men born on or after April 28, 1877 and on or before Feb. 16, 1897 — their names kept on file in case the war worsened to a need to draft more men. At the time, Lewis Cressey was 54 years old. My mother was the local registrar at the time, and she completed the registration form for Mr. Cressey, and signed the certification as a witness to his signature.

Lewis Cressey and Ruth Beager Cressey

Rev. Robertson Reid performed the marriage. (Photo courtesy Betty Gaeng)

On June 17, 1909, Lewis Cressey married the girl next door, 22-year-old Ruth Alberta Beager, the daughter of Charles and Magdalena “Lena” Beager.  Another neighbor, Rev. Robertson M. Reid, performed the wedding ceremony before a large gathering of family and neighbors at the beautifully decorated home of the bride’s parents in the community of Grand View (the earlier name for Lynnwood). The Cressey marriage is recorded as the first one in what became historic Lynnwood.

Lewis and Ruth Cressey built their first house next door to her parents.  There, the Cressey’s first two children were born — Charles Lewis Cressey in 1910 and Rachel Cressey in 1912. Youngest daughter Thelma Cressey joined the family in 1918.

Lewis Cressey and his family

Oldest daughter Rachel Cressey graduated from Edmonds High School in 1927. She married Eugene M. Johnson, and after a very short marriage, they were divorced. Less than a month before her 21st birthday, Rachel Cressey Johnson died in 1933, from complications of appendicitis. She left behind a 2-year-old son, George E. Johnson, who was raised by his grandparents Lewis and Ruth Cressey. Rachel Cressey Johnson is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle.

Having suffered severe health problems, Lewis Cressey’s wife Ruth Alberta Beager Cressey died in 1945 at the age of 58. She is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle.

After his wife’s death, Lewis Whartnaby Cressey never married again, and following a long illness, he died May 30, 1961 at the age of 83. He was survived by his son Charles Lewis Cressey of Edmonds, his daughter Thelma J. Medica of Lynnwood, grandson George E. Johnson, his brother Victor Cressey in Burlington, and sister Madge Cressey Pence of Ellensburg, as well as five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Lewis Cressey is buried beside his wife Ruth at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle.

Daughter Thelma Jane Cressey graduated from Edmonds High School in 1936. She first married Lloyd F. Moore. They divorced and she married Thomas J. Medica in 1965. Thelma Jane Medica died in 1971 at Stevens Memorial Hospital in Edmonds; and she is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle. Her husband, Thomas Medica, died in 1989 and is buried next to his wife at Evergreen Cemetery.

Charles “Charlie” Lewis Cressey – automobile mechanic and tow truck operator

Charles Cressey (Photo courtesy Betty Gaeng)

The eldest child of Lewis and Ruth Cressey, Charles “Charlie” Lewis Cressey was born Jan. 26, 1910, at his parents’ home in what would become Lynnwood — less than a mile west of the future crossroads.

Charlie Cressey first attended the one-room Maple Leaf School in what later became Alderwood Manor. He and his sister Rachel walked to and from school on the wood-planked sidewalk his thoughtful father Lewis Cressey had built for his children — a distance of about three miles roundtrip.  Charlie Cressey did attend Edmonds High School for two years, but his interest was not in book learning — for Charlie Cressey, his eyes were fastened on the exciting and rapidly growing automotive world.

In 1931 at the young age of 21, Charlie Cressey rented a building from F. D. James, a Seattle real estate developer, and opened his own gas station and garage. Located on the northeast corner at the crossroads of the new Pacific Highway and the Edmonds-Alderwood Manor Road, Cressey’s Garage was considered to be the first Lynnwood business. Right from the beginning, Cressey’s Garage and Texaco Service Station was a hit with the local people.  He soon added a towing service, and his services became even more indispensable—in fact Charlie Cressey became a Lynnwood icon.

One person with memories of Cressey’s Garage was Halide Lobdell Patterson, who on her sixth birthday in 1928, moved to Alderwood Manor from Seattle with her parents Dice and Mabel Lobdell.  Halide grew up near the town center of Alderwood Manor, graduating from Alderwood Manor Grade School, and from Edmonds High School in 1939. Well into her 90s, she was still a volunteer at the Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association’s Cottage at Lynnwood’s Heritage Park, and had many memories to share of growing up in Alderwood Manor. One of those memories was of Charles Cressey and his Lynnwood garage. She wrote: “When we first moved to Alderwood, my dad had to get his gas way down Hiway 99 on his way to work. But once Charlie Cressey set up shop on the corner of 99 and North Trunk West (196th), that was our gas station and car repair shop from then on.”

Many of the teenaged boys in Lynnwood and Alderwood Manor vied for the privilege of working for Charles Cressey at his garage. Those who did get the opportunity, counted themselves lucky.  One of those “lucky ones” was John “Jack” Leslie Thompson, who was born in Alderwood Manor in 1925. Jack Thompson and his twin sister Mary Thompson Taht, and their siblings, grew up in Alderwood Manor at the family home on Spruce Way (40th Avenue West). Both Jack Thompson and his twin sister Mary graduated from Alderwood Manor Grade School and from Edmonds High School with the class of 1943. Jack Thompson became a teacher, and while working, he earned a doctorate in educational administration and psychology.

Several years before his death in 2020 at the age of 95, Dr. John L. “Jack” Thompson wrote a paper which he titled Working for Charlie (1939-1941).  His remembrances of Working for Charlie can be found in the archived records at Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Lynnwood’s Heritage Park.

Dr. Thompson recalled Charlie Cressey as sometimes a “bit gruff, but kind, generous and good for a kid to be around. Never dull — always a corner to clean, a car to grease, a bus to watch for, or an errand to run.” He referred to Charlie as a master mechanic with a natural eye and ear for engine problems, and the ability to “tweak a bit to coax more power and more speed for those awesome, respected and frequent customers, the Washington State highway patrolmen.” With a bit of humor and definite warm feelings, Dr. Thompson also spoke about Charlie Cressey answering calls that came in on his old cumbersome radio, which was set to pick up the Washington State Patrol frequency — at the time, the only radio in the vicinity with that capability.

Dr. Thompson also remembered Charlie Cressey racing up and down Highway 99 at the wheel of his finely tuned wrecker, with the red-light flashing, busy answering what were at times grim calls — and for a young boy, there was always a touch of excitement.

Charlie Cressey and his familiar tow truck were sometimes called upon for some unusual emergency non-auto rescues.  One of those unusual rescues took place in October of 1939 and was reported in the Edmonds Tribune-Review.

“Brownie, the five-year-old brown Swiss cow owned by Mr. and Mrs. Donald C. Rowen of Logan and Crawford Roads (Alderwood Manor) had the misfortune to fall into a well on Sunday, October 15.  Just how long she remained in the well will always be a mystery as the Rowen’s were absent from their home until 7:30 p.m.  Cressey’s tow truck rescued Brownie from the 22-foot well which contained three feet of water.  Outside of a few cuts and bruises on her hind quarters, Brownie is now in perfect condition again.”

On Tuesday afternoon Nov. 15, 1938, during some repair work, a bucket of tar exploded on the roof of Cressey’s Garage. A strong wind spread the fire so fast, the building was completely destroyed. No one was injured, but one of the workmen on the roof was forced to jump to safety. By the time the Edmonds Fire Department and the local fire truck from Seattle Heights reached the scene, they could do little more than stand by and protect Albright’s Café next door. With immediate assistance from a group of organized spectators, most of the contents of the garage were removed to safety — including all the vehicles inside the garage. Only the hoist and a few small tools were lost in the spectacular fast-moving blaze.

Typically, Charlie Cressey lost no time in starting over, and on Friday, Dec. 23, 1938, The Evergreen Empire News section of the Edmonds Tribune-Review carried a large announcement for the re-opening of Cressey’s the following week at the same location—offering the same service: lubrication, auto repairs, battery work and Texaco products.

In 1942, at the age of 32, still unmarried and living at home with his father, Charlie Cressey enlisted in the U.S. Army for service during WWII. After induction, he served in the South Pacific.

Later Charlie Cressey married Ruth L. Burch, and the couple had three children: Linda Ruth, Theresa A. and Christopher Charles Cressey. Charles and Ruth Cressey and their children made their home in the Meadowdale area of Edmonds.

Charlie Cressey continued to operate his service station, garage and towing service at the original site on the northeast corner of the Lynnwood intersection until 1956, when he moved his business a short distance further north to 17429 Highway 99 — still in Lynnwood.

Lynnwood lost one its most well-respected businessmen when Charles Lewis Cressey died at the age of 57 on July 3, 1967 at Stevens Memorial Hospital, the result of a heart attack suffered a month earlier. At the time of his death, he and his family were living at 17629 76th Avenue West in Edmonds. Mr. Cressey is buried at Holyrood Catholic Cemetery in Shoreline, Washington.  He was survived by his wife Ruth and his three children, all still living at the family home. Also survived by his sister Thelma Medica of Edmonds.  Charlie Cressey was a long-time member of the Washington State Towing Service, Lynnwood Elks Lodge 2171, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1040 of Seattle Heights (now Lynnwood).

Except for his service overseas during WWII, Charlie Cressey never wandered more than a few miles from his birthplace. He lived a busy life—one that ended too soon. Even so, he did live to see the end of the logging of the dense forests and the rise of Lynnwood from a few scattered highway businesses to become a flourishing city.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

  1. Another great chapter, Betty Lou. My father (Dean Echelbarger) would have enjoyed it so much. He had fond memories of the Cressey family. I remember him telling me that he and friends (probably including Lewis Williams, Allan Engler, and Elmer Ahola), all recent graduates from Edmonds High in 1940, were hanging around the service station on Sunday, December 7th, 1941. It is where he first heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon thereafter their lives changed dramatically and all them were serving in the armed forces (or in Allan’s case the merchant marine).

    My dad isn’t around anymore to ask, but is Mary Thompson Taut actually Mary Taht.? Mary Taht was married to Dick Taht; she was my Sunday School teacher for years at Alderwood Community Church. I seem to recall that her maiden name was Thompson but I may be wrong.

    Keep the stories coming please. Lindsey Echelbarger

    1. Yes, Mary Thompson’s married name was Taht. Sorry, I didn’t catch the misspelling. I was in Dale Echelbarger’s class. We started first grade together. Then my family moved from Alderwood to Edmonds in 1937. Class of 1945 from EHS.

  2. Wonderful story. After reading todays story part 4 I went back and read all the rest of these stories. This was well worth the time. So much of this is so fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing all of this history. Betty Lou Gaeng.

  3. Thank you for all the details. So enjoyable to read. You are sparking my interest in seeing what I can find out about my grandfather Kenneth Ruffner who owned a farm in the 40’s to early 50’s in what is now downtown Edmonds. We have a great picture of him and my brother Kenny on the roof of the farmhouse. Part of the farm was located where the Catholic Church is now. He worked in Seattle for City Light and he and my grandma had a candle business with some Edmonds neighbors somewhere in Edmonds. He sold the property in the 50’s and built a home on Double Bluff on Whidbey Island. That house still exists.

    1. Connie Weintz– I believe you and I are actually related. Several years ago, I wrote about your Ballard family. The Ruffner family has early roots (1700s) in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Ruffners have a website and are incorporated as a nonprofit and I am the historian for the family. We have a newsletter and are on Facebook., I write for the newsletter and both my daughter Marilyn, and I serve on the board of directors for the Ruffner Family Association. If you are interested, contact Teresa Wippel and get my contact information.

  4. Teresa — if possible, would you let Connie Weintz know about my reply. I have a lot of information for her. In 1902, her family bought the Ballard newspaper and published it for over 30 years. I wrote a column about them and the newspaper along with some history of Ballard. Of special interest, Edmonds’ George Brackett logged the land. I have a photo of Connie’s family–included in the photo is her grandfather Kenneth Ruffner as a little boy with his parents and grandparents, and uncles and aunts.

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