History: Edmonds’ 1911 Monorail

Promotional poster photo for the Boyes Monorail Edmonds Company 1911. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Prior to Edmonds entering into the automobile era, (which you can read about here), efforts were being made by Edmonds’ civic leaders to enhance the transportation options for the city’s citizens.  Civic leaders were frustrated by the lack of dependability of Puget Sound steamboats and the infrequent passenger trains on the Northern Pacific Railroad.

In 1909 and early 1910, they had attempted to get connecting lines from the Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad or the soon-to-be completed Seattle-to-Everett Interurban railway. But all efforts had failed.

But in late 1910, a new hope arose.

W.H. Boyes Arrives In Seattle

William H. Boyes, a New York-based inventor, arrived in Seattle in 1910 with the hopes of building a monorail system between Seattle and Tacoma. He approached Seattle and Tacoma’s civic leaders and major capitalists with his ideas. He received some interest and agreed to build a replica of what the trestles and cars would look like, and provide the interested parties with a proof-of-concept.

Arrangements were made that allowed Boyes to build a replicate of his monorail on a stretch of tide flats south of Seattle. Over a period of months, the test track was built.  The structure, rails and train car were made primarily of wood and the cost was estimated at $3,000 per mile, which was deemed as a real bargain.

A number of dignitaries attended the trial run, which proved to be successful, and there was initial excitement about the concept.  The Seattle Times commented: “the time may come when these wooden monorail lines, like high fences, will go staggering across country, carrying their burden of cars that will develop a speed of twenty miles per hour.”

The 1911 monorail test run/proof of concept in the south Seattle tide flats. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

Unfortunately, Boyes was not able to raise enough capital or interest from the Seattle- and Tacoma-based financiers to get the project hypothetically “off the ground.”

Edmonds Enters The Picture:

Somehow word of the successful trial run reached Edmonds, and Mr. Boyes was asked to meet with a contingent from the city to discuss the possibility of building a monorail between Seattle and Edmonds.

In discussions with the city and civic leaders, Boyes expressed his confidence that a fast, efficient and inexpensive mode of transportation could quickly be built that would in the future provide a 10-minute trip between Edmonds and Seattle (i.e., the car would travel eventually up to 60 mph). At the beginning, the speed of the car would be 20 mph, but as improvements were made, the trip’s elapsed time would lessen.

A photo of the replica with onlookers standing beside the structure, and a signed photo by W.M. Boyes was used to present the concept to the Edmonds community. (Photo courtesy Washington State Digital Archives)

After discussions with Edmonds elected officials and a number of city leaders, The Boyes Monorail Company was formed.  The company’s slate of officers included:

  • William H. Boyes dba Pacific Railway – President
  • A. Sweet, Edmonds City Attorney – Vice President
  • W. Peabody, Real Estate Developer – Treasurer. (Note F.W. Peabody had previously become wealthy with the discovery of the Monte Cristo gold deposits in the Cascade mountain range.)
  • C. Hayes, banker/businessman – Secretary.
  • M. Yost, the principal investor, was named construction manager, and was contracted to provide the necessary wood and materials to build the monorail.

Additionally, a 25-year franchise was obtained from the Edmonds City Council and plans were put in place to begin the project in late spring 1911.

With the necessary capital committed and approvals in place, an announcement was made in the Edmonds Tribune-Review on April 28, 1911. From the tone of the announcement there were a number of citizens who thought this endeavor was foolish at best.

The article was titled Break Ground For Monorail: Formal Celebration to Mark Event Next Tuesday Afternoon and read as follows:

It is to be hoped that the few pessimists who manage in spite of themselves (and everybody else) continue to maintain an existence in Edmonds, will arouse sufficient energy within their ossified frames to journey out to the south end of Third Street next Tuesday afternoon and witness the beginning of the actual construction of the Monorail road.

Work would have begun several weeks ago, but there has been a delay on the part of the mills in turning out the material of the exact size required.  Word has been received, however, that the first car has been loaded and will arrive here today or tomorrow.

More question, the building of this road as one of the important events that has occurred in the history of Edmonds, and no one, except possibly hereditary members and chronic past masters of the Ignoble Order Of Knockers are expected to stay away from the formal exercises connected with the turning of the first shovelful of dirt.  Mayor Hall will have the honor to ply the shovel in what is hoped will be an epoch in local history, while speeches will be made by various representatives of the city government, and by Mr. Boyes, the inventor of the monorail system.

Already the rumor that actual work would be at once undertaken has caused a wonderful awakening of confidence, while property values all over town are taking on a more bullish tone than has been noticed for many a month. A few weeks of trial over a mile or two of roadway will tell the tale as to the commercial utility of the invention. Money has been raised for a similar road between Port Townsend and Port Angeles, but the stockholders are waiting to see the results of the tryout here. For the sake of the local men who have decided to risk a few thousand dollars in the commendable attempt to give Edmonds the traffic connections and advantages she has so long wished for and so urgently needed, it is hoped that the new system will more than come up to its claims the inventor has made for it. If it does, 10-cent fare between here and Seattle is assured, and a tremendous growth of this city through the locating here of hundreds of families who desire suburban life, with flowers, chickens and gardens, is at hand.

Every citizen should turn out Tuesday.  Be there and do your part to celebrate the beginning of the construction of the Edmonds-Seattle Monorail Railway.”

The groundbreaking event’s location was also the proposed site for the railway’s Edmonds depot. Today, that location is the southwest corner of Third Avenue and Dayton Street. The location at the time was described as being “two blocks south of Main Street on Third Avenue, with an easy walk to the City Park.”

Photo on the left is of the southwest corner of 3rd Avenue and Dayton, where the depot would have been located. The photo on the right is looking north, up 3rd Avenue toward Main Street in February 2024. (Photos by Byron Wilkes)

The ground-breaking event went off as planned and the Edmonds Tribune-Review ran a multiple-column article regarding the proceedings on the front page of the paper on May 5, 1911.

The following are excerpts from that article:

“Despite the frequent showers of Tuesday afternoon there was a large crowd of citizens to witness the formal exercises connected to the setting of the first post of the Edmonds-Seattle Monorail System. The crowd was enlarged by many interested Seattle citizens and railway people from around the country.”

“Excavating for numerous posts had been completed the day previous and large timbers lined along the street for several blocks gave evidence that real work on the Edmonds much-needed electric communication with Seattle was about to begin in earnest.”

“Before the first post was hoisted into position, a shower of coppers and silver coins were thrown into the hole for luck, and then Mayor Hall skillfully guided the pole into place, shoveled in the first dirt and formally declared the roadwork to have begun.”

After multiple dignitaries from Edmonds, Seattle and experienced railroaders from Detroit and Wisconsin spoke, the City Engineer Messinger who was in charge of the overall project stated:

After thorough examination of the claims made, I believe this is will be the cheapest and best operation to provide high speed travel to Seattle. The posts that the rail will be laid upon will be about fourteen feet in height in order to provide for a clearance of twelve feet between the bottom of the car and the roadway. In this way there will be no interference with traffic at station crossings, nor anywhere else for that matter, as the cars will be high enough to clear loaded teams of any kind.”

The city residents were also informed that after two miles of posts and rail were in place, the newly constructed passenger car which was being built in Ballard would be brought out and tested.  If any problems were experienced, adjustments would be made before proceeding with further building of the road.

One of the Boyes Monorail Cars being constructed in Ballard, circa 1911. (Photo courtesy of the Edmonds Historical Museum)

The digging of holes and setting of posts continued on schedule over the next few weeks. But as a possible ill omen as to the project’s success, citizens reported that an unfortunate skunk had fallen into one of the holes, and had expressed his frustration and anger in its normal fashion. Although the skunk reportedly had been able to extricate himself from the hole, he had left an odiferous reminder of his presence.

It is unclear what happened next, but the rail was never put into place and the wooden passenger car was never delivered for testing. It is surmised that Mr. Boyes was an inventor, but had no practical experience in running a company.

By late 1911, Boyes was sued by A.M. Yost and other stockholders in the company.  Seattle-based courts ordered that Boyes pay back the original stockholders and the Edmonds-Seattle Monorail Company went bankrupt.

According to oral and written histories, all of the posts had been removed and holes filled in by the end of 1912, leaving no visible evidence of the failed project.

It is interesting to note that there was no coverage by the Edmonds Tribune-Review of the failed project and the legal consequences that Boyes ended up facing. Possibly that was due to the paper’s April 28, 1911 chastisement of the “Ignoble Order of Knockers” and citizens with “ossified frames” who questioned the project in the first place.

Author’s final notes: Despite the disappointment of the Boyes monorail, less than a year later Edmonds’ enthusiasm was again heightened by the prospect of an electric interurban train following the shoreline from Everett, through Edmonds and Richmond Beach to Seattle. Monies were raised and an initial survey was begun by W.C. Bickford, Edmonds’ city engineer. But that project didn’t go anywhere either.

This article was researched and written by Byron Wilkes. Thanks go to Edmonds Historical Museum, Sno-Isle Genealogical Society, Seattle Times Archives, Library of Congress, and the Washington State Digital Archives for their assistance in researching this article.

  1. I just read about this project recently and was going to ask you if you knew any more details about it. It’s as if you read my mind! Thanks for doing the research on this. Imagine what a different town Edmonds would have been if this had been put into place.

    1. Shannon, I’m happy that I could provide you with the answer to your question….when I ran across a mention of this project in my research on early transportation…I thought to myself “who knew”?

  2. A 1911 Monorail sounds like an April Fools Day joke. What a remarkable story!!! Thanks very much for researching and sharing this.

  3. “But what about us brain-dead slobs?”
    “You’ll be given cushy jobs!”
    “Monorail, monorail, monorail!”
    – The Simpsons, “The Monorail Song”
    Great! Now I’ve got it stuck in my head!

    1. And yet petroleum always wins, burning down the house in which we live. It may be subtle but there is always an undercurrent of decay that stops truly great progress while you can always buy a gallon of gas. I love the original electric cars. 25 mph 120 miles on a charge. What if we would have said no to petroleum.

  4. April Fool’s joke indeed. This reminds me of the Seattle Monorail Project that cost their taxpayers $124.7m (no joke) and never built a single mile of new monorail. The drama played out over a 10-year period beginning in 1997. Wikipedia has a generally good article on this monorail fiasco.

  5. As a resident of Edmonds for over 65 years, I really enjoy your historical articles on Edmonds. Thank you Byron.

  6. What an interesting piece of history! Complete with pictures then and now. The quoted stories from those days certainly contain some colorful descriptors of the “pessimists who manage in spite of themselves (and everybody else) continue to maintain an existence in Edmonds” as well as their “ossified frames”! And the skunk! Thanks for both another piece of history & some chuckles too. Very entertaining.

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