Mukilteo: First County Seat

We are off to Mukilteo to celebrate the establishment of Snohomish County by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Washington on January 14, 1861. The assembly assigned Mukilteo as the interim county seat until an election could be held, probably because the settlement had four buildings to Snohomish’s one.

This month’s rare historic image came into the possession of the Snohomish Historical Society already framed with a handwritten label reading, “Mukilteo, 1862.” On the reverse it read, “The County Seat of imageSnohomish County,” along with William Whitfield’s name. The process of liberating the fragile print from its non-archival surroundings revealed a backing piece cut from a Whitfield political campaign poster. It was most likely recycled following Whitfield serving for one term in the 1870s. We assume the framed image once hung in his Snohomish office or home.

Of course, Snohomish history buffs know the Whitfield name as the author of the invaluable “History of Snohomish County” published in 1926. And this photograph is included on page 74 illustrating his account of the county’s founding. After publishing the legislative act in full, he writes: “And thus, by a single act of the Legislature Snohomish County was given a name, boundaries, a complete set of county officers, and a county seat fight.”

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Jacob Fowler, ca. 1860
When Jacob Fowler moved his hotel from Ebey’s Landing he adopted the Indian place name Mukilteo considered to translate as “a good camping ground.” But it was Morris H. Frost, the customs collector at Port Townsend, who first acted on the business potential of the site by staking a claim on the beach in 1860, then inviting Fowler to join him. It was a popular location for the first peoples well into the historic period, including the signing of the Point Elliot treaty in 1855. For Frost and Fowler it held promise as a handy stop on the water route between Seattle and Bellingham Bay.

The first council meeting was held in March 1861 at the Frost and Fowler’s store. The first commissioners included Ferguson, who was the chairman, John Harvey, Henry McClurg and Fowler as auditor. They accepted a petition for the county to build a road from Snohomish City to Woods Prairie, the future site of Monroe; but rejected Fowler’s application to retail small amounts of liquors, claiming the board had no authority to issue licenses for less than the full amount of $300. Whitfield notes that at least two-thirds of the county’s early business involved the “two perplexing questions: roads and liquor licenses.”

At the second meeting in May, Ferguson and Cady were issued a licensed to maintain a ferry across the Snohomish River, but with only 49 white people counted as living in the new county, we wonder if it ever became operational. A final piece of business was to divide the county into two precincts for the election in July. One at the Frost & Fowler store, and the second to be held at the home of E. C. Ferguson – Snohomish’s only building.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:

Click to EnlargeMukilteo, 1862. Compared to Snohomish in 1862, Mukilteo was an “urban center” with the four buildings pictured here. One of the buildings was the Frost and Fowler store and another the post office. Mukilteo was designated as the interim county seat for the new Snohomish County until an election was held in July 1861.

Click to enlargeMukilteo Today. Replacing the buildings of the original town site is the Mukilteo Research Station, one of several carrying out the work of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Just south of the Station is the Washington State Ferry operation, replacing the 1860s use of dugout canoes.

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More reading: A Thumbnail History of Mukilteo; and thanks to David Dilgard for his help locating the contemporary point of view for the repeat photograph.

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Published January 19, 2011 in the Snohomish County Tribune.

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