Fire destroys the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett on August 2, 1909.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 8/16/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7889
At 3 p.m. on August 2, 1909, sparks from the J. K. Healy blacksmith shop at 3014 Wetmore Avenue in Everett ignite a pile of loose hay on the floor below. The wooden building is soon fully aflame. A strong northwest wind spreads the fire quickly and damages the Wetmore Avenue fire station, located only a few feet away. Fire next engulfs buildings of Everett Livery and Transfer Company, the Northern Transfer Company, and the Iles and Newman Carriage Works and finally ignites moss on the wood shingle roof of the Snohomish County courthouse. In a few hours all are ruins.

Too Little Water, Too Few Men

After the fire started, calls for help were made to neighborhood fire stations and firefighters reported for duty, but there was insufficient water and too few men to do the job.  Firefighters from Snohomish, Marysville, and Seattle Fire Departments come to aid, but their help arrived too late. 

Courthouse workers scrambled to secure courthouse records, placing them in fireproof vaults as the fire burned from upper to lower stories.  They succeeded in saving county records and the courthouse annex, but the courthouse itself was destroyed.

As evening approached, firefighters had contained the devastating blaze but were soon battling a string of arson fires.  They were called to a burning barn near Hewitt and Hoyt avenues, then to a fire at the Wellington Saloon.  A stable was set on fire, as well as a row of frame buildings in Everett’s business district.  Fearing the worst, Fire Chief W. Jay Kingsley planned to dynamite a threatened hotel to end the flames.  Luckily the wind shifted. Finally the firefighters were able to control the fire.

Aftermath

August 3rd was Snohomish County Day at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition, and many Everett residents had planned to attend.  They had constructed 50 replica smokestacks to be carried in a parade, but most were never used.  Everett’s participation was understandably small at the A-Y-P Exposition that day, since many citizens had spent the night guarding their town.

In the final toll, 12 buildings were lost and three damaged.  Only about half the losses were covered by insurance.  Several suspects were questioned as possible arsonists, but no charges were made.  Investigation following the fire led to changes for the Everett Fire Department.  During a decade of rapid population growth in Everett, fire department pleas for a larger crew and better equipment previously had been ignored.  Now reality mandated the changes.

Architect August Heide (1862-1943), designer of the original courthouse, was hired to draw plans for a new building.  Retaining three surviving arches from the burned structure, Heide designed the new courthouse in Mission Style.  During its construction, courthouse business operated out of the small courthouse annex.  The new Snohomish County Courthouse opened in 1910.  It is currently on the National Register of Historic Places.


Sources: Everett Herald, August 3, 4, and 5, 1909; Charles Z. Henderson, "The Courthouse Blaze," The Fire Boys: 100 Years of Everett Firefighting History (Virginia Beach: The Donning Company, 1992), 63-64; Wm. Whitfield, History of Snohomish County Washington (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), 176.

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