The City of Arlington is situated in one of the most beautiful river valleys in Western Washington, the Stillaguamish. Flanked by the river and its forks, this rural Snohomish County town has a rich history of logging and agriculture. Incorporated in 1903, it has seen tremendous growth in the past decade, yet manages to keep its small town flavor at its core.
Settlement at the Forks
Arlington began at the forks of the Stillaguamish River in 1890, but this was not the first habitation there. Coast Salish people from ancient times stopped to spend the night or days at the forks as they passed up and down the river following the abundant fish runs. Set in Stillaguamish tribal territory, temporary camps of mat shelters were common sights. The Stillaguamish called the place Skabalko. A major village farther up river at Chuck-Kol-Che (present-day Trafton) was mostly likely an important destination. Travelers from the Sauk, Duamish, and other tribal communities stopped over too.
Exploration of the future Arlington area by white setters began around 1851 when a prospector traveled up the river in a canoe with Indian guides. In 1856, the U.S. Army slashed an army trail from present day Snohomish to just below the forks, crossing the Stillaguamish River. The area was heavily forested, a fact that would impede the development of white settlements. But eventually people came, advancing up the valley in the mid-1880s. Pioneers coming from Marysville created a rough wagon road, following closely the old trail. Others came by canoe. In the spring of 1887 Nels K. Tvete and Nils C. Johnson opened the first store at the forks. At the time there was only a small encampment of three near by.
Roughly four months later the White House Hotel joined the store at the forks. It was the first hotel in the vicinity. Its owners, Lee Rogers and Al Dinsmore, were loggers cutting timber along the river to the west. The two-story hotel offered lodging and meals for loggers, boasting of its steam heat, bath, and European plan, presumably an early type of continental breakfast (Arlington Centennial Pictorial History, 2003). During the summer of 1889, a group led by A. L. Blair hacked out a rough road from Silvana to the town. A shed for his ox teams joined the settlement.
Interest in the forks site grew when G. Morris Haller, a wealthy real-estate speculator and son of Colonel Granville O. Haller saw great potential for a town there. His untimely death did not deter his dream of developing the town. On April 24, 1890, his brother Theodore and other interested parties filed the plat of the town, naming it Haller City. But another group of entrepreneurs beat them to city creation by one month. They platted a new town a half mile to the east and began to sell lots. They called it Arlington.
Tale of Two Cities
One of the forces pushing development up river was the expected arrival of the railroad. J. W. McCleod, a contractor for the Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern, “viewed Arlington as his pet project” (Witfield, p. 528). Some felt he had inside information, for the placement of the depot was very critical to the survival of either town. As Haller City continued to develop over the summer of 1890, a small sawmill and another hotel were set up. The Stillaguamish Times jumped towns, leaving Stanwood and settling in a shack used by an early pioneer at the forks. Arlington countered with a building boom.
An “intense” rivalry for the railroad soon developed. When the first construction train arrived in June 1890, it was obvious Arlington had the greater advantage. Haller City’s location was not suitable for a depot as it was down along the river bank. Arlington was built up on higher ground so they built the depot there for its easy access. Soon lots were selling. The original plat consisted of nine blocks with streets named for men in the construction department of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad (Pioneer Sketches, p. 17).
The first freight train arrived in Arlington on July 23, and it spurred more growth. The Stillaguamish Star became the first business established in Arlington. J. W. McLeod sold meals from a tent before opening a store building in August 1890. A saloon came next with Thomas Moran, a former superintendent of construction for the railroad, becoming part of the business. By year’s end, Arlington had an express office, a warehouse, and a post office. Moran would open his Arlington Hotel in 1891. By then, the town had three miles of graded streets.
Rivalry between the two towns continued for a several years. In the 1892 the Gazetteer & Business Directory listed both towns (Polk, 1891 pp. 696 -698 and pp. 810-811). Haller City showed a blacksmith, hay dealers, shoemakers, stage line, meat market, livery, hotel, and vet surgeon, but telegraph and express were up at Arlington. That town had a public school, saw mill and shingle mill, a weekly paper, a short sidewalk, and population of 400. “These two places are growing together,” the directory stated, but each town continued grew separately, adding churches, social clubs, and shingle mills. The World’s Fair in Chicago received a 200-foot-high tree from Arlington. It was the tallest flagstaff there and brought a lot of civic pride.
Things began to change in 1893. Perhaps the clearing of a field for a ball park signaled the true course of development. Young men from both towns joined the Twin City baseball team and had regular games. Then, in 1894, Haller City merchant C. C. Brown relocated his general store to Arlington. That same year Haller City lost its post office, something that caused bad feelings, even after it was restored. In 1895, businessmen in Haller City conceded that it would be better to be up in Arlington. Tvete and Johnson eventually moved their general store by ox team to a lot on 4th Street. Others followed. All that was left in Haller City were the shingles mills and housing.
Twin Cities Become One
In 1903, the two towns were incorporated into one, taking the name Arlington. Its government consisted of Mayor J. M. Smith, four councilmen, a treasurer, clerk and attorney. From then on, Arlington seemed a coming place. It was an important center for logging and agriculture. In addition to its shingle mills, general stores, hotels, and services, it had a cooperative creamery, a bank (the Arlington State Bank), and schools. New technology provided services that made life comfortable. The Sunset Telephone Company had been there for four years when in 1905, local investors formed the Arlington Water, Light & Power to provide electricity and water to the town. A wagon bridge and a state road going north provided access to other towns and settlements. The Northern Pacific Railroad extended a 28-mile line to Darrington, providing thrice-weekly service. Soon Division Street became the only reminder that there were once two towns.
Throughout the first two decades of the 1900s, Arlington enjoyed modest growth. The occasional flood and several fires brought grief, but social and civic advances kept improving. In November 1912, citizens formed a permanent library association. They gathered donations of $215.00, free electrical service, and a library table. A lease was offered in the Jones building. In 1916, M. Berckenmier, an early pioneer in Arlington, gave the Stillaguamish Pioneer Association several acres of cleared land on the south end of the city for a park. Used for gatherings of the association, but open to the public, it was the first park in Arlington. Later the city would provide a forested municipal park for its people.
Good Times and Hard Times
After World War I, agriculture, dairy farming, and shingle mills continued to be the mainstays of the local economy. The Snohomish Dairyman’s Association opened a condensery and cold plant in 1921, but Arlington had other businesses. In 1926 it boasted 22 mechanical shops, 37 stores, two banks and seven factories, employing a total of 241 people. An additional 116 men and women were employed as professionals and teachers. The post office with its postmaster, two clerks, and six carriers delivered to 700 private mail boxes daily. (Whitfield, p. 547) The area was not, however, exempt from the coming Depression.
During the 1930s, many people were unemployed in the Arlington area due to the closure of mills. To create jobs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) opened a camp near Darrington in 1933. Arlington boys from 18 to 25 were among those who signed up. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) also provided work in the form of civic projects. In that same year, WPA built sidewalks in Arlington and in 1936 worked on the high school. One of the most unusual projects providing jobs was making outhouses for farms. Men working for the WPA built the outhouses. Jack Gardner was one of the representatives who went around to the farmers, encouraging them buy the unit for improved sanitation in the area. He saw that the outhouse was installed with a cement floor and cement piece for a stool in the center. (Sylvia Dykus, interview Oct 22, 2007).
Federal relief programs also made possible the creation of the Arlington Airport. In February 1934, the Arlington Commercial Club leased 200 acres of forestland from M. Birckenmeier with the financial help of the Civil Works Administration (CWA). An early relief program, the CWA provided funding for the construction of new airports throughout the United States. Workers cleared and graded a 4,000-foot by 400-foot strip and surfaced it with asphalt. Two years later the WPA approved funding for a cross-runway to be located near the southern end of the original runway. The airstrip took on importance when the Navy leased the airstrip from the City to supplement training facilities in Seattle in 1940. During WW II, the airport became a U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station. Two Navy Squadrons were stationed there. After the war, it reverted back to civilian control.
After World War II, Arlington was for many years a typical example of small-town America. Logging and agriculture continued as mainstays of commerce, although the condensery closed and creamery operations moved to Mount Vernon. Things began to change after the completion of Interstate 5 in the spring of 1969. Easy access from Marysville and Everett made Arlington increasingly a popular bedroom community. Then in the 1980s, the town began to experience tremendous growth from homeowners searching for affordable housing while working in Everett and Seattle. In 20 years the city increased its population by over 450 percent. Today (2007) Arlington’s current population is about 15,000.
In 2003, Arlington celebrated its hundredth year. As part of its anniversary events, it applied for and was accepted as a Tree City. From the deep forests of years ago to a rapidly growing town with a comprehensive urban/community forestry program, Arlington, with its good schools, commerce, and homes, seems to have come full circle, with busy future ahead.