Marysville's town hall gets stuck on the railroad tracks on March 12, 1923.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 2/13/2008
  • Essay 8490

On March 12, 1923, the town of Marysville, located in Snohomish County, moves its town hall four blocks from Front Street to 3rd and Delta streets.  The move goes smoothly until the building is passing over the railroad tracks that cross 3rd Street just east of Cedar Street, at which time a malfunction on the apparatus moving the hall leaves it stuck smack in the middle of the tracks. The best minds in town join together but cannot budge the recalcitrant building. A train is expected in an hour. Tension mounts. Finally, an unlikely hero sallies to the rescue. 

Moving Town Hall 

Marysville’s town hall was built in 1901 on the south side of Front Street (which today [2008] is 1st Street) between Cedar and Beach streets (now Beach Avenue).  But as Marysville slowly grew north and east, away from Ebey Slough and away from Front Street, people began to complain that the hall was difficult to get to and wanted it closer to the new, developing business center of the town.  It was cheaper to move the hall than build a new one, and by the end of 1921, Marysville citizens and its town council began planning to do just that. 

The town hall move was the hot topic of 1922 at both the Marysville town council meetings and in The Marysville Globe. Two bids were submitted and rejected, but on the third bid it surely seemed as if a deal had been struck. “Sure Thing This Time -- Removal Of Town Hall,” trumpeted a bold, black headline on the front page of the Globe on November 24.  Oops, not so sure -- the town council found the bid too expensive, and in the next weekly issue of the Globe, a smaller, meeker headline notified of “Another Delay In Moving Town Hall.” 

But the fourth time was the charm. Shortly before Christmas, contractor S. B. Mapes submitted a bid of $835, which the town council accepted.  Mapes said he could begin preparations shortly after Christmas, and estimated the entire project would take four weeks. It was estimated that the actual move of the hall four blocks to its new home would only take an hour.  

Large trucks capable of doing the job didn’t yet exist when it came time to move the hall in March 1923.  Horsepower was still typically used to move large buildings.  Details of how the building was prepared for the move are sketchy, but a Globe article clearly reads that only one horse was used to haul the hall the four or so blocks to its new home. This seems surprising considering the weight of the job.  The building was raised and placed onto a large wooden frame, and a windlass (a rotating spool with a cable and rope) was hooked to the building and used to help pull it. 

The move took place on Monday, March 12, 1923.  The building was moved across Front Street, northwest across vacant lots to Beach Street, north on Beach to 3rd Street, then east on 3rd across the railroad tracks to the new site on 3rd and Delta streets. The hall was scheduled to be moved across the tracks at noon, immediately after a southbound fast express had passed -- but the railroad said it needed to send a freight train through at 1 p.m. That train was late, so it was 2 p.m. before the move across the tracks began. 

Stuck In The Middle 

An extra crew and bystanders were on the scene, offering whatever help was needed, but everything went smoothly until the town hall was squarely in the middle of the tracks.  Then, unexpectedly, everything stopped.  The steel cable had been allowed to coil up too high on the spool, and it suddenly dropped between a crack below the spool and the framework of the windlass.  The rope being used to haul the building was already on an especially high tension. Now it simply froze on the spot. 

The workers and volunteers all had various ideas to loosen the rope, and the crowd of bystanders, growing larger by the second, also offered solutions. Nothing worked. Nothing moved -- except time. At 3:30 p.m. another train was scheduled to pass. Tension began to mount. Someone suggested digging a tunnel through town hall to let the train through.  The Globe, in its March 16, 1923, issue, explained the gravity of the situation: 

“Nearly half an hour had elapsed and everybody was excited and getting more so, and even the horse was getting a little nervous, when Contractor Mapes said something had to be done and done right away. Even inventive geniuses such as John Randall, Senator Mott, Johnnie Comeford, and several others had done their best working on ideas of their own and suggestions from the crowd, but the one man who knew how had been standing back without a word to say. 

“The supreme moment had now arrived and the hero of the hour came to the front. This was F. J. Custer, the painter, who was never accused of being a mechanical engineer or scientific expert.  He suggested that they take out the core of the works which would let the spool loose. Mr. Mapes said it couldn’t be done, but Mr. Custer, with one or two others, started on the job and after getting hold of the right tool easily removed the core, when the spool dropped loose and the rope was free. A very few minutes enabled them to get the rope out of the way, replace the parts properly and attach the rope and start the horse on its way again. The world little knows where genius may be found until an emergency arises.”

Safe At Last 

The hall was successfully deposited in its new home on the north side of the corner of 3rd and Delta streets. Notwithstanding the hall’s perilous pause on the railroad tracks, the move was accomplished in just over 90 minutes. Mapes later admitted the move was a “beast,” and that he had underestimated the building’s weight. As a result, he also underestimated the cost to move the building, and lost money on the job. The Town compensated by awarding him additional work to secure the building in its new home. 

The original town hall building was later demolished and the site is now the home for Marysville’s Towne Center Mall. In 2008, Marysville’s city hall is located at 1049 State Avenue. 

Sources: Maude Barrett and Pat Olson, Reflections Of Marysville (Marysville: City of Marysville, 1991), 70;  “Sure Thing This Time -- Removal Of Town Hall,” The Marysville Globe, November 24, 1922, p. 1;  “Another Delay in Moving Town Hall,” Ibid., December 1, 1922, p. 1;  “S. B. Mapes Contracts To Move Town Hall,” Ibid., December 22, 1922, p.1;  “Town Hall Sticks On Railroad Track For Half An Hour,” Ibid., March 16, 1923. p. 1; “Contractor Mapes Turns Hall Over To Council Wednesday,” Ibid., March 30, 1923, p. 1. 

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