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Mukilteo -- Thumbnail History

HistoryLink.org Essay 8422 : Printer-Friendly Format

Mukilteo is one of the oldest settlements in Snohomish County and the first county seat.  Situated on Possession Sound, the town shares its east border with Everett and Paine Field.  Once the winter village site of the Snohomish Tribe, Mukilteo's rich heritage includes the 1792 visit of Captain George Vancouver (1758-1798) and the signing of the Point Elliott Treaty in 1855.  Here early Mukilteo entrepreneurs Morris Frost (1804-1882) and Jacob Fowler (1837-1892) established the first salmon cannery in Washington Territory and one of the region's earliest breweries. Japanese workers of the Crown Lumber Company and their families became an important part of the Mukilteo community from 1903 to 1930.  A marker commemorates their story.  The Mukilteo Light House, completed in 1906, is now on the National Register of Historic Places and stands near the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry dock.  Mukilteo incorporated in 1947.  Since World War II, the city's proximity to Paine Field and Boeing has influenced growth choices significantly.  Annexation of acreage south of the city in 1980 and in 1991 quickly expanded the population,  which in 2005 was listed at 19,360. Expansion has shifted the economic focus away from the waterfront and toward the financial center of Harbour Pointe, but Mukilteo still retains a strong sense of its "Old Town" roots.


People of the Snohomish Tribe set up a permanent winter village on the land spit and adjoining salt marsh that became Mukilteo. According to tribal tradition, Dokwibuth the Transformer instructed inhabitants to move from this spot north to the mouth of the Snohomish River where they built the fortified village of Hebolb.

The meaning of Mukilteo has often been given as “good camping ground” but the Snohomish dialect of Lushootseed supplies the closest approximation: Muk-wil-teo or Buk-wil-tee-whu, “to swallow” or “narrow passage” (Bates, Hess and Hilbert).  Chief William Shelton of the Tulalip Tribes described its meaning as “a throat, a neck or a narrowing in a body of water.” Mukilteo was a favorite meeting and camping ground well into the historic period.

George Vancouver and Charles Wilkes

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, May 30, 1792, British Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798) anchored his ship the Discovery at the site that became Mukilteo. The following day, Lieutenant William Robert Broughton and botanist Archibald Menzies (1754-1842) briefly went ashore for exploration. They named the place “Rose Point” for the many wild roses growing there. Remnants of Rosa nutkana can still be found along the Mukilteo shoreline.

U. S. Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) left his mark when he anchored in the summer of 1841 and officially changed the location name from “Rose Point” to “Point Elliott” on American charts, naming this in honor of U.S. midshipman Samuel Elliott.

Point Elliott Treaty

On Monday, January 22, 1855, territorial Governor Isaac Stevens (1818-1862), met at Point Elliott with 82 Native American leaders including Chief Seattle. In the presence of many tribesmen, a treaty was signed by which native inhabitants ceded their lands to the United States government in exchange for relocation to reservations, retention of hunting and fishing rights, and an amount of cash.

On May 2, 1931, the Marcus Whitman chapter of the D. A. R. placed a monument commemorating the event in front of Rose Hill School (3rd  Street and Lincoln Avenue).

The First County Seat

In 1860 Snohomish County was still a part of Island County with government at Coupeville and court held at Port Townsend, Judicial District 3. While Emory C. Ferguson (1833-1911) placed his hopes on commercial possibilities at Cadyville (Snohomish), pioneer Morris Frost saw more potential at Point Elliott. Frost was then employed as customs officer at Port Townsend and Jacob Fowler operated a hotel at the upper end of Ebey landing on Whidbey Island. Frost convinced Fowler to join him as a partner in operating a trading post and hotel at Point Elliot, a place both thought would grow quickly. Census and homestead records show that Frost and Fowler situated at the site in the summer or fall of 1860. Fowler began calling the place Mukilteo, returning to an approximation of the Indian place name.

Snohomish County was created by territorial legislature on January 14, 1861, Mukilteo becoming its pro tem county seat, pending official elections in July. The first commissioners meeting took place in Mukilteo in March 1861. Pending issues focused on building a connecting road from Snohomish to Woods Prairie (the future site of Monroe) and rejecting Fowler’s request for a liquor license. At the second commissioners meeting, the county was divided into two voting precincts, ballots to be cast at Frost and Fowler’s store and at Ferguson’s home in Snohomish. On July 5, 1861, Mukilteo became the first county post office with Jacob Fowler chosen as postmaster on June 24th of the following year.

On July 9, 1861, voters decided 17 to 10 to establish the official county seat at Snohomish. E. C. Ferguson later recalled the event, telling how he had personally carried the record books back with him to Snohomish.

Some of Jacob Fowler’s letters, now in the University of Washington’s Special Collections, reveal life during those early years at Mukilteo. November 2, 1860: “It is lonesome up here and very quiet. Trade is very dull, but I live in hopes of it being better one of these days” (Fowler). July 21, 1861, “Our election is all over. It passed off very quiet, no fighting or drunkenness. I am a defeated candidate for auditor. Ferguson beat me three votes. We also lost the county seat by three votes. Some of our boys did not turn out and many was off at work. They gave me county commissioner instead of auditor” (Fowler).

Logs, Liquor, and Salmon

Situated across from Whidbey Island and offering easy trade with early Puget Sound mills, Mukilteo became an important trade site for the logging business. But Frost and Fowler sought a more diverse commercial base that did not depend entirely on the fickle lumber and shingle trade. For a time they exported cranberries to outlying areas.

Mukilteo took on a new enterprise in 1870 when brew master Jacob Barth set up one of the earliest breweries in Washington Territory in the ravine that became known as Brewery Gulch. The business incorporated in 1875 as the Eagle Brewery with Joseph Butterfield as proprietor and, by the following year, Frost and Fowler were running it. At its peak of production, the brewery produced about 15,000 gallons of quality lager beer annually. Fire destroyed the plant in 1882. Today a revival Eagle Brewery is a name link to Mukilteo’s past.

In 1870 a salmon-salting business also began under the directorship of men named Vining & Rheinbruner. In 1877 this operation became a salmon cannery built by George Myers & Co., the first of its kind on Puget Sound.

1890s and 1900s Development

Morris Frost did not live to see Washington become a state. He died in 1882 at 78 years of age. His hopes to see Mukilteo become the dominant port on Possession Sound never materialized. Instead Mukilteo grew moderately alongside the Everett development, the chosen site of East-Coast capitalist investors. By 1892, Mukilteo had a population of about 300.

Its first school was completed in 1893. Named Rose Hill, it was designed by Everett architect Frederick A. Sexton (1842-1930) and served the community until it was destroyed by fire in 1928. A second school was built, this time spelled Rosehill. It still stands at 3rd Street and Lincoln Avenue and currently serves as a community center. The commemorative Point Elliott Treaty marker was placed in front of the school in 1931. From its front steps facing onto Lincoln Street, one can see the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry landing, the lighthouse and the adjoining park below. For many years, Rosehill School housed the Mukilteo Historical Society’s museum.

Mukilteo’s development in the early 1900s mirrored the growth of other Puget Sound cities and towns of the period. In 1903 the Mukilteo Lumber Company plant was established, followed the next year by the opening of Mukilteo Mercantile. In 1906 the Puget Sound and Alaska Powder Company set up a plant in Mukilteo and in the same year, the Mukilteo lighthouse began operation. The powder plant exploded in September 1930 and was never rebuilt, but the lighthouse has remained an important architectural landmark since its construction. Now a National Register property, it continues to define the character of the Mukilteo waterfront.

Roads, Rails, and Ferries

The Point Elliott site was easiest to access by water routes, first by canoe, then by steamer, and later by passenger and car ferry. And although the Great Northern rails were built along the coast, the railroad connection primarily was for freight, with limited passenger travel. Road connections from Mukilteo to other settlements continued to be a challenge for many years. An early road was made linking Mukilteo to Lowell, Snohomish, and Woods Prairie (present-day Monroe). But the construction cost of spanning seven gullies slowed progress on the road connecting Everett and Mukilteo. Now called Mukilteo Boulevard, this road was officially opened with a grand ceremony in 1914. The road still hugs the coast line, bordering three city parks and offering views of Port Gardner Bay as well as sought-after view property for residences and a few businesses.

Mukilteo is also connected by State Route 525 and State Route 526. The Mukilteo stretch of the latter -- the road that runs from Highway 99 to the ferry landing -- is also called the Mukilteo Speedway.

Shortly after the city’s incorporation in 1947, ferry service officially began. Whidbey Islanders needed to connect with the mainland and in 1911 the Island Transportation Company began service between points on Whidbey Island. Car ferries began in 1919 with the Whidbey I and the Central I making regular runs between Mukilteo and Clinton. For the next three decades ferry service was maintained by ships of the Puget Sound Navigation Company (the Black Ball Line) until 1951 when the company was purchased by Washington State Ferries.

Restaurants and ferry landings continue to be good companions and the Mukilteo ferry landing has been no exception. A tiny lunch room built by Howard Josh offered food, fishing tackle, and bait. It had become part of the landscape by the 1920s and evolved into the Ferry Lunch operated under several owners. Edgar and Richard Taylor (1918-2005) purchased it in the late 1940s and continued to run it as the Ferry Lunch for 22 years. They finally changed the name in 1970 simply using what customers were already calling it, “Taylor’s Landing.” Taylor’s at 710 Front Street was sold to Ivar’s in 1991 and presently operates as Ivar’s Mukilteo Landing.

The Japanese Community

The Mukilteo Lumber Company was completed in 1903 and in August 1909 its name was changed to Crown Lumber Company. The business flourished until its closure in 1930. Many of its workers were Japanese immigrants who, with their families, lived in company housing in what became known as “Jap Gulch,” later changed to “Japan Gulch” and “Japanese Gulch.” Although Everett’s strong labor force held no quarter for cheap labor and other towns in the area drove out Japanese workers, Mukilteo residents came to terms with their Japanese neighbors and were able to live in harmony.

Most of the Japanese moved away when the Crown Lumber Company closed in 1930. Mas Odoi, now in his mid-80s, was born in Japanese Gulch and has returned to visit many times. In Mas’s words, “When we moved away, we never found a place as nice to live.” Odoi was responsible for creating a monument in memory of the Japanese community at Mukilteo and their harmonious relationship with other Mukilteo residents.

Mukilteo Incorporates

Mukilteo voted to incorporate on April 29, 1947, and incorporation papers were filed with the Washington Secretary of State on May 8, 1947. The city’s first mayor, Alfred Tunem (1896-1972), served in this office until 1956. World War II development tied to Paine Field changed Mukilteo in two major ways. During this time, four large storage tanks were built on the Mukilteo waterfront to provide fuel for the fighter squadron stationed at Paine Field. Long outliving their usefulness but owned by the federal government, the “Tank Farm” has continued to plague Mukilteo planners for decades. A second wartime change resulted from a steep railroad grade built through Japanese Gulch from the rail lines at Mukilteo to Boeing.

Issues from the city’s incorporation to the present day have largely involved finding a balance between the old and new and accommodating growth. Mukilteo became an official city in June 1970 when it adopted the state municipal code.

Old Town, New Town

With incorporation of acreage south along Mukilteo Speedway (SR-526) in 1980 and the 1991 annexation of Harbour Point, Mukilteo’s economic center has shifted away from what is now called “Old Town.” At the same time, significant changes are happening on the Mukilteo waterfront that could return profits. Facing budget shortfalls in 2003, the state transferred ownership of Light House Park to Mukilteo. Renaming it Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, the city now has plans for major park redevelopment that will include adding lawns and picnic space to areas presently paved. Mukilteo Historical Society is now in charge of the lighthouse. An annual Lighthouse festival is held with artists’ booths, a parade, fireworks, children’s activities, and the Run-A-Muk marathon.

The Mukilteo-Clinton ferry dock is presently too small to accommodate a growing traffic load. A $152 million multimodal ferry terminal is planned that will include a transportation center and a rail Sounder stop at Mukilteo. Designed by maritime planning engineers Moffatt and Nichol, the terminal has been started but loss of federal funds has currently halted construction. Further cuts may happen if the state decides to divert ferry terminal allocations to cover the cost of state ferry repairs. The city of Mukilteo is now partnering with the Port of Everett to redevelop the “Tank Farm” property for both private and public use.

David Dilgard, “Mukilteo: A Chronology,” “Mukilteo’s Eagle Brewery,” “Notes: Errors in Louisa Fowler Sinclair’s and William Shelton’s memories published in 1928,” unpublished typescripts,  n.d. for all but the latter which is dated April 1999, Mukilteo files, Everett Public Library;  David Cameron, Charles LeWarne, Allan May, Jack O’Donnell, Lawrence O’Donnell, Snohomish County: An Illustrated History (Index, Kelcema Press, 2005), 60-64;  William Whitfield, History of Snohomish County, Washington (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1926), 585-589; Dawn Bates, Thom Hess and Vi Hilbert, Lushootseed Dictionary (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), 38; Opal McConnell, Mukilteo Pictures and Memories (Seattle: Ballard Publishing Company, 1977); Jacob Fowler letters, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections; Stuart Hertz, “Mukilteo City of Contrasts is Oldest in Snohomish County,” Everett Daily Herald, November 4, 1928, pp. 30-31; Lukas Velush, “Mukilteo at Crossroads: Debate Over Japanese Gulch” The Herald, August 24, 2003, p.1, 10; “Powder Plant is to be Located Near Everett,” The Everett Herald, July 3, 1906, p. 1;  “Diary of Old Pioneer Recalls to Mind the Days When Puget Sound Shores Were in Reality ‘Wild West,’” Everett Daily Herald, March 20, 1913, p. 1; Lucile McDonald, "Mukilteo’s Early Trading-Post Days," The Seattle Times, February 23, 1964, p. 2; HistoryLink.org online Encyclopedia of Washington State History," Mukilteo Light Station" (by Daryl McCrary), and "“Island County -- Thumbnail History” (by Daryl McClary) http://www.historylink.org (accessed December 5, 2007); “Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival,” Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival website accessed November 26, 2007 (www.mukilteofestival.org); “History: Early Ferry Service,” Washington State Department of Transportation website accessed December 3, 2007 (www.wsdot.gov/ferries);  Scott Pecznecker, “Rosehill: Historic or Just History?,” August 23, 2007,  The Herald website accessed December 9, 2007 (http://www.heraldnet.com); Jerry Cornfield, “Local Projects Lose Federal Funds,” The Herald, December 19, 2006, p. 1B; Scott North, Lukas Velush, and Kaitlin Manry, “Ferry Crisis Raises a Difficult Question: What Now?,” The Herald, December 12, 2007.
Note: This essay was corrected on January 10, 2011.

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Early Mukilteo waterfront before landfill.
Watercolor by Arne Jensen. Courtesy Everett Public Library

United States Geological Survey map showing roads from Mukilteo, 1897
Courtesy Everett Public Library

Bay View Hotel advertisement, Mukilteo, 1887
Courtesy Polk's Puget Sound Directory

Morris Frost (ca. 1806-1882)
Courtesy Everett Public Library

Mukilteo ferry landing, ca. 1920
Photo by J.A. Juleen, Courtesy Everett Public Library

Jacob Fowler (1837-1892), ca. 1860
Courtesy Everett Public Library

Car ferry Washington on Mukilteo-Clinton run, ca. 1920
Photo by J.A. Juleen, Courtesy Everett Public Library

Ferry landing, Mukilteo, n.d.
Courtesy Everett Public Library

Waterfront, Mukilteo, early 1900s
Courtesy Mukilteo Historical Society

Oxen and canoes on the beach, Mukilteo, ca. 1860s-1870s
Courtesy Mukilteo Historical Society

Pioneer Cemetery, Mukilteo, November 24, 2007
HistoryLink.org photo by Margaret Riddle

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