On February 18, 1958, voters in the small, upscale community of Woodway in Snohomish County go to a private home to vote on incorporating as a fourth-class town. The measure passes with 99 in favor and 83 opposed. The vote is a response to concerns that the growing town of Edmonds is likely to envelope both Woodway and the nearby Esperance neighborhood into its boundaries. To gain the required population, Woodway's boundaries include several nearby neighborhoods and parts of adjacent Standard Oil and Union Oil properties for a total of 405 persons. (Some portions of these are later withdrawn.) On this day, Woodway citizens unanimously choose Seattle accountant Chesley M. Cook (1905-1977) to be the first mayor and Irma Jean Canon (1920-2009) to be treasurer. Of six city council candidates, five are elected: Dr. Edward Stoddard DeMarsh (1911-1998), Herbert H. Randlett, Leslie C. Streeter, Norlin Wolfe (1909-1998), and Harold L. Worthington (1901-1994). Mayor-elect Cook announces that the first council meeting will be held soon. Council meetings will be held in private homes until 1963, when a city hall is built. A new town hall will be built on the same site in 2013.
From Wooded Land to Landscaped Homes
Almost a half century earlier -- in 1912 -- the village called Woodway Park was created when Seattle business and civic leader David Whitcomb Sr. (1879-1966) purchased 320 wooded acres above Puget Sound between Edmonds and the King County line from Edmonds pioneer Allen M. Yost (1856-1915). He paid approximately $90,000. Whitcomb later added 80 more acres for a total of 400.
Whitcomb had come from Massachusetts in 1909 to assist with his father's business ventures in Seattle. The son became a property developer, investor and civic leader. His search for further opportunities attracted him to undeveloped lands outside Seattle. One account tells of an office employee who wanted outdoor work. Whitcomb suggested he search property north of the city. The young man returned with enthusiastic descriptions of wooded acreage above the cliffs south of Edmonds. An equally enthused Whitcomb made the purchase and proceeded forward, but plans to develop a community were delayed by events surrounding World War I.
The only existing structure was the Brown Owl Lodge, a tavern which became Whitcomb's temporary home as he built Westwold, a sandstone mansion on broad lawns that looked west over Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains. Those grounds eventually held a swimming pool, polo grounds, a private airport, and provisions for livestock. Whitcomb "wished to be surrounded by friends and acquaintances who had the same love of the country" and within a few years he subdivided the larger area and sold valuable plots throughout the woodlands (Woodway Centennial Committee, 11). The purchasers refined their acreage and built substantial houses.
Deed restrictions required that pieces of property contain at least two acres with setbacks for houses and street design. Permanent buildings had to be 50 feet from property lines and 100 feet from streets. Utilities were underground. At the time of incorporation, revisions permitted some one-acre and one-third-acre lots; there have been occasional adjustments over the years. The 2019 Woodway website suggests that most of the early homes were "modest" and cost around $3,000 to build, but Woodway was soon regarded as upscale and exclusive.
Homes for Prominent People
Prominent early settlers, many of whom moved from Seattle searching for a quiet and culturally refined life, included people of note. They built substantial homes and developed grounds and gardens. They included the granddaughter of Seattle pioneer/founder Arthur A. Denny, and Boeing president Philip G. Johnson (1894-1944). After his death the Johnson property was sold to Woodway's most distinctive group, a community of Dominican nuns known as the Congregation of the Holy Cross; the estate became known as Rosary Heights. As the number of sisters dwindled, the property was sold in the early twenty-first century. The renowned artist Morris Graves (1910-2001) built a home in Woodway where other artists gathered. Photographer Mary Randlett (1924-2019), married to original town council member Herbert Randlett, lived in Woodway for a time.
Driving through Woodway 60 years after its incorporation one could easily comprehend the village that David Whitcomb envisioned. Woodway Park Road, a two-lane arterial, winds gently through wooded areas past narrow lanes and driveways that lead to estates the driver can only imagine. Boaters and ferry riders on Puget Sound to the west glimpse white mansions that appear above the cliffs. Other well-landscaped homes appear on spacious lots along the main road. In 2018, the cameras of Google Earth Pro depicted a community striking for its verdant green color that outshone surrounding neighborhoods. The abundance of trees and lawns linked by winding roads was striking. Fine homes peeked out among the foliage.
But Woodway also contains less opulent neighborhoods, some dating to postwar growth in the 1950s. In 1970, some townspeople contended that "the typical resident is a doctor, engineer, or teacher" (Aweeka, p. D-6). More recent homes line conventional streets suggestive of affluent suburbia. Woodway takes pride in its walking trails and several small parks, including the preserved second-growth forest in Woodway Reserve. Play equipment, tennis courts, and swimming pools are also located on private grounds or in neighboring towns.
'Rural Family Living'
In 2019 Woodway's population was overwhelmingly white, at 86.1 percent. The median age of 45 was considerably above the state average, and almost all of the adults had a high school or higher education. The estimated median house or condominium value in 2016 was more than $1 million, almost three times that of the Washington state average. The crime rate was low.
No conventional businesses existed although some individuals were licensed to work from their homes. Woodway contracts with nearby entities for police, firefighting, and other services. Neither the former nor present elementary and high schools that include the Woodway name have been in that town; they are nearby in Edmonds.
Much of Woodway's history has involved protecting its residents and its way of life from encroachments of expanding residential neighborhoods and even industrial sites. As the population grew slightly, its official code status was raised to "city" status in 1986 ("Woodway -- From Its Beginning"). In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Woodway and neighboring communities felt threatened by proposals for a large residential development at the former industrial site of Point Wells, which bordered Woodway on Puget Sound but was accessed only from King County. After litigation and mediation, by late 2019 an agreement seemed to be in the offing while public input continued.
Woodway incorporated in 1958 in order to protect its natural properties and a lifestyle recently described as "its original concept of rural family living" ("Woodway -- From Its Beginning"). Sixty years later a comprehensive plan continued to honor "a vision based on respect for nature and a belief in a quiet natural environment," even while providing necessities for 1,350 residents. Within its wooded, natural atmosphere Woodway residents seek to find a balance between material comforts while they enjoy life in -- as the town motto suggests -- "The Quiet Place."