On October 11, 1907, Index becomes a municipal corporation of the fourth class following its October 1, 1907, incorporation vote and election of the town's first mayor, treasurer, and five councilmen. Index, a small (2019 pop. 175) eastern Snohomish County community, is bordered on its south side by the North Fork of the Skykomish River. Platted as a town on April 25, 1893, it was supported by mining, logging, quarrying, and recreation in its early development. In 2019, recreation provides the only economic base for this popular destination for kayakers, rafters, hikers, and mountain climbers who scale the 1,307-foot massive granite wall behind the town, as well as nearby mountain peaks soaring above 5,500 feet.
Skykomish: the Tribe and the River
Index is located on the North Fork of the Skykomish River one mile northeast of U.S. Highway 2 and 36 miles east of Everett. For thousands of years prior to settlement by European immigrants the Skykomish Tribe had a village near what eventually became the townsite. They fished, hunted mountain goats and other game, and thrived through deep knowledge of the terrain, its flora and fauna. The tribe had a well-used trade route to the east side of the mountains that was followed as well by miners searching for gold and silver as early as 1858. The 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott assigned the Skykomish people to the Tulalip Reservation on Port Gardner Bay north of present-day Everett. However, many of them, having never been saltwater people, remained instead in their familiar Skykomish valley, a number of miles west of Index in the Gold Bar and Sultan areas.
The town's unique site along the scenic river, with the massive, popularly named Town Wall providing its northern boundary and snow-capped mountains visible both east and west, led it to be developed with an eye toward tourism in addition to logging, mining, and quarrying. It also served as a supply and lodging settlement for Great Northern Railway workers and hundreds of prospectors who trekked east along the river's north fork and its tributaries in search of mineral riches in the early 1890s.
By November 1891 there were enough railroad laborers and miners going through the valley to establish a post office, with Amos D. Gunn (1843-1907) its first postmaster. Knowing that the Great Northern Railway would be coming through the area soon, he and his wife, Persis (1845-1898), submitted the plat for the town, consisting of 10 north-south streets and four east-west streets. With great optimism, the east-west Index Avenue was platted at 100 feet wide as opposed to the others, which were 60 feet. It was hoped by the Gunns that the railway would use that extra-wide street to build a spur line to the mining camps and two small towns (Galena and Mineral City) east of Index, a hope that was soon dashed.
After more than two years of feverish clearing and track-laying in the Index area, the transcontinental rail line was completed on January 6, 1893. The tracks entered town by crossing the river near 5th Street and curved sharply west to continue along the base of the Town Wall. This plat and railroad position enabled the town to prosper, serving the shipping needs of the copper mines, lumber mill, and granite quarry during the early years of development from the 1890s through the 1910s.
The Great Northern depot was built on Index Avenue at the center of town and was served by regular cross-country passenger service as well as by a morning and evening train nicknamed "The Dinkie," which provided service until 1924 between the towns along the Skykomish and Snohomish rivers. Thus, in addition to the freights, there were many trains bringing passengers who made Index their wilderness recreation starting point or final tourism destination. This constant tourism traffic added to the ever changing population of laborers, quarrymen, loggers, and miners, helping to keep five hotels in business at the turn of the twentieth century.
Town Booms with Services, Industry
By 1907 the town held, in addition to the hotels, an assay office, two grocery and mercantile stores, a shoe repair shop, a pharmacy, butcher shop, and three saloons. The barber shop hosted the services of a dentist, and there were two resident physicians. There was a telephone and telegraph company, and its electrician, Dillon I. Van Olinda (1876-1964), also served as a photographer. Several fraternal groups had formed, the largest of these being The Improved Order of Red Men, a patriotic group of Boston Tea Party origin. A spring high on land west of town had been developed into a reliable source of water piped throughout the town and most welcome for fighting fires. The former Index Miner, a weekly newspaper, was replaced in April 1907 by a new weekly, The Index News, and that paper soon began editorials in favor of incorporation. The federal census of 1900 listed a population of 364, but by 1910 that number had grown to 417.
On October 1, 1907, a vote on incorporation was taken by the 64 people in town who were male citizens over the age of 21 and thus eligible to vote. The many recent immigrants, not yet naturalized citizens, did not qualify. Also left out were women, since they were not allowed to vote in the State of Washington on anything but school issues until 1910. John W. Dutcher (1860-1924) was elected mayor with Fred A. Sherman as treasurer, along with five Councilmen: Ole C. Olson, E. D. Phillips, William F. Ulrich, James Taubeneck, and Thomas Oline.
Economic Stabilization, Then Decline
From the earliest days of the twentieth century until its growing decline into the Great Depression of the 1930s, Index prospered with the balance of its four industries: mining, logging, quarrying, and recreation. Fortunately for town history, the photographer Lee Pickett (1882-1959) settled there in 1910 to live out his life recording every aspect of the town's development, including serving as the Great Northern Railway's company photographer. His photo collection resides in Special Collections at the University of Washington's Allen Library, and his former home serves as the Index-Pickett Museum.
Early mining exploration may have concentrated on prospecting for gold and silver, but copper became the ore of economic prosperity. Both the Copper Bell and the Sunset copper mines far surpassed any others in longevity and productivity. The Sunset Mine, especially, attracted men who had families that would live in town while their breadwinners commuted to work seven miles east. It and the Copper Bell prospered during the years of World War I because of the war's heavy demand for copper. However, as demand died down after the war they declined, and by the mid-1930s neither mine was operating.
The small lumber mill directly across the river from town grew into the its largest form as the Index-Galena Lumber and Shingle Company, fed through the harvest of virgin timber. Logs were transported from cutting areas as far as 16 miles east by the Index-Galena logging railway along the North Fork Skykomish westward to the mill. Finished lumber and shingles were then shipped via the Great Northern to towns east and west of Index. This activity lasted until 1929 when the mill shut down because of the decline in the lumber market which began in 1927. An attempt by Miller Logging Company to use the Index-Galena logging railway for further cutting far up the north fork valley between 1936 and 1939 did not pay off. Thus except for occasional private sales from small holdings, logging as an industry ended for Index.
The Western Granite Company had prospered by shipping large building blocks, rough paving stones, and intricately designed, highly polished cemetery markers during the teens and early 1920s. Huge blocks and polished slabs were shipped by the Great Northern Railway to points east as far as Spokane and south to Seattle and Portland. The State Capitol at Olympia was one destination where Index granite became the smooth steps of the main legislative building. However, the company's primary structure, which housed its massive crane, burned in May 1932, leaving large stones in the remains. For a time during the 1940s those stones were ground down and sold as chicken grit, but the quarry equipment was eventually scrapped for its steel. Only the 10 foot diameter circular stone-cutting saw remains, installed in the town park as a reminder of the last heavy industry in the area.
Recreation: the Lasting Economic Power
During the hard times of the 1930s a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp just east of Index provided an influx of young men new to the area to work building campgrounds along the north fork of the river -- an effort that helped maintain and develop recreation as a source of revenue for the town. The route that miners and loggers had traveled east along the north fork became a paved road used by tourists on their way to those campgrounds and farther east to Garland Mineral Springs, a popular resort.
Passenger service to Index by the Great Northern Railway had already ended when the depot was removed and tracks were re-aligned in 1963, so travelers to Index had to brave the two-lane U.S. 2 highway to reach their fishing holes or trails to the mountains, but still they came. In depression, and more recently, recession times going fishing or for a hike or mountain climb remained a low-cost way to enjoy a day or two. Those activities have not stopped. On the contrary, there has been a resurgence of interest in the twenty-first century in saving as much area as possible for wilderness enjoyment.
Wilderness and Trails Abound Near Index
In June 2008 the Friends of Heybrook Ridge, a regional group led by Index citizens, culminated a two year fundraising effort to buy more than 100 acres of forest directly across the river from Index from W. B. Foresters, Inc. in order to give that land to Snohomish County Parks for passive recreation. The Friends were greatly assisted by the Cascade Land Conservancy (now called Forterra), Snohomish County's Conservation Futures Fund, the Leovy family, and by W. B. Foresters, who proved to be strong partners in the effort.
Also in the summer of 2008 Congress designated 106,577 acres in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as the Wild Sky Wilderness Area after a lobbying effort that included many Index residents as well as region-wide support. That land stretches east and north from Index, and a trail from Heybrook Ridge County Park may one day serve as a gateway to the Wild Sky. In 2019 plans were being developed for a trail from Wallace Falls State Park two miles north of Gold Bar to Index. That trail may eventually connect to the Heybrook Ridge trail, providing a hiking corridor from lowlands to upper elevations of the Wilderness.
To the west and north of town visitors are offered a multitude of day-use recreation opportunities on Washington State Parks land designated the Forks of the Sky. These range from river access with picnic areas to the popular Stimson Bullitt Climbing Preserve for rock climbing on the broad expanse of the Town Wall. There is also a hiker's trail to the top of the Upper Town Wall offering breathtaking views of Mount Index and many other peaks in the area.
Tying the past to the present is important to the citizens of Index. The founding family's Gunn House remains a beautifully restored home. The last existing historic hotel in Index, the Bush House, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was being renovated by owners of the only remaining saloon building, the Sunset. With its historic bar and fir flooring polished, it serves as a bistro as well as an events center and headquarters for the owner's Outdoor Adventures rafting, kayaking, and guide business. Once the hotel is re-opened it is expected that this last, but ultimately strongest industry in the history of Index, recreation, will flourish with even more vigor.