Decades before there was a city of Everett, Snohomish County pioneers began farming the lowlands of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Stillaguamish river valleys. Trees were abundant for harvesting, and when land was cleared, the rich soil gave promise to early homesteaders. By the time Washington became a state in 1889, nearly 20,000 acres in Snohomish County were in cultivation and agriculture had become second only to a robust logging economy. Dairy farms grew rapidly from the early 1900s. Washington’s centennial celebration in 1989 included recognizing the state’s rural heritage and, under the direction of Louise Lindgren, Senior Planner for Historic Preservation and Cultural Resources, Snohomish County began a program to honor its heritage farms and barns. Since then, a farm has been honored each year with the exception of 2011, 2020, and 2021.
Originating in the Cascade Mountains, the north and south forks of the Stillaguamish River unite at Arlington and flow into Puget Sound. A vital water route and fishing source for Coast Salish tribes for generations, the "Stilly" held great importance to early homesteaders drawn to the Arlington-Stanwood area. The moderate climate and rich, fertile bottom land were ideal for growing crops and raising animals. A number of Norwegian and German immigrant farmers chose to settle here.
Another area that attracted farmers was the Snohomish Basin, which includes the communities of Snohomish, Monroe, Lake Stevens, and east Everett, settlers choosing property along the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and Pilchuck rivers. The arrival of railroads in the early 1890s not only built towns but expanded market potential for farmers. Dairying became an important part of the local economy, so much so that Carnation built a condensary in Monroe in the early 1920s.
Preserving Rural Heritage
Snohomish County farms have usually been family businesses, some lasting for more than a century, despite challenging changes over time, farmers coping with the effects of both good and bad times. In the 1990s, urban sprawl threatened farming and many small dairies sold to larger operations. County officials have put in place programs to support the agricultural economy.
Farms today still produce vegetables, fruits, nuts and berries, alfalfa hay, and winter wheat. Some farmers operate nurseries and greenhouses for floriculture and aquaculture. Others raise poultry, cattle, hogs, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, ponies, mules, burros, llamas, and produce eggs, milk, and dairy products. Some farmers have found profit in renting out acreage, both to other farmers and for other purposes, such as radio towers. Profit has also been made in marketing the farming experience and agritourism.
An annual program, Focus on Farming, began in 2004 and is a conference held at the Evergreen Fairgrounds in Monroe. The event brings together young and old to share experiences and learn from each other through sessions with noted speakers. All topics related to farming and forestry are welcomed.
In May 2007 the Washington State Legislature passed Substitute HB 2115, which established the Washington Heritage Barn Register to honor and recognize barns as historically significant properties representing the agricultural, economic, and cultural development of the state. The Heritage Barn Grant Program is administered by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. The program supports the preservation efforts of those who own recognized barns and helps to maintain them as significant historic properties. In the early years of the program, 23 heritage barns were listed in Snohomish County, with money granted for barn restoration. A list and the history of each honored Centennial Farm can be found by searching Centennial Farms at the Snohomish County website. The following is a sampling of a few of these farms.
Birkestol Farm (Birch Meadow and Gerritzen Barn) -- 4515 Norman Road, Stanwood, Centennial Farm and State Heritage Barn: One of the oldest barns in the county still survives in 2022, the Gerritzen Barn built by homesteaders Herman and Annette Gerritzen in about 1886. This Dutch Gable barn -- now with metal roofing -- has vertical wood siding. Brothers Ole and Iver Birkestol purchased the property in the territorial period to begin raising 23 Guernsey cows that Ole had shipped by boat from a previous homestead at Lake Ozette. When he died in 1930, his wife Ingeborg ran the dairy farm, marketing products in Seattle through Dairigold. The farm was passed on to daughters Annabelle and Grace Birkestol.
Jensen-Grimm Farm -- 1706 Pioneer Hwy. E, Arlington, Centennial Farm and State Heritage Barn: Thomas Jensen, a carpenter from Lowenstedt, Germany, arrived in the region in 1869 and took a homestead claim in 1878. The farm has received numerous awards, including Dairy Family of the Year in 1968, a Century Farm Award in 1983, the Washington Centennial Farm Award in 1989, and Centennial Farm recognition from Snohomish County in 2000.
Ulrich Scherrer Farm -- 5300 Menzel Lake Road, Granite Falls, Centennial Farm: Ulrich Scherrer emigrated from Switzerland to California, then came north to Granite Falls in 1889 and purchased an abandoned homestead on the upper Pilchuck River. Here he raised vegetables, hay, and potatoes, kept sheep and goats, and operated a dairy. After Ulrich's death, his son, Ulrich Scherrer Jr., continued to run the farm with his wife, Pearl. Today the family still owns and operates the farm but has switched to raising quarter horses.
Smallman Farms -- Tualco Valley Loop Rd and 17506 190th St SE (Frohning Road), Monroe, Centennial Farm: Two farms have been recognized in connection with the Smallman family, both part of a homestead claim filed by Robert Smallman in 1870 in the Tualco Valley, south of Monroe. By 1883 the Smallmans had 60 acres in cultivation and were cutting hay and raising sheep, horses, and cattle. In 1939 the farm began operating as the Frohning Dairy. In 1889 the Smallmans sold 16 acres of the farm to their daughter Margaret and her husband Gerald Schmidt. The couple grew hops and raised pigs and dairy cattle. When the homestead was honored in 2000 as a Centennial Farm, four generations of the Smallman family had lived and worked there.
Getchell Ranch -- 3914 52nd Street SE, Everett, Centennial Farm and State Heritage Barn: The oldest intact farm in the Snohomish River Valley is Getchell Ranch. Situated on the east bank of the Snohomish River, across from Everett's Lowell neighborhood, an 1880-1882 farmhouse built by Martin and Olive Getchell still stands in 2022. The Getchells figure prominently in the early history of Snohomish County. Granddaughter Ruth Alexander built a newer house on the land, behind the original home. After her death, Ruth’s two sons, Everett and Alex, became co-owners, Everett raising cattle on the farm. An agricultural scientist, brother Alex renovated both the old farmhouse and the gambrel-roofed barn, the latter built in 1926-1927. The property continues to be maintained as a heritage farm by its current owner.
Museums to Visit
Snohomish County’s historical museums all contain information and artifacts about local farming, but the following ones have particularly rich collections of agricultural history.
Western Heritage Center, located on the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, is a hands-on museum of rural history. Established by Snohomish County dairyman Jerry Senner, the center opened in 2007 and houses a large and growing collection of old farming, mining, and household equipment. Most are operational, including many vintage tractors. The center is a big attraction for attenders of the annual Evergreen State Fair.
Granite Falls Museum, 109 E Union Street, Granite Falls. Granite Falls is often referred to as the gateway to the Mountain Loop Highway that leads to the site of the old town of Monte Cristo and Big Four. The Granite Falls Museum has materials and artifacts on the area’s logging, lumbering, and farming history. Some of its collections are available online at the museum’s website, including property maps, newspapers, and photographs.
Heritage Park/Alderwood Manor Historical Association, located east of I-5 on the corner of Poplar Way and Alderwood Manor Parkway in Lynnwood. In 1917 the Puget Mill Company began selling logged-off land for residences in a development it called Alderwood Manor. For promotion, the company created a 38-acre demonstration farm that included a hatchery, demonstration gardens, and orchards. Today, Heritage Park sits on 2.8 acres and preserves what is left of Alderwood Manor's past. It showcases several historical properties that were rescued from destruction when the I-5 interchange was built. The Superintendent's Cottage from the demonstration farm houses the local history collection. Heritage Park is maintained by the City of Lynnwood and Alderwood Manor Historical Society.
Monroe Historical Society Museum, 207 E Main, Monroe, is located in the town's old city hall. Much of its collection relates to the pioneering families who built Monroe and ran its businesses, including farms, dairies, and the large Carnation Condensery. Some of the collection is available online.
Stanwood Area History Museum and D. O. Pearson House Museum, 27108 102nd Avenue NW, Stanwood, has an excellent collection interpreting the rural communities of Stanwood and Arlington. Much of the museum's collection is about agriculture, logging, and railroading. The group maintains an excellent archive and library.
Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Museum, 20722 67th Avenue NE, Arlington, preserves artifacts and documents the history of the Stillaguamish River Valley. The artifacts include household, logging, dairy, and farming items, and the collection includes thousands of early black-and-white photographs of the area. The Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Association is Snohomish County's oldest heritage group. Its collection also includes the story of the small rural community of Jordan, near Arlington.