Marysville -- Thumbnail History

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 7/26/2007
  • Essay 8227
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Marysville is located in the west-central part of Snohomish County, five miles north-northeast of the county seat, Everett.  Although the origin of its name has been the subject of considerable debate, most now agree that it comes from Maria Comeford (1846-1904), the wife of the founding father of Marysville, James Comeford (1833-1909).  Comeford arrived in 1878; the town was platted in 1885, and in 1891 Marysville was incorporated. Long a small town known for its logging industry and later for its strawberry farms, Marysville has experienced rapid growth in the past quarter century, with its population quintupling between 1980 and 2000. The 2000 U.S. Census recorded a population of 25,315, with the town continuing to grow rapidly both in population and area today (2007), aided by multiple annexations during the past decade.

Early Days

In January 1855, Governor Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) and 82 leaders of Puget Sound tribes met at what is now (2007) Mukilteo and signed a treaty between regional tribes, including the Snohomish, Duwamish, and Suquamish,  and the United States government. What became known as the Point Elliott Treaty established the Tulalip Indian Reservation encompassing the region surrounding Tulalip Bay, immediately west of present-day Marysville. 

Soon white traders and loggers began to arrive, and in the 1860s loggers began clearing the hills and flats that make up present-day Marysville.  One of the first loggers was Alexander Spithill, who arrived in 1861; in 1864, a lumber camp called the “Hog ‘Em” camp opened three miles north of what would later become Marysville.

Comeford's Town

In the spring of 1872, James Comeford answered a government appointment to work at the government trading post at the Tulalip Reservation. During the 1870s the nearby mouth of the Snohomish River was the scene of active logging operations, and the Comeford store traded both with the Indians and with many logging camps that sprang up in the area. About 1874 Comeford purchased 1,280 acres of land immediately east of the post for $450 from Truman Ireland, John Stafford, Louis Thomas, and William Renton.

Ireland, Stafford and Thomas had staked claims to the land in the early 1860s and had already extensively logged their tracts, but Comeford spent the next three years logging the remainder of the land before he was ready to move there. By September 1877 he was ready to make the leap, but according to a June 1878 article in the Northern Star of Snohomish, it was the spring of 1878 before he actually did. Comeford built a store on Front (later 1st) Street, not far from today’s Interstate 5, as well as a hotel and warehouse (which were connected to his home), and small dock on Ebey Slough.

Marysville remained a one-man (Comeford) town until 1883, when a few settlers began to trickle in. This trickle slowly increased through the mid-1880s.   In 1884 Comeford sold his store, wharf, and warehouse to two other early settlers in Marysville, Mark Swinnerton (1841-1906) and Henry B. Myers (1859-1906). Swinnerton and Myers ran the store until 1900.

Sawmills and Steamers

Marysville was platted on February 25, 1885, with the plat filed by J. D. Morris and dedicated by J. P. and Maria Comeford.

Growth began to accelerate in the town during the second half of the 1880s.  The first sawmill was built by E. J. Anderson in 1887, with three other mills built by 1890.  By 1889 Marysville could also boast of three stores, two hotels, a school house (and another one east of town), the requisite saloon, and 25 homes with six more under construction. There are no official census figures for Marysville in 1890, but most estimates give it a population of about 200.

During the 1880s and into the early 1890s, Marysville’s principal lifeline to the outside world for both people and products was provided by steamers, a small “mosquito fleet” of ships that plied many area waterways in Western Washington before railroads were built.  These steamers navigated Ebey Slough, Steamboat Slough, and the Snohomish River to the south of Marysville and Quil Ceda Creek to the north -- which in the nineteenth century was a deeper, wider waterway than it is today -- and Puget Sound to the west, stopping at the Indian reservation at Tulalip Bay.

Becoming a City

Eighteen ninety-one was a big year for Marysville. Probably the biggest event of the year was the incorporation of Marysville (as a fourth-class city), approved by the board of commissioners in February 1891, with the official incorporation occurring on March 20, 1891, in conjunction with the first meeting of the city council. Mark Swinnerton was Marysville’s first mayor.

The county bridge over the Quil Ceda Creek north of Marysville was completed by January 1891, making travel easier for settlers who in the late 1880s had settled just north of Marysville in the Kellogg Marsh area. The Great Northern Railway line through Marysville was completed in 1891, and the Marysville depot opened the same year. And although church services had been held by circuit preachers in halls or schoolhouses since Marysville’s earliest days, the first church in Marysville also dates from 1891, when the Methodist Church was built by Reverend W.C. Hockett and dedicated in August of that year. Several social organizations sprang up in 1891, including Ebey Lodge #104 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). 

Marysville’s current newspaper, the Marysville Globe, missed its beginnings in 1891 by just over a month, publishing its first edition on February 2, 1892. The Marysville Globe (later shortened to Marysville Globe) actually replaced the town’s first newspaper, the Leader, which went bankrupt not long after it was established in 1890. But the Marysville Globe has remained Marysville’s hometown paper since 1892, and still publishes a weekly edition each Wednesday.

A New Beginning

The first decade of the twentieth century was kind to Marysville. Its population increased from 728 in 1900 to 1,239 in 1910. The town built its first city hall in 1901, and completed its first water system in 1905 (which proved to be inadequate, and was replaced early in 1922).  Electricity had arrived by 1906, and in an election in August 1906, bonds were approved for the construction of a high school building. (Before that, high school had been taught in the basement of the Methodist Church.) In 1907 Marysville opened its first library and instituted a Board of Health. The Marysville Chamber of Commerce debuted in 1908.

By 1906 Marysville was established as a significant lumber and shingle manufacturing center, with at least 10 mills cranking out more than a million board feet of lumber a day and shipping it from docks strategically located on Ebey Slough.   But by this time farming was beginning to make significant inroads into the Marysville economy.  In particular, by 1910 farmers were beginning to discover that the fertile land was especially conducive for growing strawberries.

Strawberry Fields Forever

In their book, Reflections of Marysville, Maude Barrett and Pat Olson write “The earliest berries rode in on the coattails of the earliest pioneers. (James) Bedford’s berries on Getchell Hill were a novelty that most folks thought would be over after a hard winter or two.”  That turned out to be wrong, and by the 1920s strawberry fields were springing up all through Marysville and the surrounding countryside. At its peak, there were well over 2,000 acres used for strawberry production by a number of small family farms.  Difficulties in marketing the berries led the early farmers to form the Snohomish County Berry Growers Association, a co-op which served the community for decades.

Marysville was soon touting itself as “the strawberry capital of the world” and “the strawberry city.” As the middle of the twentieth century approached, strawberries were known as Marysville’s biggest crop. Then, in 1955, a tremendous freeze wiped out many of the berry farmers, and the strawberry industry in Marysville never fully recovered. Increased residential development in areas that had once been farmland during the final two decades of the twentieth century further diminished growing operations. Today local strawberry production is only a shadow of its former self, although some berry farms continue to operate.

The Marysville Strawberry Festival was inaugurated in 1932 to promote both Marysville and its seemingly endless fields of strawberries.  Despite the decline in Marysville’s strawberry production since the 1950s, the Strawberry Festival has grown from a one-day festival in 1932 to a 10-day extravaganza in 2007. Held during the third week in June, the Strawberry Festival features multiple attractions, topped off with a twilight grand parade on the final evening of the festival.  It is billed as the longest continually running festival in Washington state (although the festival was actually cancelled between 1942 and 1945 because of World War II, and again in 1949 because of a major polio outbreak).

Concrete Sidewalks and Motion Pictures

Marysville moved steadily into the twentieth century, and overall was a quiet, pleasant place to live. In the mid-1910s Marysville built its first concrete sidewalks and, as the automobile became more prevalent about the same time, began paving some of its major streets. One of Marysville’s first traffic police officers -- a certain wooden cop -- seems to have fired the imagination of some of the local citizenry in 1917 and 1918.  He was kidnapped twice from his post, struck and damaged by several automobiles, and once was tossed into the Snohomish River and left to float with the tide.

In 1922 entertainment options increased when both the radio and motion picture arrived in Marysville.  But Marysville also made its own entertainment in the twenties, with “dress up” dances sponsored by the Stuck Up Club at the I.O.O.F. hall. A number of other local clubs also provided social opportunities in the community, and  a bandstand opened in City Park in 1920 provided a spot for numerous concerts during the decade.

Marysville enjoyed a small economic growth spurt during the late 1920s, and was not as severely impacted by the Great Depression of the 1930s as some communities, despite government reports listing Snohomish County as one of the state’s neediest counties.  Barrett and Olson write “The secret . . . [of Marysville’s survival] was that business in town did not depend on one or two industries.” Businesses in Marysville during the thirties included grain mills, a fertilizer plant, a boat works, a tannery, a berry packing plant, and a vibrant farming community, known for producing berries, hay, and oats. The coming of World War II to America in the early 1940s benefited the town economically: In 1936, 82 percent of its citizens had an annual income of less than $2,000; by 1945, this figure had dropped to 45 percent.

Growing and Changing

In 1950 Marysville’s population was 2,259. But the town boundaries remained the same as they had been when they had been platted by James Comeford in 1885.  This began to change in 1954 when the city approved its first annexation, and since then Marysville’s city limits have continued to spread north and east as population and annexation both have surged. 

In the 1960s this growth resulted in a change in Marysville’s status from a fourth-class to a third-class city. But while there were some new, smaller businesses opening in Marysville during the sixties, many Marysville residents found better employment opportunities in Everett and Seattle, and began to become acquainted with what would become the bane of life for many in Western Washington in the last half of the twentieth century: long commutes. The completion of Interstate 5 through Marysville later in the 1960s helped take some of the edge off of long commute times.

More change came to Marysville during the 1970s. A number of old mom and pop businesses in Marysville were replaced by larger chain stores and fast food restaurants, while low-cost housing sprang up in lots that a few decades earlier had been strawberry fields.  But this change would pale in comparison to the changes that would come to Marysville in the final two decades of the twentieth century.

Marysville Today

The 1980 U.S. Census put Marysville’s population at 5,544. It increased nearly five-fold between 1980 and 2000, to 25,315. This growth was caused not only by migration but also by extensive annexation to the north and east -- Marysville’s city limits nearly doubled in size from 1996 to 2006, with 23 annexations occurring between 2000 and 2006 alone -- and the city limits of Marysville currently consist of an area of 8.2 square miles. During the 1980s more old businesses were torn down, others were moved, and some were preserved for future generations to enjoy.  The Marysville Towne Centre Mall opened in the late 1980s.

The approval of casino gambling in 1991 at the adjacent Tulalip Reservation and the subsequent opening of the first casino there in 1992 brought still another facet of life to Marysville. (A new, larger casino -- one of Washington’s largest -- opened at Tulalip in June 2003.)  In August 2005, Marysville opened the Ebey Waterfront Park and boat launch. The 5.4 acre park and boat ramp, built at a cost of $3.1 million, had been envisioned by Marysville citizens for years, and its completion was considered a milestone in Marysville’s ongoing efforts to revitalize its downtown district and make it more pedestrian-friendly.

Sources: Maude Barrett and Pat Olson, Reflections Of Marysville (Marysville: City of Marysville, 1991);  An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties Vol. 1 (Interstate Publishing Company, 1906), 345-348;  William Whitfield, History of Snohomish County, Washington (Chicago/Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), 557-569; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Native American Tribes Sign Point Elliott Treaty at Mukilteo on January 22, 1855"  (by Walt Crowley), (accessed June 11, 2007);  “Marysville, Washington,” Marysville Live website accessed June 11, 2007 (;  “The Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber,” website accessed June 11, 2007 (;  Cathy Logg, “Former Mayor Praises Park Plan,” (Everett) HeraldNet, July 7, 2004, “Strawberry Festival Celebrates 75 Years,” Ibid., June 16, 2006, website accessed June 11, 2007 (;  “Lynnwood Redux,” Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Sunday Magazine, April 30, 2006 (; “New Water System Paying Handsomely,” The Marysville Globe, May 5, 1922, p. 1; Bodette Penning, “Tulalips Get Ready to Open Casino Doors,” Ibid., August 7, 1991, p. 1;  Matt Doran, “Years of Planning, Effort Pay Off as Ebey Waterfront Park Opens,” Ibid., August 17, 2005, p. A-1.

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