Stanwood votes to incorporate on September 29, 1903.

  • By Karen Prasse
  • Posted 11/23/2010
  • Essay 9637

On September 29th, 1903, 74 of the 90 male voters of the district approve the municipal incorporation of Stanwood as a town of the fourth class.  Stanwood is located at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River in Snohomish County, Washington.

In the 1870 U.S. Census there were about 140 people including several Native American women listed as “keeping house” in the U.S. Census of the Stillaguamish precinct in the valley of the Stillaguamish River. There were two “merchants,” one storekeeper, four lumbermen, about 50 laborers, “choppers” and loggers, a blacksmith, a sawyer,  about 15 farmers, a teamster, a cook, and a telegraph operator. The post office was established at the mouth of the river in 1872 and was called Centerville. That year two schools were established, one on the waterfront and one upriver at Florence. 

Clara Stanwood's Town

In 1877 the U.S. Postal Service asked Centerville (alternate spelling Centreville) to rename itself because there were too many communities by that name.  D. O. Pearson (1846-1929) had just leased land for a new two-story mercantile and a wharf from Henry Oliver (1824-1906) who owned a homestead at that location. Pearson had also taken over the post office and it was his commercial venture at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River that fixed the location of Stanwood with his wharf and store.  He renamed it for his wife, Clara Stanwood. 

By the nature of his colorful personality and his role in the general merchandise trade, Pearson often served the early settlers informally as a lawyer, notary public, doctor and dentist.  He was also the Republican candidate in 1890 election for the local State Representative. He lost by only four votes. 

With the excitement and driving force of statehood and in anticipation of the railroad connections, the original Oliver homestead was platted by W. R. Stockbridge (1859-1921) in 1889.  Stockbridge petitioned county commissioners in 1890 to incorporate but apparently did not receive support.  Then in 1892 the small town suffered a major fire followed by the Panic of 1893.  But by 1898 several of its men participated in the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 and came back with money to start a bank and several businesses.

Incorporating a Growing Town

An editorial in the Stanwood Tidings on September 17, 1903, urged taking advantage of the benefits of incorporation.  A town government was allowed to retain 90 percent of all liquor licenses which were otherwise paid to the County in addition to all licenses and fines.  The revenue was needed to protect local interests and would be used to improve the general appearance of the town. The editor urged following the example of Arlington, Monroe and Burlington, other recent nearby incorporations for mutual improvement and protection. 

In 1904 the Bank of Stanwood and the Stanwood Lumber Company were incorporated. The Stanwood Lumber Company took over a small mill to become one of two major mills in the area.  Remains of the second mill, the Hamilton Stack, still exists as a reminder of the community’s mill town past.  The town was growing and an overwhelming majority voted in favor of incorporation on September 29, 1903.

The election for mayor followed and was very close:  D. O. Pearson received 30 votes; S. A. Thompson (1864-1937) 28. Both were mercantile owners.  They only narrowly defeated the town doctor, Dr. D. McEacheran (1860-1925) who had 26 votes.  The sawmill owner, R. J. McLaughlin (d. 1941), received the fewest votes. 

East Stanwood and Its Incorporation

Like many river towns, Stanwood was not situated conveniently for the railroad. The Great Northern Railroad placed its Stanwood depot one mile east, away from the mouth of the frequently flooding river. One mile was a longer distance in those days and near the depot a separate commercial plat was established in 1906 called East Stanwood.  Disputes in the 1910s and 1920s over such matters as the location of a new high school building led to the formal incorporation of East Stanwood in 1922. 

Until then the East Stanwood Commercial Club had “served the community all respects as a council.  It [had] supplied a police officer, street lighting, sanitation and other municipal needs.  These things [had] been financed by voluntary subscriptions with the result that the burden has fallen unevenly ... now the people [felt] that an organized government [was] needed to carry on the administration of local affairs” (Stanwood News, August 26, 1921).  On February 7, 1922  the district voted 88 to 22 for incorporation.  Francis Giard (1872-1956), who owned a large farm southeast of the depot, became the first mayor. 

Among the early agenda items were lighting, movie theater regulations, pool and billiard hall licenses, and a request to change the Great Northern Depot sign from Stanwood to East Stanwood. In 1924 an East Stanwood School District was established from surrounding small communities of Woodland, Norman, and Cedarhome in 1924. With the construction of the Pacific Highway in the 1920s, Stanwood was bypassed by the main road north just as the railroad had done 30 years earlier. 

And in 1925 East Stanwood built its own new school, which became a high school in 1929.  Stanwood students went to the large new high school built in 1939 and the school districts consolidated in 1944. 

Reasons To Consolidate

There were several attempts to consolidate Stanwood and East Stanwood. One attempt occurred in 1954 with Stanwood voters favoring unification. But East Stanwood held on to its independence. However the cost of operating two separate, small, growing, nearby communities was getting expensive. 

Sited in a flood plain, the state health department would allow no more expansion of either community without a sewage treatment plant that neither town could afford. Planning sessions began that included seeking federal funds to construct a consolidated system. A January 1959 editorial reported that an “episode last week saw sewer mains at East Stanwood blow up under explosive pressure when the flow could not clear the line quickly enough” ("It's Urgent"). 

In a Twin City News editorial of August 21, 1958, Editor Cliff Danielson (1922-2009) stated that pollution and sewage were a grave problem and that:

“studies of this problem and of the local water system have been authorized by both towns, but one conclusion already seems obvious: Establishing separate sewage disposal systems would be enormously wasteful, yet a unified system would be difficult to administrate equitably as between the two towns.  Consolidation of the municipalities would therefore be a most logical step at this point” ("Time for Action"). 

From Two Towns to One

Finally on March 8, 1960, voters overwhelmingly supported consolidation.  On May 26, 1960, the Twin City News reported “over 200 Stanwood voters turned out to cast their ballots for the town’s first election as a consolidated community, for a new mayor and for a new town council” ("Stanwood Has First Election; Results Listed"). 

Idan Gilbertson (1909-1997) was elected first mayor of the new Stanwood.  Their first action was to make an official application to the federal government for assistance in the sewer project that the two towns could not afford independently.  A planning commission of nine men was appointed to help manage the setting up of a uniform building code to reconcile the different provisions of the two towns.


"Stanwood Items," Snohomish Daily Sun, November 14, 1890; "Benefits of Incorporation," editorial, Stanwood Tidings, September 17, 1903;  “Incorporation Is Being Considered by East Stanwood," Stanwood News August 26, 1921; “Pioneer Merchant Who Gave Stanwood its name Observes Birthday Anniversary Today” Everett Herald, April 11, 1922; “Time for Action,” Twin City News, August 21, 1958 p. 2; "It's Urgent," Twin City News, January 29, 1959, p. 2; “Towns Vote Overwhelmingly for Unification Proposal,” Twin City News, March 10, 1960; “Stanwood Has First Election; Results Listed,” Twin City News, May 26, 1960, p. 1; “Town, Born Amid Loud Din of Fireworks, Dies Quietly at 38” Stanwood News 1960, Progress Edition, Section 2, August 11, 1960; “Need for Sanitation System Town’s Biggest Problem,” Stanwood News 1960 Progress Edition, Section 2, August 11, 1960; Alice Essex, The Stanwood Story Vol 1 (Stanwood: Stanwood News, 1971), pp. 20-21;  Snohomish County School District website accessed September 2010 (; David M. Buerge and Peter Henning Jr., The Builder: The Life of Peter Henning, 1868-1955 (S.l: s.n, 2003), p. 48; U.S. Federal Census 1870 Washington State, Snohomish County, Stillaguamish Precinct Series: M593, Roll 1683, p. 330.

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