Everson -- Thumbnail History

  • By Kathleen Moles
  • Posted 4/14/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10775

Everson is located in the Nooksack River valley of northern Whatcom County, some 15 miles northeast of Bellingham. The site of a long-established village of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, the area saw settlement by pioneer homesteaders as early as 1858, during the Fraser River Gold Rush, when a community called The Crossing was established less than a mile west of present-day Everson. This settlement relocated east with the coming of the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad in 1891, and Everson was platted not long after. The town was named for its first settler, who had homesteaded the site in 1871. In the early twentieth century, two industries were formed by local residents, both of which grew rapidly and provided employment for much of the population: a cannery and a condensery. They joined already burgeoning timber mills established in the late nineteenth century. The railroad made possible the widespread distribution of local fruit, vegetable, dairy, and wood products regionally, nationally, and internationally, and Everson industries thrived for generations. As of 2014, Everson retained its small-town features with a population of slightly more than 2,500, while still providing native as well as specialty produce to the wider region.  

Early Settlements 

The Nooksack River valley was long the home of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, and the river takes its name from the tribe's -- Nuxwsá7aq ("always bracken fern roots," relating to the important role ferns played in the livelihood of the tribe, as sources of sustenance). The valley was inhabited for generations before the late 1850s, when the first non-Indians came through during the International Boundary Commission survey, the Fraser River Gold Rush, and the extension of the Whatcom Trail (also known as the Telegraph Road) north from Bellingham. Pioneer settlers began staking homestead claims in the 1870s, taming the tall ferns that grew on the prairies, and cutting the massive stands of cedar and fir trees to make way for ranches, farms, and orchards that would provide prosperity for their owners and livelihoods for Everson's growing population.  

Two of the longtime Indian settlements in the area presaged the founding and development of Everson. Less than a mile to the west, Popehómy ("frog, toad place") marked the south-bank crossing of the Nooksack at a stretch of river that provided the best passage on the trail from Bellingham Bay to the north. Trading was conducted by canoe in the years up to and including early non-Indian settlement, as the river provided the most dependable and direct form of transport. The earliest record of a ferry at this site dates to 1857. The following year, a scow was built for prospectors and construction crews making their way northeast from Bellingham during the short-lived Fraser River Gold Rush. Starting in the 1870s, a trading post, drug store, hotel, and post office were built at The Crossing (also called Nooksack Crossing), and with the clearing of two river logjams near Lynden and Ferndale in 1877, steamboat travel on the Nooksack, along with improved roads, led to increased trading, commerce, and population growth. By 1878, a school was established in a split-cedar house at The Crossing, and the community flourished through the early 1890s.  

The second early settlement was located on the site that would become Everson. A major traditional village with its own large communal smokehouse, it was called Kwánech ("lots -- at the bottom," referring either to two fish traps at Popehómy or to a shallow area in the river at this site). When the Nooksack Indian Tribe objected to relocation to the Lummi Reservation, tribal members were allowed to acquire land in the area and were assigned to the Methodist Episcopal Church for mission work. Nooksack leader George Olooseus (Welósius) settled there in the early 1870s and oversaw the area all the way to Deming; in 1876, he directed the building of the first Methodist church and boarding school at Kwánech. By 1888, in advance of the land rush that preceded the arrival of the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad, the traditional Nooksack village was no more. After the railroad depot was built there in 1890, the community at The Crossing moved a mile east to the former village site, which soon acquired a new name: Everson.  

Ever Everson 

Named for Norwegian-born Ever Everson (1842-1915), the first pioneer homesteader on the site, who had settled there in 1871, the town might have been called "Iverson" if not for a clerical error on the government claim deed that misspelled his original surname. However, at least one historian, Lottie Roeder Roth, attributed the name change to patriotism rather than clerical error, writing that Everson was "so enthusiastic an American that he declined to spell his name the Norwegian way" (History of Whatcom County, 944).  

Everson was a beloved resident and benefactor of the community. He was said to have given away some of his land for streets and early development. A logger and rancher, Everson also served as the first road inspector and supervisor of the township. In 1890, the town began to be laid out, as Everson's nephew, Helmer Iverson, helped sell the majority of his uncle's lots to new businesses as well as those relocated from The Crossing. The town was platted on September 26, 1892. (Everson formally incorporated as a town of the fourth class on May 4, 1929, and became a code city on March 17, 1971.) 

Culture in a Rural Setting 

The homesteaders who had settled at The Crossing beginning in the 1860s arrived from many points in the United States, as well as via Victoria, Canada, bringing with them their Scandinavian, Scottish, and other European traditions. Early photographs show elegantly dressed men, women, and children, even in the informal group images captured outside in the muddy clearing near a shingle mill or in front of the trading post or schoolhouse.  

The Crossing was a day's journey via wagon from New Whatcom (later Bellingham). Suppliers of dry goods and provisions arrived at night, hired a livery the next day, and delivered shipments to the stores and orders to the homes.  

By the early 1900s, the restaurant in Everson's Granville Hotel was noted for its French cuisine, and Dr. Bell's drug store was the site of music sessions after hours. The Fite Brothers, carpenters by trade, were a popular string quartet. Several lodges were established, including the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), the Modern Woodmen of America, and the Bachelor's Club, and the Everson Band, founded in 1907 and active through the 1930s, marched in the annual Fourth of July parade that ended at the river with a picnic and fireworks. 

Early Industry: Lumber Mills  

With its abundant dense stands of fir and cedar and proximity to the river, it was only a matter of time before lumber mills sprang up around the area to supply the needs of new construction. Homesteaders cleared their land, nearby Nooksack Mountain was logged, and the region's first local industry was born. Two of the area's early settlers built wood mills; each of these men also owned and operated other businesses vital to the area's economic health. East of The Crossing, pioneer settler C. Stewart Kale (1848-1916) built a shingle mill and established the town of Tuxedo in 1884, locating its post office in his house.  

By 1895, Tuxedo was no longer a town, the post office was closed, and Kale had turned his attention to planting orchards and cultivating berries and vegetables on a large scale. William Moultray (1853-1930), who operated the trading post at The Crossing until it was destroyed by fire in 1887, established the Nooksack Shingle and Lumber Company in the early 1890s; the company provided jobs and industry during the national Panic of 1893, when the regional economy was in a major downturn. South of Everson, a man named Strandell built a mill, store, and workers' bunkhouse that was in operation until about 1917. 

Agricultural Heritage and Innovation  

Everson's agricultural heritage includes a long tradition of Natives and pioneers farming the region's rich soil and ranching and planting on its prairies. While fish and game were important food sources for the Nooksack Indians, they also cultivated root crops such as ferns and carrots, and were among the first Indians in the region to grow potatoes, which they obtained from Hudson's Bay Company trappers in British Columbia. This agricultural expertise within a largely food-gathering economy distinguished the Nooksack Tribe from some others in the Puget Sound.  

Generations later, with the arrival of homesteader C. S. Kale in 1882, the agricultural promise of the area was met by a progressive approach to farming and planting, and Everson was just a few years away from having the first of its two major agricultural industries. At this time, "The only blue sky in sight on a clear day was straight overhead. Nooksack Mountain was hardly known to exist in those days as no one could see it unless he climbed a high tree" ("The Kale Ranch"). By the late 1890s, Kale and his sons had cleared an expansive area and established orchards across the river just south of Everson, marking the beginning of the fruit processing industry in Whatcom County.  

In 1905, Kale helped found the Nooksack Valley Fruit Association in Everson. Renamed the C. S. Kale Canning Company in 1909, the enterprise provided employment for scores of workers from Everson and Nooksack. Kale was described as an innovator "in touch with all the latest experiments in fighting pests and caring for trees" ("The Kale Ranch"), and his prunes, apples, pears, cherries, berries, and beans were shipped via train throughout the region and beyond, including to the East Coast and the United Kingdom. In 1931, the front page of the Everson Valley Home pictured a shipment of Kale Cannery produce that filled 21 train cars and was valued at $65,000. 

Another major agricultural industry was established around the same time in Everson that also provided jobs for residents and a locally sourced product to the wider region. In the early 1900s, residents formed the Nooksack Valley Condensed Milk Company (subsequently renamed the Jersey Milk Company), which was sold in 1909 to the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company, a division of the Carnation Milk Company. By 1910, the condensery occupied an entire block in Everson, and the town was thriving.  

The railroad ensured widespread and dependable delivery of the products, and the small town of Everson played a large role in the distribution of lumber, fruits, vegetables, and dairy to the state and country during the first half of the twentieth century. For many years, the railroad also transported tons of ore from a quarry east of Sumas to a cement plant in Bellingham.  

But Everson's cannery and condensery began to decline with the technological advances of the late 1920s. The invention of the freezing plant significantly reduced the demand for canned produce, and the advent of refrigeration and more efficient distribution of fresh milk diminished the demand for canned milk. The C. S. Kale Canning Company was sold to the San Juan Packing Company, which closed its doors in the 1960s. At the condensery, which reached its height of production in 1920 and transitioned from work done predominantly by hand to mostly machine work in the mid-1920s, the industry slowly faded. The plant was subsequently used as a receiving station, then a warehouse for the cannery, but its days as a major employer had ended. 


While the Nooksack River provided an essential mode of early transport and the location of The Crossing on its banks led to the early population base of Everson, it also caused damage on a regular basis when it flooded and invaded the homes and businesses of Everson. The historical record indicates a significant early flood: "About 1885, was one of the greatest floods in history in the Nooksack Valley. The whole valley was inundated and one could pass from the Nooksack to the Fraser by canoe without a portage. Much stock was lost and great damage done" (Jeffcott, 307). 

Floods were documented in images throughout the first half of the twentieth century, including one that warped the railroad bridge over the river in 1910. One of the pioneer houses was photographed in stages in 1947 as it fell into the river after high waters undercut the banks below its foundation. In 1990, a massive flood caused widespread damage in Everson, Sumas, and Nooksack. In more recent times, the widening of the river bridge span and a levee built where the floodwaters leave the Nooksack River at Everson via a natural overflow route to the north have mitigated flooding, but the possibility remains a continuing concern. 

Everson in the Twenty-first Century 

In 2009, the towns of Everson and Nooksack began talks about a merger, but no further action had been taken as of 2014. Everson's population grew incrementally over the preceding two decades, reaching an estimated total of 2,550 in 2013. 

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Everson continues to provide the region with local, organic, and specialty fruits and vegetables from its rich farmlands. Produce stands, farm centers, and a vineyard and winery carry on the legacy of homegrown abundance. The annual Everson-Nooksack Summer Festival in July celebrates the two small towns' communities with local food vendors and a parade. Everson also plays a role in Whatcom County's annual Ski to Sea Race: the 18-mile canoe leg starts in the Nooksack River at Everson and ends in Ferndale's Hovander Park.

Sources: William Farrand Prosser, A History of the Puget Sound Country (New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903), 175-176, 247-248, 522; Lottie Roeder Roth, History of Whatcom County, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), 428, 813-817, 944; Verna Walker, "Our Little Corner of the Valley," Nooksack Valley Heritage collection, Washington Rural Heritage website accessed April 4, 2014 (http://www.washingtonruralheritage.org/cdm/ref/collection/nooksack/id/249); David G. Tremaine, Indian and Pioneer Settlement of the Nooksack Lowland, Washington, to 1890, Occasional Paper No. 4 (Bellingham: Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Washington State College, 1975), 43-50, 72-83; "The Kale Ranch," Nooksack Reporter, October 13, 1911, p. 1; "Train Load of Everson Canned Products Valued at $65,000," Everson Valley Home, March 13, 1931, p. 1; Marian W. Smith, "The Nooksack, Chilliwack, and Middle Fraser," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, October 1950, pp. 330-341; Lelah Jackson Edson, The Fourth Corner: Highlights from the Early Northwest (Bellingham: Whatcom Museum of History & Art, 1968), 78, 149-150, 240; P. R. Jeffcott, Nooksack Tales and Trails (Ferndale: P. R. Jeffcott, 1949), 300-310, Allan Richardson and Brent Galloway, Nooksack Place Names: Geography, Culture, and Language (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012), 90-95; Anh Do, William Gough, Elizabeth J. Mann, Eric Pyrne, "Floods Ease, But Impact Is Long-Lasting -- Hundreds Remain Homeless; Many Roads Still Closed," The Seattle Times, November 11, 1990 (http://seattletimes.com); Dan McShane, "Everson-Sumas Overflow," Reading the Washington Landscape website accessed April 4, 2014 (http://washingtonlandscape.blogspot.com/2011/05/everson-sumas-overflow.html); Nooksack Indian Tribe website accessed April 4, 2014(http://www.nooksacktribe.org); Mount Baker Highway: A Driving Guide to Washington State Highway 542 (Bellingham: Visitor's Guide Publications, 2012); "Demographics," Bellingham-Whatcom County website accessed April 4, 2014 (http://www.bellingham.org/download/resource_sheets/Demographics.pdf); Rob Piercy, "Everson, Nooksack Consider Merger," August 15, 2009, KING5 News website accessed April 4, 2014 (http://www.king5.com/news/local/59772207.html).

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