Beth Buckley: A family's history in Lowell (Everett)

  • Posted 11/30/2012
  • Essay 10256
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This People's History was drawn from an interview recorded October 15, 2012, with Beth Buckley, whose family was important to the history of early Lowell, Everett's oldest neighborhood. Introductory material was provided by staff historian Margaret Riddle. Planned by founder Eugene D. Smith as a town, yet never incorporated, Lowell was annexed into Everett in 1962. A good deal of its early history has been written about, yet little has been documented about the place from the 1950s to the present. Beth Buckley's reminiscence is part of an oral history project conducted by Margaret Riddle and Lita Sheldon that focuses on this recent history to help celebrate Lowell's sesquicentennial in 2013.

The Buckleys and Lowell

The Buckley family came to Lowell in 1895 from Pike County, Pennsylvania, where they had been for several generations. My great-great-grandfather, Joseph A. Buckley, and his wife, Hannah, and seven children all moved here. A couple of the boys were married, and their families came too. Family legend has it that they came by covered wagon, but it was probably by train. That would've been likely.

They came here to work in logging, because they had six strapping boys and there was a lot of logging around Lowell and Snohomish and up Stevens Pass. They also built homes. For years there was not a block in Lowell that didn't have a Buckley house on it. Eventually they worked at the paper mill, for several generations. In fact, I'm the first person in the family who didn't work at the paper mill. I made a list of all the people in Lowell I was related to the other night and it was about a hundred people. All four of my grandparents had ties to Lowell.

We were a very traditional family -- man works, woman stays home -- although there several nurses in the family before me. My grandfather, Herb Buckley, started working part time at the mill when he was 14. They made a concession for him because his father had been killed in a logging accident. And he retired from the mill in 1965, as the shipping foreman. He worked his way through many jobs at the mill over the years.

I don't know if you're acquainted with Janice Baer. She was with the musicians' local in Everett for years and was good friends with my grandparents. I'm a nurse and shortly before Janice died, she told me a story. The day that my great-grandfather was killed, he and his brothers and these other people were getting into their vehicle to go to work and, I don't know what my great grandmother had been doing, but she came to the porch to wave goodbye. He stopped the vehicle, went up on the porch, kissed her and said he loved her. And he was killed that day, in a logging accident. And Grandma lived in Lowell until 1969 when she died. Grandpa Clarence was the love of her life. That was it. She always talked fondly of him but she never shared that story.

I was born in 1948 and my parents lived with my paternal grandparents, the Buckleys, at that time, in the house that my grandma and grandpa had built in Lowell when my dad was born -- two doors away from my mom's parents. And that was my introduction to Lowell. I can remember back to being 3 or 4 years old, just being at my grandparents, which was always a treat because there was one on each corner. It was a very safe place to be.  There were 26 grandchildren and there was just family around all the time.

Buckley Houses

The original Buckley house that my great-great-grandparents built is on the corner of 2nd Street and Ravenna and it's still standing. It's been changed a little bit and before my great-great-grandparents moved here, they had just built a house in Pennsylvania and my grandma said, "Yes I will move but you must build me a house exactly like this one. " So they did. I have a picture of the one they had in Pennsylvania and they are very similar.

My grandparents, Herb and Ruth Buckley, built 5510 2nd Street in 1923, and it's still standing (in 2012). There are two houses on 2nd Street and Eugene and my great-great-Uncle Frank and Aunt May lived in one of those houses, and it's still there. And the one across the street -- I'm not sure how old it is -- their son Bob and his wife raised their family in that house. I think those are probably the Buckley homes that remain. I can drive through Lowell and remember being in other houses when my aunts and uncles lived there, but that was later on.

A Kid in Lowell

I went to the newer Lowell School, walked up the hill to it, past the site of the old Lowell School. I remember when my dad would pull the "I walked to school in the rain and snow" bit and I told him "Yeah, and I walked 2 1/2 blocks further than you did."But the old one was taken down for the freeway.

We would ride our bikes on the road to Snohomish, or we would ride out the Lowell- Larimer Road to visit people, and we would play in the river. There were a few private farms. My mother's maiden name was Kempma and her parents owned the Grandview Dairy on Lowell-Larimer, almost to Highway 9. It was the first home-delivery dairy in the area, delivering to Lowell and Pinehurst and Snohomish and it lasted until the mid '50s when my great-grandfather died.

I have three sisters, Cathy, Carrie and Chris. I am the oldest, born in Everett General Hospital. My sisters were not born in Lowell because my parents (Mert Buckley and Clara Chester Buckley) moved to Tacoma for my dad's business (an insurance adjuster) for a few years and then in 1964 he bought my grandparents' house that he was raised in. My grandparents couldn't take care of it any longer so they moved into an apartment and we came back.

My dad worked at the paper mill as a very young man, before he went to college and into the service. And when he came back from the service, he got into the insurance business. He stayed in that and retired in about 1975.

You know, one of the jobs my Grandma Buckley had was during World War II, she worked at the post office. Walt and Margaret Johnson were pretty good friends. He was the post master in Everett for years, in the '40s and '50s, maybe up into the '60s. They lived up on 3rd Street

The town was ruled by the paper-mill whistle. It blew twice a day, at noon and at the end of the day, and I remember that my grandmother had lunch on the table and my dad walked about a block and a half home for lunch, then he would go back to work. Then it would blow in the evening and he would go home and dinner would be on the table. The whistle didn't blow in the morning. I think there would've been trouble with that, waking people up so early.The workers in my family rotated through the jobs there. The annual paper-mill picnics were a big deal.

I remember Al Belfeis's Confectionary and Soda Fountain. He had a huge case of penny candy and we'd go down and get floats. It was very rustic, with a card room in the back that I was always curious about. Mr. Belfeis acted very gruff, but he was really a very nice man. But we were kind of scared of him.

We loved to trick-or-treat because we had the whole square blocks of Lowell and my parents would drive us out the Lowell-Larimer Road and we would get pillowcases full. It was great fun. We picked berries. The bus would come and pick us up. We played in the woods, walked on the railroad tracks. There wasn't the kind of traffic there is now. I do remember being in the home of the Chesters, watching my uncle, who was about 17, hop a train to go join the army. It was the '50s and he was a James Dean wannabe. I thought it was very cool.

By the time I really remember Lowell as downtown, we still had Al's, we still had the grocery store, there was the IOOF Hall that subsequently burned down, but second-cousins of mine, maybe even third, owned the grocery store and worked in it. So I have memories of that, doing shopping there. The old post office, the old wooden one, was pretty much a place everybody gathered. It was wonderful.

We were gone from Lowell from about 1950 to 1964, except that we drove to Lowell every other weekend and every holiday. And I spent weeks, months in the summer, with my grandparents. I spent a year living with my grandmother Ruth and grandfather Herb, so that's when I really got to know other people in the community, and two of the women I met in 1956 are still two of my very best friends. One lives in Montana now, but we get together a couple of times each year and call each other almost daily.

Phene Buckley

My Aunt Phene -- she was the daughter of E. D. and Margaret Smith, founders of Lowell -- was married to my Uncle John, who was one of the sons who moved west with Joseph and Hannah Buckley. She's a legend, and she was a legend her whole life. I took piano lessons from her, as did nearly everyone in Lowell and Everett. Her house was fun to visit. Phene and her husband John raised prize-winning dahlias -- the whole yard was full of them -- and they had an alcove in the house that was all blue ribbons from fairs and the different flower shows all around.

She was rather flamboyant. When we used to go to the fireworks displays at (Everett's) Memorial Stadium on the 4th of July, I can remember sitting next to her and being almost embarrassed because I was a pre-teen and she would start speaking in the language of the Snohomish Indians because she and Princess Julia were very good friends. And she was raised by E.D. in that environment. She would tell great stories about her youth and going to the University of Washington. She was on the women's basketball team. She, in much later life, was quite bow-legged and we would help her and it was humorous to see her toddling from the post office to her house. She walked Lowell every day, from her house up into town and back. She was marvelous.

I remember going to her house for things. I didn't really want to go see her then. The house was very old and nothing had changed in decades. Her daughter Margaret died in her mid-20s or early 30s from an abscessed tooth -- it was pre-antibiotics -- and Phene never changed a thing in her room. I would say Margaret died in the late '30s, early '40s, and in the late '60s everything was just the same as when she left it. And I found that kind of creepy. I would go down there, knock on Aunt Phene's door. She was a little hard-of-hearing and slow. I knew she was there and I'd knock on the door and didn't know which was better. If she came to the door I would have to confront all the unpleasantness (of the house) or if she didn't come to the door, that would be a really bad sign. So I was glad when she did. We would play with her cat and the piano and for several years, every time I would come to town, I would go down there and play the piano. I took piano lessons from her, starting the year I lived with my grandparents.

Others Remembered

I do remember (librarian and Lowell historian) Hazel Clark. I don't remember anything specific about her, but knew she was involved in some of the things my great-grandma and grandma were in, like the Ladies Aid Society, the Birthday Clubs, the IOOF Hall, the Rebekah Lodge, DeMolay -- the Lowell groups.

Then there was Dick Frazer, Dick's Auto Repair. He was my grandpa's cousin. Their mothers were sisters and Archie Frazer and Lizzy Darragh Frazer were part of the exodus west, when they came out West in 1895, and Dick was quite a character around town.

Nursing and Health Care

Nurses in our family, besides me, were Margaret Billings, Margaret Buckley, and May Huntley, and they all became nurses prior to 1940. When Margaret Billings joined the Army in World War II, she served as a nurse on a hospital ship and it was stationed in Okinawa at the time and a kamikaze pilot was right on target, flew right into the operating room. There were six nurses in the operating room and they were all killed. And she was one of them. Coincidentally my dad was in Okinawa at the same time and he was in a Jeep driving somewhere unrelated to the war at that time and he saw the plane hit a ship, didn't know that his cousin was on it. But she was. I have the flag that was on Margaret's casket at her funeral. She was the only woman from Snohomish County killed on active duty in the war. I would love to fly it but I would have to get a bigger house. I would be glad to donate it to the VFW or somewhere else some day.

I graduated from Everett High School and then went to Good Samaritan Nursing and Portland State University to become a nurse. I stayed at Good Samaritan Hospital for about four months, waiting for a position to open up at General, and in January of 1970 I started working at Everett General and I was only there for two years at that time. Being a nurse is highly mobile and I got a job at the University of Washington Hospital and had to go. I had a number of jobs over the years, mainly in Seattle, but in 2000 I came back and worked at Providence General, Colby Campus for seven years and then in Providence Hospice and Home Care for three years until I retired.

I've seen tremendous changes in health care over 45 years. I got the polio vaccine when I was 5 and I knew several people who had polio and one of my everlasting memories of nursing school was that I took care of a woman in an iron lung. She was one of the last people still in an iron lung at that time.

Medications and antibiotics are kind of a double-edged sword because they cured a lot of things but now we have super infections because of their use. Pain medication and procedures have changed. I remember the first patient I took care of for cataract surgery and the protocol for a patient then was that they had to lie flat on their backs with sandbags on each side -- for two weeks -- and now it's an outpatient procedure. You still have to be careful and there's some follow-up, but it's amazing.

There was no pharmacy in Lowell. I think everybody went to Youngstrom's in Everett and that had a tie-in with Lowell because of Dr. Ed Chase. He and my grandparents were in the same age range and social place in Lowell and I grew up hearing stories about him, going into their house.

Lowell's Volunteer Fire Department

A huge part of Lowell was the volunteer fire department, and I don't have a relative who wasn't a volunteer fireman. Seems every event, there were fires. We'd hear the siren and all the guys would get up from their tables and run down the street to the fire department. The Chesters, my maternal grandparents, had a chimney fire and Mom and Dad lived next door to each other in the mid-1930s. They knew each other, didn't really like each other. And then after my dad came home from the army and he was on the volunteer fire department, he responded to the chimney fire at my other grandparents' house and Dad realized they liked each other. They got engaged and got married and they lived together for 52 years.

There were a couple of paid positions on the fire department, but most just responded when there was a fire. I have a picture of me in a hat, in a fire truck, when I was about 2 years old, because both of my grandfathers were in the department; my godfather was the chief of the department. I think that was probably a paid position. That was Don Black, of Judd and Black (appliance store); the Blacks lived in Lowell.

After the Paper Mill

By the time the paper mill closed down, nobody was working there anymore and people were moving out of Lowell. I understand the community pride in Lowell, but to me, it is my history. I moved out in 1969 and so I have a whole different perspective. I mean, I care about Lowell, I still drive through it nearly every day or, at least every time I come to Everett, I take the river road and I like to see the pride people take in it, but I'm sort of a Snohomish girl now. I moved to Machias in 1997 and then into downtown Snohomish in 2007.

My sister Cathy lives in Snohomish, Carrie lives in Marysville, and Chris lives in Everett. I have two nieces and one of them, Jessica, has become interested in all of this since I've been working on the Lowell history committee. She lives with me and she sees all of this stuff. And my great-great-grandma's name was Kitty Darragh Buckley and Jessica's middle name is Darragh, so she has a special affinity to that, and that ties her right in with the Buckley family. That's been exciting. I thought I would pass on my stuff to the museum but Jessica may take a bit for herself first and that makes me happy.

I would really love to see the old mill property developed and when I saw plans for that to become an urban center with a college, condos, shops, I thought that was so cool, but apparently I'm one of the few people who thinks that way. I would love to see Lowell revitalized. I'd like to see it developed into a living community. It is a nice residential area, but it was once thriving with hotels, stores, all kinds of things going on there. It's a beautiful place, but then I'm sort of prejudiced.

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