Livingston Brothers Mill (1863-1865), Everett

  • By David Dilgard
  • Posted 9/11/2019
  • Essay 20844
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Harborview Park at 1631 W Mukilteo Boulevard in Everett is a popular place for picnics with an expansive northerly view of Possession Sound, the Tulalip Reservation, downtown Everett, Camano Island, Gedney (Hat) Island, and Whidbey Island. On a clear day the Olympic Mountains can be seen. Below this site, in 1863, early settlers David and Jacob Livingston established the first steam-powered sawmill in Snohomish County. Nine years later Jacob filed the first townsite plat on Port Gardner Bay, boldly naming it "Western New York." The mill was short-lived and the town never happened. Historian David Dilgard (1945-2018) of the Everett Public Library wrote an unpublished history of early Snohomish County mills. His manuscript is now in the library's Northwest Room collection. The following is Chapter 2 from that work. 

Hopeful Ventures   

It was 10 years after the 1853 construction of a sawmill at Tulalip Bay that the county's second such enterprise was undertaken. The intervening decade saw ratification of the Point Elliot Treaty, very gradual commencement of settlement in various portions of the present county and finally, at the beginning of 1861, an act creating Snohomish County as a separate entity, an event which roughly coincided with the outbreak of the American Civil War.

By that time the role the new county was to play in regional commerce was already emerging. It was to be a source of sawlogs for established mills elsewhere on Puget Sound, mills which fed the coffers of the San Francisco lumber interests. Lumber manufacture was attempted at different locations around Snohomish County during the territorial period but until the advent of rail service at the close of that era, mill activity was very limited, the output modest and most of the product locally consumed.

The short-lived milling operation of the Livingston brothers appeared and disappeared during the conflict between the states. It is sadly impossible to discuss it in much detail. While all enterprises of this sort existed in a time that seems all the more remote for the minimal attention it received from contemporary sources, the Livingston mill was located in an obscure spot and was active for only a couple of years. The Livingstons themselves were restless, moving about Western Washington in a way that complicates research concerning them. Even the mill machinery was peripatetic, coming from Bellingham Bay and moving on to Seattle when the venture ended. What we have is a brief incident which left scant evidence for our examination but which is nonetheless of interest to us as the county's first steam sawmill (in fact the first stationary steam plant used for any purpose), a primordial instance of local commercial activity and an indication of the state of industrial technology and the shape of things to come.

A discussion of this episode, which leaves us with certain unanswerable questions, may be opened with consideration of a troublesome one. Why, during a national conflict that tended to inhibit the growth of remote sectors like Snohomish County, would anyone begin a mortgaged sawmill operation in the middle of nowhere? We can surmise that the spirit of enterprise, a conviction that initiative and hard work would prevail, and the heady proximity of a seemingly inexhaustible timber resource may have motivated David and Jacob Livingston. The strenuous efforts of these two pioneers to achieve personal prosperity stretch across Western Washington and the decades, encompassing logging, milling and real estate and extending into the early part of the twentieth century as the elderly pair played out their final years as intrepid miners.

Sketchy details of the lives of the brothers Livingston lead back to the State of Pennsylvania, where David was born on Christmas Day, 1833 and Jacob in June of 1837. Both were still residing in Perry County, near the Susquehanna River north of the Blue Mountains, when the 1850 Census was taken. In 1853 David came west to Washington Territory and on the 17th of February in 1857 he married Miss Mary Renton at Port Orchard. He was practicing law at Port Madison in 1860. Jacob left Pennsylvania to seek gold in California, arriving on Puget Sound around the time of the outbreak of the Civil War-- he doesn't appear in the 1860 Census of Washington Territory.

By all accounts vigorous and enterprising young men, David and Jacob formed their "Snohomish Mills" company in 1862 or 1863. They mortgaged a 160-acre claim and everything on it to Charles E. Richards, who in turn provided them with "a certain Engine Boiler and Appurtenances" valued at $1200. Richards, in partnership with John G. Hyatt, had used this steam engine at a Bellingham Bay coal mine. The mortgage document, dated October 31st, 1863 can be found in Snohomish County Records Book A, pages 10-13, and it states that a sawmill was being erected at that time on the Livingstons’ land. Writing in 1914, Tulalip Reservation Superintendent Charles Buchanan mentioned that the brothers "began it in the fall of 1862 and had it ready to run by the same season of the next year." We know the mill was operating before the end of 1863 because a letter from Dr. Henry A. Smith to the Seattle Gazette in December of that year comments on it:

"Three miles up the Sound from the Snohomish (river mouth), Mr. David Livingston has erected a steam saw mill and is sawing out from ten to twelve hundred feet per day, he has a steamer the 'General Mead' (sic) which tows logs, runs errands and accommodates the settlers with as fine lumber for building as ever a carpenter's saw sung a duet on."

Smith's comments confirm the mill location as Section 35, Township 29 North, Range 4 East, along the southern shore of Port Gardner Bay. Today a park occupies most of the land to which Jacob Livingston eventually obtained legal title, a parcel of 27.75 acres that was part of the 160-acre tract cited in the mortgage document. The mill itself must have been built below the bluffs, close to tidewater. A small stream flows northward into the bay near the eastern boundary of Jacob's land and would have offered a gully for convenient skid road access when yarding logs from the hillsides south of the mill site.

As Smith mentioned, the Livingstons had a small steamboat that served general duty on the bay and nearby river, towing sawlogs, fetching supplies and delivering lumber to local customers. This loyal workhorse was named General Meade after the commander of the Union Army's volunteers from Pennsylvania, the Livingstons' home state. Meade's victory at Gettysburg in July of 1863 may have provided the inspiration to confer the honor.

Though the General Meade delivered lumber to settlers in the immediate vicinity, there weren't enough of these homesteaders to create much demand for building material -- Snohomish County had perhaps fifty non-Indian inhabitants at the time. From the beginning the Livingstons' ambitions reached well beyond the meager market of Puget Sound settlements. They planned to ship a substantial portion of their product to San Francisco, though it meant competing with much larger, established mills across the sound. They hired the bark Mallory for this purpose, a ship which had been plying the coastal trade since the 1850s.

On one of her voyages for the Livingstons the Mallory began to take on water near Cape Flattery and was beached at Neah Bay. The windfall of lumber wound up in many buildings thereabouts, but this stroke of good fortune for the Makah tribe helped seal the fate of Snohomish County's first steam sawmill. The large mills like Pope & Talbot's had a reserve of capital, their own marketing connections and their own ships. The Livingstons could not afford to lose either their cargo or their carrier. Foreclosure proceedings were carried out in 1865. The mill machinery was sold to satisfy the mortgage.

The engine and boiler were eventually shipped to what is now West Seattle to be used in the Freeport sawmill erected by J. R. Williamson near Duwamish Head. One of Williamson's partners was Charles C. Phillips, who had played a major role in the Tulalip mill company of 1853.

With the foreclosure, David Livingston seems to have left Snohomish County for good. His death in Seattle, on February 5th, 1913, was noted by Pacific Northwest Quarterly as the passing of an authentic pioneer.

Though the brothers failed to gain ownership of the full 160-acre parcel used to secure the mortgage, Jacob Livingston did wind up with title to a portion of that claim and in July of 1872 he platted it as "Western New York," the first townsite plat on Port Gardner Bay. As with the steamboat, prominent figures were chosen as namesakes, but this time no Union generals were honored. Obviously favoring a generous reconciliation with the South, Jacob named his streets after Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and presidential candidate Horace Greeley, whose platform was most conciliatory toward the defeated Confederates. The gully on the eastern edge of the plat was called Livingston Street.

This venture into real estate promotion was not a success -- the Panic of 1873 ensued and only two lots were sold. Twenty years later it was re-platted as the Port Gardner Syndicate Addition, but again urban development was not to be and the plat was vacated. The land eventually fell into the hands of the railroad and saw use for many years as an oil storage facility. Owned today by Burlington Northern (BNSF), most of this property adjoining Mukilteo Boulevard is leased to the City of Everett as Harborview Park.

Vestiges of Jacob's attempts to boom a townsite on the south coast of Port Gardner Bay can be found in Greely (sic) Street, which was continued south into an adjoining plat and survives to this day as a suburban residential street, and in Livingston Street, which can be found on maps as a dedicated but undeveloped thoroughfare which roughly follows a creek bed. Inexplicably, the name Livingston has not been applied to the stream, which has been known as Maple Heights Creek and, more recently, as Glenwood Creek, names derived from comparatively recent real estate developments.

Jacob Livingston's name has stuck, however, to the bay adjoining his Camano Island homestead. Twenty miles north of the steam sawmill site, Livingston Bay is at the head of Port Susan, just south of the claim of 159.5 acres taken by Jacob shortly after the sawmill venture. He moved to Ellensburg in the early 1880s, found his way to Seattle following Washington statehood and came back to the Everett area when the imminent arrival of the Great Northern Railway triggered a development boom there. With the recession of 1907 he returned east of the Cascades to the mining village of Swauk where he ran a grocery store and served as postmaster when he wasn't looking for gold. Active to the end as a placer miner, he died on May 22, 1916, at Liberty, in Kittitas County.

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