Bothell -- Thumbnail History

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 6/12/2003
  • Essay 4190
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Loggers founded the King County community that became Bothell in the 1880s. After the trees were cut, Bothell became a farm community on the highway between Seattle and Everett. After World War II, the community grew into a suburb as homes took over the farms and dairy pastures. Between 1950 and 1992, the city expanded and the population multiplied 25 times. By the end of the twentieth century, Bothell reached out of King County and had become the third largest employment center in Snohomish County.

The earliest known residents of the Sammamish River and what would become Bothell were a Native American tribe that called themselves s-tsah-PAHBSH or "willow people." These were members of a larger group called hah-chu-AHBSH or "people of the lake" and the Duwamish Tribe. The Willow People built a permanent settlement of cedar longhouses they called tlah-WAH-dees along a river the Americans would call Squak and Sammamish at the north end of Lake Washington. The Americans called the river and the tribe variously Sammamish, Squak, Simump, and Squowh. The willow people lived off fish from the river and the lake, wapato bulbs, berries, waterfowl, and other animals. Winters, they stayed close to the longhouses, but summers they ranged up and down the shores of lakes and rivers to gather their livings. Historian David Buerge estimates that the tribe, along with a related group upriver, numbered between 80 and 200 individuals.

Although poor, the willow people were apparently aggressive. One account has them staging an abortive raid by canoe on tribes of the lower Skagit Valley. They paddled their shallow-draft river canoes into Puget Sound as far as Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, but the raiders' canoes swamped. The force had to build rafts to get back to the mainland and then walk home.

This was in about 1832, when the Hudson's Bay Company built its trading post at Fort Nisqually. The willow people were so forward in their contact with the whites that it was some time before the Canadians understood that this tribe was actually a subgroup of the Duwamish people.

After the treaties with the United States in 1854 and 1855, war broke out between the natives and the whites. Indian Agent David Maynard (1808-1873) tried to persuade the Willow People's leader Sah-wich-ol-gadhw to go to Seattle, but the chief declined. Some of these tribe members were known to have joined in the attack on Seattle on January 26, 1856. After the war, the tribe was removed with the assistance of lumber mill owner Henry Yesler (1810-1892) to Fort Kitsap and the Port Madison Reservation. Descendants of the willow people lived on the Suquamish and Tulalip Indian Reservations.

Early Settlers

The Sammamish River -- also called Sammamish Slough and Squak Slough -- remained unoccupied until the summer of 1870 when Columbus S. Greenleaf and George R. Wilson filed claims and built cabins. By 1876, eight families had settled along the banks of the river, which meandered between Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington through marshes.

That year, Canadian lumberman George Brackett (b. 1842) purchased the first several parcels timber and he launched a logging operation. He floated his logs into the river from the north bank of the river (at the later 101st Avenue NE) and the logging camp became Brackett's Landing.  A Mr. Allen built a store and in 1885, residents built a school. A sawmill rose at Brackett's Landing in 1887. Logging would be a mainstay of the community economy until the early 1910s.

Bothell's Bothell

In 1885, Brackett sold 80 acres to Pennsylvanian David Bothell (1820-1905) who built a home into which he took in boarders. When the house burned down, he constructed the Bothell Hotel. Bothell sold his first building lot to Norwegians Gerhard Ericksen (1860-1920) and his wife Dorothea. Ericksen became the local postmaster on May 25, 1888. When asked what the post office should be called, Ericksen said, "There are so many Bothells in town and that's a good name, so let's call it Bothell" (Evans, 1).

In 1888, Seattle entrepreneurs Daniel Hunt Gilman and Thomas Burke built their Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad through Bothell to the coal mines in Issaquah. The railroad depot was at first a boxcar a little down the river at Wayne. In 1890, the structure was loaded onto a flatcar and deposited on the south bank of the river at Bothell. As everywhere else, the railroad was a boon to the growth of Bothell and the town grew along Main Street and along 1st Avenue.

Some early businessmen platted a town called Winsor and one called Huron, but these never got off the plat stage. On April 25, 1889, David Bothell filed a plat with the territorial government for the town of Bothell. By that time there was the Bothell Hotel, Ericksen's store, John Rodgers' American Hotel (and saloon), Edward Adams' meat business, and lumber and shingle mills.

Ericksen's store failed during the panic of 1893, but he went into business during the hard times constructing a water flume to transport cedar bolts (short logs for shakes) to the river. The seven-mile flume allowed some logging operations to keep going and it helped get Bothell through the lean years of the 1890s. Ericksen later built another store and represented the area in the State Legislature.

Over the River and Through the Woods

As early as 1867, farmers transported produce down the Sammamish River in boats to Seattle. Some rowboats and scows were 50 feet or more in length and could carry two tons of cargo. The round trip from Issaquah to Seattle might take 10 days under human power. Beginning in 1874, the 44-foot steamer Minnie Mae began serving Bothell and other Lake Washington communities from Union Bay (near the future University of Washington) in Seattle. 

Water transportation was important to the community, even after the arrival of the railroad. It was possible, when the water was high enough, to travel by steamboat, rowboat, or barge from Issaquah to Seattle. A steamboat trip from Seattle's Madrona neighborhood to Issaquah took 14 hours, with a meal stop in Bothell. Water was the principal means of moving logs to mills along Lake Washington and as far away as Seattle. Sometimes passengers were asked to move to one end of a boat and then the other to get across logs that blocked the channel.

In the 1910s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers straightened the Sammamish's meanders and channeled it deeper to control flooding. The river stopped being a factor in transportation in 1917 when the level of Lake Washington dropped about nine feet with the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

The Red Brick Road

In May 1913, with Gerhard Ericksen's help in the Legislature, a highway was completed from Seattle through Lake City and Kenmore to Bothell and Everett. Four miles of the road from Kenmore to Bothell were surfaced in brick. Ericksen was a champion of good roads in Washington. He thoughtfully sponsored the Thistle Bill to eradicate prickly plants from the sides of roads where motorists might have to relieve themselves in the dark. Bothell Mayor S.F. Woody was arrested that month for exceeding the 12 m.p.h. speed limit on the bridge over the river. In court, he argued that there was no instrumentation to accurately document his speed. The case was dismissed, but Woody was warned by the judge to observe the speed limit.

The automobile and highways shaped the culture and the economy of Bothell from 1913 on. Motor stages competed with the railroad to carry passengers. In the 1910s, most logging operations wound down and the lumber and shake mills closed. The economy of the town shifted from logging to agriculture and produce was carried to Seattle by truck rather than railcar. Between 1900 and 1920, the population of Bothell hovered around 600. In the 1930 and 1940 enumerations, the population was about 800.

After World War II, the automobile and improved highways allowed people who worked in Seattle or Bellevue or Everett to live in Bothell and in other suburbs. Housing developments sprung up around Bothell beginning with Stringtown on the road to Woodinville. In 1950, about 1,000 people lived in Bothell. Over the next 50 years, the city would extend its boundaries and the population would jump to more than 25,000.The completion of Interstate-5 and Interstate-405 accelerated the shift from farming center to suburb. As the Puget Sound economy grew in the l980s, more jobs evolved in Bothell, making it an employment base again.

Growth and Civic Life

Bothell incorporated as a city of the fourth class on April 14, 1909, and the first mayor was David Bothell's son George. The first bank opened in 1908. A disastrous fire on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1911, destroyed 10 businesses and other property. This spurred the City Council to organize a volunteer fire department and to impose fire codes for new construction. The motorized fire cart arrived in 1916 and was available to battle blazes in Bothell and in neighboring communities.

In 1902, badman Harry Tracy escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary and killed six men in a crime spree in the Northwest, including a sheriff's deputy near Bothell. When Seattle Police Officer W. I. Smith was appointed town marshal in 1911, the newspaper promised, "From now on there will be no more running of stock at large, no more violating the bridge ordinance [speeding] and no more lawlessness of any kind."

The mayor ran the city government until a change in the City Charter in 1973 put a city manager in charge. After that, the mayor was elected by other at-large City Council members and the City Council hired the city manager. Bothell slowly grew over the years by annexing adjacent areas. In 1992, the city doubled in population by annexing Canyon Park to the north, which included some of Snohomish County. Bothell became the third largest employment center in Snohomish County, underscoring the shift back to a place where people both lived and worked. For a time in the 1990s, jobs grew faster than population.

In 1990, the University of Washington opened one of its branch campuses in Bothell at the Canyon Park office development. The branch, along with the new Cascadia Community College, moved in to a $300 million permanent facility in 2000. The campus took over the old Richard Truly farm, recently the planned site of a shopping center. The UW branch campus marked a societal shift in the way it served college students who had job and family responsibilities and commuted to classes.

Passenger traffic on the railroad (operated by the Northern Pacific after 1901) dwindled until passenger service ended altogether in 1938. Freight traffic declined too with the end of coal mining and the line was abandoned in 1971 to become the Burke Gilman Trail for cyclists and hikers.


Jack R. Evans, Little History of Bothell, Washington (Seattle: SCW Publications, 1988); Guy Reed Ramsey, "Postmarked Washington, 1850-1960," Microfilm (Olympia: Washington State Library, February, 1966), 607-610; David Buerge, "Indian Lake Washington," The Weekly, August 1, 1984, pp. 29-33; Sarah Lopez Williams, "Small Places Hit By Growth Too," The Seattle Times, January 15, 1997, p. B-1; Clayton Park, "Truly Site In Limbo Again As State Ponders College Site," Puget Sound Business Journal, February 26, 1993, p. 16; Fred Klein, comp., Slough of Memories: Recollections of Life in Bothell, Kenmore, North Creek, Woodinville, 1920-1990 (Seattle: Peanut Butter Press, 1992); Amy Eunice Stickney, Lucille McDonald, Squak Slough, 1870-1920: Early Days on the Sammamish River, Woodenville-Bothell-Kenmore (Seattle: Friends of the Bothell Library, 1977); Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1929), 856-861.
Note: This essay was corrected on June 1, 2015.

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