Jordan -- Thumbnail History

  • By Janet Oakley
  • Posted 6/16/2010
  • Essay 9415
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The little settlement of Jordan, Snohomish County, is set in a rural and picturesque valley on the south fork of the Stillaguamish River. Named for the hometown of an early pioneer, it lies halfway between Granite Falls and Arlington. Once a farming-mining-sawmill town, today it is home to a small community of homes and farms. The Jordan Swinging Bridge, maintained by Snohomish County Parks, gives access across the river for picnicking and fishing where an early pioneer’s homestead once stood.

A River Runs Through It

For centuries, the area along the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River was well-known to the indigenous Stillaguamish people after whom the river was named. They called the South Fork Chawitch and the area up to Granite Falls Achalitch, meaning “swifter falling water.” The people on this river were achalitch ubsh (Bruseth). The river provided abundant runs of salmon and steelhead and a way to travel, and the area's high hills and thick forests gave them the means for shelter and additional food.

There are varying accounts of when Jordan was settled by whites. The Alaska, Washington and Oregon Gazetter 1905-1906 states that it began in 1881, but two of the very earliest pioneers in the area were Carl Olson and his widowed daughter, Elizabeth Mathieson, who arrived around 1886 or 1887. They settled down on wide river-bottom land in what would become Jordan. Then, for reasons no one knows, they took on the last name Hamilton. Soon they became known to everyone along the river as Old Man Hamilton and Lizzie Hamilton, though the father apparently disliked his new name. Homesteading a half-mile down river was Hans Lund, and a mile farther on, W. R. Robertson made his own claim. All came at the same time as the Hamiltons, but their claims were filed a few years later.

The Holmstads: Pioneering Family of Jordan

Probably no one family had more influence on the Jordan area in the early days than Elias Holmstad (1837-1922) and his sons, Ole Eliason (1865-1953) and Oluf Holmstad (?-1940). Natives of Norway, they came to the United States in 1883 and moved to Minnesota, where the father farmed for about five years. Then they came to Snohomish County. In the spring of 1888, they followed a river trail up from present day Stanwood to the Forks (now Arlington) and onto the South Fork of the Stillaguamish, which they crossed by canoe. Guided by notches on trees, they followed a hacked-out river trail that led them into a forested valley.

The first settlers they met were Robertson and Lund. The Holmstads decided to make claims after Oluf convinced his father and brother that the forbidding hills and forests were assets. Elias staked a claim of 160 acres that included land on both sides of the river. Oluf took the south side of the river, and Ole took the east and up. Then in wet, windy weather, they built a temporary rude shelter of boughs and lived in it until they constructed a small split-cedar house. Two months later, fire destroyed that, but the Holmstads continued on.

Store, School, Church

The year 1888 saw an explosion of claims around future Jordan, with some men bringing their wives and children. Among them were Ole Erickson, Jens G. Helseth, the Ellingsen family, and another Holmstad son, Edward. More followed the next year, including Henry Fingarson, his wife, Sarah, and their children. Fingarson bought a portion of Oluf Holmstad’s homestead, where eventually a footbridge across the river would be built.

Living was rugged. Simple round-log cabins were put up for housing. The river provided fish, but staples had to be brought up-river from as far away as Stanwood. Ole Erickson got the idea that he would put up a store and hired brothers Ole Eliason and Oluf Holmstad to help him pole the large rowboat he bought in Stanwood. Unfortunately, it overturned in rapids near the mouth of Jim Creek and all the freight was lost. It would be a few years before a store would be set up in the Fingarson log home.

In 1890, the growing community built a footbridge “across the river at the high point of the bluff and east of the” present day bridge (Emma Eliason). Elias Holmstad was able to build a new three-story dwelling for his 12 children and the three he and his wife, Olava, fostered. The increased student population called for a school, and in 1891 the families petitioned the Snohomish County Superintendent of Schools for a school district of their own. The Jordan school opened in 1893 in a shack on Oluf Holmstad’s property. Attending were four boys, one girl taught by one female teacher who was paid $45 a month.

A Lutheran church was also organized during this time, and it appears that the early congregation met in homes. When the first frame school house built, the church bought the log cabin that had housed the school.

Ivar Olson's Mill

A year after the school opened, Ivar Olson arrived from Minnesota on the advice of Ed Holmstad. He set up a water-power sawmill in a canyon near Jordan.

“This mill was a great convenience for the settlers, as up to this time and for a few years later, everything had to be ferried in by canoe. Most of the buildings were constructed of round logs. Now it was possible to line the old homes insides and out with clean smooth lumber and to have real flooring to walk on” (Verd).

Such an operation called for better access over the river. In 1896 a “wire foot bridge” was swung across the river, funded by subscription (Verd). Its footprint would remain in place all the way down to its current manifestation as the Jordan Swinging Bridge, part of the Snohomish County Parks.

A Name and a Post Office

In 1900, the population around the swing bridge totaled around 50, enough to warrant a post office. It was established in Harry Fingarson’s large frame house where he had a store that sold cigars and tobacco. Fingarson was postmaster, his wife was assistant. But first they needed a name. A meeting was called to choose it, and after some discussion it was decided to take Mrs. Charles Lundberg's suggestion to name it after her hometown in Minnesota -- Jordan. The postal officials in Washington approved, but somewhere along the line the name was first spelled “Jorden,” which remained on maps of the area up through the 1920s. Nevertheless, as of April 24 1900, the settlement of Jordan had a name and post office. The first postal carriers were Hans Lund and Ole Erickson.

The post office continued until 1908, when the road to the Chappell Bridge over the South Fork near Granite Falls was so improved that a Star route was created. The carrier could go around in a complete oval to Arlington. The post office was discontinued, but the name stayed. Still, it was not an easy route. It was long one over barely passable roads with deep ruts in the spring, heat and dust in the summer, and snow and ice in winter. The postal service directed from Washington, D.C.  that all mail boxes along the route were to have numbers. Emma Elisason, granddaughter of Elias Holmstad, wrote that it was “the least of many harrowing problems and one they settled with dispatch by giving everyone the same number!” (Emma Eliason).

Jordan Cemetery

Tiny Jordan put down more roots when a group of men gathered together on April 9, 1907, to form the Jordan Cemetery Association. At this meeting, they discussed where to put their cemetery. Old Man Hamilton was already the first of the early settlers to be put into the ground, and his daughter, Lizzie Hamilton, wanted to sell one acre of her land where her father was buried. Jacob Peterson offered to donate an acre of land located on a hill at his place, but the men finally settled on Charles Johnson’s proposed cemetery plot of more than an acre.

Each man gave $2, and to pay for his individual burial lot. Most of them donated their labor to prepare the grounds. After that, lots were sold to other people. In 1913, the cemetery was enclosed with a fence. Today, it is peaceful ground off the Jordan Road.

Zinc and Coal

Homesteaders in Jordan cleared land and created farms, but as early as the 1890s, mineral deposits, especially coal, were found around the settlement. In about 1900, Soren Bergeson from Darrington prospected mineral deposits about 1,000 feet north of the swing bridge. A group of investors that included Neil Brown, Charles D. Morrison, N. K Tvete (who owned the first store at the Forks -- the future Arlington) and L. O. Stubbs incorporated the Washington Zinc Company on June 22, 1903, with 100,000 shares at $1.00 a piece. Its purpose was to sell ores and metal products and to acquire water rights for mining and smelting purposes.

They appointed Bergeson as resident manager and prospector. They drove a tunnel into the hill and took out a several wagonloads of ore that was deemed of good quality. But poor roads hampered transport, making it costly. The mine was worked on and off for 10 to 12 years before its buildings were abandoned. Marilyn Christianson remembers her mother telling her that sometimes there were dances in them during the Depression. She did some sleepovers there as a girl.

Coal was also prospected. In August 1918 a group of investors incorporated the Jordan Valley Mine. C. J. Chamberlin, J. Wichser, and B. E. Padgett were the board of trustees. After several years of building shafts, bringing in machinery, installing air pumps, and an investment of $100,000, only a few thousand tons of coal were mined. Again, great promise, but difficulties is getting the coal out. Bad roads and having to rely on the swing bridge to carry coal over the river to the main road simply did the company in. Locals recall going over to one of the shafts after the mine closed and digging coal for fuel on their own.

Jordan Chugs Along

For years after losing its post office, Jordan remained listed in the Polk Directory, but it was dropped in the 1920s. The town acquired a new store during this time, not far from the swing bridge, perhaps in anticipation of all the business the coal mine would bring. A widowed woman everyone called Mrs. Juliusen ran the store in the front room of her house. She kept milk cows in a barn behind her home and often had to leave the store to go milk them. Marjorie Kosky recalls that the store sold not only gas and sundries, but groceries as well. By the 1990s, the store would be all that remained of the original farming-mining-sawmill town. At that time, the owner held a contest to raffle off the store, but ultimately it was sold and is now a private residence.

Jordan got electricity around 1913. It was “brought across and under the river to us, providing we purchased an electric stove” (Emma Eliason). In 1920, Chris Carlson built a sawmill on a tract of land in Jordan belonging to Hans Lund (1858-1938) and that caused a stir when he didn’t pay Lund’s indebtedness to a second party. He promised to pay Lund $7,000, but two years later Lund sued him to “keep defendants from interfering with ... a certain saw mill situated upon the lands described in the complaint ... or interfere with removing or touching the lumber situated in one car upon the tracks of the Hartford and Western Railway Company, at Granite Falls” (Lund v. Carlson Complaint). Twenty-five thousand cedar and fir poles were left on the land. The case was resolved in Lund’s favor. Land and timber seem to have been Jordan’s most profitable assets, although another business was a still that someone ran out of one of the neighborhood chicken houses.

Jordan after World War II

During the Depression and World War II, Jordan settled down into a community that relied mostly on its farms. The sawmill behind the store burned down in the 1930s, the main jobs in logging -- when there were jobs -- went to the mills around Granite Falls. The mines sputtered out. The school closed when Jordan became part of the Arlington School District and students were bused into the town. Holiday cabins brought in tourists, but all enterprise other than farming seemed to cease.

Yet for those who lived in Jordan before and after the war, life was good. In the summer, families gathered for picnics on the river bank under the swinging bridge, or swam at the local swimming hole. In 1949, the Jordan Church was built on property donated by Ole Eliason. It offered Sunday school and services. Then things began to change.

From Farms to Trailers

The original Elias Holmstad homestead straddled both sides of the river. After the family grew up, the children were given portions of it. Son Ole received land on the south side of the river where the swing bridge connected the community. It was at this time that he changed his last name to Eliason (son of Elias), following a Norwegian custom. Eliason operated a dairy farm there for many years and was member of the Snonomish County Dairymen’s Association. His son Ted continued on into the 1950s.

After Ted died in 1962, the place was sold and became the Jordan River Trails, a development that offered a community clubhouse. Margie Chamness Gosky, whose family had rented the Eliason farmland at $25 a month for many years, got an offer to become a member of the development on March 21, 1967. They were invited to buy a lot with amenities attached, and were offered a $400 discount on the purchase. It must have felt strange, for although the old farmhouse remained on the property, double-wide trailers and a clubhouse soon appeared. Changes continued, with further development occurring downriver. Some began to long for the old days.

The Jordan Picnic

In 1981, Gosky organized the first Jordan Picnic. Its purpose was to “get together and visit" (Margie Gosky letter). The picnic was held at Forest Park in Everett, and 81 people showed up.

Several more picnics were held in parks around Snohomish County, the last in 1992 at the Pioneer Hall in Arlington. Among those attending were the Lunds, Lundebergs, Eliasons, Engstroms, Harry Yost, Iona Hart family, Wendell Edwards and his brothers, the Chamness family, and the Dergance sisters, Rose, Judy, and Molly, who had lived across the swinging bridge in the 1930s.

Today, Jordan remains a beautiful wayside community hidden from the main traveler hustling up to Darrington or passing to the south from Arlington. You have to know your way there, but once found, it is a gem of a place on the east bank of the South Stillaguamish. 

Sources: Will H. Verd, “The Founding of Jordan,” Arlington Times, August 20, 1942, p. 1, 2; Nel Bruseth, Indian Stories and Legends of the Stillaguamish, Sauk and Allied Tribes (Nel Bruseth, 1950; County Superintendent’s Annual Report, ESD 189, Box 1, Multiple Series, Snohomish County Public Schools;  History of Snohomish County, Washington ed. by William Whitfield (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926); Alaska, Washington and Oregon Gazetter and Business Directory (P.L. Polk & Company, 1901-1902), p. 532; Emma Eliason, “The Early History of Jordon River Trails,” private manuscript in possession of Lundberg family, Jordan, Washington; Hans Lund vs Chris Carlson & Emma Carlson, Snohomish County Superior Court Journal No. 20473, June 25, 1920, Northwest Regional Archives, Bellingham, Washington; Janet Oakley interview with Marjorie Kosky, April 12, 2010, Bellingham, Washington; Margaret Riddle, email to Janet Oakley, November 07, 2010 in possession of Janet Oakley, Bellingham, Washington; Janet Oakley interview with Marilyn Christianson, December 10, 2008, April 3, 2010, and November 22, 2009, Jordan; Janet Oakley interview with Bill Lundberg November 22, 2009, Jordan; Janet Oakley interview with Margie Kosky, April 11, 2020, Bellingham; Margie Kosky to Janet Oakley, April 19, 2010, in possession of Janet Oakley, Bellingham.

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