The thing about history: I keep learning | HIstory Files

By Tim Raetzloff | Aug 16, 2019

On Facebook, Seattle Vintage and Seattle Vintage Plus specialize in old regional photos and, of course, some not-so-old photos and some grumbling about the way things used to be.

Susan Nix, the administrator of Seattle Vintage Plus, posted a photo a few weeks ago and asked if anyone knew where the oldest house in Washington was located. I had no idea, but I guessed that it would be in southwest Washington. That was the area that had grown first as settlers moved north from Oregon. Of course, at that time this was all Oregon.

Settlers worked their north on the Columbia River, and then the Cowlitz River, as they worked north along what we now call the I-5 corridor. Old settlements like Woodland and Monticello were there, and both were settled early. Other folks traveled by ship and settled places like Seattle, Bellingham, Port Townsend, Port Madison, and Port Gamble.

It turns out that the oldest house, and also the oldest brick building in the state, are both in Bellingham. I had no idea. The oldest house is famous for an additional reason. The house is called the Pickett House, after its first resident. George Pickett was charged with building a fort at Bellingham. He also built himself a house.

The name George Pickett may ring a bell with even very casual observers of history. Pickett was a young army officer in 1856 when he built the house. Seven years later, he would become famous – or notorious – at the Battle of Gettysburg, when his division was slaughtered on the last day of the pivotal battle, forever known as “Pickett’s Charge.”

Pickett isn't the only Civil War officer to spend time in Washington. First Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens was a Union general. He was killed at the battle of Chantilly, Virginia, fought just days after the second battle of Manassas.

Gen. George McClellan was in Washington in the decade before the Civil War. He was here to scout a route for a transcontinental railroad. This was a decade before the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads began to build from Missouri to California.

McClellan determined that Snoqualmie Pass, the lowest Cascade Pass, was unsuitable for a railroad. Based on that report, the first two railroads created to travel to Puget Sound went over higher passes, Stampede and Stevens. It wasn't until the Milwaukee Road arrived in the early 20th century that a train finally used Snoqualmie Pass.

Some reports contend that another notable Civil War general had something to do with the Military Road that traveled from the Presidio in San Francisco to Puget Sound, but the claims are open to question. Ulysses Grant is reported to have built the road, but he resigned from the army in 1854, and the road wasn't completed until 1858, two years after the famous battle in Seattle illustrated the need for the route.

Construction in California had begun earlier at the time of the Mexican War. It is possible that Grant had something to do with the California portion of the road, since he was certainly in California at the time, but he couldn't have built the Washington portion.

The Military Road did certainly have an influence on Snohomish County, however. Cadyville was founded at the location where it was believed the Military Road would need to cross the Snohomish River. All locations further west were too swampy for roads and bridges of the era.

A further advantage was that the location of Cadyville was far enough upriver to avoid attack by the Royal Navy. It was expected that the road would continue north to the fort that Pickett built in Bellingham.

As it happened the road was not continued to Bellingham, but evidence of the old Military Road is abundant in south King, Pierce, and Lewis counties. Oh, and if you don't recognize the name Cadyville, you do know the location.

The name was changed to Snohomish, and it was the second county seat in Snohomish County.


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