Paging through town's checkered past
It's not the fame, and it's definitely not the money. A book about Snohomish's earliest days, the result of his work, will net him a paltry 80 cents for every copy sold.
Blake wanted to know. He was fascinated with the origins of Snohomish and the people who coped with the isolation of the frontier. He remembers feeling like he had stepped into the wilderness when he moved to Seattle from the East Coast in the '70s. How, then, would it feel a century earlier to arrive in a place that was little more than a clearing in the woods, to be a settler scratching out the beginnings of a town from nothing?
"I love the notion of what it's like to be in that spot," he said.
Arcadia Publishing recently published Blake's book, "Early Snohomish," as part of its Images of America series.
The author will sign copies at the Waltz Building on Saturday in conjunction with another event, a historic home tour put on annually by the Snohomish Historic Society.
The 127-page book feels like a town scrapbook, packed with black and white photos of early people and places, snippets of letters and early maps. The book chronicles the major events and institutions of public life in the town: disastrous fires and floods, business and industry, schools and other public places.
It also includes some details of a personal sort, the kind that gives a reader a sense of what daily life was like. For instance:
The handwritten newsletter passed among Snohomish's self-named "elite" in lieu of a newspaper.
In 1910, a "Baby Show" at the county fair, where prizes for the Best Baby Boy, Girl, Twins and Fattest Baby were judged by three bachelors.
About the same time, the Saturday-night influx of men from "dry" Everett looking for liquor in Snohomish and the last train back to Everett known as "The Sponge."
The early Snohomish movers and shakers are chronicled here, including Mary Low Sinclair, a teacher who traveled to the area with her husband and eventually owned nearly half the city site. Blake said he gave Sinclair equal billing with founding settlers John Harvey and Emory C. Ferguson, even though others had overlooked her part because she was a woman.
Readers won't find much information about the native people who lived in the area. Blake said little information about area Indians during that era exists in written records. That part of the story is beyond the scope of this book, he said.
Blake unearthed most of the information from area libraries and he plumbed the extensive image collection held by the Snohomish Historical Society.
In some cases, original copies of aging newspapers nearly a century old were still available for him to thumb through.
The book includes some previously unpublished images and memorabilia, including a photo of Sinclair. Blake had a eureka moment when he unexpectedly found it shuffling through a forgotten stack of portraits at the University of Washington Special Collections.
"I actually shouted 'Oh! Bingo!' or something like that," Blake said, punching the air like he did in the too-quiet library.
Blake, 65, has a personal stake in the history of the town. He lives in the old St. Michael's Catholic Church in downtown Snohomish with his partner, Karen Guzak.
The two artists acquired the property at a bank sale in 1993 from a private party and they've since renovated the 7,000-square-foot space into a vibrant home and studio filled with vintage furniture and contemporary art.
The book includes a circa 1915 photo of the church and a more recent one with the couple standing in front of the property, which they call both "AngelArms Works" and the "Church of Perpetual Chores."
This is his first book, but Blake had produced a documentary about Eleanor Leight, a former Radio City Rockette who lived in Snohomish, and a dance troupe she led.
He doesn't, he said, entertain any serious thoughts of writing another.
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or email@example.com
Warner Blake will sign copies of "Early Snohomish" from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Waltz Building, 116 Ave. B, Snohomish.
The book will be on sale for $19.99. Proceeds will benefit the Snohomish Historical Society.
The book also is available at area and online bookstores as well as through Arcadia Publishing, 888-313-2665 or www.arcadiapublishing.com.
The book signing coincides with the annual tour of historic Snohomish homes. Tickets for the home tour also will be for sale. The tour takes place from noon to 5 p.m. and includes seven homes.
Look for more information on the tour in Thursday's Home and Garden section.
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