The Grid: Colby Avenue is Everett’s street of dreams

  • By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
  • Friday, August 3, 2012 8:01pm
  • LifeEverett

A simple silly rhyme got caught in Charles Colby’s head sometime around 1892.

“Everett’s the shortest haul between salt water and St. Paul,” he thought.

One of the founding fathers of Everett — the city was named after his son — Colby decided to use those 10 words to explain why his idea was a plum investment.

In short: A new railroad was coming west. It would hit land here, in Everett. Opportunity would abound.

Colby, the namesake for one of Everett’s busiest blocks, had big plans for the city, Everett Public Library historian David Dilgard said. He envisioned a place where a family could buy a 25-foot lot and find a job, working in a city with a diverse and sustainable foundation made up of shipyards, lumber mills, shingle mills, iron works, smelters.

His industrial dreams were not fulfilled — not in his lifetime.

“All of that went into the dumpster when the panic hit,” said Dilgard.

The Panic of 1893 rocked international markets the year buildings were going up in Everett. Across the globe, industry slowed. The city eventually recovered, but Colby did not.

“The Panic of 1893 killed Charles Colby,” Dilgard said. “He had carefully tried to negotiate challenging economic times, and essentially, he failed.”

Colby died in 1896, but his street — and so, his name — remained. Within a few years, Colby Avenue was one of downtown Everett’s busiest arteries, a title it holds to this day.

Colby Avenue gained an opera house, the Everett Theater, in 1901. The building was the site of stage plays, concerts and movies as well.

It added a presidential visit to its resume in 1903, when Theodore Roosevelt visited, praising the city during a 25-minute speech in front of a crowd of thousands.

“Astonishing,” he said of Everett.

In the 1950s, it was the site of countless teenage rendezvous, thanks to the cruising craze, a legacy that lives on today during the annual Memorial Day weekend event, “Cruzin’ to Colby.”

Many of those teens went to Everett High School, also on Colby Avenue, just north of downtown. The stately school now is on the National Register of Historic Places.

And today?

Today the street is home to churches and banks, to a theater and a barber, a salon and a Starbucks. It’s a place where protestors calmly gather to support the troops on one corner, and ask for their withdrawal on another.

Colby envisioned diversity and balance in Everett.

The street that bears his name has that.

Andy Rathbun: arathbun@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3479

Fun with mnemonics!

Every Monday, we’ll profile a downtown Everett street, as we challenge readers to come up with a mnemonic device to remember their order: Broadway, Lombard, Oakes, Rockefeller, Wetmore, Colby, Hoyt, Rucker and Grand. Reader Donna Green suggests: “By Loving Our Roots, We Can Have Rosy Gardens.” Send your ideas to Andy Rathbun at arathbun@heraldnet.com or call him at 425-339-3479. Top ideas will win a prize.

Click here for previous stories in our series on “The Grid.”

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