Century-old blades from shingle mill found

ARLINGTON — The confluence of the north and south forks of the Stillaguamish River was a favorite camping spot for Coast Salish people traveling in their dugout canoes. It’s where some of the first settlers opened a general store and a hotel for prospectors and loggers. And it was there that the production of shingle mills put Arlington on the map of the new state of Washington.

A bit of that history remains.

A few months ago, an Arlington public works crew was working a maintenance job at the city’s storm water outfall pipe south of Haller Park. There they pulled two pieces of metal sticking out from the banks of the Stilly.

It didn’t take Mike Wolanek but a minute to realize what he found were shingle mill saw blades, each weighing about 30 pounds. Round, rusted and long buried, the blades were found near the crumbling foundation of a former shingle mill.

“At first I wondered if the metal was part of some sort of old gate to keep the river out of the pipe, but when I saw the teeth, I knew it was a blade,” Wolanek said.

By the 1890s, the river confluence was home to at least three shingle mills. Historical photos show cedar logs lining the river bank near the railroad trestle. Shingle mills continued to be a big part of the local economy when Arlington was incorporated in 1903 and some kept running until after World War I. By the Great Depression, the mills were gone and many people were out of work.

Some people in town believe that at some point Arlington was known as the “shingle capital of the world.” However, Everett Public Library’s in-house historian David Dilgard said that might be apocryphal.

“Shingle mills were enormously important to Arlington, but mills in Ballard and in Everett were producing much more,” Dilgard said. “I am glad to hear that the city has found those blades. They are the implements of a vanished way of life. It’s tremendous.”

City officials believe that the saw blades that Wolanek found are about 100 years old and were used by the Brown-Kunze Co. Shingle Mill, the last remnants of which are a foundation in the woods with a maple tree growing in the middle.

The foundation is adjacent to the city’s Old Town Wetland Park, constructed two years ago as a way to clean the storm water runoff flowing from downtown Arlington. The blades eventually are to be displayed at the wetland park.

Wolanek and his colleague Bill Blake surmise that the mills were built close to the river for easy access to floating logs as well as river water, which was boiled to provide steam power for the mills.

“People dumped all sorts of things over the banks of the river,” said Blake, who is the natural resources manager for the city. “We decided to rescue the blades to preserve them and use them for educational purposes.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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