Interurban trolley helped shape Snohomish County

  • Fri Aug 20th, 2010 8:07pm
  • News

By Debra Smith Herald Writer

EVERETT — We might have I-5 to zip southward, but think about a century ago.

Thick trees and rough country stretched for miles between towns. A trip to Seattle usually meant catching a ride on a Puget Sound steamer.

Everything changed in 1910 with the completion of an interurban trolley line that stretched between Everett and Seattle.

The interurban line did more than make Seattle a convenient, affordable day trip.

It sped and shaped development as homes and small ranches sprung up around the line. It’s the reason for neighborhoods such as Beverly Park and Pinehurst. By the time it shut down in 1939, homes and businesses had multiplied along the route, helping form communities we know today as Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood.

“The interurban opened up areas between Everett and Seattle,” said local historian Dave Dilgard.

A century ago, electric trolley lines were the height of modern transportation: clean, efficient and relatively cheap. Seattle already had a line running to Tacoma.

In Everett, the trolley line was run by a private company. It got its start at the corner of Pacific and Colby avenues. The dispatcher’s window, now painted blue, still is visible on that building today.

Riders could take the trolley around town from Colby to 41st Street down Broadway and back on Hewitt Avenue.

It also went out of town southbound, along what’s now the paved interurban trail near I-5. Once it reached north Seattle, it headed through the Phinney and Greenwood neighborhoods, through Fremont Avenue to Westlake Avenue where it ended by what’s now Westlake Center.

There also was a spur line that carried passengers to Snohomish.

The first official day of operation was described in a newspaper story from the May 2, 1910, Everett Daily Herald. The reporter described the ride to Seattle as “thoroughly clean and comfortable.”

Developers took out full-page ads in the newspaper encouraging people to buy land near the line to build their new homes. “Now is the time to buy real estate in Everett or vicinity” one ad touted, offering tracts from $240 each, payable in terms of $25 or $10 per month.

In Everett, the trolley became a practical ride for students and workers. Many longtime Everett residents today fondly remember special trips to Seattle.

The trolley cars, produced by Niles Carbody Works, were a classy ride with leather seats, stained glass and mahogany-lined walls, said Cheri Ryan. She and her brother, Kevin Stadler, have written a book about the history of the Interurban trolley line that’s set to be released in May.

The lines only known remaining trolley, after serving as a diner and later falling into disrepair, was restored and is now on display at Heritage Park in Lynnwood.

The automobile and Seattle’s decision to end its streetcar lines eventually put an end to the trolley line, Stadler said. Instead, a fleet of buses with more flexible timetables hauled people to Seattle. Or, people took their cars up the newly completed Highway 99.

Everett’s newspaper recounted the final run from Everett to Seattle Feb. 20, 1939. A 50-piece Veterans of Foreign Wars band sent it off. Not long after, the line was dismantled.

As the Herald put it then: “Another monument to man’s winning of the West will be hushed.”

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197,