Book tells the story of J.S. White, the man who built Snohomish

Released this fall, historian Warner Blake’s “J.S. White, Our First Architect” was a community effort.

“J.S. White, Our First Architect” tells how White’s designs shaped how Snohomish looks, even today. (The People of Snohomish)

“J.S. White, Our First Architect” tells how White’s designs shaped how Snohomish looks, even today. (The People of Snohomish)

Snohomish is one of our region’s loveliest towns — think old brick buildings, big trees, 130-year-old homes — and it is beautiful in great part because people there appreciate its history.

One of those dedicated citizen historians is Warner Blake, whose book “J.S. White, Our First Architect: His Surviving Structures from 19th-Century Snohomish” was released earlier this fall with the help of other Snohomish folks who wanted to see it happen.

If you love this small city or know someone who does, consider this fine art, coffee-table book as a gift, even if it’s just for you.

Blake incorporates outstanding photographs by Otto Greule, a foreword by state architectural historian Michael Houser and research help from local historians David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle. The hardcover book also includes rarely seen historic photos and maps.

It’s a classy production — there are beautiful portraits of the buildings, end sheets just inside the cover that double as a walking map and the cover-to-cover details Blake has gathered.

Blake deftly sets the scene for the reader in his prologue.

John S. White referred to himself as a carpenter and contractor. A native of New Hampshire, he learned his trade in Topeka, Kansas, before making his way to Snohomish in 1884. Picture yourself and your young family arriving on a dreary day in February, disembarking a boat onto a small dock on the Snohomish River in a place surrounded by forests.

White showed up at just the right time.

The logging town of 700 (many employed at the new Blackman sawmill) was on the verge of a building boom. By 1890, about 2,000 people lived in Snohomish, which remained the county seat until the government moved to Everett in 1896.

At one point, White, who also served on the city council, was known as the architect and builder of nearly every home and commercial building of note.

His designs shaped how Snohomish looks, even today. However, White — who died at age 70 in 1920 in his modest house on Avenue H — left little behind but his buildings.

Houser, the state architectural historian, has high praise for Blake, who wrote “Early Snohomish” in 2007, for seven years penned a newspaper column in The Tribune titled “Snohomish: Then and Now,” and since 2014 has offered a monthly blog called “Snohomish Stories.”

What remains of the structures that White built are profiled in the new book and include the Methodist Church (which White finished just a year after arriving), Odd Fellows Hall, the Getchell House, the Elwell House, White’s own modest home, the A.M. Blackman store and house, the O.E. Crossman house, the Burns block and the White Building.

The story of the White Building — the beautiful two-plus story red brick structure at Avenue A and First Street — posed a challenge for Blake. A lot of digging was required. Pieced together from newspaper accounts about the growth of Snohomish, the proof that Blake needed that White indeed designed and built the White Building finally came together with a headline about town council meetings moving to the building in 1892.

“I could have screamed,” Blake said.

It’s been a lot of work, which could not have been done without the help of a core group of people who donated money for the printing of the book, Blake said.

“People pledged, and a year later there was a book,” he said. “It takes a village.”

Some of the people who stepped up to help include Mary Pat Connors and Janet Kusler, Penny and Gary Ferguson, Melinda Gladstone, Karen Guzak, Leah and Shaun McNutt, Denise Johns and Terry Thoren, Margaret and Randy Riddle, and Joan and Mike Whitney.

The $21,000 printing cost of the book is close to being paid off, Blake said.

Every $50 purchase of the book helps take the debt down.

“J.S. White, Our First Architect”

By Warner Blake

$50. 110 pages. The People of Snohomish.

Available online at or from Uppercase Bookshop, open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at Second Street and Avenue B in Snohomish.

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