SNOHOMISH – Two families settled near the Snohomish River in the county’s early years. They cleared the land in a valley and thrived on the fertile soil as farmers.
They sent children to the same schools, served in community groups and developed a rapport and mutual respect. They have helped to shape today’s Snohomish Valley, where small airplanes fly out of an airport and cornstalks dominate the landscape.
The Harveys “are wonderful people,” said Cliff Bailey, a former Snohomish County councilman.
“We have a great deal of respect for the Bailey family,” said Kandace Harvey, the owner of Harvey Field.
But like any old friends, they sometimes disagree. They hold different views on the future of the valley.
The Harvey family is trying to thrive in the sky. The family wants to expand the 148-acre airport just south of the river to meet growing demand for service.
The Bailey family is trying to thrive on its agricultural roots. The family raises corn and vegetable seeds. It wants to keep its farmland fertile for future generations.
The Baileys believe the airport expansion will result in building on the land and make flooding from the river worse, sending more floodwater to adjacent properties. They’ve seen floods wash away good soil.
“If we lose our soil, we’ve lost everything,” Bailey said.
The Harveys say whether the expansion would make the flooding worse is unknown.
“It’s unfortunate we live in the same valley and this issue comes up,” Harvey said.
John Harvey dreamed of hitting a jackpot. The young sailor traveled from England to San Francisco during the Gold Rush in 1849, said Donna Harvey, a great-granddaughter.
John Harvey didn’t make a fortune, and he moved to Seattle and then to Snohomish in 1859. He married and raised a son. The family settled near the Snohomish River, on which logs were transported. The family cleared acres of wild land with oxen and began a farm with fruit trees; later, it added dairy cows.
Snohomish, the first county seat of Snohomish County, was just starting as a town around the river.
Three decades after John Harvey’s arrival, A.M. and Ellen Bailey settled near the river. The newlyweds emigrated from England to build a better life in the United States, said Cliff Bailey, the couple’s grandson. The Baileys began a dairy farm.
Like other farmers, the two families helped each other, clearing the land with dynamite, said Donna Harvey, 69, and Cliff Bailey, 79.
As the families milked cows for a living, Snohomish grew into a local economic hub. A sawmill, slaughterhouse, hotel and baseball field were built near the river before World War II, Harvey said.
It was logical to build an airport in the industrial area in 1945, Harvey said. The county’s first airplane flight had taken place on the Harvey family’s property in May 1911, less than eight years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Harvey said the family closed its dairy to focus on the airport, partly because her grandfather, Noble Harvey, was retiring, and her father, Eldon Harvey, had health problems.
Living with the river
When it floods, the Snohomish River is unforgiving, said Barb Bailey, a daughter-in-law of Cliff Bailey.
The Baileys have seen their share of the devastation that the flooding causes. In 1935, a flood washed away the topsoil on three acres of the family’s property. The family tried every method, including compost and manure, to make the acreage productive again.
But more than 70 years later, corn still can’t grow well there, Cliff Bailey said.
“Original soil is irreplaceable,” he said.
The Baileys stopped operating their dairy business in 1992 because of low milk prices, as did many other dairy farms in the county.
The family’s old barn doesn’t store much hay any longer. It’s now a place where children play basketball.
The Baileys now own about 400 acres in the area and make a living out of niche agriculture, selling compost and growing corn and vegetable seed and raising heifers.
The agricultural land is the family’s roots and the future of Snohomish County, where housing and economic developments keep replacing farmland, Barb Bailey said.
“Why not enjoy what we got here and make the best out of it?” she said.
The Harveys see the growth in the valley in a different light.
More people means more demand for service at the airport. People are waiting for hangar space, and as an essential public facility, the airport needs to grow, Kandace Harvey said.
The airport expansion hinges on federal flooding regulations, for which Snohomish County is considering changes.
The Harveys own about 260 acres, about a mile away from the Baileys’ property.
The Harveys always have loved airplanes, Kandace Harvey said. Eldon Harvey was a solo airplane pilot. His son Richard Harvey was a licensed pilot, she said.
The family is trying to expand its tradition of flying, Kandace Harvey said.
“What we are doing is nothing new. It’s a continuation,” she said.
Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@ heraldnet.com.