House histories just waiting to be discovered

In the first moments of 2009, my boy and I stood on our front porch listening to the thunder of distant fireworks. He clanged pans together to celebrate, for the first time, being up past midnight on New Year’s.

I didn’t remember until the next morning why it was so fitting to welcome this particular year in that particular place. My old American Foursquare-style house, in Everett a mile north of downtown, turns 100 this year.

On the first day of 2009, it also dawned on me that last January I talked about having a New Year’s party this year to celebrate the centennial of chez Muhlstein. Oops, sorry. I forgot to invite anyone.

Anyway, I didn’t want to jump the gun. I wasn’t certain it was time for a 100th birthday party. Not long after we bought our house in 1985, my husband did some research into its past. After he died, I couldn’t find the information he’d found. I remember him saying the house was built in 1909, but the year isn’t on the loan paperwork. On Friday, I decided to find out for sure.

I started with the Everett Public Library’s Web site, which has a section with tips for researching a home’s history (

The site suggests looking at the Snohomish County Assessor’s online records, which provide information about ownership, value and, according to the library, a “guess date” of when a house was built. “The date is frequently incorrect, so you will want to match this information with what you learn from other resources,” the library’s Web site said.

David Dilgard, a history specialist at the Everett Public Library, said I shouldn’t necessarily trust the assessor when it comes to the year my house was built. According to Snohomish County, my “dwelling” was built in 1910.

“For the period after World War II, the county assessor’s dates are pretty reliable,” Dilgard said Friday. “The county didn’t always keep track of construction dates on houses. The further back you go, the more likely they are to be in error,” he said.

Dilgard sent me to a more reliable source, the Everett Public Works and Engineering Department. “The Everett city water system existed before there was a city,” he said.

At Everett Public Works, permit tech Ginny Boersema helped me view microfiche of the water hook-up application for my house. The Everett Railway, Light and Water Co. application is dated Feb. 25, 1909, and lists the homeowner as C.P. Spriestersbach, who shelled out $8 the day the application was stamped “paid.”

Dilgard said Spriestersbach was a “prolific home builder in the city. He had lots of different architects designing for him.”

Spriestersbach never lived in my house. His family home, a Rucker Hill showplace with a roof made to resemble a real thatched roof, is on the National Register of Historic Places, said Melinda Van Wingen, another Everett library historian.

At the library’s Northwest Room, Van Wingen helped me look up W. J. Brier, who was listed on the water application as Spriestersbach’s 1909 tenant at my house.

Learning about my home’s first resident was worth the search. Warren Judson Brier was once head of Everett High School’s English department. He wrote several plays and books, including “Twenty-five Lessons in Citizenship.”

When he died in 1928, his obituary in The Everett Herald described him as “the only Everett man listed in Who’s Who in America.” This gets better, for me anyway. Brier’s sons, Royce and Howard, were both writers, according to biographies on file in the Northwest Room.

Howard Brier wrote children’s books, including “Phantom Backfield,” “Backboard Magic” and “Shortstop Shadow.”

And Royce Brier? He was a journalist, a newspaper guy — quite a newspaper guy.

“He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1934 for his coverage of a grisly incident in San Jose,” Dilgard said.

Yep, I checked.

Royce Brier, listed as living in my house in Polk’s Everett and Snohomish County Directory in 1910, won the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for reporting, journalism’s top prize. He wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, and was honored for his account of a lynching of kidnappers in San Jose, Calif., after they had been jailed for abducting a merchant’s son.

Those Briers could write. They weren’t much for kitchen or bathroom remodeling.

Happy 100th birthday, old house. After a wonderful century, you need a little work.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

House history

The Everett Public Library has tips and online resources for learning about a home’s history. Go to

The Snohomish County Assessor’s records also provide information on ownership, value, and a “guess date” of when a house was built. Go to

The Everett Public Works and Engineering Department has microfiche records of water hook-up dates for Everett homes. The department is at 3200 Cedar St. in Everett.

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