Snohomish County history tours optimized for your smartphone

GRANITE FALLS — Swiping through pictures on a smartphone screen, the story starts to come together.

The drive-in restaurant on the corner of Stanley Street and Granite Avenue sits on property that used to be the town’s hardware store and blacksmith shop. The rebuilt brick restaurant and wooden tavern across the street used to be a pool hall and hotel, before two separate fires claimed them. Flames also torched the second story of a retail building cater-corner to the restaurant. At the time, it was a hotel that catered to visitors and businessmen in the bustling railroad town.

The evidence of this town’s legacy of railroads, mining and lumber may seem hidden under paved roads and new or remodeled buildings. However, the historical society here wants people to have the community’s history at their fingertips.

The Granite Falls Historical Society works with the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau and other history groups to string together snippets of local lore that can be read, viewed or listened to using a smartphone, tablet or computer.

It’s an effort to reach a wider, younger audience and spark renewed interest in local history.

It all started in 2007 when the new Granite Falls museum opened. Volunteers set up a system that let people dial in numbers on museum exhibits to get more information. The county tourism bureau teamed up with the society in 2010 to start developing tours, and by 2011 there was one for downtown Granite Falls, the Mountain Loop Highway, downtown Snohomish and county aviation attractions, including the Future of Flight Aviation Center, Harvey Field and the Arlington Municipal Airport.

“Armed with thousands of pictures, detailed maps showing all locations, and a virtually unlimited amount of potentially entertaining and embarassing personal and political information, we owed it to ourselves to make it all available in a form appreciated by our mobile society,” historical society volunteer Fred Cruger said in an email.

People can stand in front of a modern building, trail or park and read about its history, view old photos and listen to a description of the site and its past. A program that started with four tours has grown to nine, and the newest tours reach beyond history to focus on children, shopping and farming.

In the last four years, the tourism bureau has added an Everett, Edmonds, kid zone, shopping and farm trail tour. The Everett tour is of historic downtown, and the Edmonds murals tour includes more than a dozen murals and other attractions like the ferry terminal and underwater park. The kid zone tour includes attractions for children throughout the county, such as the Outback Kangaroo Farm in Arlington, Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett, the Reptile Zoo in Monroe and Jetty Island. The shopping tour has four stops in various cities, and the farm trail tour takes visitors to more than 20 locations, including pumpkin patches, fruit farms, produce markets and alpaca ranches.

More than 5,000 people have used the mobile tours in the last year, Snohomish County Tourism Bureau Director Amy Spain said. The most popular are the Mountain Loop and the historic downtown Everett tours. The tours are part of a strategic tourism plan that calls for using mobile technologies to reach visitors, Spain said. The Edmonds murals, kid zone, shopping and the farm trail tours were added in 2013. Existing tours also have gained new locations, information and photos, Cruger said. The Mountain Loop tour was recently updated to include the newly reopened Suiattle River Road.

One of the originals, the historic Snohomish tour boasts 18 sites. It starts at the visitor center and loops along the Snohomish River and through downtown.

“The nice thing is with minimal walking, you can get a nice overall picture of the history of the town,” said Warner Blake of the Snohomish Historical Society.

The tour is full of little-known facts about the city, he said. For example, most people know that Snohomish was the county seat in the late 1800s. But, Blake said, fewer people know that Snohomish won that prominent position over Mukilteo by just three votes in 1861.

Blake said he has been asking Snohomish shop owners to display the numbered signs for the walking tour in their windows. That way, more visitors would find out the tour is available.

“Let’s generate a little interest,” Warner said. “People want to know the history.”

For maps and more information about the tours, visit

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

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