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Thursday, October 15, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A Hidden Past

The Birth Of Bothell

Seattle Times Eastside Bureau

VIRGIN FORESTS by the Sammamish River grew into a small, thriving downtown as settlers weathered hard lives, refusing to move. Overcoming fires and changes in industry, Bothell became one of the Eastside's most developed areas.

It was a valley occupied by cougars and bears, a valley where few whites had ventured.

But the virgin land by the Sammamish River would belong to men like George Brackett, settlers who looked into the dense, dark forest and saw their futures.

They cut the timber and floated the logs down to Lake Washington and to sawmills in Seattle.

They took the two natural resources - the trees and the river - and turned them into a livelihood, a job, a home and soon a community of loggers living in log homes by the river.

And when fires took down their man-made structures over and over, the settlers just rebuilt.

"They were not going to be driven away that easily," said local historian Regan Sidie.

Instead, those early pioneers brought relatives and friends from Seattle, folks with Scandinavian and Midwestern roots, and solidified the community.

David Bothell was among the dozens of early settlers who came to Brackett's logging camp in the 1880s.

The Pennsylvania Civil War veteran and his wife, Mary Anne, in 1889 filed the first plat in what later became known as Bothell. They built a shingle mill and created jobs, many filled by East Europeans.

The couple lived at what is now the downtown corner of 101st Avenue Northeast and Northeast 183rd Street. They ran a boarding house and later a hotel.

The Bothells raised seven children and became a fixture in the community.

When asked what to call the area, the postmaster figured it should be Bothell since there were so many of them. And it was incorporated as Bothell in 1909.

By then the community had two shingle factories, a broom-handle mill, four general stores, two hotels, three meat markets, a bakery, a barber shop and three saloons.

By 1910 Bothell counted 599 residents, contained mostly around what is still Main Street.

That small downtown stretch was one of the Eastside's most developed and lively areas. It was there that some of Puget Sound's biggest July Fourth celebrations were held, drawing throngs of onlookers. Mardi Gras festivities were also held there, an idea that started as a fund-raiser to pay for a firetruck.

"Woodinville didn't have a main street, a center core. Kenmore didn't have that circle where you could say this was downtown," said Sue Kienast of the Bothell Historical Museum. "So this was where the people and the merchants were. It had a sense of community."

It was a community that no fire could take away. The dry timbers that made up the Main Street store fronts became breeding grounds for fire. But the town folks always rebuilt, even after the Great Fire of 1911 burned all 11 buildings on Easter morning.

By the 1920s, brick buildings brought a new look and permanence to downtown, ending the constant fire threat.

And brick roads brought more travelers to town. Traveling would never be the same again.

The railroad laid by the river in the late 1890s became a secondary mode of transportation, and the steamboats that brought the settlers here became obsolete.

Gone, too, was the logging industry, fading slowly at the turn of the century as the open land became farm land.

Farming gave Main and adjacent streets poultry men and dairy farmers, produce stands and grocery stores. It made Bothell a self-sustaining city in the 1910s, a city that historian Kienast said, "had all the amenities that everyone needed."

So more folks came. The doctors, merchants and lawyers pushed the farmers farther east in the valley until there was no more farmland left.

"We had the chicken farmers and the dairy farmers until the 1950s and 1960s," said former Mayor Bud Ericksen, whose grandfather was among the first settlers. "Then the residential situation became more prevalent."

The flood of newcomers in the post-World War II years turned Bothell into a bedroom community, expanding the city to the north and west.

The river that once carried the early settlers and their logs down river became a playground for new residents. Beginning in the 1940s, boat races were held every April, with cars parked along the roads from Kenmore to Woodinville and people lining the riverbanks and the 102nd Avenue bridge to watch.

The races continued until 1975, stopping after townsfolk protested against the potential hazard to competitors and the environment.

The big trees were long gone, but in 1962 local residents celebrated when a giant 112-foot fir at Main Street and 102nd Street was declared "the world's largest living Christmas tree" by Life magazine. The top of the tree eventually withered and was cut off.

Tan Vinh's phone message number is 206-515-5656. His e-mail address is: tvinh@seattletimes.com

Sources include "Squak Slough 1870-1920" by Amy Eunice Stickney and Lucile McDonald; "Slough of Memories," compiled by Fred Klein and the Northshore History Boosters; and "Little History of Bothell, Washington" by Jack R. Evans.

---------------------------------- Offbeat moments in Bothell history ----------------------------------

In October 1886, Democratic District Attorney J.T. Ronald won all 38 Republican votes in Bothell after a campaign speech in which he had to introduce himself because there was no other Democrat in town to do it. Later, George Bothell, the Republican precinct leader, told him, "Here I thought I'd (give) you a complimentary vote so you'd have at least one ballot in your favor. Every other Republican . . . had the same idea."

Charles V. Beardslee, a teacher at Bothell and North Creek schools in the 1890s, allowed his students to go fishing during recess. A colorful personality in his day, he founded both the Bothell State Bank and the Bothell Cornet Band which became a top city attraction in the 1900s.

To celebrate Norway Day in 1909, Scandinavian locals built a Viking ship with a sea-serpent prow and a tail on the stern. Decked out in Viking attire, they rowed down Lake Washington and into the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

In May 1912, S.F. Woody, who later became mayor, was accused of speeding across the Bothell bridge at 12 mph. Woody got the case dismissed on grounds of insufficient evidence.

The Bothell State Bank on Main Street was considered "impregnable" after fending off two bank-robbery attempts during the late 1920s. That changed in 1945 when it was robbed of $45,000.

In 1944, Joe Ryan got elected mayor under the premise that he would paint the fireplugs white so "the dogs would have a better shot."

During the 1960s, a developer built a post office on Beardslee Boulevard in the wrong place. The building crossed over the line of another property owner, and the builder had to buy the land to square the deal.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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