Restoration to bring a little of community "back to life"
Times Snohomish County bureau
Little evidence remains of the once-bustling settlement of Florence besides a large black-and-white photograph inside Stanwood's new QFC supermarket.
The photo, made early in the 1900s, shows a small store and post office, old cars and a sign offering Owl cigars for 5 cents each. Beneath the photo is the inscription, "E.A. Hevly Cash Store, Florence, Wash."
Florence may be relegated to faded images of the past, but the Hevly building still stands and is being restored after years of neglect.
"It's a real great project," said Craig Francis, who bought the property in December. "That used to be my bus stop when I was a kid."
Francis, 50, said the building was last used as a store around 1970 and later was used to house animals. It also had been the residence of an elderly occupant who wasn't enthusiastic about cleaning.
The roof was nearly gone, the floor joists rotted.
But there were still old windows with "Lipton's Tea" emblazoned on their panes and original woodwork throughout the structure, although another part of the store had been torn down.
Francis has gone to work on it. Now there are new floor joists and a sidewalk in front of the building, and the interior walls largely have been cleaned to their original wood.
According to the Stanwood Area Historical Society, Florence was platted in 1866, and the Hevly store was built in the 1870s. The town, which was about two miles south of Stanwood, was named after a daughter of Frank Norton, the community's founder.
"By 1885, Florence had several hotels, bars, restaurants, a stage line, post office and community hall," an account by the historical society says. "Logs were floated downstream to the mills, sternwheelers made regular trips upriver and the community competed with Stanwood as a local center of commerce."
Over the years, that changed. The Stillaguamish River changed course, and new roads were built. The school and community center were torn down.
"In a visit today, it is hard to imagine it was once a thriving community," the history adds.
"This used to be quite a town," recalled Carsten Anderson, who grew up in Florence and now lives in Anacortes. "They had a couple of hotels. The old paddle-wheelers used to come up the river to here. They had a dock over there."
Francis well remembers those days. He still lives in the house where he grew up, about two blocks from the Hevly store.
"All the people in the neighborhood used to stop in there for their groceries," he said.
Francis went on to have varying occupations, including running a dairy farm, working for a logging company and owning restaurants, including the Stanwood Cafe, which he and his wife, Teresita, still operate. But the lure of the place he considers home never disappeared.
Francis went back to the house to care for his father and now pursues many interests, including restoring old cars, flying radio-controlled model airplanes and obtaining a helicopter pilot's license.
Along the way, Francis has found another odd thing happening in Florence: Many of his childhood friends are returning, after deciding there's no place better than their original homes.
"It's just kind of ironic," he said. "It's just strange. Just by chance."
Francis said he doesn't quite know what he will do with the store when it is finished in a few months.
"I'd love to get some old street lamps and some old gas pumps out there," he said, recalling how gas was sold there decades ago. He is also meeting with Snohomish County preservationists about having the store designated as a historic site.
Possible uses could depend on zoning, Francis said, but might include a bakery, an art studio or an antique store.
"I'd just kind of like to bring it back to life," he said.
"It's neat to save these old buildings. Once they're gone, that's it. I try to do everything myself. I like to take something that's pretty much gone and bring it back."
Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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