When Everett `Stole' The County Courthouse

It was only after a bitter three-year battle that the city of Everett was able to wrest away the Snohomish County Courthouse from Snohomish just before the turn of the century.

Originally established in Mukilteo, the county seat had long since been moved to Snohomish. That was the county's biggest city by far, and the courthouse was one of its cherished possessions.

But the young, fast-growing city of Everett was feeling its oats. In a hard-fought campaign, Everett stole the courthouse. At least that is what they said in Snohomish.

That statement can be met with a smile now. But in 1896, it could start up a heated argument, even a fistfight.

From 1861 to 1894, Snohomish had been the center of this county, according to William Whitfield's "History of Snohomish County." The town had played that part well. To think that the courthouse should be moved to Everett was fanciful.

Imagine, if you will, a petition filed today aimed at moving the courthouse from Everett to Lynnwood. After all, south county has well over two-thirds of the population.

In those days, Snohomish overestimated its strength. And in the final election, Everett prevailed. To be sure, there was prolonged litigation, claims and counter claims of "voting the graveyard," and other standard hanky-panky of the times.

The county's newspapers got into the fight. Names like "gibbering idiots," "impossible falsifiers" and "idiotic theorists" were bandied about.

After a heated campaign, Everett was declared the winner.

Then the matter went to the courts. In December 1896 the final decision was rendered, and Snohomish bowed its head in defeat.

Then a long parade of empty wagons left Everett, pulled into Snohomish and loaded up all the records, and left town like a funeral cortege. On arriving in Everett, the wagon train paraded up Hewitt Avenue to the sound of cheers, bells and mill whistles.

No one will ever know if it was a fair election. Both sides came into court with soiled hands. Some "voters" were dead, some came up on a boat from Seattle and went around to several precincts to cast their ballots.

Part of that courthouse move was financed by Everett people who put up a certified check for $30,000 to build a new courthouse. A photo accompanying this column shows that courthouse with members of the Everett Fire Department. That pumper is preserved today in the department's museum.

It should be noted that this fine new courthouse was destroyed by a fire Aug. 2, 1909. The blaze started in a nearby blacksmith shop when live coals went through cracks in the floor and onto hay in the basement, according to Everett historian Allan May.

Sparks from the fire blew across Wetmore Avenue onto the courthouse roof; the courthouse burned from the top downward. Only the masonry walls were left standing.

"On the Main Line," Robert Humphrey's column about the history of South Snohomish County, appears occasionally in Snohomish Life.