When turn-of-the-century historians tried to describe the fundamental difference between Everett and other Snohomish County towns, they sometimes resorted to literary allusions.
Towns such as Mukilteo and Snohomish, they wrote, were like the slave girl Topsy in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." When asked to account for her existence, she replied that she just "grow'd." The same could be said of communities that arose more or less gradually around a saloon or a trading post.
Everett did not simply grow. One imaginative writer, reaching for a simile emphatic enough to drive home the point, wrote that Everett "sprang into existence overnight, like Minerva from the cleft head of Jupiter."
It's an apt comparison, but Everett wasn't really the result of some mythical Roman lobotomy. The name, the shape and, arguably, the destiny of the city were invented by two middle-aged, bearded white guys named Henry Hewitt and Charles Colby.
Hewitt and Colby were a bona fide Victorian odd couple, an unlikely duo made up of equal parts of vision and brute force, breeding and bootstraps.
Hewitt was graceless and blunt. He had a pronounced limp from an old wound suffered while cruising timber. He sported an unruly cowlick and a ridiculous little Weber & Fields goatee. Colby was all regal bearing and good taste, with a broad, bald pate and the self-assured air of privilege, education and old money.
BACK TO WISCONSIN
The friendship, if that's the right word, stretched back to Wisconsin, to the days when Hewitt was buying timberlands there and Colby, in his capacity as head of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, was selling. Hewitt came west in the late 1880s, establishing himself in lumbering and railroad circles on Puget Sound.
In 1890, a good deal of attention was focused on the new state of Washington and Jim Hill's Great Northern Railway, which would soon span the Cascades and connect Puget Sound with St. Paul, Minn. Colby came west that summer and hooked up with Hewitt in Tacoma. On July 17, 1890, the pair embarked on what was ostensibly a two-week pleasure cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska aboard the elegant steamer Queen of the Pacific. A later generation of historians came to refer to this as "The Fateful Voyage."
Surrounded by scenic grandeur, killer whales and icebergs, the men developed a stunning plan for a model industrial city at the western end of the Great Northern Railway. The GN route was still officially a secret, but Hewitt convinced Colby that the peninsula at the mouth of the Snohomish River had to be the spot where it first touched Puget Sound.
For his part, Colby confirmed what Hewitt had already surmised: The Colby family connection with fellow Baptist and fellow Republican John D. Rockefeller could be tapped for substantial investment capital.
The diversified industrial base of the "City of Smokestacks" would reflect Colby's predelictions - a city with businesses for mining and smelting of gold and silver ores and construction of streamlined, steel-hulled ships popularly known as "whalebacks."
ENTER JOHN MUIR
The main stop on the excursion route was Glacier Bay, and the Queen's brief stay there involved a subtle irony. While it lay at anchor with two passengers plotting a voracious industrial city, a third middle-aged, bearded white guy with Wisconsin roots was encamped on a nearby glacier. He was just as vigorously committed to preserving the wilderness as Hewitt and Colby were to exploiting it. His name was John Muir.
Though small groups of tourists trudged up the glacier for a chance to meet the famed naturalist, there is no record that Hewitt and Colby attempted to do so and no reason to believe there would have been much to talk about if they had.
After the voyage, Hewitt moved quickly to pluck key industrial sites on the largely overlooked peninsula east of Port Gardner Bay, which at the time was inhabited by perhaps three-dozen people. Every effort was made to keep the plan under wraps. There were secret planning meetings and scrambled-coded telegrams.
Names for the enterprise were discussed over dinner with the Colby clan. They men wanted a name that had no geographic reference, one that could not be traced to a certain spot. Hewitt expressed amusement at the prodigious appetite of Colby's 15-year-old son Everett. On Nov. 19, 1890, the Everett Land Company was incorporated.
The 30 eventful months that elapsed between that incorporation and the official municipal incorporation of the city of Everett encompassed a recession and recovery, a chaotic land rush, a full-scale boom and the onset, perversely synchronous with municipal incorporation, of the worst depression the country had ever experienced.
For many decades citizens chose to celebrate the filing of the Everett Land Company's plat of Feb. 6, 1892, rather than the city's actual day of incorporation on April 27, 1893, looking back on February of '92 as a time of hope and prosperity. There was nothing about the spring of 1893 they wanted to celebrate. It marked the beginning of a period of hardship and despair.
Discarding the concept of industrial diversity, rail magnate Jim Hill stepped in at the turn of the century and shaped a mill town out of the ruins. A chastened Minerva hammered her sword into an upright shingle saw.
Today, Hewitt and Colby are remembered in the names of streets that intersect like cross hairs on the heart of the peninsula they transformed.
The significance of the names, like the darker meaning of 1893, has been all but forgotten as Everett shakes off the last vestiges of the frontier industrialism these entrepreneurs imposed. It is a process that involves a bewildering search for the new identity needed to sustain a "City of Smokestacks" in the post-Industrial Age.
David Dilgard, an Everett resident, is regional history specialist at the Everett Library and author of several books on local history.