Settling Woodinville -- A Neglected Cemetery Offers One Of The Few Reminders Of The City's Past

"(There were) just big stumps all around here when I grew up and big tall snags that hadn't been logged . . ." - Elmer Carlberg, Woodinville historian who called himself "Son of the Stumpland."

Harp-shaped fencing that once surrounded Woodinville's cemetery was replaced years ago with chain link. At the graveyard entrance, weeds poke through a fountain's crumbling stone where water once gurgled in from Bear Creek.

The fence and the fountain, a white pergola that is still there and a grape arbor that isn't, were built by Elmer Carlberg. For 40 years the silver-bearded man, who wore a black trench coat and brimmed hat regardless of the weather, tended the town's dead in Woodinville Memorial Park.

Carlberg, a familiar sight until his death 12 years ago at age 93, was a visible link to the history he took pains to preserve.

The son, grandson and great-nephew of early pioneers, Carlberg now rests a dozen paces from the graves of the city's namesakes, Ira and Susan Woodin. The Woodins donated an acre of their homestead for the graveyard in 1889.

An anachronism in the middle of a growing city, the cemetery is nestled in the northwest corner of Northeast 175th Street and Woodinville-Snohomish Road. The flower beds Carlberg made and planted are overgrown with weeds, and litter is strewn among headstones.

While motorists zoom by oblivious of its existence, the burial ground is one of the last reminders of a time when virgin cedar was prime currency, front parlors doubled as community centers and settlers transformed the valley into farms.

Woodinville's rolling hills, rivers, lakes and ponds were carved out more than 14,000 years ago by the retreating Vashon Glacier. For generations before the area's early Norwegian and Danish immigrants arrived, a Sammamish Indian village was at the mouth of Bear Creek, above what is now Northeast North Woodinville Way. At least 100 people lived there, fishing and traveling along the Sammamish River, farming root and bulb crops, and hunting and gathering throughout the watershed.

Ira Woodin, his wife, Susan, and their two daughters became the first white family to settle in the area, arriving in 1871 after two bachelors had established homesteads.

Woodin was a New York native and a partner in Seattle's first tannery and shoe-manufacturing business. His wife, the first white woman in the Woodinville area, was born in Oregon's Waldo Hills. They packed up their home in the Columbia City area, crossed Lake Washington by scow and slowly traveled up the Sammamish River, then called the Squak Slough, to their 160-acre homestead. The old Woodin home on Northeast Woodinville Drive was torn down in the early 1950s.

Susan Woodin, then in her 20s, rowed across Lake Washington twice a month to sell butter in Seattle. For years she walked the three miles from Madison Park landing to Seattle and back again. She couldn't afford the stage, but a driver she befriended carted the butter to Seattle while she walked.

The Woodins weren't alone in the wilderness for long. Emmanuel Neilson, a Norwegian, and his daughter Mary settled on land adjacent to the Woodins in 1876. Neilson later built a grocery and hotel on the site.

Mary eventually married a Danish carpenter named Anders Hansen.

She plotted most of the lots in Woodinville, and her husband built homes for new settlers. She deeded part of her family's homestead for railway lines and a highway in the 1880s, according to grandson John Halver, 77, who was born in an apartment above the old Neilson grocery.

Four other families - the Jacobsens, Petersons, Bargquists and Calkins - also came to Woodinville in the 1870s.

From the 1880s onward, as more homesteaders and loggers moved into the area, the Woodin home became something of a halfway house between Seattle and upriver settlements. The social center of the new community, Susan Woodin's front parlor hosted the first school, Sunday school and church services. The Woodins later built a grocery, and Susan Woodin became the town's first postmistress.

Woodinville got its first church in 1880, built across from land that later became the cemetery, and a one-room school house three years later. A two-room school was built in 1902 but burned in 1908. A brick schoolhouse - the only one in King County outside Seattle - was built a year later on the site where Woodinville's City Hall now stands.

Although the commercial district began along Northeast Woodinville Drive on the south bank of the slough, it moved across the river after the the railroad arrived in 1888, the same year Elmer Carlberg's parents came to Woodinville. By 1909, Woodinville had two sawmills, two shingle mills, several groceries, four hotels, a railway station, a blacksmith's shop, a feed store, a stage-coach operator, a brick and tile manufacturer, and a small school-desk factory.

From 1909 to 1911, Fred Stimson, a wealthy lumber baron, built Stimson Manor as a vacation home on the grounds now occupied by the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. Stimson owned a prize dairy herd, greenhouses and a lighted tennis court and often entertained large groups of people from Seattle. Eventually sold, the house became a speak-easy during Prohibition and is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Nearby Hollywood Hill, which got its start as the Derby logging community, was transformed in 1912 by Henry Stimson who built a poultry farm and planted holly trees along its ridge, giving the area its new name.

"They kept building more and more chicken houses, and their employees increased," said Helen McMahon, a longtime resident and charter member of the historical society. Arthur Heidedorf, who eventually bought the 200-acre ranch, cross-bred his poultry and established branch hatcheries in Japan, Brazil and Germany, she said.

Soon after, the Hollywood Fox Farm started up, raising fox and mink for their pelts.

As Woodinville's stumpland was cleared, dairy farmers and vegetable growers began taking advantage "of some of the richest soil in the state," McMahon said.

The rural landscape of Woodinville began to change in the 1950s when people started moving east from Seattle and other areas, drawn to the pastoral lifestyle within commuting distance of the big city. Horse ranches became more popular, and Egon Molbak came to Woodinville in 1956 and opened a nursery that now draws a million customers a year.

Most of the town's early pioneer homes were razed in the 1950s and '60s to make way for brick buildings. Development began in earnest in the 1970s, and whole neighborhoods popped up on prime agriculture land, transforming Woodinville into a suburban community. Growth accelerated in the mid- and late 1980s when Woodinville Towne Center, fast-food restaurants, video stores and other retail businesses set up shop along Northeast 175th Street.

Woodinville became a city in early 1993 and now has 10,250 residents, with thousands more people living in nearby unincorporated areas.

Despite the growing population, 12 people have been buried in the Woodinville cemetery since 1990. The historical society's Gladys Berry said many residents are unaware of it, instead choosing their final resting place in other cities.

"But I'm reserving my plot and one for my husband," Berry said, leaves crunching underfoot as she pointed to an anvil that marks the grave of blacksmith Johann Koch. "This is where I want to be, surrounded by my town's history." ------------------------------- Sources for this report include "Village in the Woods," edited by Suzi Freeman, Gloria Kraft and Linda Packard (1993); "Squak Slough 1870-1920" by Amy Eunice Stickney and Lucile McDonald (1977); and the Woodinville Historical Society.