Museum collection keeps close track of small city's history

LAKE STEVENS — You won't find the legendary locomotive that went to the bottom of the lake, but you will find out more about it.

And you won't find Mitchell's Pharmacy, a former community gathering place that had floors so out of kilter that customers joked about needing seasickness pills when walking into the business. But you will find the pharmacy faithfully re-created.

You'll also find Gini, a four-legged duck and the darling of the 1978 Lake Stevens Aquafest.

Displays on these and other cornerstones of the community's history are part of the Lake Stevens Museum, a structure added to the city library in 1989. Its collection is considered unusually detailed and extensive for a city of about 7,000 people.

"The photographs probably create the most interest," said Howard Espeseth, a docent who gives museum tours on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

The photography collection lines the walls and is shown in folding panels containing about 350 photos, selected for the rotating exhibit from 987 negatives that cover nearly a century of the city and surrounding areas.

On maps, for example, a community named Hartford appears near Lake Stevens, but little remains there now. Museum photos show it once had a school, hotels and other businesses.

Other displays detail how Lake Stevens once was known as Swedetown because of its high percentage of Scandinavian settlers, largely from Minnesota and North Dakota, according to the 1910 census.

Other displays tell the history of the Rucker brothers, who built the community's largest sawmill, once employing 200 people. The sawmill burned in 1926.

Lake Stevens was once home to several waterfront resorts, such as Lundeen's, which is now the site of a county park. Photos of Lundeen's show a place that could have been straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, with ballrooms, tourist cabins and multistory diving towers. The resort even sponsored a semipro baseball team, and one of its jerseys is on display.

By the 1920s and 1930s, the lake also had shown itself to be an ideal place for water-skiing, as it is today. Museum displays describe how Hank Fletcher founded a water-ski team with 50 members in 1947 and say the banana ski was invented in Lake Stevens in 1952 and went into production locally in 1955.

The Mitchell's Pharmacy re-creation preserves memories of the business, a drugstore started in 1910, sold to Ben Mitchell in 1920 and moved outside the city to nearby Frontier Village in 1960. Despite having only 430 square feet when it opened, the pharmacy became a community hub.

Besides being a pharmacy, the business had a soda fountain, collected utility payments, served as a registry for births and deaths, and was the place that handled city fire calls.

Other displays describe the locomotive that sank in the lake between 1911 and 1917, depending on which history is being cited. The locomotive went into the water when its brakes failed as it was moving logs on a trestle at the Rucker mill.

The wreck was spotted by Navy divers in 1996 in about 35 feet of water and under 14 feet of mud. Recovering the locomotive is a project of the Lake Stevens Historical Society, which operates the museum.

Despite its limited hours — six hours a week — the museum pulls in visitors from beyond Lake Stevens. The museum's guest register was signed last month by about 250 people, some from as far away as Texas, California and Alaska.

On a recent Friday afternoon Jessyca Brubaker, 10, strolled in with her brother, Josh Brubaker, 12, and their friends, Andre Braxton, 10, and Stephanie Caldwell, also 10.

"I wanted to see the four-legged duck," Andre said.

That would be Gini, who did, indeed, have four legs. Now she's stuffed and in a glass case.

Jessyca said she had stopped by to find out if her mother was in photos from the 1986 Lake Stevens High School graduating class. The museum includes a reading room with copies of high-school yearbooks dating to 1924.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or

Museum location, hours

The Lake Stevens Museum, 802 124th Ave. N.E., in downtown, is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Other historical information is available at and 425-334-3944.