History: The ‘hatching’ of Alderwood Manor

Egg display. (Courtesy Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage )Museum

Part 1 of 2 parts.

The Early Years:

In the early 1860s, the land that would become Alderwood Manor was a dense primeval forest containing towering evergreens and enormous cedars. Although there was a federal law enacted in 1831 prohibiting the harvesting of trees on public lands, the law had not been enforced. A small number of homesteaders had arrived and built small cabins in the wooden area. These early settlers were far outnumbered by the animals that lived there, and the occasional hunting bands of Indians traveling along animal trails in pursuit of game.

Evergreen primeval forest. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

At the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, the federal government began granting “bounty land” to civil war veterans. The bounty land warrants granted free land to citizens as a reward for service to the country.

The Civil War bounty land warrants were followed a year later by the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act provided that any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land.  The claimants had to live on the land for a minimum of five years and had to cultivate the land to increase its value. Eleven years later, the Timber Culture Act of 1873 gave homesteaders the ability to obtain an additional 160 acres of land, if they agreed to plant trees on a quarter of the land, to increase the value of the land.

Through these newly enacted programs, large swaths of government land could be purchased for the first time. Seeing the possibilities, large timber companies hired dummy settlers and third-party agents to file claims and then turn the documents over to them, whereby the companies would eventually hold title.

One of these companies was Puget Mill Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Walker Pope and Talbot, which was formed in 1874. Puget Mill over the next 20 years would become the largest purchaser of timberland in the Northwest.  Weyerhaeuser, along with the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company, also acquired large parcels of land.

Author’s note: The San Francisco-based parent company Walker, Pope and Talbot had earlier built a large sawmill on the east side of Hood Canal near Port Gamble in 1853. It had been harvesting timber for almost two decades, before the Puget Mill Company was established.

By the end of 1913, Puget Mill owned an estimated 23,000 acres of logged-off land in Snohomish County. During the previous two decades as they harvested timber, the company had tried unsuccessfully to sell off portions of the land. Not having real estate experience or expertise, Puget Mill found itself facing a large tax bill every year for land that no longer generated revenue for them.

Growth in North King County and South Snohomish County – Early 1900s

While the timber companies were busy logging, other enterprises including real estate investors/agents and transportation alternatives had been growing steadily in north King County and South Snohomish County. Crawford and Conover, the most successful real estate developers, had purchased, platted and sold off large tracts of 5-acre lots to hundreds of families who wanted to live on small farms or “ranchettes” north of Seattle. Their successful projects reached from the Green Lake area to north of the Edmonds city limits with their large Seaview Tracts project. Similarly, LaLayette Properties out of Everett and several California-based firms had successfully developed properties where families were living on 3- to 5-acre farms, raising chickens and growing vegetables and fruits for their own consumption.

With the completion of the Seattle-to-Everett Interurban railway in 1910, and the emergence of automobiles and bus lines by 1913, transportation options allowed people to travel from suburban areas to the large metropolitan areas for work, while living in a rural area.

By 1910, the raising of poultry for consumption and egg production had become a very popular undertaking. This May 1917 article in the Edmonds Tribune Review — like articles in the Seattle Daily Times and other regional newspapers — stated that poultry could be a very lucrative enterprise.

Author’s note: The income of $1,530 per annum outlined in the above article would be equivalent to approximately $50,000 today.

It seems like Puget Mill had never considered working with any of the established real estate developers in the area or considered the possibility of turning their stump-filled properties into small farms.

The Arrival of W.A. Irwin

As luck would have it, W.A. Irwin, a real estate broker from California, arrived in the Northwest in 1913 and had purchased a parcel of logged-off land in the midst of Puget Mill’s holdings. His intent was to sell his acreage to city dwellers who wanted to escape to the country and live on a small farm. In his zeal, Irwin sold some of Puget Mill’s property as well as his own.

Realizing his error, Irwin went to Puget Mill’s offices to straighten out the matter. Hearing of the mistake, W.H. Talbot, one of the parent company’s founders, became intrigued by what Irwin was doing. When Irwin learned about the amount of land that Puget Mill owned and wanted to sell, he proposed the following: 

“Sell a man five acres of land, and instead of leaving him to work out his own salvation – to wrestle with un-cleared land – help him clear it, teach him how to garden and raise poultry, build him a home, dig him a well and help him construct modern poultry houses, give him the services of staff of expert poultry men and horticulturists to whom he may turn for advice and instruction. For every dollar the seller puts into his place, put another dollar with it and let him pay it back later from the earnings of his little farm.”

After further discussions, Talbot and the executives at Puget Mill believed the idea had merit. But Talbot also realized that Puget Mill needed to develop a plan and invest heavily in order to attract enough buyers, so that the company could profitably dispose of their large stump-land holdings.

Through discussions with Irwin and other company officials, an “initial” plan was put in place. The plan was based upon the belief that the best way to prove that financial independence was available through raising poultry and fruit, was by building a “demonstration farm” and providing assistance to the new purchasers at an affordable price.

Years 1914-1917

The initial tenets of the plan stated that Puget Mill would provide 7,000 acres of logged-off land. It would survey, plat and organize the land into subdivisions. The company would then build the necessary roads, and also provide water and electricity to the farms. A 30-acre Demonstration Farm would be built next to the Seattle-Everett Interurban Railway that ran through the property. This would provide easy access to the property from Seattle and Everett, for those working in the cities. It would also provide fast transportation to the farm for potential customers who would be arriving from outside the area.

Author’s note: In 1914, there was a small railway station, Forest Park/Alderwood, across the tracks from where the proposed “demonstration farm” would be located. The station was later renamed “Alderwood Manor” per the suggestion of W.A. Irwin.

The initial plan for the farm included multiple poultry houses, a hotel for guests to dine and stay in while visiting, a community hall for classes and social events, a cottage for the farm’s superintendent and a large hatchery and incubator facility. There would also be a granery where large quantities of chicken feed and supplies would be stored and later sold to the farmers at the lowest cost possible. Additionally,  large orchards of filbert, cherry and other fruit trees, as well as large vegetable gardens. were to be planted to demonstrate what a small farm might look like.

The Demonstration Farm as seen from the Interurban railway tracks.

In the photo above, the community hall — which was used for educational classes, lectures and community events — is just beyond the fence to the left. The superintendent’s cottage and water tower are situated on the top of the knoll in the center of the photo. The remaining structures were chicken houses.

Over the next three years, 30 acres were cleared of stumps, the buildings were erected, and roads and other infrastructure were put in place. During this initial period, a small number of 5-acre tracts were sold to early adopters and Puget Mill worked with them on the development of their properties, which served as models for future prospective buyers.

As the subdivisions, roads and demonstration farm/infrastructure were being put into place, an “Alderwood Manor Plan” was being created, with W.A. Irwin being hired to recruit, train and oversee the sales operation.

The Alderwood Manor Plan stated that the community was being built to attract “Little Landers” who were looking for financial independence and a higher quality of life away from the city.

Puget Mill created a large marketing campaign to tout the new community. Booklets were created that answered 50 of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Booklet from Edmonds Historical Museum. (Photo by Byron Wilkes)

The booklet answered questions regarding the purchase price, financing options and what types of chickens were being used. Among the other questions addressed: How did Puget Mill work with the farmer to build the house and chicken pens? What social opportunties were available within the community? What education was available? What were the transportation options? Was Puget Mill going to help market the eggs?

A sample question read:  On what terms can I purchase the land?

Answer: the terms under which these 5 acre tracts can be purchased are 10% cash, and $16.00 per month, which monthly payments include interest at the rate of 7% per annum on the unpaid balance.  However, more cash may be paid at any time, which will, of course, reduce the amount of interest. 5 acre tracts are priced at $1,000.

Puget Mill also assured the purchasers that the company had set up a building fund of $100,000 from which the land owners could receive a loan if they needed further financing to improve their properties.

Author’s note: Weyerhaeuser was also attempting to sell off their stump lands, with 5-acre lots were available at $25 per acre or $125.   This price was one-eighth of what Puget Mill was asking for their acreage. But the purchasers of Weyerhaeuser land were totally on their own in regards to developing it.

Puget Mill also hired F.C. McClane, a noted poultryman, to lead their poultry educational operations. McClane wrote and published a 15-page pamphlet that was used both in marketing the farms and as a best-practices guide for the future chicken farmers.

Booklet from Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Museum. (Photo by Byron Wilkes)

Once the demonstration farm was nearing completion, Puget Mill started to promote the project at each of its offices. A variety of posters were created announcing the project.

One of Puget Mill’s early posters touting the Alderwood Manor Life. (Courtesy Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Museum)

Puget Mill representatives in early 1917 also began reaching out to local newspapers inviting their representatives to come and tour the Demonstration Farm.  The headline of an article in the April 17, 1917 Edmonds Tribune-Review read: “Massive Improvements Underway in Alderwood Manor”.

The writer documented visiting modern poultry pens that housed over 500 laying hens and between 3,000 and 4,000 chicks, which would be laying eggs in state-of-the-art nesting boxes within six months. The writer recounted visiting extensive filbert and fruit orchards, which were also going to provide healthy incomes to the future residents of Alderwood Manor.

The article then described the modern lecture and social hall, the water support systems and several new model houses being constructed as well a new elementary school building that would be supporting the community’s children.

This article was followed up by others that outlined the plan being put forth by the Puget Mill Company for “Little Landers.”

The plan included:

– 5- and 10-acre tracts of land.

– 1 acre would be cleared per each 5-acre tract so that a home and pens could be quickly built.

– Puget Mill would furnish lumber and nails as well as assistance in building the home and chicken pens at a minimal extra cost.

– Electricity and water would be supplied to each home.

– Equipment and feed for the poultry would be provided at below-market price.

– Poultry, hatchlings, and fruit trees and vegetable seeds would also be available.

– Free education classes and expert help would be offered at the demonstration farm facilities to assist in raising poultry and growing vegetables, nuts and fruit on the land.

– A low down payment and reasonable monthly plan would be available.

A 5-acre tract of land was reasonably priced at $1,000.

The various tour articles were followed by advertisements in all the local newspapers as well as papers nationally, inviting people to visit the demonstration farm and learn how they could gain financial independence.

— By Byron Wilkes

  1. Oh, how hard it must’ve been for the native Americans to watch their land raped and spoiled. What a wonderful environment was destroyed by the white man and unrelenting seeking of profits, no matter what the cost.
    It saddens me to realize that nothing has changed as developers knock down second growth forests to build giant homes and housing developments.

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