Looking Back: Before Lynnwood — the stump farms of Alderwood Manor

Stumps along Poplar Way in Alderwood Manor–1920s.

The year was 1933 – 87 years ago. It was a time when the song “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” had become the anthem for our entire country as we struggled through the Great Depression. Introduced in 1932, the song was an instant hit when Bing Crosby sang it on radio.

It was also the year when, as a 6-year-old, I saw the stump farms of Alderwood Manor for the first time.

A few years earlier, when the logging companies finished stripping the land of most of its trees, they left behind the stumps, the snags, and the scrub brush. The landscape was downright ugly.  If there were environmentalists in those days, they seemed to be silent.

When we moved from a nice neighborhood in the suburbs of Seattle to Alderwood Manor during its pre-Lynnwood days, my two older brothers and I saw adventure. But I am sure that when my lady-like mother looked at the landscape and its covering of stumps, snags and brush, she saw her isolated new home on Manor Way in a completely different light. Advertised as Puget Mill Company’s Alderwood Manor Ranchettes, some of the real estate might better have been referred to Shackettes.

Several years before my own family arrived on the scene in the little community of Alderwood Manor, Puget Mill Company of Port Gamble had finished logging the many acres of the forested land they owned in the area. They platted the once tree covered land into five and 10-acre farms and began advertising and selling real estate. Previously known as Forest Park, a stop on the Seattle-to-Everett Interurban rail line, by1917 the land was renamed Alderwood Manor, and much of the platted acreage became small chicken farms.

Advertised as an affordable and great place to live on your own land, for many Alderwood Manor probably appeared like a dream come true. However, many arriving to see their dream home for the first time soon found that there was a down-side — an unsightly landscape, and the challenge of clearing the stumps, snags, brambles and rocks, to make space for a garden. After all, it was a need to survive by growing your own food that inspired some families to move to the country.  I don’t imagine that many thought they would get rich in Alderwood Manor — survival, and ownership of an affordable home of your own, was no doubt the main object.

When our family settled on Manor Way just west of Lake Stickney, on a 10-acre run-down farm, I can remember the stumps and snags that covered much of the land, including our small farm. It was not a pretty sight. In fact, the scenery was much like what you can see in the accompanying photos taken a decade earlier.  Little had changed. I can imagine that the people pictured in the car were a family, much like my own, on a Sunday afternoon outing, maybe with the real estate agent, checking the affordable land offered for sale. During the spring of 1933, my family’s Sundays were often spent for the very same purpose — to find an affordable small farm in order to escape the confines of the city and live off the land.

Alderwood Manor farm home–1920s

On our own Sunday drives we did see some more attractive farms in other areas. However, the 10 acres on Manor Way in the community of Alderwood Manor came with some very good selling points: $10 down and $10 per month, which included a house, a chicken coop, an already cleared garden area, and a small orchard of fruit trees — even a couple of filbert trees. Plus, there was an artesian well, a spring with bubbling water, and very handy root cellar. In 1933, the direst economic year of the Great Depression, my parents must have known they had found a bargain. Maybe it was far from beautiful, but the old farm had everything needed to survive during hard times. While far from fancy, the small house was sturdy, and the roof didn’t leak. Of course, being far from the electricity source — i.e. the Interurban rail line — there was no electrical power. No indoor plumbing was another setback. Instead, a small outhouse could be seen beside a pathway, a short distance behind the house. Of course, all this was surrounded by the ever-present and unattractive stumps and snags — plus a lot of rocks. Although easier to deal with, those rocks would prove to be another problem.

Wash day in Alderwood Manor.

At first, the removal of the stumps turned out to be dangerous. One of the earliest methods of blasting the stumps became especially dangerous — in fact, there were a few local accidents, and some did prove to be deadly.

In 1926, County Agent Arnold Z. Smith, in an article in local newspapers, advised farmers wishing to clear their land, that explosives left from the Great War were available for blasting those bothersome stumps. Called Pyrotol, this blasting powder, which was made from explosives left over from World War I, was available for a short time at a reasonable price for Snohomish County farmers under the direction of the U.S. Bureau of Roads.

Pyrotol was reprocessed from military cordite and smokeless powder — usually used in combination with dynamite. It was inexpensive, and for a time popular with farmers for removing the stumps, as well as to clear ditches. However, the product was virtually removed from usage in 1927, after what was called the Bath School disaster or massacre in Bath Township, Mich., when Pyrotol was used by an angry ex-school board member to blow up the public school and to kill 45 people, 38 of them elementary school children.

In 1936, the local power and light company introduced a different method for removing stumps: burning them using electrical power and diesel or crank case oil.  That year, under the title “Cedar Stumps Burned Electrically,” they published a technical diagram showing the company’s method for removing unwanted stumps. The two men shown here in the “Stump clearing” photo appear more puzzled than satisfied with the power company’s very complicated-looking method.

Stump-clearing becomes a mere chore–1936

For most, stump removal became simply a matter of determination and some muscle power. Using a truck with cables and chains attached was a more normal way to eliminate those unwanted stumps.

There was also the opportunity to use a little imagination.  If the stumps were not in the way, they could be converted for use as the base for a picnic table.  Sometimes there might be a huckleberry bush growing atop the stump. That always received my favorable vote as a reason to keep the stump.  Who didn’t like the taste of huckleberries?  Also, if the stump was an especially large one, it became a great photography subject.

To help beautify our primitive farm, my mother planted sunflowers around the outhouse. The yellow sunflowers grew to a very large size and helped disguise the purpose of the little building. I think my mother decided that flowers were the means to overcome the run-down look and hide an eyesore. She was right. After all these years, I have never forgotten her sunflowers and her abundant and colorful sweet peas.

Eighty-seven years later, in the Lynnwood of today, most of the signs of old Alderwood Manor have disappeared, and it is difficult to imagine that such an unattractive landscape once existed. Along the present Old Manor Way, no trace of the exact location of our old farm can even be found.

The interesting photos included with this personal story of my memories were provided by Lynnwood-Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Heritage Park in Lynnwood. It is a great place to visit to learn about the early days preceding Lynnwood.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of early-day Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace.











  1. I am very interested in the sentence about the abundance of rocks in this area. My yard and neighbors are filled with rocks under the surface and I have been so curious as to why. My neighbor has a theory why, but it seems you may know. Can you say more about them and why they are everywhere?

  2. Geology is not my field, but later in life I became curious as to why the Lynnwood and Edmonds area had so many rocks–from massive ones to small ones. Some on top of the ground and some buried. There have been many articles written about the subject. One is entitled “Glacial erratic boulders of Snohomish County, Washington” on line by Wikipedia.. We have a huge example of a rock at the Martha Lake Airport Park, not far from the location of my story. The information about the Big Rock is given in the park’s informational page, saying that it is one of the largest glacial erratic boulders in urban Snohomish and Pierce counties. The retreating ice sheet trapped the massive rock at its current location about 12,000 years ago. So evidently we have reminders of that long ago time in many rocks of all sizes. There is another large rock on the road that runs from Edmonds to Woodway Park. As a child, it was my chore to add to our rock pile with the small rocks I could pick up.

  3. Regarding the blowing up of stumps on the area, I remember that, both in kindergarten and first grade, a police officer came to talk about the dangers of blasting caps. He had a few examples of what they looked like. This was the mid-60s at Maple Park elementary school.

  4. As a kid growing up in Alderwood in the 1950s there were plenty of stumps around but not many as pictured above. The ones left were huge. 5 ft or better diameter and 8ft or more high…and yes with huckleberries growing on top . As I understand, the loggers only took the best of each tree- like eating only the heart of the watermelon. The initial portion of the tree was curved from the ground up 8-10 ft and would not produce prime “straight grain” lumber. The notches on the stumps where the loggers put a board to stand on 6+ ft above the ground were still evident.

  5. My grandparents, James and Herma Thomas had a mink farm at 156th and Manor Way before the state punched I-405 through to Hwy 99. It was basically still “country” back in the 60s-early 70s. Their old homestead gave way to a new development some years ago. So sad…..

  6. My great grandparents Leonard and Estella Maude Hough, moved there in 1919, built their own home, became chicken farmers, homesteaders and raised 5 kids there, Everett, Bess, Eleanor, Emerson and Dorothy. Eleanor was my grandma. She wrote stories about he life growing up in Alderwood Manor, as well as saved all her correspondences from her mother who stayed in Alderwood Manor until the 50s. I have all the old letters now and it brings me great joy to feel I have ancestors who were pioneers in the story of Alderwood Manor. Thanks for your stories too. -T

  7. My grandparents had a beautiful rasberry farm in Alderwood Manor in the 30s and 40s. I went to elementary school there for 2 years during WW11. I want to get the address and road name. Their Names were Dagne and Nels Halleson. Can anyone help?

  8. What an interesting web site I ran into. I also grew up in Alderwood; born in 1944. We first lived on No. Popular. I remember playing cowboys and Indians and army with the neighborhood kids where the Alderwood Mall now sits. We moved to 196th exactly where the current Extended Stay motel now sits. 196th East of Alderwood was a gravel road when we first moved there. The intersection of 196th and Hwy 99 was a blinking red light for 196th and a blinking caution light for Hwy 99. We played on the first growth stumps that Mike Ekelbarger mentioned. Hi Mike. Glad to see Wickers store has been preserved. Fun times, thanks for the memories.

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