The Blackman House Story

THE STORY OF THIS HOME BEGINS IN 1872 when the Blackman Brothers’ lumber mill in Bradley, Maine, (now an historic demonstration site), had fallen deeper into debt, finally declaring bankruptcy.

The brothers, with their wives, William and Ada; Alanson (1840-1923) and Eliza; Elhanan (1844-1921) and Francis, with infant daughter Edith; and the youngest brother, Hyrcanus(1847-1921), with Ella, left for the Pacific Northwest that fall – just before the first snows of another New England winter.

The families took a sailing ship around Cape Horn to San Francisco, bringing with them their most cherished household goods, including the piano in the front room. From San Francisco they booked passage to Port Gamble in the Washington Territory.

Fellow lumbermen from Bradley, Maine, Andrew Pope and William Talbot, began a milling operation there some 20 years earlier and by 1872 they were shipping boatloads of Pacific Northwest cedar and fir lumber to San Francisco. The brothers worked the Pope and Talbot logging camps at first, then with D. E. Smith’s operation in Lowell, but within three years the Brothers had established their own logging operation on a small lake called Still-a-gua-mish, north of Snohomish, a town recently platted and named by E. C. Ferguson and his wife Lucetta (Morgan). Over the years, the site of their first logging camp become known as Blackman’s Lake, and if you walk out on the dock at Hill Park and look to the right, on the northeast shore, you can see pilings that date from 1876.

TWO YEARS LATER, Hyrcanus and Ella built this home on Avenue B. Elhanan and Francis built another across the street, while Alanson and Eliza settled up the Avenue on Second Street. This house is the only structure that has survived from the days when the Blackman families dominated Avenue B. The eldest brother, William and his wife Ada, settled in Seattle where he was also involved in the lumber business, most likely using his contacts back east.

The Blackman Brothers opened their first sawmill on the Snohomish River, employing 10 men, in 1884 — the same year of Clifford’s birth. Twenty-five years later, he married Maude Morgan, a cousin to Lucetta Ferguson, so the first link, by marriage, of the Blackmans to Snohomish’s founder, E. C. Ferguson by marriage was established. Clifford and Maude had two daughters but settled in Wenatchee where he developed the family orchard business on land purchased by his father, Hycranus, many years earlier. Two Clifford Blackman GravesA third daughter was born in 1920, two months after Clifford’s death during the flu epidemic — she was given the name Clifford, but, sadly, she also died within the year.

Daughter Eunice was born in 1887 – the same year that the brothers’ first mill burned to the ground of suspicious origins. The mill was quickly rebuilt, and by the time Eunice reached two years of age the operation employed 175 men. Elhanan invented the tripper shingle machine — a carriage holding a block of cedar that is tripped by a ratchet action, moving the block in and out from the saw, creating a shingle with each pass. Soon the mill was producing 10 million shingles a year, even drying them in the first kiln of the county, which made shipping cheaper. Of all the many mills in the area during this time, the Blackman’s was the first one to produce more lumber than could be sold locally, meaning that they were ready when rail service reached Snohomish in 1889 to ship their product east. Red cedar shingles from the Pacific Northwest were in high demand back east, where we assume the brothers still had connections.

Eunice married Dr. William Ford in 1909, three months before her brother’s marriage. Dr. Ford was from Ontario, Canada and had established a practice across the street from the Blackmans, in an office attached to the home where the newlyweds settled. However, William Ford suffered from unknown health problems that resulted in a recommendation that he find a job working outside. So Dr. Ford retired from practicing medicine on the eve of an anticipated offer to join the practice of a noted surgeon in Seattle, and joined the family orchard business in Wenatchee. Phyllis, their only child, was born in Wenatchee in 1913 and grew up playing in the family apple orchards and then in sports at Snohomish High School.

Hyrcanus died in this home on the first day of June, 1921. It was said that he began failing after the death of his beloved son, Clifford, less than a year earlier. At some time between 1921 and Ella’s death in 1927, the home became known as the Ford House when Eunice and William moved in. It was in the 1930’s that Dr. Ford enclosed the family entrance to create a sunroom for Eunice’s plants.

Dr. William Ford died in 1951, and Eunice lived in this house alone, closing off the upstairs and receiving very few guests. With a tall hedge blocking views of the home, Eunice appeared to be living a reclusive life. Her daughter’s family, living in Sacramento, continued to spend summers here, Bill Bican even attended Snohomish schools for part of the year in 1954. But in the early sixties, the family noticed by Eunice’s handwriting in her letters that she was slowly going blind.

Eunice left Snohomish to have cataract surgery in Sacramento, which improved her vision, but heart problems developed and she was bed ridden, unable to return home. This house sat empty for several years during the sixties until one day, the newspaper editor noticed that the front door was ajar and upon entering discovered that the home had been vandalized.

Bill Bican and his father arrived to clean up the mess and put the home up for sale. After a week of turning down offers, Everett Olson, the first president of the new Historical Society, showed up on their last day in town with the proposal to purchase the home to use as a museum. The offer was accepted and the home and its contents exchanged hands in July 1970; and by December, a team of volunteers had the home ready to open its beautiful doors as the Blackman House Museum.

Everett made the trip to Sacramento to present Eunice with a membership card in the Snohomish Historical Society before she died in 1974.