Traveling Back In Time

With Granite Falls History Museum

Granite Falls may be one of the smallest communities in Snohomish County, but it is the biggest when it comes to preserving and spreading local history. It is home to an award winning museum, and more importantly, its historical society has been at the forefront of digitizing local history and creating virtual and online opportunities for exploring the city and the county.

These are things that would not be possible without the dedication of individuals like Fred Cruger, along with his dog, and Tom Thorleifson. The two, along with volunteers, have spent thousands of hours showing folks around the museum, scanning photographs, newspapers, and maps, as well as procuring items and funding for the museum and the historical society’s many projects.

If you are lucky enough to be given a tour by Fred or Tom on any given Sunday, then you are in for a treat. They are a fountain of information. Having the opportunity to hear the history and stories that go along with the exhibits in the museum from them is almost better than seeing the actual exhibits themselves.

They give the exhibits life and depth, making their small town seem larger than life. The museum itself does a pretty good job of that as well. I will admit that, from outward appearances, I hadn’t expected much from the museum the first time I stepped through its door. The building didn’t look all that big from the street, and it was after all a small town. I’d been to small town museums, with spaces crammed with small random items for you to sift through. I expected to find the same in Granite falls.

I soon found out, however, just how wrong I was about the size and contents of this particular museum. First and foremost, the interior is far larger than it looks from the outside. So big, that you will find not only full size machinery, but a full size antique buggy, car, and motorcycle among the many other items featured. To this day, I can’t figure out how everything fits in there, but it does, and it is far from crammed. Everything is spread out, well organized into actual exhibits, and accompanied by information about what you are looking at (you know, in case Fred or Tom isn’t around to give you the low down).

Now that we’ve established that the Granite Falls Museum has actual exhibits, lets get into what they contain.

Given the mining history in the area, particularly that of towns like Monte Cristo, you are probably betting on there being a lot of mining pieces. I’m right there with you, but that probably has a bit to do with The SnoCo Kid and I recently having hiked to the ghost town (check out my review of the Monte Cristo coming 3/26).

The museum definitely has some cool mining pieces. There is equipment, a mine car, old map, and other various pieces. My favorite, and I’m guessing Fred’s, is a Monte Cristo Union Ribbon that is very likely to be the last one in existence.

It was donated to the museum by the son of the first child born in Monte Cristo and the grandson of a miner and union organizer in the town. It’s connections and stories like that that make me wish I had some interesting one’s of my own to tell. I suppose I’m working on that.

Mining isn’t really the focus of the museum though.

“While mining catches peoples imagination, shingle mills were the heart of this community for many decades. it was only two years ago that our last shingle mill closed down. When it did, it was still the biggest one in the country.” – Fred

Fred is referring to Miller Shingle, who just so happens to have donated the most historically significant piece the museum has on display in the eyes of the city. It was one of their many massive shingle saws, made in 1916 by Sumner Iron Works of Everett. Shockingly it, like the rest of Miller’s saws made in the same year, was still operational. Sumner sure knew how to make saws that lasted.

As part of the shingle mill exhibit, the museum has a video of present day workers from Miller Shingle using the almost 100 year old saws. They are dangerous machines that move fast without many safety measures in place. All it takes is one look at the saw itself or the video to see that. You wouldn’t catch me using one, that’s for sure. I’d like to keep my fingers, all of them.

Moving beyond the mines and shingles, there are still far more exhibits to see. Among them include collections dedicated to fighting fire (old buildings had a habit of burning down, being rebuilt, and burning down again), the railroad, and items from the local blacksmiths, shops, the doctors office, and homes that have stood the test of time and come to find their way to the museum.

If you are anything like me though, you are probably wanting to hear more about the exhibits and pieces that have interesting stories behind them. Some of those stories revolve around an amazing piece, like the operational 1912 Excelsior motorcycle (worth $110k) that can be found leaning up against one of the museum’s wall. It the same model that was sold at the cycle shop in town that same year.

There is also a long photograph by the front desk showcasing numerous gentlemen standing beside their motorcycles. It is probably the oldest panorama photo you will probably ever see, and it is near flawless for something pieced together long ago. It really is a sight to see.

Other stories have more to do with how a piece came to be in the museum …

“The school in Silverton got crushed by a snow storm in the 60’s. There was a family camping up there. They heard the building come down, went up there, and took the bell from the top of the school house back home with them to Marsyville. 40 or so years later, the son contacted us, said he’d felt guilty all of that time, and that he was bringing it back.” – Fred

The bell is in perfect condition, and has a long rope hanging from it allows children and adults alike to ring it. Don’t underestimate it because of its age though. When rung, it has a sound that echoes throughout the larger than life museum building. One can only imagine how far its sound carried while still atop the school house.

There is so much to see, hear, and learn about in the museum that it is easy to lose a morning, afternoon, or entire Sunday there. I’ve found myself doing so more than once. I’ve also been fortunate enough to find myself lost in the online resources available on the museums website, the most recent of which are two map projects.

The first allows you to explore digitized historical photos in the exact location and direction they were taken. A nifty magnifying glass also lets you compare the photo and historical map to what is now in the same location via satellite image in the present day. It is a cool way to see not only how things have changed, but how they have stayed the same like the Mukilteo light station (shown to below) and ferry dock.

Exploring Early Snohomish County

The second allows you to explore 100 years of Snohomish County city and property history through map overlays. With it you can go to any location in Snohomish County, even your own home, and see what that same location looked like on maps from six different years spanning from 1910 to 1975. The older maps include homestead information, which means you can find the individual or business that owned a particular property during those time periods and spend hour after hour researching them. I say that as someone who did just that.

 Snohomish County First 100 Years

When I put in my address, I really hadn’t expected to find anything of interest, but I did. The 1927 overlay showed an O.R. Allen as owner of the property that included the parcel my home now sits. A layer up, in 1934, I got the rest of the name, Orville R. Allen. A Google search of that name paid off. I found the smallest of blurbs connected to the multiple digitized Granite Falls Newspaper archives. Having old newspapers available online to view is amazing in and of itself. But, being able to search one by the names contained in it, I don’t even think there is a word for that.

Granite Falls Newspaper Archive, April 6, 1964

While the newspaper blurbs really didn’t give me much more than a connection, I stumbled upon a article from The Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project that did. Not only was he married to a woman who became quite famous as a local artist, and whose family helped develop early Stanwood, Dr. Allen turned out to be more than just the man behind the woman.

Dr. Allen had built the first hospital in Stanwood, and even owned the first car in the city. That wasn’t what caught my attention though. It turns out his father had operated a country store with none other than Abraham Lincoln, accompanied him during his debates with Stephen Douglas over slavery, and came to own a death mask of the president after he was assassinated. It was something that was passed down to Dr. Allen, and who knows, may have even been on display on the property my home now rests on.

Mary Gertrude Stockbridge Allen – Artist, Musician, Mother and Wife

By Annabelle Birkestol

How cool is all of that, and I never would have known about any of it if it hadn’t been for the thousands of hours of work put in by Fred, Tom, and the volunteers at the museum. I can only imagine what that must have been like, the things they discovered and learned about in the process of digitizing photos, newspapers, and maps. My few well spent lost hours are nothing in comparison to the work that they have done. Should you find yourself exploring the museum’s online maps, be warned, according to Fred they “cannot be held responsible for the number of hours of your life you consume in playing with old maps!”

The Granite Falls History Museum, its digital archives, and the incredible work the Granite Falls Historical Society has done creating virtual walking tours via your phone (Granite Falls, Mountain Loop Hwy, Snohomsih, aviation attractions) and the map projects, truly is amazing and deserving of thanks, donations, and awards. Oh, and as for whether or not there are more projects in the works for the museum and historical society, according to Fred, they are always working on something.

I’ll end this article with selections and some rewrites from my Letter From The Editor in this months issue …

Our county, along with the rest of the world, is changing. Growth and modernization has become the norm, often at the expense of … history. … History, and the old school community feeling it creates, is important, it is what defines our cities, what makes them unique, what makes people want to visit and live in them. Once that history is torn down, once it becomes forgotten [or lost], you can’t get it back. When you are making decisions about [what to do, what book to read, what to spend your time online or on your phone on], think about that.

Choose a trip to a museum, pick up a history book on a local citiy, take one of the virtual tours, or spend hours getting lost in old maps and research. It’s worth it, and you will find yourself, like me, with interesting stories to tell.

Find out more about the history musuem, and access its online resources, at

Did you know that this article, as well as all of the others featured on our website are part of a monthly magazine. It is all about shopping, eating, drinking, and playing local in Snohomish County. More importantly, it is about the ways that local choices can make your life better. Our monthly magazine is available in both electronic and print form (yes, you read right, print!). As if that wasn’t awesome enough, each issue contains exclusive content that can’t be found on our website or social media accounts. So if you aren’t getting a copy each month you are missing out.

Single issues can be bought HERE and annual subscriptions, which include exclusive giveaways and discounts, can be signed up for HERE. Finally, a limited number of printed copies are available at The Chic Boatique and Artisans Mercantile in Snohomish and Reclaimed Heart in Arlington, Vintage Company No. 7 in Bothell, Dahlia’s Vintage Marketplace on Camano Island, and Rustic Redemption in Granite Falls.

Let us know what you think! Share your comments and experiences below and don’t forget to spread the love on social media at the bottom of the page.


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