Looking Back: Taming a town while still having a good time in Edmonds

An advertisement announcing the opening of the Ritz Rink in Edmonds. (All images from the Edmonds Tribune-Review)

When the little village of Edmonds incorporated as a fourth-class town in August of 1890, even though there had been some hard times, the residents must have been filled with hope that the final decade of the 19th century would bring prosperity, growth and some needed culture to their community.

Certainly, at 5 o’clock in the evening on June 17, 1891, when the Great Northern track-laying engine rounded Point Edwards and came into view, the residents of Edmonds must have realized they were going to have a long-anticipated railroad connection to the outside world. Surely, it would help lead the way to prosperity.

However, in the year 1893, Edmonds — and the entire nation — slid into a deep depression that would temporarily dampen any bright outlook for the near future. There is no doubt that it was a combination of the town’s lumber and shingle industry, the coming of the railroad, plus some very capable businessmen, that enabled Edmonds to weather a few tough years.

Even with these advantages, recovery was slow, although as a new century approached, changes did begin happening. After all, the number of residents was now approaching 500, and the town was showing definite signs of progress. In 1899, a franchise was granted to Sunset Telegraph and Telephone Company and the company began erecting poles and stringing wires along the streets of Edmonds. The city council passed an ordinance to control the busy bicycle traffic in the town. Health and sanitation became issues. There were regulations put in place to prohibit any outhouses from being in place too close to the streets and also, to neighbors. There was even talk of sewers, although some members of the town council seemed confused about how they worked.

On July 2, 1901, Edmonds’ resident William Cook complained to the council about the carcass of a horse being buried in the street near his home at 7th and Bell. The marshal was given the task of digging up the remains of the dead horse and reburying the carcass somewhere well beyond the town limits. With this last news, I just have to insert my own comment—at least the carcass of the dead horse wasn’t thrown into the creek, contaminating the water source—as one such incident was reported from Ballard.

Edmonds Lodge No. 96, of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, established a cemetery just south of town—where Westgate is today. Since 1891, there had already been several burials on what was the 160-acre homestead of IOOF founding member Thomas H. White. However, to make it official, in 1894, the Odd Fellows purchased 4.25 acres of Mr. White’s land for use as a burial ground. They then hired John Archibald Bish, a logging contractor from Richmond Beach, to clear the acreage for the cemetery. First known as the IOOF Cemetery, today we know the old burial grounds as the city-owned Edmonds Memorial Cemetery.

By 1890, the Odd Fellows had already built a meeting hall on the south side of George (Main) Street, between 5th and 6th Streets. The members held their meetings at their hall and, in addition, political rallies and several community gatherings were held in the building. Also, the first motion picture to be seen in Edmonds was shown there. Several decades later, the IOOF Hall closed, and eventually became the home of Reliable Floor Coverings.

During the first decade of the 1900s, as Edmonds was growing in size and maturing, it was also becoming more of a family-oriented town, and changes were happening. In earlier times, parties and gatherings were usually held in the homes of different residents, but with the new century approaching, more appropriate gathering places for socializing and for Sunday worship services began to appear.

Edmonds Congregational Church was the city’s first church, opening in 1901.

The first religious group to organize was a Congregational Church. With its beginning in 1888 as a Sunday School for the children of the town and then as a place of worship for all residents, the congregation first met at the northeast corner of 3rd and George Streets in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wellington Smith.   In 1901, when its membership grew too large for the Smith’s home, a church building featuring a prominent steeple was constructed at the northeast corner of 6th and Dayton Streets. Members of the Edmonds Congregational Church worshipped together at that location until shortly following WWI, when the building was sold to Frank Freese Post #66 of the American Legion.

In 1903, the Swedish Methodist Church was established and a small building for services was erected at the northwest corner of 5th and Dayton Streets.  Sunday services were conducted in both Swedish and English.

In 1906, Holy Rosary Catholic Church began holding its services in what was their original church building between 6th and 7th on the north side of Daley Street.

By 1908, Polk’s Directory for Snohomish County reported that Edmonds now had a population of 1,500; the town had a good graded school with seven teachers; also, eight shingle mills, a saw mill, a box factory and veneer works, iron works and a bank. Steamers plying the waters of Puget Sound were operating between Everett and Seattle three times a day (one-way fare 40 cents, and round trip 50 cents). There was train service by Great Northern, with telegraph service provided; and many mail deliveries daily. In addition, two telephone companies were serving Edmonds—the Independent and the Pacific Express.

From generation to generation, something that we all have had in common: In order to find some relief from day-to-day problems, and sometimes even from boredom, we all like to take time just for enjoyment—something beyond the ever-present saloons.  The early residents of Edmonds were no different.

Even though there were musicals and other programs at the IOOF building on Main Street, and a diversity of men’s and women’s clubs had been formed around town, more was needed.

In late 1909, another place for the residents of Edmonds to find enjoyment was opened. The Edmonds Review reported that when the Edmonds Athletic Club was formed in December of 1908, it became extremely popular and rapidly grew in size.  Edmonds’ entrepreneur Allen M. Yost was then persuaded to build a facility especially for the athletic club. Mr. Yost built a large building on the site of the old Socialist Hall, on the north side of Dayton just east of 5th Street.  Named the Edmonds Opera House, Mr. Yost’s building went far beyond its use as a facility for the athletic club. He not only installed gymnasium equipment and a basketball court, there were also billiard and card tables. The building was dedicated on Christmas night in 1909. The following May, Mr. Yost installed two bowling alleys. The athletic club remained successful, and for several years, the local basketball teams brought fame to Edmonds. In addition, boxing matches in the building were promoted, and those also became very popular.

Through its many years of existence, the Opera House became a very versatile building. In addition to the above named uses, it served as an auditorium, a movie house, a roller-skating rink, a dance floor and a banquet hall.

Interestingly, the story of the Edmonds Opera House and its mentioned use as a roller-skating rink, is a story that spans several decades. First, shortly after opening of the Opera House in 1909, it was announced in the Edmonds newspaper that roller skating for all ages was to be held in the building. Throughout the country, roller skating had evolved as an activity that could be enjoyed by people of almost all ages.

Now, for some personal memories of having fun in Edmonds. Jump ahead to over 30 years later—the year 1941—I was 14 years old. Guess what was happening in Edmonds? An announcement appeared in a June 1941 issue of the Edmonds Tribune-Review for the grand opening on Wednesday, July 2 at 7 p.m., for roller skating at the Ritz Rink (the former Edmonds Opera House) located on Dayton near 5th Street in Edmonds.

Edmonds Mayor Fred Fourtner

As shown in the advertisement for roller skating at the Ritz Rink, the premises were “carefully supervised.” In fact, the skating rink was so carefully supervised that the military troops stationed at Paine Field were not allowed to skate at the same times as the general public. Each week, there was a special night set aside just for them—and, on that night, the rink was closed to the public. It did appear that during WWII, Mayor Fred Fourtner and the city council kept a close eye out for any chance of intermingling between the young girls of Edmonds and the military personnel stationed nearby.

For the too short time it lasted, roller skating in Edmonds was a whole lot fun. There were a few complaints from neighbors about the noise; and then the skating rink closed when the 35-year-old Edmonds Opera House building was sold in 1944 to Edmonds Masonic Lodge No. 165. After some necessary improvements, the building was dedicated as a Masonic Temple on April 1, 1950. To this day, diverse activities still take place at the Masonic Temple; however, I haven’t heard of any more roller skating in the building.

Fun time for the teenagers of Edmonds brings up some other memories of the 1940s during WWII. In July of 1944, some local teenagers were down in the dumps because of the closing of the skating rink, so they appealed for adult help in providing entertainment for their idle hours. Ray Cloud, the long-time editor of the Edmonds Tribune-Review, had his own ideas on the subject, and announced in the newspaper that “the already overburdened adults carrying the load of war work and repeated drives, should not be burdened further, but that the youngsters might devote at least some of their idle time helping their parents.”

Another person to have his own opinion regarding a place for teens to gather was pioneer resident Fred Fourtner, a former member of the city council, and mayor of Edmonds from 1927 to 1933 and then again from 1937 to1949. As mayor of Edmonds for 18 years, at times Fourtner had a rather abrupt style. In 1944, when the group of local teens appealed to him twice, requesting help from the city in providing a teen center, Mayor Fourtner explained to them that there was no legal basis for the city to make such a commitment.  The sometimes-outspoken mayor then recommended that the teens “might spend their spare time by making better use of the public library.”

In spite of the opinions of the mayor and the editor of the newspaper, someone in Edmonds was evidently sympathetic about establishing a canteen for teens, and it was reported that “A new dance band, the Mellodiers, made its first appearance in May of 1946 at a Teen-Age Canteen at the Masonic Hall. Composed of local high school boys, the band included Harry Case, Boyd Bigelow, Paul Engler, Max Holloway, Stewart Murdock and Tommy Marcy.”

By that time, I was out of high school and had little interest in teen-age entertainment.

— 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. She is also an honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.


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