Researched, assembled and organized by: Dan Berentson, Josef and Larry Kunzler
Index prepared by Larry Kunzler, 9/4/2005






The Skagit News



to the senate and house of representatives

            The undersigned citizens of Skagit County, State of Washington, believe that a fair consideration of the conditions surrounding the Skagit River and tributary country will induce such liberal action on the part of Congress as will meet the requirements of our present environments and prevent any disaster in the future such as we have suffered in the past.  . . .  The surveys already made, and the map attached hereto sustains the statement that there are tributary to Skagit River about forty Townships, or over fourteen hundred square miles of land.  A large proportion of this country is now, and all of it, when developed, must be largely dependent for its commerce on this important River.  It is navigable for light draft Steamers from its mouth to Sauk City, a distance of about seventy miles, and at some seasons to Marblemount, fifteen miles above Sauk City.  . . .  A system of dikes extends on both sides of the River from its mouth to and above the village of Avon, about fifteen miles; and connecting with the main system, are other dikes, running across the level country toward LaConner and other points to the North and South of the River.  This diking system has been rendered necessary by the filling in of the bed and mouths of the River, from causes which will be explained, and ought to be remedied.  The system, already constructed and maintained, embraces one hundred and fifty-eight miles of dikes, and has cost in money and labor expended in construction, the large sum of three hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars.  All of this has been expended by owners of land in the Skagit valley, including the residents of towns liable to inundation.  . . . 

Before the mouth of the river began to be obstructed, the accumulating waters of the greatest freshets did not overflow the banks.  A channel varying in depth from twelve to twenty feet was a sufficient outlet for all the water that passed in swift torrents from the mountains and highlands of the North and East.  . . .  The main channel or mouth of the River is now closed from an accumulation of logs, driftwood and sediment.  Where a few years ago Steamers could safely navigate in fifteen feet of water persons can now walk from one bank of the River to the other on logs, or other obstruction.  The only entrance from the Sound into the Skagit is by way of a small Slough, narrow and unsafe, and through which Steamers at high tide can find only about six feet of water.  The North fork of the River, through which navigation was formerly maintained, is now practically closed, and no boat can traverse its waters.  The South fork is only navigable from Fir, where it flows through and becomes a part of Steamboat Slough, heretofore mentioned.  Various reasons may be assigned for the obstruction and closing of the two mouths of the River, but until Boom Companies were permitted to place obstructions in the River and to locate their booms and appliances near the mouths, there was no trouble about overflows.

            We call your attention to the fact that since November, 1892, the floods in the Skagit have four times swept over the banks, broken the dikes and inundated the surrounding country.  The destruction of property by the overflow in November, 1892, and January, 1895, was not very great, but the overflow in May, 1894, and June of that year entailed a direct loss on the people of the Skagit Valley as shown by estimates attached hereto, approximating one-half million of dollars.  The town of Mount Vernon was entirely flooded, small boats and rafts navigated the streets and the people were driven from their homes for safety to the hills.  The damage to public and private property was great, and the suffering from exposure and sickness was distressing.



Unfortunately the newspaper did not publish the names or who wrote this Memorial.



The first documented “investigation” of the Skagit River was done by the Corps of Engineers in 1890.  On October 13, 1890 Capt. E.H. Jefferson wrote:  “There are several sloughs and channels through which the river finds its way to salt water.  Steamboat Slough is the principal one, and used by the Steamers.  The others are inferior and operated by the log-boom companies.” 


158 miles of dikes.  Cost $335,000.







These paragraphs strongly suggest that before the log boom companies came that the river did not flood.  This of course was not true.


The 1897 Corps survey map shows that the “Old Main Channel” was completely obstructed with log jams.  One has to wonder how much of this log jam was created by the removal of the log jams further upriver at Mt. Vernon.






Previously it has been believed that the only time downtown Mt. Vernon went underwater was in the flood of 1897. (See Skagit Argus article 12/15/21.)  Clearly this Memorial contradicts that statement.  It is also the first time that a summer flood was documented as having hit the valley.  Why didn’t Stewart find any evidence of this flood event or for that matter even mention it?


The Highest Water Known

The highest water in the Skagit River known to white men occurred last night.  On last Thursday a Chinook wind commenced to blow which was accompanied by a warm rain.  This rapidly cut away the snow which for several weeks had been creeping down the mountain sides.  The wind continued over Friday when the river commenced to rise rapidly.  By Saturday afternoon the river was booming and many thought it had reached its highest stage.  This however, was not the case as it continued to creep upward during yesterday, and until last night.  As the water gradually rose on the levees it became apparent that unless strenuous efforts were made to raise them, the town would be flooded.  The experience of former occasion was enough to induce all parties to lend a hand, so that when the fire bell rang out the alarm, not for fire gut water, an army of men turned out with shovels and commended to build a dike on top of the levee, commending at the hill and working clear down through the city.  This work saved the town, and but for it, from ten to eighteen inches of water would have swept over the levees and through the city. 

. . . Six hundred feet of the Great Northern railroad track between the bridge and Burlington were washed out, . . . The protection pier at the Great Northern bridge was knocked out and that structure was in great danger of being washed away.  . . . Two big breaks in the levee on the west side occurred.  One near F.C. Ward’s place, the other at D. Storr’s place.  The whole west side including West Mt. Vernon, is a lake.


USGS (Stewart) says 185,000 cfs  at Sedro-Woolley.  No figure for Concrete.


“The experience of former occasion was enough to induce all parties to lend a hand…”  This statement confirms that downtown Mt. Vernon had indeed gone under before.

According to COE reports there were 3 floods in 1896.  January, June & November.  The COE Taylor Report 12/11/1897 stated that “River reportedly was 24 ft on Great Northern Railroad Bridge 6 miles above Mt. Vernon.”, which was 2 ft and 4 ft above the January and June floods respectively. 


Burlington levees broke.  Westside Mt. Vernon levees broke.

Clearly damage not as great as 1917.


Protecting the banks

One of the most important questions for the consideration of the settlers of the Skagit Valley is an adequate protection to the rivers banks from wash during high water.  It is possible to build a levee of sufficient height to prevent overflow, but it is impossible to build a levee that shall withstand the slow undermining of the river at its base.  So far, several methods have been tried but none of them are entirely satisfactory.  The New Orleans Picayune of Aug. 16 has a description of a system which has been tried along the banks of the Mississippi, with the most satisfactory results.  The following extract from the article will explain the system:

The system was invented by Messers. R.H.F. and N. H. Sewall.  The former gentlemen being interviewed stated that their system of dikes is nothing new to the engineers and citizens at large who are interested in such work.  . . .  The plan is to construct spur dikes of timber at intervals along the caving banks.  These dikes project upstream at an angle of about 25 degrees.  They are constructed of piling driven 80 to 85 feet into the river bottom; the water will fall into the angle formed by the dike and the bank, and be held there, forming a motionless body of water on both sides of the dike, which leaves no pressure against same.  The deposit of the silt laden waters of the Mississippi will b stopped by the dike and will gradually settle, forming an accretion which will eventually create a batture.[2]

New Kind of Dikes









The Sewall’s might have taken credit for this design but it is very similar to what a hydraulic engineer professor in the early 1500’s taught to his class.  That engineer was Leonardo daVinci. 


The great flood -- The Skagit on a big tear -- The Skagit Valley From The Baker Valley To The LaConner Flats Washed By The Ruinous Flood—Stock And Improvements Carried Away

On Wednesday of last week, the wind began to blow from southeast and, before evening had developed into a chinook gale. Unfortunately for the river bottom settlers of the Skagit valley, the warm wind continued until about 4 p.m. Sunday.  On Friday the Skagit began to rise quite rapidly and continued rising at an average rate of three inches an hour until Sunday morning when it began to abate. In the afternoon of that day, the river had risen until all previous highwater marks at Sedro was one foot seven inches under water.  The whole valley east of Sedro was a floating wilderness.  Hamilton was totally inundated; one brick building having caved in and several frame ones torn from their foundations.  The county bridges recently constructed wee destroyed and the improved roads that had become the pride of the upper valley became an easy prey to the devastating waters.  Lower Sedro suffered heavily.  A large number of cattle and small stock perished and buildings ruthlessly torn from their foundations were cast hap-hazard amid the heaps of debris.  Mortimer Cook’s store that has weathered the floods and storms of fifteen years, rose with the eddying waters and turned half way round before lodging against some trees and stumps.

. . . South Burlington sustained great damage.  Houses and barns were undermined and toppled to the ground and the winter’s supply which they contained scattered on the tide.  The fencing of years yielded to the flood and the clearings that represented the toil of a decade were covered with the debris of the surrounding forest.  . . .  West Mount Vernon is next in line of progress and received no favor from the impartial flood.  The water, rising from one to two feet above the first floor of the dwellings, swept fences and everything movable before it.  . . .  In the year 1878 Joseph Hart, our well known fellow citizen, came to Puget Sound and two years latter came to the Skagit valley, just prior to the great flood of 1880.  Since the flood of that year there have been three freshets that have equaled it in height, and the one we chronicle this week surpassed it by eighteen inches.  . . .  In speaking of the floods and their causes, Mr. Hart said:  “At the time of my coming to the valley there had been no freshets of note for many years, and the one that came in 1880 was a damper to the enthusiasm of the dwellers on the marsh lands; but, as several years rolled by without a repetition of the catastrophe and a system of dikes was inaugurated, contentment banished fear.  Shortly after the memorable high water of that year, I had a talk with an old Indian and his squaw, who used to live on Skiyou Island but have since died of small-pox.  These worthies took me to a tree near by and directed my attention to a water mark at least six feet higher than the highest point reached by the recent freshet and said that when they were children the great flood swept down the valley carrying death and destruction everywhere.  He said:  ‘The lodges of my people were carried with their canoes and winters food out to the great waters, and they were left to suffer the horrors of starvation and death from exposure to the inclement elements.  The snows of winter fell to an unusual depth and the animals upon which we were wont to subsist, greatly reduced in numbers by drowning and driven into the mountain fastnesses by the raging torrent, were hard to get and very poor.  The fish we had prepared for winter use were destroyed by the angry waters and we were made to suffer the wrath of the Great Spirit.’ ” Continuing Mr. Hart said:  “Judging from the apparent age of the Indians at that time I should place the time of that greatest of the great freshets at about the beginning of the present century, and was caused according to the story of these Indians, by heavy snows coming early in the fall, which were immediately succeeded by a very warm Chinook wind which blew for many days.  As to this being the only and real cause of the unprecedented high water, however, I have my doubts.  Our fellow townsman, Mr. H.L. Devin, was some years ago engaged in surveying in the upper valley in the vicinity of Baker Lake.  Being detained over night in an Indian camp, he was told the history of a great flood.  They said that about 60 years ago a great slide had choked up the narrow outlet of the Baker Valley and that the water accumulated in the basin thus formed until the whole valley was an immense lake, full 80 feet deep.  By this time the imprisoned waters had burst through the dam and in a few hours this great volume of water was precipitated into the Skagit flooding the whole valley.  The water marks still plainly visible high up the sides of the Baker Valley and the great variation in those upon the trees as you come down the Skagit would indicate that this was the real cause of that terrible disaster.





3 inches an hour for approximately 48 hours would be 144 inches or only 12 feet.  This would not be a very large flood by todays standards even if we assume the river was at 20 feet when it started to rise.  This could explain why the COE stated the BNSF RR bridge only reached 24 feet (See TSN entry 11/16/1898).  Burlington at that time was not protected by levees and the water must have flowed down Gages Slough.


Cook’s store was located on the edge of the river.


South Burlington would have been the Gages Slough area.  No references to downtown Burlington.


West Mt. Vernon water one to two feet deep.



Water only a foot and a half more then three previous floods since 1880.  This would have included the 1884 flood that inundated downtown Mt. Vernon.  (See 1895 article above.)







This would have been the 1815 flood Stewart talked about.  Stewart later recanted this by saying The old Indian who told Hart and others at Sedro Woolley in 1879 that the flood was when he was a boy either referred to another flood or they did not understand him.”

(Source:  Transcription of Stewart “flood notes” on 9/16/22 by USGS 6/30/23 re Reflector Bar near Marblemount)







The narrow outlet in the Baker Valley would be where Upper Baker Dam is now.  Baker River before the dam ran on the east side of Baker Valley.


Water marks up the sides of the Baker Valley and on trees down the Skagit.  USGS now says this flood never happened because they can’t find any evidence.


Dikes And Fisheries

Upon the call of Representative J. E. Nelson quite a large number of Skagit county people who are interested in the subjects of dikes and fisheries gathered in the court house in Mount Vernon last Tuesday and a thorough discussion was had of the needs of the county in relation to the above subjects.  In the matter of improving the diking system it was the universal opinion that the first and most important steps to be taken is to secure the removal of the “boom works” from the mouth of the river so that the water will carry its load of debris out to sea instead of depositing it in the river channels where it forms a dam to the free outlet.  Old settlers related that in the early days before the erection of the “boom works” there were three clear channels out to deep water with a depth of from 16 to 18 feet of water, but immediately following the construction of the “boom works” the channels began to fill up with drift until now there is but one navigable channel and that has only a depth of about 6 or 8 feet in a most tortuous channel.  . . .  In regard to the fishing interests it was the general opinion that laws should be passed prohibiting the erection of traps in or near the mouth of any river or in any “fish runway.”  And further that the state would foster the fishing industry by the establishment of an additional number of hatcheries.


River used to have “3 clear channels”.  The one they are talking about in this article is Steamboat Slough.






North and South Forks used to be 16 to 18 feet deep.


Steamboat Slough 6-8 feet deep.


No “fish traps” in or near the mouth of river or in any “fish runways”.  Should build fish hatcheries.


Disastrous Flood -- Mt. Vernon Is A Heavy Sufferer

Levees Overflowed and Sidewalks Washed Out.  A Torrent of Water Pours Through The City.  Several Houses Wrecked and One or Two Narrow Escapes.

On Wednesday morning a very warm Chinook wind commended to blow which increased in force until evening, when it was almost a gale.  This hot wind blowing directly on the snow which had been creeping down the hills for the last few weeks, cut it away with the rapidity of fire, and resulted in a raging torrent rushing down the valley of the Skagit on its way to the sea.   The rise did not commence until Wednesday evening, as it usually takes from twelve to fourteen hours for the effects of a Chinook to make their appearance, and the same time to cease.  By Thursday the river was still raising but still within the banks.  During the night, however the water came with increased force, and early on Friday morning the alarm was whistled from the electric light plant which called for help only to find the water pouring over the levees in all directions.  Some efforts were made to raise the levees and keep ahead of the water, but it came so fast that they were useless.  . . .  In the southern part of the city, the very lowest quarter, a great break occurred in the levee, caused by the water pouring over the top, which swept everything before it with irresistible force.  . . .  After the flood Kincaid Street presented a sight that was dismal in the extreme, being washed out and lined with debris from one end to the other.  All other parts of the city were in nearly as bad condition.  . . .  From Conway to salt water, the flood poured over the top of the levee the entire distance on the east side of the river.

On the west side of the river several small breaks occurred letting through large volumes of water.  But little damage was caused however.  . . .  At one time the bridge across the river at this point was in real danger.  A jam had formed on one of the piers which gradually increased in size until it reached almost across the river.  By good work and the liberal use of giant powder, the jam was finally broken, and the bridge cleared.  It is badly damaged however, and cannot be used by teams until repaired.  The protection pier on the next span east of the draw was knocked completely out, and the full force of the jam came against the main pier, springing it fully 18 inches out of plumb.  . . .  At the mouth of the river, steamboat slough, the only channel that can be used by steamboats, is completely blockaded.  . . .  The Great Northern coast line was overflowed as usual, but not so badly damaged as it was last year.  The first train from the south came in today.  A jam formed against the bridge at the Davis place, and came near taking it out.  As it was the protection piers were knocked out, and the rails on the bridge were sprung fully 18 inches.



USGS (Stewart) says 275,000 cfs at Concrete, 190,000 cfs Sedro-Woolley.




12-14 hours is still what it takes for flood waters to get from Concrete to Mt. Vernon.


Water pouring “over” the levees.  This is the first time we have seen evidence of water over the levees.


Downtown Mt. Vernon flooded.





Kincaid Street washed out.


Conway levees overtopped.  Fir Island levees broke.


Log jam on Riverside bridge.






Steamboat Slough blocked with log jam.  No channel open to the sound.


Great Northern (BNSF) bridge damaged by log jam.





the sterling cut-off

Meeting at Commercial Club Last Tuesday – some opposition met with by property owners in that locality

            The meeting held on Tuesday afternoon at the Commercial Club rooms to consider the matter of securing the right-of-way for the Sterling Bend Cut-off in the Skagit river was largely attended by the owners of property adjacent to the proposed cut-off, and the owners of property which is being damaged by the present erratic course of the river.  The urgent necessity for action in securing an appropriation as soon as possible in order to prevent the  great amount of further damage threatened, seemed to be thoroughly appreciated by all who have seen the effects of the high floods during a long residence along the river, but it developed that parties who have recently settled on the river and have not had any experience of extreme high waters were unable to appreciate the possible consequences to their property should the cut-off fail to be secured.

Sterling Cut-Off


It is believed that they were talking about cutting off the Sterling Bend as at that time the Skagit used to flow around Hart’s Island and during times of flooding the river would flow across Highway 20 (the “Old Dollar Road”) into Gages Slough (Varney Slough).

In 1911 during a very small flood event the local farmers took dynamite and blew up a log jam causing the river to change channel. (Source:  1923 Stewart Report)



The ferry

The above illustration of the ferry across the Skagit river at the foot of Third Street is from a negative made by G. C. White.  It is a spot visited by many during the pleasant weather, the beauties of the Skagit river being presented in a charming manner to those who take a trip across.  At this point the river is nearly a thousand feet across.  The Skagit river bears the distinction of being the largest water course in the state, after the Columbia.  The scenery along the banks is varied, increasing in beauty in its upward course.  Several of these ferry’s are in operation at different points along the river.

Skagit River Ferries

This is a great picture of how local residents would cross the river in “the early days.”



Developing The Country  --  Railway Activity Is Skagit County

The Great Northern is Planning Much Improvement for Next Year

Within the next year Skagit county will be developed more than has been the case since the county has been in existence.  This is made possible from the fact that Mr. James J. Hill, who deserves the title of Father of the Northwest, is planning many valuable improvements on such a nature as will bring into the county hundreds of people who will settle upon the rich lands and improve and develop the many resources.  . . .  For a number of years the mining men of Skagit Pass, of Ruby and State creek have cried out for roads and transportation facilities, but have been unable to get them.  . . .  That Skagit county has paying mineral deposits there is but the slightest question.  She has not only gold and silver but iron and copper and cement rock and other valuable minerals.  . . .  But the mineral is not Mr. Hills only object, there are great forests of timber to be moved and there are fertile acres to be developed in the future.

Railroad Development










There’s gold in them thar hills.


And a few trees and good farmland too.


Our Resources Are Many -- A Splendid Poor Man’s Country

Work is Plentiful at All Times and Wages are Always Good

What Skagit county needs is more people to develop the great rich fields which spread off every hand.  There is not a country on earth where so many rich stores await the hand of toil and there is not a land extant where the poor man can so nicely get along and soon be in easy circumstances.  Skagit county is one vast field of richness, producing the greatest hay, grain, vegetables and fruits to be found anywhere and once this becomes known to the eastern man who is seeking a home, it will be only the matter of a very few years until this whole country will be alive with industrious men, building homes and developing the great resources which surround them.  Our county needs advertising we must place before the people that which we have for sale.  . . .  Let the eastern people know that we have a land of perfect health, that we have no heat or cold to the extreme, just an even, pleasant climate where health is catching and nature has a bountifully blessed the country with scenic mountains, sapphire seas, fantastic forest, green islands, and crystal lakes.  Let this be known and Skagit county will not be long in claiming her own. 

The Selling of Skagit County


“What Skagit County needs is more people . . . . “  Perhaps today this statement would not be so true.


Interesting in this article is that it doesn’t mention floods.


Skagit River Out Of Its Banks

Water In Valley Highest Known for Years—Burlington High and Dry—Very Little Damage

On Thursday evening the Skagit river was the highest known for years.  Some damage was done at various points on the river.  West Mt, Vernon was flooded, but with very light damage.  The west span of the bridge at that place was swept away.  The draw on the railroad bridge was slightly damaged by a heavy drift but will soon be repaired.  No water came within the corporate limits of Burlington except in the slough in the east part of town, and no damage was done.



USGS (Stewart) says 180,000 cfs at Sedro-Woolley.  No figure for Concrete.


“highest known for years”  Should have read highest since 1897 which according to USGS was 275,000 cfs at Concrete and 190,000 cfs at Sedro-Woolley.   Burlington had no water in 1906 according to this article. 


Highest Water In Many Years – Skagit River Goes On Big Rampage

All Bridges are Damaged and Dikes Broken in a Number of Places Along the River

While no great amount of damage resulted, it is never the less a fact that the old timer does not remember when the Skagit river contained as much water as it did Thursday night and Friday, and only prompt action on the part of the city officials and citizens saved the town from being inundated.  The dikes here were very secure and did not break but the torrents of water poured over them and it was only by prompt action on the part of the citizens, who labored like Trojans filling sacks of sand and placing them in the low places, that saved the city from another baptism worse than that of 1897, as the water was at least eight inches higher than it was during that memorable freshet.   . . .  The greatest damage done is to the numerous bridges along the river. The railway bridge between this city and Burlington has been greatly damaged and one span of the Mt. Vernon bridge was swept away which leaves the city practically cut away from all communications.  . . . The bridge at this place will never lament with safety, one span carried away, the others injured. A ferry will be established and sustained here until such time as a new bridge can be constructed.  . . . . These floods are fraught with no great danger and throughout the country where the dikes gave way there has been no loss of life and but little damage to property and the farmers are not at all discouraged or alarmed about the future. The dikes in the main remained secure and when the damaged dikes are repaired they will be made sufficiently strong to withstand all future floods. Any home seeker or investor when contemplating coming to Skagit Valley should not hesitate to do so for in truth these floods are of no great consequence except what damage is done to bridges. They really benefit the land, but there is no doubt but in future years the dikes will be so strengthen as to withstand these floods and the country back of them will always remain dry.

Reported Flood Levels do not Support Stewart


“no great damage”.


Mt. Vernon levees did not break.




This begs the question how did they end up with 8 inches higher water with 5,000 cfs less water.



Bridges damaged.



“No great danger from floods.”  In a few years they will regret making that statement.




Floods “really benefit the land.”


There should not be too much blame laid at the door of the dike commissioners because of the dikes breaking.  Those dikes wee built under many difficulties and considering the newness of the country they have held in pretty good shape.  The majority of dikes withstood the floods and in a majority of cases the commissioners are to be commended upon their excellent work.  Where logs or stumps were left in the dikes it is to be regretted, but remember that at this time floods extended almost from coast to coast.

Dike Commissioners Not The Blame




Freaks Of The Big Freshet -- Many Curious Turns Are Suddenly Taken

Great Excavations are Made Showing the Wonderful Depth of Skagit County Soil

Although no great killing damage was done by the deed of last week, still at certain places the waters cut many curious capers, especially on the ferry road above the city where the greatest amount of damage was done to fences, walks, houses and barns.  In places great excavations 400 feet in length and several feet deep were made.  . . . Great stumps were washed out by the roots leaving the deep excavations all the way from 12 to 20 feet in depth.  Old logs which had been buried no doubt for a century were exhumed by the playful waters leaving great trenches washed deep into the soil.  Below the city in the vicinity of Cedardale, the dykes gave way because of stumps being unintentionally left in them.  These stumps were several feet below the surface and unknown to the dike commissioners.  The waters however entered a rat hole, found their way and the stumps came to the surface by following the crevices made by the stumps at last passing through and soon soaked the dike until it gave way.  The waters then lifted the great roots from hiding places of great years and tumbled them into the great torrents which rushed through the dikes.  . . .  The report published in the P.I. that the dykes at Avon had broken is false, as there is not a break in the dyke within a mile of that town. . . .  The dykes at Mt. Vernon did not break, all stood secure until the city limits were passed.  Just above the city the dyke gave way and the water backed into West Mt. Vernon, making quite a serious time for their inhabitants of that side of the river, but all escaped unharmed, no less save a few chickens.  . . .  The citizens take the freaks of the river in a philosophical manner and are not in the least discouraged.

Dikes Blew Because of “Rat Holes & Stumps”



Great excavations 400 ft in length and several feet deep. 



Old logs buried for 100 years.








Avon levees did not break.  City of Mt. Vernon levees did not break.  Just above city levees broke and backed into West Mt. Vernon.



Floods not a big deal??


True flood report

We have done a little wading and done a little swimming, And we hit for good tall timber when the river got to raging, But we didn’t lose our horses, our cattle, nor our women, Though the water was rather wet and quite above its staging.  . . .

So here’s to good ole Mt. Vernon and the fertile Skagit valley, We don’t care for the river if she does go on a spree, Let her fill her banks and gurgle, and boil, and foam, and sally, It’s the land of milk and honey she is kissing, don’t you see?



Poem downplays the impacts of the flood.


Raging Waters – That Came and have gone and the harm done.

Skagit County Suffers Little in Comparison with other sections of the State—Useless Fears of Future.

So far as can be learned the recent flare-up of the Skagit river and its tributaries concentrated its damaging effects against bridges and railroads.  No loss of Human life, except that of Mr. H. Peterson at Mt. Vernon, was caused by it.  The case of Mr. Peterson was the result of a self inflicted accident caused by coming in contact with the iron crank used in opening and closing the draw on the county bridge at Mt. Vernon.  A blast to loosen a jam of debris in the river was about to be fired, and in running in the darkness to a place of safety the unfortunate man collided with the iron and injured himself internally, from which he died the day after.  . . .  At Mr. Vernon, while the water over-flowed low places on the dike, by vigilance and hard work the citizens prevented the water making dangerous inroads.  West Mt. Vernon was less fortunate and the town was flooded to a considerable extent but without serious loss.  The dikes both above and below Mt. Vernon broke, but the overflow is, in most cases, looked upon as a benefit rather than an injury to the land covered.  . . .  The railroad bridge between Burlington and Mt. Vernon was put out of commission for several days by drift striking and throwing the draw out of line.  . . .  The water in Big Lake, it is said, was backed up into the basements of several houses.  North of the river the water backs in west of the railroad tracks for a considerable distance toward town, while the water in the slough between the town and river made things look serious for a time, and a rise of a few more inches would have put Sedro-Woolley into the flooded district. . . . The rapid succession of rises and overflows is the subject of much conjecture and comparison with old time occurrences of a like nature.  High water marks of former days are contrasted with those being made, and imagination lures the possibilities of the future.  In this relation it should be remembered that, with the obstruction made by the dense forests and under-growths of years ago, the water which has recently ran out of the mountains and hills would have been backed up to the highest marks made by the flood anywhere in the past.  Whatever may happen in the future it has been fairly demonstrated that Skagit County is not in danger of a widely disastrous overflow.  The greatest danger that threatens is to those who might be affected by a change of the river’s course, which even now is demonstrated to be not unlikely.  The removal of timber quite likely has something to do with climatic changes that are said to be notable in this country.  The same thing lessens resistance to any change of base crowding water will cause the river to make.  It is possible that an extreme was reached in the last rise and that the worst that can occur has been demonstrated and has passed.  If that is true the lesson taught should prepare everyone for any future occurrence.


USGS (Stewart) says 180,000 cfs at Sedro-Woolley.  No figure for Concrete.


Death of Mr. Peterson.




Log jams “blasted” off of bridges.



Levees overtopped.


Floods and levee breaks in most cases looked upon as a benefit rather than an injury to the land.

Levees broke above and below Mt. Vernon.


GNRR (BNSF) bridge between Mt. Vernon and Burlington damaged.


Big Lake backs up.



Attributes past high water marks to dense forest.

“Skagit County is not in danger of a widely disastrous overflow.”  Really?




Sounds like they are describing “global warming.”


As will be demonstrated later the extreme was not reached in the 1906 flood event as the 1909, 1917 and 1921 floods were higher.



Refugee Notes from East Burlington

The Skagit river has again risen in her majesty, and outdone its previous efforts for some years back.  Everybody at Sterling south of the railroad track was compelled to move, some not getting their household goods high enough, as the water kept raising were obliged to move again.  . . .  Buzz Jewell suffered the greatest financial loss of anyone, as the river raised so that it covered most of his forty acres, and poured over the county roads in such volumes as to cut a chasm thirty feet wide and fifteen feet deep, the roaring of which could be heard half a mile away.  Jeffery Grimbly and wife moved out in season to escape being rescued by a raft this time, “I think the women all bore in mind the instance of one lady during the last flood, being carried out and deposited upon a raft outside the front gate, and determined to get out while the traveling was good.”  . . .  In the dwellings of Messers. Grimbly, Chappeau, and Raymont the water came up to the door knobs.  . . .  The flood did no damage to Wm. Crotchett except to fill all the holes in and about his barn yard.  It poured a wide stream of water over the county road and ran over the road into the slough.  . . .  The bridge over the slough by Wm. Miller’s place is impassable, having been built on logs, which were jarred loose lifting the bridge about three feet into space at one end.

East and South Burlington Damage

Sterling damaged.







Water at least 3 feet deep in houses.




Floodwaters found their way to Gages Slough.


What we have.

Come this way Mr. Traveler, and never be afraid, The floods have all subsided; we no longer have to wade, Trout are in the river we catch them at our ease, The weather’s moderated, no danger of a freeze, The winds are blowing milder, we feel a sort of charm, And the waters which were raging have ceased from doing harm, . . . Come out here Mr. Eastern man and settle down with us, Land’s so poor back yonder you can scarcely raise a fuss.  But here’s the land of plenty, the land of perfect ease, And the milk and honey’s flowing from the cows and honey bees.


Another poem by Charlie Gant downplaying the impact of floods.


Bond County For Bridges --Taxpayers Should Vote Sufficient Bonds

County Must Progress and Many New Bridges Are an Absolute Necessity

The News-Herald believes only in bonds when bonds are an absolute necessity, and it would seem that at this time such is the case.  There never was a time in the history of this county when bridges were such an absolute necessity.  The county at the present is maintaining eleven ferries at a cost of $3,036, this is for ferry tenders alone, not speaking of the expense of the repairs.  If we had three of four new bridges the county could save $996 per year on hire alone, but this is not the point at issue.  In maintaining these ferries the county will eventually pay out money enough to have built a steel bridge wherever needed and will not have a thing to show for it aside from a few cables and a few worthless old scows.  . . .  Ferries are dangerous, especially the weaklings which are constructed along the Skagit river.  There has been loss of life and property on these ferries.  They are only temporary, while steel bridges properly constructed are good for a lifetime, and once they are constructed the taxpayers feel secure, knowing that the expense is almost at an end.  At the present time the county is paying out annually enough to pay the interest on the amount necessary to construct these bridges, and why not do it?

New Bridges Needed



County needed steel bridges over the Skagit River.  Editor wanted to do away with the 11 ferries being operated at the County taxpayer expense.


Bridge Ready For Service--Repairs Are Now In Good Order

Excellent Work on the Part of Our County Commissioners and the Citizens of Mt. Vernon

The span in the bridge which was washed away during the flood has been replaced by a new one and the farmers can now cross with their teams.  The new span which rests upon large new piling is perfectly secure in every respect and will answer admirably until such time when the county is in shape to put in a new bridge, or at least until the next freshet.

Riverside Bridge Repaired



Span washed away in flood had been replaced.  Article states they did not think it would withstand another freshet.


Government Engineer Confers With Citizens On River Improvement

Doubtless one of the largest and most representative public meetings ever held in this city assembled at the court house last Friday afternoon to consider the improvement of the Skagit river. Fully one hundred prominent citizens of the county had gathered in response to an official announcement submitted by Major H. M. Chittenden, of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, stationed at Seattle, that a bearing would be conducted in this city on Friday for the purpose of getting the views of the citizens of the county on the improvement of the Skagit river between Sedro-Woolley and the mouth of the river.  . . .  Mr. H. L. Delvin, of Sedro-Woolley, stated that the citizens of that city were not wedded to the Sterling bend cut-off. What they desired was a deep, straight, navigable channel.  . . .  The clearing of land and maintenance of dikes were also responsible for filling of channel.  . . . The suggestion of the government’s engineers to cut of the north fork and reduce it to a 100 foot channel with a six-foot depth, aroused considerable composition.

Flood Control Meeting

Meeting attended by a lot of river boat captains.  Sterling Bend Cutoff discussed.  At this time the river still flowed around Hart's Island.

River navigable for log towing 90 days to 4.5 months out of the year.

Closing North Fork and forcing water into South Fork met with opposition.

Will Harness The Skagit

During the past eight months Mr. Aall with a corps of engineers has been engaged on preliminary work for his company north of Marblemount. The Skagit Power Co. was incorporated for the purpose of harnessing the water power of the Skagit River.  . . .  Mr. Aall says he will recommend two sites which are admirably adapted for a dam, one above and one below the canyon. Should the dam be built above the canyon it will be necessary to construct four miles of flume, but if built below only two miles will be required. The canyon is situated about five miles below the confluence of Skagit river and Thunder creek.

Skagit Power Company

First attempt to look at building dams on the Skagit in the location of the present Ross Dam.  Cost estimated at between 5 to 6 million dollars.

Skagit's Huge Water Power

“I fully believe that Skagit County has one of the finest undeveloped water powers in the world,” declared Mr. Paul Von Pressentin, while in the city a few days ago.  “There is, indeed, untold wealth in Skagit’s magnificent water power,” continued Mr. Von Pressentin.  . . .  And it is estimated that there is available in Baker River and other near by streams 50,000 or 75,000 additional power that could also be developed when required.  . . .  “We have experienced an unusually active year at the north end. The construction of the large cement plant at Concrete has given impetus to every line of business. The springing into existence of Baker, an active, bustling manufacturing center within the brief period of a few months is almost miraculous. We mountaineers are confident within a few years Baker will have a population of several thousand and become one of the most important industrial towns of the county.

Skagit Power Company

Preliminary work about done.  Also looked at Baker River sites.


Baker would later become known as Concrete.


Ask $100,000 For The Improvement Of The Skagit River

U.S. Engineers Report – Favorably on the Proposition to Improve Navigation on Skagit River. Will Confine Water to Main Channel

some details of Maj. Chittenden’s plan, recommends a modified plan to cost $100,000, through following to a considerable extent the plan outlined by Maj. Chittenden.  The chief obstacles to navigation in the Skagit as seen by Maj. Chittenden in his report are “the shoals at the mouth of the stream, the bad bars or shoals which interfere with low water navigation and the great quantity of driftwood and snags in the river.”  “Beginning with the junction of the north and the south forks in the delta of the river, the energy of the current is greatly dissipated by numerous channels and on the tide flats by a general dispersion of the current in all directions.”  The report favored the partial closing of the north channel to increase the current energy in the main channel by way of the south fork.  For this work Maj. Chittenden estimated a cost of $95,250.  . . .  In a previous report, April 15, 1907, he had pointed out that the total commerce on the river for 1906 reached 188,283½ tons, valued at $1,766,452.  . . .  As a result of a personal examination of the Skagit river from Sedro-Woolley to its mouth, including both north and south forks, the conclusion has been reached that the only means of securing a reliable channel or entrance to this river that will benefit existing commerce is by the construction of a dike at the mouth of the south fork, following generally the line laid down in the report of Maj. Chittenden, and by cutting off or regulating the flow through the other channels.  . . .  “The estimate is as follows:  16,000 feet of retaining dike, at $80,000; regulating dikes and mattress sill at head of north fork, $6,000; cutting off subsidiary channels at the delta, $5,000; superintendence and contingencies, 10 percent, $9,000, total $100,000.

Corps of Engineers Plan

For Improving Navigation



Several times this report recommends cutting off the flow of river water through the subsidiary channels.  The work that was carried out was further described in COE Cavanaugh Report 12/6/12 & COE Woodruff Report 10/10/19 and COE Butler Report 2/8/28.  What this strongly suggests is that it was not the farmers at least on Fir Island that blocked off the estuary flows but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Clearly this had a tremendous impact on fish.

The Skagit is Falling

A chinook zephyr and a steady downpour during the past week or so precipitated a freshet throughout the northwest, and in some instances the mountain streams have overflowed the banks, and in consequence the county was inundated. The Skagit in the vicinity of Hamilton had overflowed its banks and caused more or less inconvenience if not damages.  . . . On the west side the river had overflowed its banks Wednesday morning, and was within three or four feet of the top of the dike.  . . .  South of town at Skagit City, Conway, Fir and Milltown, the high water and tide caused the river to pour over its banks, and when its reached the highest point was within less than a foot of the top of the dike.  . . .  The precipitation in the mountains during the past two weeks has been unusually heavy, and the consequent melting of the snow in the foothills caused the rapid rise of the mountain streams. The Baker River rose to a point, the settlers say, since their residence there the Baker River had never reached.


This provides us with proof positive that the infamous 1909 flood event was a double-pump event.  The flood this article describes happened one week before the November 30, 1909 event.

All snow melted in the "foothills" not necessarily the high country.

Baker River ran very high.

Skagit Delta is Flooded

That a part of Mt. Vernon was one of the lone isles rising defiantly above the encroaching water lines of the mighty Skagit, seems almost like a miracle. . . . When the water had risen to a point within a foot or so from the top of the dike just south of town on the east side, the river on the west side broke through the dike at a point between the Henry McLean and Young properties. Within a brief time the river poured through West Mt. Vernon and spread over the flats. A few hours before the river had broken through the dike at Kimble’s bend, carrying away about three hundred feet of dike.  Soon thereafter the report was received that the river had broken through at Sterling’s bend, and that Burlington was flooded, and the Olympia marsh, just north of that city, submerged.  . . .  At six o’clock Monday night the river had risen to a point fully as high if not a little in excess of the high water point of the preceding Tuesday. At that time the river was within two and a half or three feet from the top of the dike.  . . .  At ten o’clock Tuesday morning the west side was under two or three feet of water, and people who live in one story cottages were all safely domiciled with their neighbors who live in two story houses.  . . .  Burlington had hoped to escape the flood. Its hopes were cruelly shattered, when the dike broke at Sterling bend and a mountain of water came rushing down the Skagit valley and quickly inundated them. The fact that Burlington is by no means immune from the ravages of flood was demonstrated with crushing truth when the waters of the Skagit rolled over that ambitious and growing town last Tuesday.  . . .  In the entire district south of Mt. Vernon the only spot of any extent that was protected against an overflow is reported to have been on the island between the north and the south fork of the river at Fir.  . . .  The point of danger is at Sterling bend. Although the safeguard of a huge restraining wall had been built at that point, it proved inadequate to turn the unusual volume of water that demanded an outlet, and that gave way and a mighty volume of water poured through over the flats into Burlington.


USGS (Stewart) says flood 260,000 cfs at Concrete, 220,000 at Sedro-Woolley.


Where the 40,000 cfs went to is anybody's guess.


Kimbles Bend is now called the Avon Bend.  Keep in mind that at Sterling Bend the river was flowing around Hart's Island.


Compare the comments concerning the Burlington flooding to those in 12/3/09 B.J.


At the time the article was written it doesn't appear that Fir Island had went under water yet.  Subsequent articles state that it eventually did.


"Had the west side dike been a few feet higher the overflow on the Swinomish flats would not have occurred. This is equally true of the dike at Kimball’s bend. This is a strategic point. The bend at this point is a sharp curve in the river, where naturally the pressure of the current is greater than at any other point. During a freshet the force is many times greater. A deep and broad wall probably with a cement base is an absolute necessity at this point."  From this statement it would appear that if the current diking system was in place the flood would have passed without any damage to the lower valley.  We know that the levees in 1909 broke around the 32 ft level.  In 1990 & 1995 the river level was at 37 feet at Mt. Vernon.

The Flood.

The recent flood in magnitude and widespread destruction wrought is undoubtedly incomparably the most calamitous known since the advent of the earliest settlement of the whites in Skagit County. . . .  As a comparison, for sixty four hours a Chinook wind melted the snow in the foothills. As a result huge volumes of water rushed down into the valley and overflowed the river bank and spread over the entire country seeking an outlet.  . . .  Mt. Vernon is indebted for its escape from a disastrous flood to the foresighted wisdom and prudence of its people who expended a substantial sum of money in 1907, to build a broader and deeper and more efficient system of dikes on the east side to protect the business district of the city.  . . .  Burlington went wet.

1909 Snow Melt

What snow in the foothills?  It had previously been reported one week earlier that the snow had melted during that flood event.  See 11/26/09  Argus.

Downtown Mt. Vernon levees raised in 1907.


Relief Party is Organized

A special meeting was held at the Commercial Club this morning to organize relief parties to go out into the flood stricken districts with provisions and medicine which may be required by some of the families without boats who were caught by the flood and are still unable to get out because of water in sloughs, ravines and gorges.  . . .  The purpose was to send five men through the district north of the McLean road; five men into the territory south of the road and a party in a boat to the North Fork bridge to cover the country at that point.

Search and Rescue


High Water On Skagit River Break All Past Records

Fairhaven Avenue Flooded With a Foot and a Half of Water River Raises Twenty-four Feet Above Low Water Mark -- Mark—Above all Past Records

[4]Some among the oldest settlers of Skagit County are found to make the statement that never before have they seen the river rise to the marks reached during the flood, which came during the first part of the present week.  . . . At about 10 o’clock Monday night, W.H. Joyce who lives just east of town, gave the alarm by phone, announcing that the water had broken over the county road east of the Jewell place and was running down the big slough towards the east part of town which is quite timely settled.  . . .  Down at the east end of Fairhaven avenue the current was very swift and the bridge went out . . . leaving some forty people shut out in this lowest land and in a swift current of water.  . . .  Thursday was a great day in Burlington and many talked of camping on the heights Tuesday night, but the change came about noon, the water went down rapidly and Burlington has perhaps received less damage then any other town on the Skagit.  . . .  While the East Mt. Vernon dyke held good, a snapshot from the auction building on the hill at Mt. Vernon shows a sea of water from Mt. Vernon to LaConner.  Much damage was done in West Mt. Vernon and the hundreds shut in.  LaConner was underwater as well as the entire flats from LaConner to Bayview and Mt. Vernon.


USGS (Stewart) says flood 260,000 cfs at Concrete, 220,000 at Sedro-Woolley.

This article is in extremely poor condition and very hard to read.  Portions are completely unreadable.


Important to remember is that during this time period the Burlington levees were 4,000 feet west of their current location.



Water went down rapidly.  Burlington received less damage then any other town in Skagit County.  Downtown Mt. Vernon dry, everything from West Mt. Vernon to and including LaConner to Bayview underwater.


Reveille Exaggerates High Water

            (Dead in flood Skagit waters collect their toll of human life.)  The above headlines, printed in red, were the attractive features of the front page of Wednesday morning Reveille, and is perhaps of the most disgraceful lies that that paper ever published.  Following those headlines the reporter says that no dead have been reported.  He also says that Burlington is buried under from five to ten feet of water.  This is also untrue.  They also say that Burlington is sadly in need of relief and mercy work.  We hope that the Reveille will be generous enough to correct these false statements.  In the first place there is no dead in the flood, so far we have not received the report of one dead from any place along the Skagit.  Burlington had about one foot of water in some of the streets, and there were many buildings over the town that were not even surrounded by water.  Neither the railroad bridge south of town, or the steel bridge at Mt. Vernon is washed away.  The amount published in the Reveille on Wednesday was simply a piece of Yellow Journalism.


1909 Flood


Doesn’t sound like all of Burlington was covered in flood water in 1909 and the parts that were only had 1 foot of water in streets.  Appears 1921 flood was a larger event.


The City Will Improve Dike

A delegation of property owners on Main street appeared before the council to consider the urgent need of protecting that portion of Front street, lying between Montgomery and Division streets, against the inroads of the river. The property owners signified their willingness to construct a bulk head or rip-rap, to protect their property against the river if the city would vacate the street, or should the city decide that it would not be advisable to vacate said street, they urged that it take immediate steps to build a suitable restraining wall to safeguard the street and abutting property against destruction.  . . .  It was moved by Councilman Ferris and seconded by Councilman Taylor that the city take immediate steps looking toward the raising and strengthening of the dike and the protection of the river front within the city limits; and that in case the present limits are extended as now proposed that the dike from the present limits to the new limits if extended, be raised, widened and strengthened to the same extent as that within the old limits before being so extended. The motion carried.

Front Street Property Owners Wanted Larger Dike

This is in the same location as Mt. Vernon in 2006 wants to put its flood project.

Lessons of the Flood

As it is at present almost impossible to keep in communications with the upper country by wire when storms are raging, to thus warn people of approaching freshets, and as they will come again whenever the conditions are right, would it not be well to have a wireless telephone line from Mt. Vernon to where the power plant is to be established?  . . .  If installed it would give ample warning from 20 to 30 hours ahead, with it should be installed a gauge at different points to tell the height of the water.  . . .  In Holland and Germany where they have these or practically the same conditions, they have left 200 feet on each side of the stream. They then build a stone wall on each side more than 8 feet higher than the highest water they ever knew of. They take the dirt or sand and make a slope to this wall, (the wall is built out of rock and cement two feet thick). They then plant the ground between the wall and the river with willows, mostly basket willow which pays them for the repairs if any are made, and it is often that you will see farmers in floods working 10 to 14 feet below this stone wall.  . . .  I further wish to mention that from recent observations taken of that river on which the dike was built in 1878, that since that time it has lowered its bed four feet and is constantly lowering it as the great floods being confined, sweep out all sand and don’t allow it to fill up the bottom and thus displace the water and cause it to rise higher from year to year. A. V. Pressentin.

First Flood Early Warning System Proposed



Stock Taken to Hills For Safety

W. D. Good, a prominent young farmer at the south end, was in the city last Saturday.  Mr. Good says that the greater part of the farming district adjacent to Fir was under water.  A large number of horses and cattle were taken to the hills.  In many instances barns had been built on foundations above the high water mark, where stock were maintained at home safe from the ravages or inconveniences of the storm.  Mr. Good says that the partial destruction of the north fork bridge, the washing away of several hundred feet of dike and the damage to fences will probably involve a loss to the district of $5,000 or $10,000.


Indians Rescue Flood Captives

Mr. Olson says that the greater number of the farms on Skagit Island escaped the flood.  He attributes this to the fine system of dikes that district recently built, and largely to the vigilance of the farmers who throughout the memorable Monday night were watchmen at danger points along the dike, and busily at work strengthening the dike where it required it.  . . .  M. Costello came down from Lyman last Tuesday. Mr. Costello is a prominent logger of the upper Skagit, where the high water of the past two weeks compelled the suspension of all logging operations on the river. He says that the recent flood was the highest he had ever seen on the river. The oldest inhabitants on the river declare that the high water mark attained during the recent flood was at least 22 inches higher than it had ever reached during a period of 22 years.

During the flood a number of families were rescued from drowning by the timely assistance of three Indians – John Buck and his two brothers. A family by the name of Price who reside on a ranch near Minkler, were in desperate straits when rescued by the Indians. The high water had driven the family from the house to the barn where they found a temporary place of safety in the hay loft. The water had reached the beams of the hay mow when the Indians arrived in a canoe and took the family to a place of safety; the Indians then returned and saved all of Mr. Price’s stock.


On December 12, 1922, at page 122 in Stewart's handwritten field journal, he makes the following notation:  "M. Costello came to Mt. Vernon shortly after 1909 flood.  Prominent logger.  He states that oldest settlers up there state that 1909 flood at least 22 inches higher than any flood in 22 years."

Stewart does not attribute quote to 12/10/09 Argus article.  This shows us he picked and choose what settlers he wanted to believe for if 1909 was 22 inches higher than any flood in 22 years it would have meant that the 1909 flood was larger then the 1897 flood.  See also 12/22/21 CT

Lessons of the Flood

The individual losses of the flood were its most pathetic features.  Instances where the industry, frugality, self-denial and savings of a lifetime were swept away in a night.  In the aggregate the losses to a county of such marvelous wealth-producing capacity as Skagit will, in a brief period of years be restored. . . .  The lordly Skagit with its stupendous destructive possibilities cannot be removed. Yet it could be confined and the danger of a flood during high water periods could be practically eliminated. It is surely an engineering problem that ought easily to be solved.  . . .   If nature or man could provide sufficient sources of outlet to carry to the sea all of the surplus water that accumulates during a freshet, floods and the disastrous consequences of floods could be averted. Were these spillways or artificial basins available during excessive high water periods dikes would be unnecessary.



"Millions are invested in the farms of the Skagit delta. The duty of protecting these farms from the ravages of a flood transcends in importance all other local public obligations. The future security of life, property and the general welfare of the community demand that the floodgates of the Cascades be controlled without unnecessary delay."


Should Build Span On Bridge

The high grade and close trestle bridge of the Great Northern Railroad South of town is in a great measure accountable for the extreme high water in the town during the recent flood.  A great drift of wood and logs, at the trestle bridge across the big slough, held the water and caused it to back up and overflow a greater part of the town.  For the safety of the town as well as for the railroad company, a long bridge span should be built at this point so as to give the drift wood and logs a chance to pass through.  If the railroad company does not do this of their own accord, the city authorities should force them to do so.  Many citizens had their homes flooded and were compelled to move out, all on account of this back up water from the above mentioned trestle bridge.  This water may seem of little importance to some, but those who have had some experience in this line think it of great importance to them.  Railroads are very necessary to our town and should always be treated courteously, but there is no reason that they should be permitted to jeopardize the lives, and comforts of our citizens.

Bridge Over Gages Slough Caused Flooding in Burlington


This article is extremely significant because it documents the tremendous amount of water and drift that used to travel through Gages Slough during flood events.

Flood Causes Big Dike Taxes

Ole Gunderson, of this city, who is one of the commissioners of dike district No. 3, says that work was begun last Tuesday between Conway and Milltown, to repair the damages to the dike caused by the recent flood. The work of constructing the dike at this point will have to be done largely with wheel-barrows, as the tides makes it impracticable to use teams.  Mr. Gunderson says that approximately a mile and a half of dike was washed away in his district during the flood. The total damages to the dike will doubtless aggregate $15,000 or $18,000. There are 8,000 acres of land in this diking district. It has an outstanding indebtedness of $21,500. The district is also expending $20,000 or $25,000 in constructing a drainage ditch. Because of these large expenditures for the maintenance of a diking system and the construction of a drainage ditch, the farmers at the south end are required to pay double the dike tax that the taxpayers of the city pay for the same purpose. Add to this the sum required to repair the damages to the dike during the recent flood, and it materially increases an already heavy burden on the tax payers at the south end of the district.


Mile and a half of levee was washed away.  Dike District 3 wanted stronger dikes.

Advocates Spillway

Dr. J. S. Church, a prominent physician of LaConner, was a business visitor in this city yesterday.  The doctor says the damages at LaConner from the flood were not of a permanent nature.  It is true that there were a few serious individual losses among the farmers on the flats.  One of the most regrettable was that of Miles Fulk, one of the progressive and successful dairymen of the beaver marsh.  In the loss of stock and other personal property, Mr. Fulk’s personal losses are estimated at $4,000.  But the total losses of the county while large the doctor says are not of a permanent nature, and the individual property owners who have suffered will in a few years have fully recovered therefrom.  He says that a spillway through Joe Leary’s slough in his judgment would be practicable to control the river during flood periods.


LaConner damages not of a permanent nature.

Incipient Flood

The unusual rainfall during the week preceding last Monday and a prevailing sou’easter again influenced the river to gradually rise until it reached a height of ten feet.  A change of temperature followed and it began to recede.  At the south end the Stillaguamish River had overflowed its banks and Stanwood was again in part submerged.

Parts of Stanwood Submerged

Didn't Touch Edison

John Berentson, a prominent merchant of Edison, was a business visitor in the city last Tuesday. Mr. Berentson says that Edison did not suffer directly from the flood, but in a measure it will share in a temporary loss of trade, caused by the damages to the roads by the flood throughout the adjacent farming districts. He says that Edison and the rich farming district surrounding it are experiencing steady and substantial growth.

Edison Not Flooded

This is very interesting from the following standpoint:  Burlington and La Conner and Edison reported water in the streets.  See 1/4/18 Argus which reported on the 1917 flood.  Breaking of dikes near Riverside flooded the entire flats from Mount Vernon to Edison and LaConner, and it is in this district that the greatest loss was caused See 12/17/21 C.H.

A Conference of Commercial Clubs

The improvement of the Skagit river is a matter of most vital and urgent public importance.  . . .  Among the lessons of the recent flood the one that was forcibly impressed on the mind of the observer, was the utter inadequacy of the river to discharge the huge volume of water during a flood. It is generally believed that the channel of the river should be straightened, widened and deepened. There are too many bends in the river. If the channel of the river was straightened here and there and the bed widened and deepened, the strong current of the river would undoubtedly assist materially in maintaining the larger channel, and would doubtless carry to the sea all accumulating sand and silt.  . . .  Then the nation’s engineers have recommended the improvement of the river, our state delegation have approved it and solemnly promised that they would secure the appropriation for us, without unnecessary delay. The recent disastrous flood, emphasizes, without further delay, the need of this improvement, so let the commercial clubs get together and bring to bear on our delegation such powerful pressure and influence that no possible excuse could be justified on their part, that they were not personally aware that the improvement is so urgently needed.

Too Many Bends In The River

". . .bring to bear on our delegation such powerful pressure and influence that no possible excuse could be justified on their part, that they were not personally aware that the improvement is so urgently needed." 

Sounds like they had the right idea but here we are 98 years later saying the same thing.

Adopt A Reservoir System (Editorial)

So far I have noticed no one seems to have mentioned the project of inaugurating a reservoir system along the headwaters of the unruly Skagit as an auxiliary to the diking system already adopted on the lower lands about the Sound.  And, to my mind a wisely engineered system of locks and dams along at proper inlets of the upper Skagit would almost of itself render any serious damage from our fall or spring floods a thing of the past.  Dikes are all right in their places for reclaiming tide lands and the like; but something nearer the source of difficulty is what is needed to supplement the preventive uses of the dike.  Starting up the Skagit from the G. N. R. R. bridge near Burlington there is hardly a mile that has not some cove, ravine, or water-course tributary to the Skagit, which by the expenditure of a reasonable amount of time and labor could be turned into a reservoir which at a flood – such as just receded – would retain much of that water that now passes into the Skagit to increase the damages now largely visited upon the rich farming community occupying the flats immediately about the Sound.  F.D. Carson, Sedro-Woolley, December 14, 1909



They did adopt a reservoir system of sorts.  They called it The Nookachamps/Sterling area.



The River – Gives People of Valley another scare – Big Chinook Starts Things Doing but quits with but little damage done.

There may have been a time when a Chinook wind was not an unwelcome thing in this country, but that was a long time before November 1909.  Since then when a Chinook blows every gentleman holds his breath.  . . .  Sunday afternoon the water began to rise at the rate of about 5 inches an hour and by midnight had increased to 8 inches or more an hour.  . . .  Sunday night up valley train was stopped at Concrete on account of the bridge over Jackson creek, near Van Horn, being washed out.  . . .  In Sterling Bend where last year the G.N. tracks were moved back from the river bank, and where subsequent rises have washed away the river bonks right up to the tracks, and rock fills were made, the waters of this rise came right up and again dallied with Jim Hill’s iron.


USGS reports 114,000 cfs at Sedro-Woolley.  No figure for Concrete.


This would have been a flood comparable to the 1979 and 1980 flood events.




Article states there were 16 daily trains in Sedro-Woolley.



Dam building does not look too good

Several years ago The Times quit building newspaper railroads.  This was after it had learned good and well that when railroad officials got mixed up in an interview and “divulged” a lot of plans for the future, that the statement was either an explosion of overworked imagination, or was just the reverse of any real intention.  Hence, The Times is skeptical of the big dam story about what Stone & Webster are going to do on Baker river this year and immediately following.  . . .  Under the most favorable conditions the building of the Baker river dam is going to cost lots of money, and just why the Stone & Webster should begin construction work while the price of every factor to construction is abnormally high and still ascending and transportation precarious, is a mystery. 

Rumors of Baker Dam


Newspaper didn’t believe Baker dam would be built.



Heavy Rains Cause A Raging Skagit

The heavy rains of the past two weeks have caused considerable inconvenience to people living along the Skagit river.  It seemed that the high point of the raging Skagit had been reached Sunday morning when the debris dam and the Mount Vernon bridge went out, carrying a portion of the temporary trestles away.  Part of the trestle went out on Saturday, thus putting the bridge out of commission and causing those who wished to get to Mount Vernon to go around by the Avon road and come in from the north.  . . .  The river dropped Sunday and Monday, but the heavy rains of Monday night brought the river up again.  Heavy rains in the hills kept the stream up to a dangerous point and in many places the water covered the low lands.  . . .  The heavy rains of Tuesday brought raging torrents of water down the old Skagit and for the first tie in nine years the danger line was reached on Wednesday morning when a little over twenty-one feet of water was registered.  The dike broke south of town and considerable land was flooded.  However, the standstill came about noon and by Thursday morning the water had fallen to the seventeen foot mark. 




This flood does not show up in USGS or Corps records probably because it was only 1 ft. over flood stage at the current gage.  HOWEVER, it is the first time that we have documented that the infamous December 30, 1917 flood was a “double pump” flood event.  Just like the 1990, 1995 and 2003 flood events.  As we all know, the 2nd flood is always larger, and it was.  Overbank storage would have been minimal at best.


Dike broke “south of town” on this minor event.  Although subsequent articles do not mention this levee break it is highly probable that the levee was not repaired in just 10 days.


Skagit River Throws Mantle Of Flood Waters Over Ranches And Homes

The dear old Skagit Valley, the one green spot in the northwest, has been given a drenching which wrought much damage and caused considerable inconvenience to all persons, ranchers and townspeople alike.  An almost unprecedented rainfall and a Chinook wind starting last Friday in the upper part of the county caused the old timers to open their weather eyes and soon the alarm was given that a “big river” was expected.  The river began raising last Saturday morning and continued to raise all day.  Saturday night the stream was nearing the danger point.  Dikes in all parts of the valley were being taxed to their capacity and in many places efforts were being made to strengthen them.   . . .  LaConner received a full blow of the rushing waters, but aside from the loss of the bridge, some bad washouts, the little town stood up under the blow very strongly.  Mount Vernon’s business section and residence section was spared.  . . .  The Great Northern and the Interurban roads are badly hit.  For miles and miles, both north and south, the Great Northern tracks are hanging here and there like a great trestle.  In some places the road bed is washed out to a depth of six and seven feet.  The interurban tracks are badly damaged and it is not believed that traffic will be resumed between Mount Vernon and Bellingham for a least a month.  . . . 

The first intimation of danger was when advices up river were received to the effect that the water was higher on Saturday morning than it had been during the flood of 1909 and people began to prepare for a wet season.  By midnight it had reached the high point at the hospital and was still rising.  A small dike was thrown across the street with the hope of holding it, but under the strenuous protest of the property owners who would be submerged at the expense of the north end of the town the idea of keeping it back was abandoned and it was allowed to run down the main street to the Great Northern railway tracks where a breach was made and the waters allowed to spill out over the Olympia Marsh.  . . .  The loss in stock also promises to be comparatively light for the reason that the valley is so flat that a sudden rise sufficient to endanger life is almost impossible.  . . .  The Howard Fredman place has suffered the most severely of any in the immediate neighborhood of the big break.  Here the river ran mad, undermining the house and barns and plowing deep channels through the fields.  Deep holes are to be seen everywhere and across the Varney road where once were stumps there are now excavations that look like cellars.  The little station at Varney has been undermined and leans over on its sides in a decidedly disreputable manner.  The damage in the Interurban lines at this point will take weeks in repair. . . .

Sedro-Woolley has not suffered very severely except in the vicinity of the water plant.  At Sterling the damage will be considerable from the cutting up of the farms and the J.H. Hutchins place is said to be pretty badly wrecked.  Dr. Cleveland’s new home on which he has spent so much time and money is also much the worse for its experience as well as those of many others.


USGS (Stewart) reports that flood carried 220,000 cfs at Concrete and 195,000 cfs at Sedro-Woolley.

This is the most comprehensive article describing the impacts of a large flood on Skagit Valley.





LaConner floods, Mt. Vernon stays dry.



Railroads badly damaged.



If the water was higher upriver then in 1909 it means 1917 was larger flood.


Water diverted to Olympia Marsh would explain why flood water did not reach downtown Burlington business district.  See BJ 1/4/18 article describing this flood.


“a sudden rise sufficient to endanger life is almost impossible.”  This statement, given the tremendous development in South Burlington since 1917, would undoubtedly be false today.


Varney is what they used to call Gages Slough.  The train station used to be across the street from the Cascade Mall.


Sedro-Woolley little damage.  Sterling hard hit.


Clear Lake

At 1:30 the water started to come in the west part of town, and the people living in that part received the greater part of the water.  The water entered the mill and also the engine room where the electric dynamo is and rose so high that the mills and town was put out of order and the town was submerged in darkness until Wednesday evening.  The greatest damage done by the water in town was the washing away of sidewalks and fences.  The flood was rather mild here compared to what it would have been had not the Sterling Bend dike broke.  Although the citizens of Clear Lake sympathize with those of Burlington and vicinity they are thankful that it was not worse here.


This article unequivocally shows the impacts the levees have had on the Clear Lake area.  1917 was one of if not the most damaging flood in the 20th century, yet Clear Lake suffered only “mild” damage unlike what they suffered in the 1990 and 1995 flood events.


Boat upsets boy drowns

Little John Gruber of Clear Lake, lost his life in the flood waters of the Skagit Wednesday evening when, in company with his brother, Joe Gruber, they attempted to make their way over the waters to the ranch.  The accident happened about 6 o’clock in the evening.  Little John had come down from Clear Lake and had waited near the Clear Lake yards, close to the broken dike for his brother, who was coming in a boat from the Loveless place, where he lives with his family.

Death in 1917 Flood

Not counting the Mt. Vernon bridge tender who died from internal injuries after hitting a portion of the bridge, this makes 3 people who have been identified that died in Skagit River flood events. 


River Becomes Unmanageable


Dikes Break in a Number of Places and Let Water in Over a Large Area of Low Lands – Some Stock Is Lost;

Damage Much Less Than Anticipated;

Water Reaches High Mark at Mount Vernon Wharf Saturday Night at Twenty-three and One-half Feet – No Rail Communication With Outside World for Several Days – Boat Does Big Business


Four weeks of rains and Chinooks finally resulted in a freshet Saturday night that for a time threatened to inundate the entire valley.  The warm winds from the south melted the snows, it is said, up to the 6000-foot level and brought the combined waters of the Upper Skagit, the Sauk, Baker and numerous tributary streams down to the lower valley in greater and more continuous volume than has ever been recorded in the history of the country.

. . .

Loss Not Great As Expected

The heaviest individual losers are those individuals that were in the path of the dike breaks.  The break at Sterling Bend and that at Stevens slough immediately north of the Great Northern bridge wrought the greatest damage.  At Stevens slough a home belonging to M. Freeman was tilted over into a hole.  Dikes, county roads and railroads probably suffered the most from the recent freshet.

. . .

At Avon there was a sudden dramatic moment Sunday morning when a portion of the dike went out carrying into the swirl six men who were at work with dozens of others reinforcing the dike at this point.  Hadn’t been for an old secondary dike the Skagit would have gone through here and every foot of the flats would have been under water.  . . . A break at Magnus Anderson’s farm let the water in over a section of country about Conway.  . . . Burlington and La Conner and Edison reported water in the streets; Sedro-Woolley reported water in the neighborhood of Jamison avenue, which is some distance from the business section.  The Nookachamps low lands also were visited by the water.  Mount Vernon, on both sides of the river, was dry throughout the freshet.  The water from Sterling bend went over the Olympia marsh and the Samish.  Edison also reported a couple of feet of water.







This article describes the December 28/29, 1917 flood event.




Four weeks of rains.  No wonder flood was flood of “long duration”.  Overbank storage must have been non-existent.

Snow level only went up to 6,000-feet???  Flood definitely would have been caused by rain alone.


Dike Breaks


Sterling, Stevens Slough, Avon, Conway.  Burlington, LaConner, and Edison underwater.  Mt. Vernon stayed dry.








Was water in Edison from Samish or Skagit??



Str. Swinomish Sinks in Riverside Bend


The snag boat Swinomish sank in the Skagit river in the bend below the Interurban bridge Friday after grazing the bridge pier.  Captain Fred Siegel said that in passing through the draw the boat touched the pier slightly.  The men on the main deck reported no damage; but in a few minutes it was noticed that the boat was taking water.  The pumps were immediately put to work but to no avail and the boat hit bottom with the upper works well out of water.



Friday would have been December 28, 1917 the day before the river crest.  “The upper works well out of water.”  How big was this boat?  Could be used to determine how deep river was.  Doesn’t sound like river was any deeper then than now.



mid-winter flood greatest in memory of oldest inhabitant


Valley Dikes Break in Dozen Places – Skagit Inundates lowlands – No Lives Lost – Only Few Head of Stock Drowned – Considerable Property Damaged – River Channel and Dikes Inadequate to Carry Away Surplus Water – Spillways Needed to Relieve River Channel During Flood Periods – Railroad and Interurban Communications Restored from North – Delayed Mails Received Today


One of the worst and doubtless most destructive floods known in the Skagit delta occurred last Saturday night (December 29, 1917), the river dikes giving way in eight or more places, the overflowing water covering the entire delta from Mt. Vernon to LaConner, and south from Mt. Vernon to Conway.  The island delta west of Fir escaping flood waters (Fir Island).  The McLean highway district west of Mt. Vernon was not flooded.


The tragical results were caused by the failure of a crude, imperfect, ununiform diking system that never has nor never will retain the torrents of water when a Chinook zephyr loosens the flood gates of the Cascades.  From five o’clock Saturday night, when the river was bank full, it steadily rose a foot an hour until midnight.  The water then had reached the top practically of all the dikes, and a break was inevitable somewhere or the mighty volume of water was certain to pour over the dikes, causing doubtless even greater damage in loss of property and loss of life than resulted through breaks in the dikes.  At about midnight the expected break in the dike came.  In fact there were at least ten serious washouts.  Four occurred in the Riverside bend, three across the river in the Avon district, at North Riverside, one at Freeman’s old place on the Baker River logging railway right-of-way, southeast of Burlington, one south of Mt. Vernon, and another at the Clear Lake wood yards, north of Mt. Vernon.  These artificial spillways naturally afforded an immediate outlet for the surplus water to pour through, and the river immediately began to fall, and all danger from further flood damages was past.


Building a series of ununiform dikes to protect districts here and there through the lowlands utterly fails as a solution, meaning only future disaster when the river runs riot during flood periods.  During flood periods when the river reaches the point that dikes are not adequate to control it, it overflows its banks unless other artificial means are provided to carry off the surplus water.  Government engineers, who have studied Skagit river flood problems with the view of affording relief to districts subject to overflow, declare that concrete spillways should be built to take care of the surplus water.  Improvements of this character should be maintained by the government, state and county.


Because Mt. Vernon’s big dikes kept it dry, or Burlington is so fortunately situated that it does not require a system of dikes to protect it from floods is mighty poor consolation to the people of the delta districts threatened with overflow and devastation every recurring flood,. . .


December 29, 1917 Flood Event







Fir Island didn’t flood in the 1917 flood?







Diking system not uniform.






Ten dike breaks after midnight. 










Dikes should be uniform and have spillways built into them.  (Overtopping Levees)









Burlington doesn’t need dikes?  Probably because at that time Burlington city limits was at least 1 mile north of Gages Slough.    Did Mt. Vernon raise its dikes after 1909 flood?



Flood Notes


            The Howard Freeman farm at Varney station was quite seriously damaged by the overflow caused by the break in the river dike on the old Freeman farm east of Varney.  Mr. Freeman’s fine new home and barn were damaged in some-extent.  The break in the river at the old Freeman farm, which was probably 800 feet in width, caused serious damage to the farms in the path of the overflow.  The break occurred when the river was at the highest point, the water stretched over a territory of about 2500 feet in width, carrying away the Great Northern and interurban highways, undermining the dwelling and carrying away the barn on the old Freeman farm, and covering the land with piles of drift wood.  The water found an outlet in the bay near Whitney.

            During the height of the flood Sunday morning a foot of water from the overflow of the river from the east covered a small portion of the residence and business districts of Burlington, the water flowing out that night when the river fell.  On account of poor drainage and inadequate sewerage, there is still some water in the low places in some of the districts, which will soon all pass into the drains.

            The loss of property on the Higginbottom farm south of Burlington (the old Freman place) was serious.  When the dike broke the house was undermined, the barn and sheds carried away, and the land covered with large-quantities of logs.  The owner had only one cow which was saved.

            The Mussor, Wakley and Lamphier farms were all in the path of the Higginbottom break and the owners were serious losers.

            The Mt. Vernon Herald says the breaking of the dike at Higginbottom’s saved Burlington.  What an idiotic untruth.  Why not Mt. Vernon?  Burlington is protected by no diking system.  It is so fortunately situated that it does not need dikes to protect it from river overflow.  The truth is, and why not be honest, that the diking system maintained on the Skagit river was inadequate to control the Skagit river, a break somewhere was inevitable, and shortly after midnight it came down at a dozen different places.  Undoubtedly these breaks saved the dikes from giving away at other places.  The water had reached the top of practically every dike in Skagit county when the breaks occurred.  Flood damages were generally distributed throughout the lowlands.  Unfortunately neither the districts directly to Mt. Vernon, Burlington nor any other Skagit County town escaped inconvenience or losses.  Burlington had mail, daily newspapers, telegraph and telephone communications from the north and telephone communications from the south at all times.  The editor of the Mt. Vernon Herald should confine himself to fact and truth.  Why not give his readers the interesting story of the need of a gasoline engine to pump water out of the basement of the county courthouse.  At least this is better than lying about a neighboring town.



Varney Station was located next to Gages Slough on Old 99 (Burlington Blvd.)








Eastern Fairhaven covered with one foot of water.  Water gone that night.





Must locate where Higginbottom farm was.





Burlington has no diking system!  They must mean Burlington proper.  Dike on Fairhaven must have been outside city limits.


Water reached the top of the dikes.




Burlington “is so fortunately situated that it does not need dikes to protect it from river overflow.”  Really?  While this statement is clearly not appropriate today it is strongly suggestive that flood waters from the 1909 and 1917 floods did not reach downtown Burlington west of the BNSF railroad tracks.

Doesn’t look like Burlington Journal editor and Mt. Vernon Herald liked each other.



Flood waters are receding

The flood waters of the Skagit valley are gradually receding and in a short time, the rancher will be able to walk upon that which he calls ground and view the results of a vicious Skagit river.

            Individuals are now counting up their losses.  Estimates of the aggregate loss to farmers, householders, the county and state in roads and bridges, and to the public service corporations are largely guesswork.  The real loss will never be computed.  It is large, probably larger than that caused by the freshet of eight years ago.  . . .  Reports from all points of the valley show that more or less water and damage was the result of the freshet.  Roads everywhere are in bad shape and will require a good deal of money to put them all back in a passable condition.  The county is badly hit and the commissioners in session this week decided to review the county roads and put them in shape at the earliest possible date. 





Flood damages more than 1909 flood.  Again, this strongly suggest that the 1917 flood was the larger then the flood of 1909.


Are the dikes a failure?

Are the dikes a failure?  If so, what is the remedy?  These two questions have agitated the minds of hundreds of ranchers in the Skagit Valley during the past week since the old Skagit river ran amuck again.  In the end, when the enormous flood waters of the river come down upon the community, dikes are found to be weak, and the result is as shown by the flood of last week.  What is the remedy?  Much money has been spent in making dikes and in the end, practically nothing has been gained.  . . .  The remedy is believed to be found in the construction of spillways.  Several plans and suggestions have been made during the week, but this matter, being of such enormous proportions, will require more than talk to get something started.  . . .  It has been nine years since a flood came.  It may be nine years again and it may be next year.  Don’t wait until it comes again.  There is too much valuable land in this valley to wait until a disastrous flood has overtaken it again and again.  Now is the time to plan the remedy. 





Recommended “spillways” or over-topping levees.






“Now is the time to plan the remedy.”


River Floods Roads and Farms; Latest Reports Receding

The warm wind last Sunday filled the river with melted snow from the mountains and caused it to overflow its banks in several places.  The road between Sedro-Woolley and Hamilton was under water in several places, many autos getting stuck when trying to ford.  The river was so high that the Lyman and Skiyou ferries have not been running for several days.  A number of farms near Hamilton were flooded, and the creek along the road is bank-high and washing away its banks.  It is thought that the main channel has been somewhat filled, and that unless something is done the creek will continue to carry more water.  The water was not high enough to damage crops.


First documentation of a summer flood.  Based on the damage reported it appears to be in the neighborhood of the January 12, 1928 flood.



[1] The Skagit Valley Herald underwent many name changes. It was called “The Skagit News”, “The Skagit News-Herald”, “Mt. Vernon Herald”, and “Mount Vernon Daily Herald”. (Source: Skagit Valley Herald 1/3/56).

[2] The word describes a sort of no-man's land between a levee and the river.

[3] The Skagit County Times was the forerunner of The Courier-Times, Sedro-Woolley newspaper. It stated it was “The Only Democratic Paper Published in Skagit County.”

[4] Portions of this article were unreadable and are represented by . . . inserts.  Unfortunately, this is the only article located on this flood event.  The Skagit Valley Herald, The Skagit Argus and The Courier-Times have all lost their copies covering this flood event.  Due to the condition of this article its transcription cannot be relied on to be absolutely accurate.