ARLINGTON — When city of Arlington Storm Water Technician Ken Clark went out to perform a routine outfall check near the Old Town Wetland Park, he wasn’t expecting to discover a piece of local history dating back at least a century.
“I saw this big rusty piece of metal that turned out to be a saw blade,” Clark said. “I was worried, if I started pulling, how much more would come out, so I had a talk with my supervisor first.”
Clark and his fellow Arlington Public Works employee Mike Wolanek removed two shingle mill saw blades — each weighing between 25-30 pounds, with a diameter of roughly 36 inches — from the site a few months ago, but the outfall recently revealed the presence of six more such blades.
“We figure this was just a dump site for spent blades,” said city of Arlington Storm Water Manager Bill Blake, after the other blades were spotted sticking out from the soil on March 5. “We made the decision to remove the first two blades because they’d washed out far enough that it wouldn’t cause any erosion of the bank to take them out. With the rest, though, they’re still part of that bank, so we probably won’t do anything with it until we replace that outfall altogether, and by then we’ll be doing all our permits to make sure we’re preserving and protecting everything that needs it.”
Blake noted that the round cement foundation of the historic roundhouse near the Old Town Wetland Park originally served as the foundation for a sawdust burner with a wire-screen dome.
“In retrospect, this makes perfect sense,” Clark said. “This is an area with a rich history, and based on the sediment, these blades are probably close to 100 years old.”
City officials consider it likely that the saw blades were used by the Brown Kunze Company Shingle Mill, located on the south side of the river.
While the Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Museum deemed the two saw blades that were removed too rusted-out for their purposes — “We already have saw blades in much better condition,” said Myrtle Rausch, president of the Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Association — local historian Loren Kraetz was more than pleased to explain how the saw blades hearkened back to an era when Arlington’s production of wood shingles earned it the title of “Shingle Capitol of the World.”
“Before the railroads came you had some logging in the area, but they had to keep it close to the river because there was no way to transport the heavy machinery,” Kraetz said. “Then the 1890s came, and with it, the railroads that could bring those mill machines.”
Of the seven shingle mills in the proximity of the Stillaguamish River’s north and south forks, Kraetz identified the area near the Old Town Wetland Park as the site of two such mills.
“Dorgan’s was running up until the 1910s or ‘20s,” Kraetz said. “Like all the mills, they had to dry-kiln the shingles because wet shingles weighed too much for the railroads to transport them over bridges.”
Kraetz pointed out that the Lincoln Bridge, now known as the Highway 530 Bridge, acquired its original name from the fact that the shingle mill sited where the Snohomish County Cascade Division District Court sits now had its headquarters in Nebraska.
“Two brothers named Smith were sent out to operate it, and in 1903, one of them became Arlington’s first mayor,” Kraetz said. “They both built big homes in town. Where the waste water treatment plant sits now was the site of a three-story hotel called the Walker house that housed the workers for all the mills and had a saloon in the basement.”
Scarcely any of this history remains visible, which is why Blake intends to mount the two saw blades on display at the roundhouse as part of its own planned transformation into an educational historic site.
“It’s a good opportunity to preserve a piece of our past,” Blake said. “We can use it to trigger questions about the environment and the local culture since this area has been a center of commerce from the Native American tribes all the way through the settlers. It’s all related.”
“The first thing you try and do when you discover something like this is figure out how it got here,” Clark said. “From there, that leads you to look up everything that used to be here as you try and put it all back together in your head. It’s a lot of fun.”