All places have secrets or stories to tell. How they got settled. Why they went away. Who was there first.
I have been researching the “Lost Cities of Skagit County.” The county is located in Western Washington, about 50 miles north of Seattle. It’s uncommonly beautiful with hills and flats, rivers and creeks flowing to the Sound and majestic mountains to the east, many in snow year round. Its history goes back nearly 12,000 years with the ancestors of the present day Coast Salish peoples. Recent arrivals started appearing in earnest around 200 years ago.
Last year, the Skagit County Historical Museum mounted a popular exhibit called The Lost Cities of Skagit County. Some 17 long- forgotten communities were highlighted with photographs and artifacts. The show was very popular with the public asking for more.
To help teachers and folks curious about the history of early white settlement in the county , I researched an additional 100 settlements and with a lot of help from friends in the county IT, saw the launching of a history GIS map last Monday. It can be seen at http://skagitcounty.net/museum. Click on the map icon on the front page to enter, then click on a place on the map and a photograph and text will come up. Follow the instructions to play with it. Explorer is needed. Have fun. Anyone find Hoogdahl?
I’m now a week into the portable outhouse in my backyard as I work getting the sewer pipes replaced. Using it brings back memories of YWCA camp in the Pennsylvania woods with wolf spiders in the corner and a black snake that liked to sun himself at 1:00 PM in path to the john.
It also reminds me of the wonderful language resource I have used for years in researching my historic novels: I HEAR AMERICAN TALKING, An Illustrated Treasury of America Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner. Now out of print, it is a wonderful study of American words and sayings, showing when they first came into use in America and their origins. This information is especially important in historic novels. Word usage from the wrong period can really bump a reader.
Under the title chapter of “WHERE’s THE BATHROOM? Flexner explains the beginnings of usage around bathrooms and outhouses. For example, when the first outhouses appeared in the colonial days, lower class and rural colonists called their outhouses a privy, privy house or outhouse. The more aristocratic or cosmopolitan person used different words such as house of office, “a necessary house or simply the necessary. If behind a house, it might be called a backhouse; if earth were used to cover the excrement it might be called the earth house.” (Flexner p. 18)
Flexner also points out the origin of the half moon on outhouses. The half moon originally meant it was an outhouse for women. The sun indicated that the outhouse was for men. These are old medieval symbols.
Chamber pots for inside usage are another matter. Here in the Northwest, they were often referred to as “thunder mugs.” I won’t go any further than that. Cousin John or Jake were used by men for both the privy or chamber pot as early as 1530 according to Flexner. The word john has survived to this day.
My blue outhouse/privy does NOT have a sun or moon, but it does its duty. I’ll be happy when it’s gone.
My house is 105 years and I’m having a fatal breakdown with the sewer line. It must be 80 or 90 years old. I know this because in 1913, a photographer, I think Sanderson, flew over Sehome Hill in a balloon and took a picture of the neighborhood. Going up the alley past all the house there were white outhouses. Historically speaking, my pipes must have gone in the 1920s.
Plumbing has been around for a long time. Here in the Northwest early communities hollowed out logs or cut them in half , shaped them inside and put the halves back together again with wire. In some houses in mid-19th century, lead pipes were known to be used.
Now if I could get my plumbing solved, I wouldn’t feel like such a relic.
I write both fiction and non-fiction. Three of my novels take place in the Pacific Northwest in three different time periods: mid-19th century, 1906 and 1935. Each story has its own culture, technology, politics and media. My characters deal with the time they live in.
One novel, Mist-shi-mus, deals with the issue of smallpox in 1860. There are a number of fine written resources on this deadly disease and its devastating effects on communities during the 19th century. Many are available in public libraries or through inter-library programs.
For quick reference on anything about the history of Washington State, however, you can’t beat HistoryLink, the “on-line encyclopedia of Washington.” The first of its kind in the country, this resource is written by historians from around the state and is free. It currently posts 5188 “time essays” and thumbnails. Each piece is carefully researched with its sources cited at the bottom of the page. The organization takes great pride in stating exactly where what archive box that letter came from or who said what.
For an excellent essay on small pox go to http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5100
I write for HistoryLink and have enjoyed the search for interesting stories from many different communities in Western Washington. Some of my favorites are:
1) US Lumber vs the Snohomish County Commissioners (some clever folks wanted Darrington to be wet when the state was going dry) http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8660
2) Shingle bolt cutters suing a local lumber mill over back wages. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8471
Both came from court cases buried at the NW Regional State Archives.
I also enjoy writing about the CCC. Check out this essay about Camp Skagit. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5657
HistoryLink can be reached at http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm .