Historic District

The Historic District and Historic Preservation Board were established by the Snohomish City Council on July 3, 1973, by Ordinance 1185 (amended in 1979 by Ordinance 1436, in 2000 by Ordinance 1945, and in 2001 by Ordinance 1978) for the purpose of “…contributing to the social, cultural and economic welfare of the citizens of Snohomish by developing an awareness of its historical heritage, returning unproductive structures to useful purposes and attracting visitors to the City and in order that a reasonable degree of control may be exercised over the site development and architecture of the private and public buildings erected therein...” (Ord. 1185).

Within the Historic District, a list of officially designated structures was adopted. Designated structures are representative of the types and styles of historic structures existing in the District. This list was prepared originally as part of the application for designation as a National Historic District. Additional structures are eligible for listing, and a number have been added periodically by application of their owners to the Design Review Board and approval by the City Council.
Historic District Map thumb
Click the image above to view a larger map of the Historic District
1940s boats
1914 RR at Ave D Bridge
train on trestle

Establishment of the Historic District

Snohomish’s “founding father”, E.C. Ferguson arrived in 1855 with a small stock of goods for sale to the few settlers and remaining Native Americans (most of who had relocated to the Tulalip Reservation near Marysville). Ferguson became a prominent businessman and politician. He was joined by entrepreneurs, tradesmen and laborers attracted by the logging and milling opportunities and the river which provided transportation.

The City of Snohomish was founded in 1859 and incorporated in 1890 with a population of 1,995 which grew to 3,000 by 1895. Most of the homes and commercial buildings listed in the Historic Register were built by this generation. Agriculture development was encouraged by the railroad system and the introduction of electric lighting in 1889.

In the 1960’s there was a push to preserve the character and commercial viability of the city. The Historical Society (formed in 1969) made it a priority to ensure the rich collection of late 19th and early 20th century buildings stayed intact. Their goal was to have a portion of the city listed on the National and State Historic Register. In conjunction with the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce the Historical Society “defined Snohomish as a community dedicated to influencing its future by preserving its past.”

The first step was to establish a Historic District. The City Council passed an ordinance that set the boundaries for the district in 1973. Then the application for national and state historical status was completed on Jan. 16, 1974 by members of the Historical Society. The names listed on the form are as follows: Mrs. John Gale (member), Mr. Everett Olsen (member), Mrs. Gene Ruthruff (President), Mrs. Ed Linert (member), and Mrs. Willis Tucker (member).

Mrs. JoAnn Warner of Edmonds, county liaison with the Office of Archaeology and Historical Preservation, a branch of the Washington State Parks, provided the guidance in what was needed to be done by the society and the City council. With the ordinance passed, Mrs. Warner was able to do her necessary paperwork and forward it on to the committee which makes the decision to accept or reject applications for placement on the Historic Register. On November 13, 1974, it was announced that the designated district in Snohomish had been accepted and placed on the National Historic Register and it would also be placed on the State Historic Register.
The Present Character of the Historic District
The natural setting is an important part of the town’s identity.  The Snohomish and Pilchuck Rivers border the town on the east and south.  The wide agricultural floodplain to the south and southeast provides visual and physical open space larger than the apparent size of the town itself.  The landscape to the north and northwest was formerly forested and few distant views exist.  The floodplain is visible to the southwest, and is limited by views of the hill where Everett begins, approximately eight miles distant.  There are distant views of the Cascade Mountains to the east, and occasional views of Mount Rainier to the south from a few strategic places.  The Historic District is located on a gentle south-facing slope.  Local parks such as Ferguson Park, Hill Park and the public library preserve stands of large trees that are visually significant in forming the horizon of many local views.  Historically, large trees, especially evergreens, were a visually significant element of the town’s character.

The Historic District is laid out on a modified north-south oriented grid system.  Eighty-foot wide right-of-ways are standard, with a forty-foot wide paved street.  The Commercial Historic District is located at the south side of town, along the Snohomish riverbank.  Historic residential areas are located generally to the north of the Commercial District, and a Mixed Use designation is found in the Maple/Pine Avenue area, located to the east of the Historic Commercial District.  This area includes multifamily, single-family, retail and light industrial uses, and has a number of older structures present.  Mature street trees, alleys, and sidewalks are defining features of the Historic District, in addition to the buildings themselves.  Pedestrian activity is an important feature of the Historic District.

The defining era of the commercial buildings in the Historic District is from 1880-1930.  Commercial Historic District buildings range in height from one to three stories.  Exterior materials include brick, wood siding and stucco.  Storefronts and retail uses at the first floor level are commonly combined with retail, restaurant, lodging, office and residential uses on upper floors.  Buildings are located at the front property line historically, utilizing on-street parking and service access from rear alleys.

Windows are vertically-oriented, and repeated across the façade on both bottom and upper stories.  First floors typically have large storefront windows and glass store doors and taller ceilings than upper floors.  Awnings and recessed entries are common.  Skylights were used to a small degree in commercial buildings.  Building ornamentation commonly includes cornice and window detailing.  The most prominent buildings in the Historic District have well-defined cornices.  Both hipped tile roofs and flat ‘western’ front façades are typical, historically.

Landscaping is commonly limited to flower pots and corner street trees on First Street.  In addition, lawn planter strips are common on north-south streets.  Building uses on First Street display a trend of one- and two-story, night-oriented activities (taverns, movie theater) on the shadier south side.  On the north side of First Street, taller two- to three-story buildings with day-oriented uses (retail shops, bakery, ice cream) are more common.  Residential upper floors also occur on the north side of the street.  The lower height of buildings on the south side of the street permits excellent winter solar access to First Street, improving the microclimate and supports year-round economic viability of the outdoor shopping street.

Homes in the Historic District date from the 1860s to the present, with an emphasis on the years prior to 1920.  Residential buildings display a range of turn-of-the-century styles, including Craftsman Bungalow, Queen Anne Victorian, Shingle, Beaux Arts, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Cottage, Colonial Revival and Stick/Eastlake.  Wood is the predominant material, but brick, stone and stucco are also common.  Historic home roofs were either cedar shingle or composition.  Cedar shakes were not typically used.  Roof pitches were steep, often 10:12 or 12:12, with substantial eaves.  This steep pitch allowed an otherwise one story home to have a usable upstairs for bedrooms.  Porches were common.  Windows were vertically-oriented and often grouped in twos and threes.  Wide wood trim was used on all windows, doors and building corners, generally with wider trim and/or cornices at the top.  Skylights were not used.  Houses were set back from the street a uniform distance, with garages/sheds located behind the main structure, with access from an alley.  Yards were generous in relation to building footprint, with lawns common, and substantial space between structures.  Houses varied in size, but generally were approximately the same size within a neighborhood.  Picket fences were widely used.

The Historic District Design Standards are intended to preserve and continue the City’s rich heritage and character, to foster quality design and development, and to promote land use compatibility within the City’s historic neighborhoods.
The Historic District Design Standards are currently being reviewed and updated by the Design Review Board.  All materials associated with this project are available to the public, and comments are welcome.  Click here to access more information.