At the confluence of the Snohomish and Pilchuck Rivers, this was the market center of outlying truck and dairy farms. Long the seat of Snohomish County, this town was founded after Congress, in 1853, approved the building of a military road from Steilacoom to Fort Bellingham. The next year five Steilacoom settlers formed an impromptu syndicate to acquire land claims beside the proposed ferry crossing on the Snohomish River. One of these five, E. C. Ferguson, framed a house at Steilacoom in 1860, and shipped it by steamer to be set up in the new settlement. Today known for its large selection of antique dealers and shops, Snohomish also has great historic residential and commercial neighborhoods, boasting many examples of Victorian, classic box, Colonial Revival, English Cottage, Craftsman and bungalow homes (many privately owned) as well as Victorian-era business buildings.
After the legislature separated the mainland district from Island County and made Mukilteo the county seat in 1861, the seat was moved by the voters to the newer town, Snohomish City, whose population numbered 25 males. County business was conducted over the bar of the Blue Eagle Saloon. The town’s first family, that of John Palmer, arrived in 1863, logging began in 1864 with a yoke or two of oxen, and a community sawmill was incorporated in 1866. At the head of navigable waters, the village prospered; a shipyard launched the steamer Ruby in 1867.
A school was opened in 1869; the townsite was platted in 1871; and by 1873 cultural forces were strong enough to support an Atheneum Society and a public library. The population reached 200 by 1876, with 20 logging camps in the vicinity. The first church and a newspaper—Eldridge Morse’s Northern Star—were started. The population increased to 400 by 1882 and nearly doubled in the next two years. During the middle 1880s the Snohomish Eye succeeded the defunct Star; the first shingle mill in the county began operating; a minor wave of the anti-Chinese riots elsewhere culminated in the dynamiting of a laundry here. In 1888 rail connections with the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad were finished. Next year an electric power plant was built. With a population of 2,469 in 1890, Snohomish was incorporated as a third-class city.
A vast expenditure of corporate funds to develop the industries of Everett soon aroused civic rivalry; the crisis came after 1894, when a second change of the county seat was proposed. After the hotly contested election, a court order was necessary to remove the records to Everett. Snohomish, however, showed a steady growth until about 1910, having nine mills and other plants in that year. A fire destroyed the largest mill and, after several others were dismantled, the city became primarily an agricultural center.