The Lost Cities of Skagit
Mari Anderson-Densmore, Skagit County Historical Museum | Mar 26, 2017, 2:20 p.m.
Villages, settlements and communities flourished in Skagit County’s earliest days, but many have been “lost,” or vanished, long ago. The Skagit County Historical Museum has researched these lost cities and created an interactive online map of Skagit communities that have significantly changed – or virtually disappeared – during the last century.
The researching of lost cities and settlements of Skagit County has struck a chord with many people, whether they are complete newcomers to Skagit Valley or have a long history of pioneer settlement here. We all want to know why some dreams for these towns took root, others changed their original vision and still others just vanished with nothing left but a grassy field by the river. And although the people who lived in these settlements have all passed on, today we can remember their dreams and appreciate what it took to build this area out of a dense wilderness. Whether these towns lasted or disappeared, all of them played a part in shaping the county as it is today.
Many place names that appear in Skagit County’s history have since disappeared, but each has their own unique story: Skagit City, the first “metropolis” of the lower Skagit; Finn Settlement, home of saunas and cross-cut saw skates; Cokedale, the village of shacks that housed workers for a very productive coal mine, but had no peers in its unattractiveness; Deception, (later known as Fidalgo City) which was touted as the “Promised Land” and where people from thousands of miles away bought lots sight unseen; Fishtown, a historic fishing village on Skagit’s North Fork that was later settled by artists. These are just a few of Skagit County’s “Lost Cities.”
Among these are areas that once had a special character which can no longer be seen, towns where promoter’s dreams never materialized, rural communities that never became towns. Others were towns that flourished for a time and then vanished or lapsed into peaceful villages. A handful – including Anacortes, Burlington, La Conner, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley – continued to grow.
The first businesses and settlements were located on waterways and were entirely dependent on them since that was the only means of travel. Railroads altered those patterns, creating new towns. The railroads increased the prosperity of some old towns and took traffic away from others. As time passed and roads and bridges were built, the improved land routes also influenced the direction of trade. As stands of virgin timber were exhausted, logging and milling moved elsewhere. Fires and floods were also factors. But no matter how they began, these early towns and settlements were all the substance of people’s dreams.
Skagit City was the largest metropolis of the Skagit area from the 1870s to the 1890s, located on the South Fork of the Skagit River below the log jams that prevented further travel upstream. It was an important stop for sternwheelers and had a school, churches, hotels, saloons and other businesses facing the riverbank. The decline of the town began with the erosion of the steep riverbank where the sternwheelers tied up. After the great log jam was finally cleared, people could then settle upriver. With the growing commercial importance of nearby Conway and the discontinuance of its ferry in 1929, the town slowly disappeared except for the school building and a road named in its honor.