Whitney, Skagit Co., WA
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Whitney, Skagit County, Washington
From An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, Their People, Their Commerce and Their Resources, With an Outline of The Early History of The State of Washington - Endorsed as Authentic by Local Committees of Pioneers (Interstate Publishing Company, 1906).
Whitney, Washington as seen looking West towards Anacortes, August 1999
This hamlet lies on the Anacortes branch of the Great Northern railway, perhaps a mile southeast of Padilla bay, in the northern portion of the famous Swinomish flats. There is a station there of which Mrs. E. Mendenhall is in charge. She also keeps the postoffice, and in connection with it a small store. The only other business establishment of the place is a hotel and saloon, conducted by Anderson Brothers. A daily stage line is also operated between Whitney and La Conner, six miles south.
The postoffice, which is still known as Padilla, was established in 1882 in the old village of Padilla, a mile north of the railroad, with A. G. Tillinghast as postmaster. With the building of the railroad in 1890 this pioneer hamlet was abandoned and what business was there removed to Whitney station. Miss Emma Jenne became postmistress about 1891 and shortly afterward Olven Fulk built the Anderson hotel and saloon. Whitney was named in honor of Rienzie E. Whitney, who was one of Skagit’s most worthy pioneers, the founder of the Padilla settlement and the man who reclaimed Whitney’s island near the station.
RIENZI EUGENE WHITNEY
Rienzi Eugene Whitney was among the small group of men who first tried the experiment of diking Skagit county land against the encroachment of salt water, thus teaching the world the value for agricultural purposes of the rich lowlands along the shores of Puget Sound. These leaders demonstrated the accuracy of their idea on the Swinomish flats, and the demonstration has resulted in the reclamation of thousands of acres of the richest soil in the world. Skagit County, and the Puget Sound country, in general, owes much to R. E. Whitney for teaching the value of tide land flats for the purpose of agriculture.
Mr. Whitney was born in Abington, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, June 5, 1840. At an early age he was left an orphan and went to live with an uncle, Alvinza Gardner, a rugged and extraordinary character, an active abolitionist, a temperance and moral reformer and a man of pronounced convictions. Contact with such a character undoubtedly did much to mold the bent of the mind of the youth; at any rate, Mr. Whitney in after years exhibited many of the traits of character possessed by his uncle and foster father.
The boy obtained his education when not doing chores at home; working on Saturdays and observing the Sabbath. He managed to pass a few terms at an academy, but a college education was denied him. A characteristic of his early youth was an earnest and absorbing desire for knowledge, and to that end young Whitney employed toward an education many moments which remain barren in the lives of most American youths of the present day.
While in attendance upon school young Whitney was an ardent scholar and was invariably at the head of his classes. During his school days he was converted and embraced the Baptist faith, remaining to the end of his long and active career a staunch adherent and exponent of the principles of that denominational belief. Endurance, activity and courage Mr. Whitney inherited from his parents, but at one time in his childhood he was physically frail and delicate. Once he was given up to die and even a shroud for his internment was provided. Upon his recovery he commenced a systematic course of physical training, muscular development and lung exercise which counteracted the effect of disease. Dieting, work on the farm and outdoor occupation gave him the strength and endurance which were so valuable in later years. During the Civil War Mr. Whitney twice enlisted in the service of the Union, once in the emergency service to repel the rebel invasion of his native state, and again in the signal service. Much of his duty in the latter corps was performed at Newbern, North Carolina, where he held a position of great trust and danger during the closing days of the struggle. While the nephew was away from home during the war, his uncle died, and the young man took up the management of the farm, marrying Miss. R. Augusta Wall. He continued to farm the property for some years, but, tiring of the climate and the poor quality of the soil as compared with other sections of the country, he went to Barton County, Missouri, and engaged successfully in farming for several years. During this period he became acquainted with a lawyer named Avery, who was to change the entire course of Mr. Whitney’s life and direct him to his later operations in the development of Skagit County. With Mr. Avery he formed a plan to enter into partnership in the banking business at Olympia, Washington. Mr. Avery preceded Mr. Whitney. The latter journeyed via San Francisco and on the way up from that city by boat was bereaved by the loss of his only daughter, who died of smallpox. Another blow fell upon Mr. Whitney on his arrival at Olympia. This was news that owing to the failure of the Northern Pacific Railway to complete its line to the capitol city it was not deemed wise to embark in the banking venture at that point. Just at this juncture, Mr. Whitney heard of the tide lands of the Swinomish and visited this country. In May of 1872 he took up a claim on Indian slough near the site of the present village of Padilla, and with his wife commenced life in a shack erected on the undiked marsh land. Two cousins, E. A. Sisson and A. G. Tillinhast joined them in December of that year. A few small bits of tide land had been diked at this time, but it remained for Mr. Whitney and his cousins to inaugurate diking on a large scale. They proposed to enclose five hundred acres of tide lands in dike at a time when the project was but experiment and practical experience was unobtainable. The Puget Sound country knows the result of that experiment of five hundred acres of Swinomish flat tide lands. It has been said that those three men were "the mudsills of the foundation for the builders of this wonderful country," for their failures pointed out mistakes to those who came after, and their successes were patterns for the later reclamation work.
Photo from "Chechacos All -- The Pioneering of the Skagit"
In 1874 Mr. Whitney was elected to the territorial legislature and served in that body most acceptably to his constituents, earning a reputation for hard work, fearlessness and incorruptibility in support of, or antagonism to, proposed measures. Two year later, Mrs. Whitney’s health becoming undermined by consumption, Mr. Whitney took her and their two children, to the Atlantic coast and consulted medical aid in the chief centers of the East, also visiting the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia. On the advice of physicians Mr. Whitney removed his family to California and settled in Colton, building the first house in that town. Here Mrs. Whitney and her youngest child died and were buried. He very soon returned to Puget Sound and bought out his partnership-cousins, a little later diking two hundred and fifty acres in addition to the original holding of the partnership on Indian slough and connecting the two properties by private roadway and drawbridge three hundred feet in length. In 1888 Mr. Whitney purchased and placed under dike what is known as Whitney’s Island, a tract of land about seven hundred acres in extent. The large sloughs required expensive dams and the operation was one of great risk, but the work was accomplished by Mr. Whitney, and in 1889 he had one thousand acres in grass and grain. When the railroad was built Mr. Whitney sold his old ranch, but retained the new. About this time he removed his family to their present Fidalgo Island place and turned much of his attention to his heavy investments in Anacortes real estate. In 1870 Mr. Whitney married Miss Kate Bradley, who still survives. Her father was V. L. Bradley. The family was the second white family at Stanwood, Snohomish flats, going there in 1870. Mr. Bradley died there in 1871. Mrs. Whitney was born in Missouri in 1855 and was seven years old when her father came to Washington territory, settling of Whidby Island, and living there eight years. Mr. Whitney met death in an accident in August of 1891. Of Mr. Whitney, his character and services to the public, the La Conner Mail of August 6, 1891, speaks as follows:
- "One of the saddest events the mail has been called upon to record is the accident by which R. E. Whitney, one of the oldest settlers on the Swinomish flats, was called to his eternal reward. On Wednesday he was in town. He returned to his home in Anacortes after attending to some business in La Conner, planning new enterprises, etc. Friday morning, some of his family desiring to visit Bayview, he started with them. When but a short distance from the house, he was thrown violently from the vehicle to the ground, receiving fatal injuries, which before midnight carried him to that bourne whence no traveler returns. The remains were interred Sunday in the Anacortes Cemetery, an immense concourse being present. Members of the Anacortes city council attended in a body, he being an honored member. He leaves a wife and seven children, three being dead. He was a kind and indulgent husband and father, and always anxious for all around him to enjoy with him every musical, social and literary treat that could be provided. He was never idle or at rest unless asleep, and spent few hours in sleep; was always fearless to speak or do what he thought right, and was positive in his convictions. Everything he under took was on so large a scale, that it commanded public notice and was of public benefit. His payroll was always large and many hundreds of men have worked for him, some of whom, now wealthy, got their first start in this county from wages earned of him. **** He had recently been giving his energy, mind and heart to the upbuilding of a great city at Anacortes, in whose future he had unbounded faith. He will be sorely missed in business circles, public life, the home, the Sunday school and social life generally."
Copyright © 2001, 2007, Shawn Whitney, Robert L. Ward, and the Whitney Research Group