Endangered brick street and railroad bridge were witness to the Everett Massacre

May 31, 2024, 7:55 PM | Updated: Jun 2, 2024, 8:53 am

A tiny part of downtown Everett where a stretch of brick road is crossed by an old railroad bridge is the only part of the city’s landscape unchanged from the time of one of the darkest days in its history more than 100 years ago.

“I can’t think of anywhere else in the city where any other brick street part or portion might still survive,” local historian Neil Anderson told KIRO Newsradio by phone. “It’s the last, and a lot of history walked over those bricks for the last 100 and some years.”

The roadway and bridge, at the west end of Hewitt Avenue just north of the old Everett railroad depot, function as an unintentional frame containing a view of Everett’s working waterfront – in particular, the section of the harbor where a pier called City Dock once stood.

Looking at the events of Nov. 5, 1916

It was on that dock and in the waters just west of it where gunfire erupted between law enforcement on shore and labor activists aboard two steam vessels.

It’s unclear who fired first, but when it was all over, the so-called Everett Massacre of Nov. 5, 1916 had claimed the lives of at least seven men. The event was one of many in the Pacific Northwest from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, when labor and management clashed, often with a deadly result.

In Everett in 1916, the deputies – and anyone else tagging along or otherwise taking part in the public demonstrations that day – had just marched down Hewitt Avenue, their feet drumming on the old bricks which remain in place there today, and the tops of their heads clearing the steel trusses of the old bridge, which also still stands remarkably stands unchanged and in place.

“It became a real wound in Everett,” lifelong Everett resident, local historian and Anderson’s friend Jack O’Donnell said to KIRO Newsradio. The Everett Massacre “was one of those things that people in the city would not speak about for years.”

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“Everett was a real mill town at that time,” O’Donnell continued, as he stood on the old brick road and took in the view to the west, framed by the bridge. “There were so many mills that became highly unionized, and there were a lot of real skilled workers like the shingle weavers, and they were having a strike.”

It was that strike which ultimately led to members of Industrial Workers of the World – known as the “IWW” or “Wobblies” – coming to Everett in 1916 to take part in public speaking events at the corner of Hewitt Avenue and Wetmore Street, about five blocks from the threatened bricks and railroad bridge. Those Wobblies were run out of town during the summer, and it was their threatened return that led to violence on Nov. 5, 1916.

“So when the Verona, the first of the two vessels, came in, they said ‘You can’t disembark here,'” O’Donnell recounted, describing what law enforcement shouted at the Wobblies trying to land at City Dock. “And they said ‘The hell we can’t.’ At some point, a shot was fired because both sides were armed.”

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The owner of the land and the plans for it

The land in question, perhaps other than the street and sidewalk right-of-way running beneath the bridge, belongs to BNSF Railway. Railroad officials would like replace the aging bridge, which dates back to 1910, with an earthen berm. This would mean filling in the area beneath the bridge and eliminating the historic landscape where Everett Massacre participants marched down Hewitt Avenue to meet the boats full of labor activists. Tracks over the current vintage bridge carry BNSF freight trains and Sound Transit commuter trains.

Plans for altering the historic landscape are a joint effort of BNSF Railway and the City of Everett. In an email, city of Everett spokesperson Simone Tarver shared some of the project details.

The park is “being paid for and built by BNSF,” Tarver wrote.” Parks (officially, Everett Parks and Facilities) has been working closely with BNSF on the design.”

It’s unclear from Tarver’s email if the historic significance of the hardscape of the bricks where participants marched and of the so-called “viewscape” which retains its 1916 look (and which frames the view of the site where the Everett Massacre took place) were taken into consideration at any point so far in public or private discussions related to the design of the berm. This possible significance is likely to come up when the project and any necessary permits are reviewed for the State Environmental Policy Act or “SEPA” process.

While a recently installed boulder with a plaque commemorating the Everett Massacre will be temporarily removed for construction, Tarver said it will be returned once construction is over.

The bricks, however, won’t be so lucky.

“The current design calls for the brick pavers to be removed on the east side of the BNSF mainline,” Tarver wrote. “Due to their condition, the salvageable quantity, and other factors, we won’t be able to reuse them in this project, but we are still exploring options for what we could do with the brick remnants.”

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If you care about history, this is the time to speak up

It’s difficult to gauge how much interest there might be from BNSF Railway as far as altering the design of the park to retain the brick hardscape and bridge; their goal seems to be replacing the aging bridge (and its need for ongoing maintenance and possible repair) with a much cheaper and easier to maintain berm.

Still, it seems like there might be some opportunity for those who care about history to speak up on behalf of this final remaining piece of one of the most significant events ever to take place in Everett and, arguably, in the Pacific Northwest.

In a follow-up email, Tarver’s city of Everett colleague Nick Shekeryk indicated that nothing has been finalized when it comes to most of the details of the project.

“Planning and permitting for this matter have yet to be determined, so we do not have an official timeline at the moment,” Shekeryk wrote. “A budget is yet to be determined at this time, but more information may become available in the coming months.”

And in those coming months, maybe a group of concerned Everett citizens can organize and come up with a plan, and then work with BNSF and the City of Everett to prevent the permanent loss of one of the city’s most significant public areas. And then, those same citizens might create an interpretive plan to harness and better share this unique story of Everett’s past – and do so in the distinctive and highly-visible place best suited to ensure that the Everett Massacre is never forgotten.

You can hear Feliks Banel every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. Read more from Feliks here and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks. You can also follow Feliks on X.

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Endangered brick street and railroad bridge were witness to the Everett Massacre