Hazel, Washington

A Look At Hazel, Washington: History, Memories And Tragedy

The small community of Hazel, Washington is a story of prosperity born of the abundance of the upper Stillaguamish Valley, and torn by the floods of the N.F. Stillaguamish River and eventually the devastation of the 530 mudslide of 2014.

  The Higgins Barn, by Martha Rasmussen

The settlement of Hazel began in 1887 when Walter D. Higgins and his daughter came to the  the area. They chose some land along the North Fork Stillaguamish River and built a fine home of logs and large barn to house his dairy cattle.  This barn is still standing today north of the old railroad tracks towards the river.  Shortly after this James R. Pierson came out and asked Walter for his daughter Linnie's hand in marriage.  They lived on the the Higgins farm with land being deeded to them.  Walter Higgins also remained there, living out the rest of his days.  Born from this marriage was a son, Dennie, named after his grandfather, Walter Dennie Higgins, and daughter Myrtle.    

During the early days of this small settlement, the only of transportation was by river or the crude wagon road which served more as a footpath.  The early road started from Arlington traveling west along the path of least resistance.  When the road reached this fledgling settlement it went uphill to the south to avoid a low wet area fed by a creek from the south then came back down further east continued in the direction of Darrington.  In 1900 all the talk was about the railroad that was coming up from Arlington and going all the way to Darrington. When the tracks were laid they they came to the wet area the road had rerouted around and brought in rock and fill to raise the railroad grade.  The result of this endeavor created a deep pond perfect for setting up a mill.  It was July 22, 1901 when the first train passed through on the way to Darrington decked out with patriotic banners changing the N.F. Stillaguamish Valley forever!  Swedish born, Petrus Pearson, arrived to Hazel in 1902 entering in employment with the McMartin Bros. logging camps as a bookkeeper.  Seeing the great possibilities in the timber industry, Petrus organized the Hazel Lumber Company in 1904, with Pete D. McMartin heading logging operations.  Ira Hollingsworth came to join his friends Petrus.  Ira took up a farm one mile northwest of Hazel to establish a garden and poultry to supply the logging camps.

The second Higgins School, photo from Hazel Holm

Petrus married Miss Maude Pendleton, July 8th 1904.  It was becoming very apparent the the new community of Hazel was going to need a school with five growing families in the area.  Petrus brought his skills and education to helping start the new Hazel School District #90, serving as Director and Clerk.  The new school distinct organized February 15, 1904, serving an area of 25 square miles.  A simple made one room schoolhouse made of cedar was built on the Pierson farm the same year.  Gertrude Aldridge came up the valley to serve as the teacher, teaching the first students to enroll in the Higgins School District #90, Harold Collingwood, Emma Fabian, Dennie Pierson and Myrtle Pierson.  The following year a second schoolhouse was built of cut lumber with glass window panes.  This served the community until 1924 after bad floods damaged the school and the Hazel District #90 consolidated with the Darrington School District #319.  The second school, badly damaged, was salvaged and moved to build a large chicken house on the Pierson farm.

All the communities focused on their connectivity of the daily train up and down the NF Stillaguamish Valley.  In January of 1904 a large slide 180 feet long and about 10 feet thick came down near the McMartin Camp cutting off the tracks to Darrington from Oso.  Many people came to help with the removal of materials and the train was soon back making its daily run.

1909 brought big changes to the upper Stillaguamish Valley when the first timber sale opened up within the National Forest for "ripe" timber.  The Boulder Railway & Timber Company contracted to build the logging railroad from the timber sale out by Boulder River to the  Hazel Lumber Company.  You can still see segments of this old railroad as a portion of this old grade is now the popular Boulder River Trail.

Old Arlington - Darrington Road, SR 530, by Martha Rasmussen

Hazel Holm explained how it was in the early days of Hazel:  "By 1913 the town of Hazel was a small community, most people lived between the crossing of the railroad track and crossing of the bridge. There was logging out from the lower crossing. The office and cookhouse were across the tracks up river to the east. Pete McMartin had his office and shingle mill at the same end of the track. Pete had many carved things for the yard and office, he was always carving.  The highway goes through the millpond today that was used by the sawmill. There were 8 houses between the crossing. At the lower end of Hazel was a large store with a post office, in it was a variety of merchandise, variety of clothing; as men's work clothes, tin pants, food and stacks of bolts of yardage for sewing clothes. At one corner of the store there was a post Office. The mail came up by train at the lower crossing and there was a huge water tank that the train engine would water up daily".

Hazel Co. Roading Donkey, USFS

Around 1913 the Arlington - Darrington Road is rerouted making it straighter for truck traffic.  The new stretch of road went around the millpond to the north side creating an upper crossing over the train tracks and a lower crossing.  Where the tracks once were is part of the Whitehorse Trail today.  You can still find the section of this road where the upper railroad crossing was where the Dept. Of Transportation Shop is now.  The lower crossing is where the river is today.

During 1921 the construction of the Gorge Dam began.  This would the first of three dams to be constructed for the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.  The Seattle City Light power lines would be installed from the dams traveling through the mountains all the way to Seattle.  In 1923 Shortly before the dam was completed Seattle City Light made plans to build a guard station at Hazel for the power lines maintenance crew.  Bad floods again hit the Hazel Community in the winter of 1923-24 leaving the community with much rebuilding.  The railroad tracks and road were buried in debris for days cutting off Hazel, and all the settlements to the east, for mail and freight deliveries.  The road which had been eaten away by the river was repaired.

The Dentist Office and later dwelling, by Martha Rasmussen

Hazel Holm recalled. "There was a bad flood that washed away two homes, the school, Seattle City Light building and the big water tank for the train.  A big slide made the railroad tracks and road impassable for several days. The water tank was later rebuilt near the upper crossing by the grocery store and depot. My parents and I took a photo of the porch of the post office during the flood. The Dentist's home and office did not get flooded as it was on the upper end of Hazel. The dentist home was purchased in later years by Seattle City Light and moved below the lower end of Hazel". Both the Dentist Home and office are still there and are homes".    The dentist office can be seen from the highway and the old Seattle Light Guard Station which was moved near the second school is uphill southwest of the Hazel Pond.

The Hazel Store and Post-office, from Hazel Holm

In spite of the devastation of flooding Hazel thrived  and was a bustling community. The train with a passenger coach made a round trip daily to pick up flat cars of lumber and drop off mail and supplies.  Hazel Holm shared her memory of growing up during this time.  "There was a side track where the train would stop at Hazel to load up on lumber, also there was also a stage that made a trip a day from Darrington to Hazel. There was a side track along the main track to the mill pond. The side track also connected the Hazel Railroad to the mill pond from Mt. Higgins. "To unload the logs there was a horse across the mill pond that went around and around a post to tighten the line over the load on the flat car. When the line became to taut the logs went into the pond with a great splash" 

For most of the years of Hazel's history the railroad was an important part of daily life from the logging railroad bringing in the logs to the sawmill and taking the men to work in the woods and the main line, the Burlington Northern bringing up the mail and supplies from the cities down river.  Bob Heirman, the Locomotive Engineer reflected on his memories.  "The Hazel pond was a deep pond and it had a creek that fed into it.  Some of the best cutthroat fishing around was in that pond, but that changed when they put the road through it and filled it in.  We'd stop for lunch and I'd catch a nice trout and cook it up.  One time we noticed a house on fire and we got all the furniture out and one guy got burned doing it.  In the end we must not have got the furniture far enough from the fire and it all went up in flames too. There use to be a large water tank for filling the Engine.  I was an engineer, those steam engines have to be kept fed, keep the fire going and plenty of water.  If the water dries up, the whole thing will blow!"

Hazel Stump House, from Hazel Holm

During the Great Depression, in 1932 heavy rains caused flooding of the Stillaguamish and Sauk Rivers damaging bridges and buildings at Hazel, Mansford and Darrington.  The Stillaguamish shifted its course damaging homes and the sawmill at Hazel.  This time there was no rebuilding and the sawmill and stopped operation.  The Fortson Mill up river lost two bunk houses and Darrington lost four bridges.  The Hazel-Higgins School closed and the students were bussed to a larger school at Whitehorse.   The  Hazel School District later consolidated with the Darrington School District.  By 1934 the lands that were owned by Hazel Lumber Company became the possession of the Citizen Bank Of Arlington.   In 1937, heavy rains caused a large slide on the northern bank of the Stillaguamish River at Hazel causing flooding upriver until gradually the river cut a new channel. 

Early citizen Finas Skeers related,  "They put up a mill with a spur from the tracks and a siding to roll up them big logs to the flat cars.  Before you know it got a name.  Someone comes along and builds a store, then a post office. That's how these places got started".

No longer a mill town Hazelstill remains on the map today and was regarded as its own community.  The highway now travels down the middle of the old millpond.  Many people refer to the Hazel Fishing Hole, The Hazel Pond or the Hazel Straight Away.  Some may even remember the Hazel Stump House which stood for many years and could be seen from the highway.  Hazel, Washington transitioned to a quiet neighborhood with some homes being in the family for generations.

Hazel suffered two more slides, one in 1967 forcing the river to to change course and cut a channel about 700 feet south and later in 2oo6 damning the river.  A channel was cut through the slide to alleviate flooding.

530 Mudslide, March 22, 2014, photo by Martha Rasmussen

On March 22, 2014, the many of the residences of Hazel - Oso suffered a catastrophic tragedy of unimaginable magnitude!  It was 10:37 on a beautiful spring morning when the ground rumbled and was felt for miles in the Stillaguamish Valley.  The area had experienced 200 percent normal rainfall over 45 days and an immense slide thundered down hitting the river causing a huge wave of water, mud, rocks and trees.   Homes were swept away at Steelhead Lane and two other homes along the highway, 43 people were killed and SR 530 was buried for over one mile.  Homes east of the slide and the town of Darrington were cut off by the buried highway and no communication for several days.  People worked frantically to help their neighbors from the Darrington end and Oso worked from their side of slide.  On April 3, 2014 President Obama declared the 530 Slide a disaster and FEMA was brought in.  Aide flooded to the area to help the small communities of the Stillaguamish Valley cope and try to rebuild.

Looking at Hazel today is sobering.  The SR 530 has been rebuilt through what once was a place known as Hazel, Washington.  Along the highway is masses of hills of debris left from the slide, a grove 43 cedar trees  planted stand alone to honor the dead grow where once was Steelhead Drive.  To the east the Hazel Millpond, old dentist office, old Seattle Guard Station still stand and to the west the Skaglund home and Pierson barn survived the slide,

Written by Martha Rasmussen, sources: oral histories & historical maps