For thousands of years the Snohomish and related Native American tribes inhabited the area that presently comprises Snohomish County and Hat, Whidbey and Camano islands. The Snohomish Tribe was the largest Native American population in the area. They lived along the shores of Puget Sound from Warm Beach to Richmond Beach and along the Snohomish River to Monroe. Tribes followed the traditional cycle of fishing, hunting and gathering along the two major river systems that flow through the land: the Stillaguamish River, with its north and south forks, and the Snohomish River, formed from the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers.
British Capt. George Vancouver landed on the beach south of Hebolb on June 4, 1792, claiming the Puget Sound region for England’s King George III and naming nearby locations including Puget Sound, Port Gardner Bay and Port Susan Bay. However, American interests in the region grew over the years as part of the concept of manifest destiny. By the Treaty of 1818, Great Britain and the United States established the 49th parallel as the northern border between Canada and the U.S. as far west as the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains, but they agreed to joint control and occupancy of Oregon Country. On June 15, 1846, Britain ceded its claims to the lands south of the 49th parallel, and the U.S. ceded its claims to the north of the same line, the present-day Canada-U.S. border.
In 1848, the Oregon Territory, composed of present-day Washington, Oregon and Idaho as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming, was established. Washington Territory, which included Washington and parts of Idaho and Montana, was formed from the Oregon Territory in 1853. On Jan. 22, 1855, Washington territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens and 81 tribal leaders met at Point Elliott to sign a treaty between regional tribes and the U.S. government. The Snohomish signed away their lands in exchange for cash, hunting and fishing rights and a reservation established at Tulalip.
During Washington’s territorial years, the peninsula that would become Everett was mostly logged by companies drawn to its old-growth trees and proximity to mills at Port Gamble and Utsalady. About a dozen homesteaders and squatters chose this location as well. As the population grew, local settlers petitioned the territorial legislature to develop a separate county, and Snohomish County, originally part of Island County, was formed on Jan. 14, 1861.
Snohomish County grew, as did most the Pacific Northwest, with the arrival of the railroad. On July 4, 1889, Joseph Pearsall struck gold and staked a claim at Monte Cristo. This drew prospectors to the area and helped solidify plans for development.
By 1910, it was estimated that one-fifth of Everett’s population was employed in the lumber mills, where hours were long and working conditions were dangerous. Railroading and logging held equal dangers. Trades unions gained an early, solid base in Everett, but union members often faced backlash and blacklisting from jobs. On Nov. 5, 1916, the Everett Massacre, a labor confrontation between the Industrial Workers of the World and county lawmen, left two deputies and at least five union members dead, with dozens more wounded.
World War I dashed the hopes of many reformists, and Snohomish County solidly backed the war effort. The predominant economy now was lumbering, and an earthquake in Japan in 1923 spurred a lumber boom in the Pacific Northwest, bringing the region out of recession and fueling development that lasted until the 1929 stock market crash. During the Great Depression, government reports listed Snohomish County as one of the state’s neediest counties. Its lumbering economy tumbled. Mills closed and restarted, only to close again.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, wartime industries revitalized the county. The Everett Pacific Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, operated by Pacific Car and Foundry of Seattle, began wartime production on the Everett waterfront in 1942. Everett Marine Ways, the Carl E. Edlund Shipyard and the Stanwood Shipyard contracted to build ships for the Navy as well. Boeing Aircraft Co. operated two airplane assembly plants in Everett, employing mostly women.
Post-World War II growth in the Pacific Northwest quickly connected rural areas and small towns. Highway construction linked Stanwood, Snohomish and Monroe with Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Bellingham. In 1967, Boeing began building the 747 plant near Everett’s Paine Field, thus initiating rapid population growth in the county.
Growth issues have dominated the area’s landscape since the 1970s. Much of the county’s farmland has been sold for real estate development, and once-quaint roads have become highways with numbers instead of names. When an Everett Navy homeport was planned in the 1980s, a citizens group formed to oppose it, but layoffs and lumber giant Weyerhaeuser rallied voters to overwhelmingly support Naval Station Everett, which was dedicated in 1994.
By 2006, Snohomish County had become one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States; these days its economy is a mix of technology, aerospace, service-based business, building trades and tourism.