Walking on Index’s birthday

Residents come out to learn history of 125-year-old town

Kelly Sullivan

From her Snohomish home Karen Plate has views of the peak named after her great-grandmother.

Mt. Persis shares Index’s southeastern skyline with the town’s namesake peak, the jagged, imposing Mt. Index. The Montana native has never kept an address in the small Cascade community, but remembers visiting her grandmother there as a child.

“It’s all come full circle,” she said.

Plate passed the familiar former home of Persis Ulrich once again last Wednesday evening. She was accompanied by dozens of Index neighbors, who had gathered to observe a milestone anniversary; town founder Amos and his wife Persis Gunn platted 137.63 acres of property as a mining claim on the north fork of the Skykomish River 125 years ago, on April 25, 1893.

“People come for excitement and often find peace and beauty,” said Louise Lindgren, president of the Index Historical Society, which put on last Wednesday’s celebration. “I know I did.”

Those who have called the town home have adapted and endured through hardships and more prosperous times. Booms and busts split the economy. Industries flourished and subsequently failed. Natural disasters leveled homes and whole blocks, which were then rebuilt.

Lindgren jokes the area sees a “100-year flood every 10 years.”

A walking tour started outside the historic River House, once called the Index Tavern, early Wednesday evening. The Corson family restored the building that sits on a slope directly above the river, and adapted it into an outdoor recreation center.

The group started before the sun had dropped below the western ridgelines. They cast long shadows down Avenue A. Slowly they passed the red and white Pickett Museum, formerly the home of renowned photographer Lee Pickett.

Guide David Cameron, Lindgren’s husband, paused in front of a granite post from Index’s original entry arch. Near it was a water fountain erected to honor the first child born in the town.

Mt. Index received its name because Persis Gunn felt the feature resembled an index finger, according to the short historical publication “Index: A Historical Perspective,” by Ruth Burgstahler. A group of pinnacles to the east were eventually named Gunn’s Peaks.

After a few blocks and pointing out Plate’s grandmother’s former home, Cameron turned left and took the tour down Index Avenue. It is the only 100-foot-wide street in town, he said.

Gunn’s plat map shows plans for a track that would have cut east from the original curved line of the Great Northern Railroad, which winds through the southwest corner of Index. The route was altered in 1962. The bend was broadened and the grade was raised. Now the railway stands high above street level, as it crosses the river.

The plat map also shows Gunn intended to develop four streets and five blocks. The town’s gravity septic system also needed to be adapted, he said.

Cameron stopped in front of the town’s only church, at the corner of Index Avenue — he added Wiccan and Buddhist groups practice nearby. Many denominations have been housed in the white, green-trimmed chapel throughout the years, he said.

Lindgren said the town’s interests are diverse, and increasingly so. She said that is why no one puts up political signs in their front yard — because the full spectrum is represented by the people.

Blair Corson gave an update on renovations at the Bush House Inn, which is the family’s most recent project. He said the building is now nationally registered. Teddy Roosevelt once stayed at the hotel, according to the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau.

The structure was one of the few left standing after the Great Depression hit, and other fires had shut down much of the town by the 1940s.

The following three decades yielded little growth and renewal. Logging and mining had been prevalent at the start of the century. Nearly 600 people lived in the area by the start of World War I, according to the historical society.

Now about 175 people reside in Index. The town is the smallest in Western Washington, and now touted by regional organizations and agencies as a hub for outdoor recreation in the Cascades.

Reiter Road to the west would be the only way out if the towering steel-wire suspension bridge that crosses the Skykomish gave out. The meandering, scenic route provides access to Gold Bar and Reiter Foothills State Forest. Heading west on U.S. Highway 2 will take visitors to Stevens Pass.

The Index Wall that borders the town to the north draws climbers and boulderers from around the state. Whitewater rafters and kayakers can head to the River House’s Outdoor Adventures Center. A new hike just across the bridge up to Heybrook Ridge was saved from logging by the persistent efforts of the community.

New mayor Norm Johnson filled the post in January. He said he came out for Wednesday’s walk to hear about the history of the place he has called home for 25 years. He came for the fishing, and stayed because of the community, he said.

Once Cameron’s tour concluded — it would have taken hours to walk the entire town — the group headed back to the River House for a potluck. Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low came for the meal, to congratulate the town for its many years and present a Snohomish County Community Heritage Preservation Grant.

Nearly $12,000 was awarded for repairing historical buildings and digitizing the town’s printed newspaper copies. Low said the county has decided to nearly triple what is set aside for the annual grants, recognizing the importance of saving the area’s history.

An attendee noted there was not a dedicated material for 125th anniversaries. He suggested the day be commemorated with granite, which was historically quarried around Index. Dozens of diners applauded in agreement.


Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Index resident David Cameron led a historical walking tour to celebrate 125 years since the founder platted the property in Index on Wednesday, April 25. Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low gave a Snohomish County Community Heritage grant to the Index Historical Society on the 125th anniversary of when the small town was platted.


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