The Glory Days of Marietta

by Angelo Bruscas

The mouth of the Nooksack River opens to the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands. As the river water rolls along its course, it finally kisses the banks of Marietta before meanders into Bellingham Bay.

It was the river and the fertile valley soil that brought the first settlers to the mouth of the Nooksack. The pioneers held the prosperous land in high esteem. The fish they took from it, the fruits they grew on it, the timber they used to build with the bound the settlers in homage to the bountiful new territory.

Today (1978) Marietta has lost much of its attraction. Most of the original families have long since packed up their households, leaving behind scarred and vacant home for a new life elsewhere. The roads today widen with cracks throughout Marietta. The town is littered with garbage, and howling dogs. Few people pass through and the ones that do never stop.

In the heart of the town, only two structures still stand with any respect for the past: BAKER's Market, a century-old grocery store, gas station and post office, and the local Marietta Elementary School.

But one family still remembers the days when Marietta was a wonderful place to live.

The BUSWELL family was second wave settlers in the Marietta area. Their collection of old photographs and other artifacts from the pioneer period have provided many researchers with a valuable key to the history of the lower Nooksack. Most of the information which follows was provided by the BUSWELLs:

Solomon ALLEN, a wealthy gold prospector, came to the Nooksack in the early 1860's looking for more of the precious mineral. ALLEN met misfortune, however, when his canoe, loaded with gold tipped over in the river, spilling his wealth over the riverbottom.

ALLEN decided to stay and married his Lummi wife about 1864. The exact date of marriage cannot be established because ALLEN and his wife were married three times - once by tribal customs and twice by other practices of the time.

The west half of the mouth of the Nooksack attracted ALLEN and he filed a claim for a homestead of 168 acres in 1879. The area he settled on now includes the area of Hoff Road in Marietta.

On July 4, prior to his homesteading, ALLEN had filed a platt for the town of Marietta. The platt was surveyed by Ferndale's John TENNANT.

The area acquired by ALLEN was divided into 60 lots of 300 square feet in size. The original streets were Pacific, Mill, Commercial, Front and Washington.

More than a few accounts of the naming of Marietta exist today, but the account which seems most valid is that the town was named after a girl in the ALLEN family.

As ALLEN molded his territory in the 1880's, the two other settlers came to make their fortune in the wilderness community.

The two men, PENCE and GUEST, filed a claim in 1888 and formed a partnership in a shingle mill. It was also at this time that ALLEN seeing a future for Marietta, filed for two additions and approached the Great Northern Railroad for a line through the town.

It was also in this period that the first post office was established. John McDONALD was the first postmaster in Marietta. In addition to his postal duties he also ran a small retail store near the PENCE, GUEST Shingle mill.

Shortly before the turn of the century, a boarding house and hotel was established by Mrs. KENNEDY, on what would become the main street in Marietta. KENNEDY's boarding house was usually filled by loggers and fishermen, and a few travelers in the area.

Located directly across the street was a popular place for the early settlers: the saloon.

A bakery and butcher shop also had thriving businesses in Marietta at one time, BUSWELL said.

John BUTTERS and his wife were the next prominent settlers in Marietta.

BUTTERS, a dignified and portly gentleman, started a store near the KENNEDY boarding house. Upstairs in the store, BUTTERS built a Sunday School and Church where his wife would hold regular meetings and services for the townsfolk. The store and church, however, do not remain today because a fire destroyed the building in 1912.

In the early 1900's Marietta boasted a population of about 250 people. Most of the residents worked in the shingle mills, fished in the San Juan Islands or worked the land. Norwegian fishermen and Lummi Indians from the reservation also frequented the small community.

Marietta thrived on its shingle mill operated for almost 40 years and shipping routes were established in the bay. In the late 1800's a steamboat also made runs up the Nooksack river.

Goods and freight such as groceries were brought into Marietta from Bellingham by way of spring-loaded wagons pulled by horses. On return trips, the wagons frequently were loaded with fish caught by Marietta fishermen.

The people in the town would entertain themselves at the town dance hall, which also served as a union hall and town meeting place. Children attended school in the two-room school building on the bluff behind the town. The school had about 50 children attending.

A dairy also was established in Marietta in the early 1900's with milk routes in Bellingham. H. A. ZANE operated the dairy.

As the Nooksack and the valley provided the settlers with a way to live, it also could rise up against the town and flood through the streets in a violent surge.

Such was the case in 1908. As workers dug upriver in Ferndale, cutting out a channel, the water backed up and rushed towards the town. Taken unexpectedly, residents of Marietta had to flee the oncoming tragedy as the Nooksack poured into main street.

BAKER's Market is one of the few structures to withstand the floods and it remains in its original location today. BAKER's is now the only place in Marietta to buy groceries, gas or mail a letter.

Inside, the store offers a variety of products and services including a small hardware supply. Two gas pumps stand outside along the main street of Marietta. Also of interest today is a small house down the street from the market called Lummi Band of the Nooksack. Here a group of women and children handicraft Indian jewelry and ornaments while watching a small television screen.

Most of the residents have lost their fear of floods, even though the Nooksack annually seems to wash out the bridge above the town. Soil conservation and dikes have made valuable improvements to the flooding problem. But as Tom BAKER, who owns and operates the market, simply said, "Marietta is deteriorating."

From The Westside Journal; copied by Susan Nahas


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