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Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - Page updated at 02:29 PM

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A Remarkable place ...

Special to The Seattle Times

Snohomish County is a blend of rural and urban areas stretching from Puget Sound to the Cascade Mountains and a national forest, and it comes with a rich history and a vibrant economy.

Stretching from Puget Sound to Everett's skyline and Boeing's aircraft-manufacturing facilities, across fertile fields and farms in the lowlands to the Cascade Mountains to the east, Snohomish County has a remarkable mix of urban and rural areas and geography that includes forested mountains, fertile river valleys and saltwater beaches.

To those who call it home, the county is the ideal union of nature, city and suburb. One of its greatest appeals is its location, close to Puget Sound, the majestic Cascade Mountains and the lush Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which spreads across roughly half of the county's land mass. The county's proximity to the urban centers of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., is a plus as well.

Snohomish County also offers newcomers a multitude of destinations, recreational activities and a diverse network of communities with a rich history and a growing economy.

Map of the county

County's top employers in 2005


Employer (type of work) Employees
Boeing (aircraft manufacturer) 23,000
Naval Station Everett (Navy) 6,110
Premera (health care) 3,300
Providence Health System (health care) 3,239
State of Washington (state government) 3,100
Snohomish County (county government) 2,653
Tulalip Tribes Enterprises (retail center, casino) 2,072
Rinker Materials Northwest (concrete, sand, gravel, asphalt) 2,000
Everett School District 1,761
Philips Medical Systems (medical manufacturer) 1,600
Verizon Northwest (communications) 1,600
Source: Economic Development Council of Snohomish County (EDC)

In geographic terms, Snohomish County is roughly 2,100 square miles — about half the size of Connecticut but larger than Delaware and Rhode Island. The county extends to Skagit County in the north, King County to the south and Chelan County on the east side of the Cascades.

From Interstate 5, the county may seem like an endless suburban sprawl, but actual its topography is dominated by dense forest and mountain terrain that attracts nature lovers from all over the country and beyond.

According to county data, about 68 percent of the county is forest and another 18 percent is considered rural. Semi-urban areas account for only 9 percent of the county and the remaining 5 percent is farmland, primarily in the Snohomish and Stillaguamish river valleys.

To the east, densely wooded hills rise in elevation to alpine wilderness in the Cascades and the county's highest point of elevation, Glacier Peak, which stands at 10,541 feet and is one Washington state's tallest mountains.

From the perspective of transportation, Interstate 5 is the spine running through western Snohomish County's cities and suburbs. Its counterpoint is state Highway 2, which runs east from I-5 on its way across the Cascades.

The Tulalip Reservation is another feature of the county, covering some 22,000 acres of federally reserved land west of Marysville, and is home to the Tulalip Casino and a growing retail complex.

Western Snohomish County harbors a temperate climate year-round, with an average precipitation of about 35 inches and an average high temperature of 75 degrees in midsummer and lows to just above freezing in January, according to county statistics.

Portrait of the people

Snohomish County is home to about 656,000 people and is the third most populous county in the state, according to 2005 U.S. census data. It's one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, as evidenced by an almost 30 percent population jump since 1990.

Everett, the county seat, recently celebrated a milestone in its growth when it went over 100,000 in population, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

According to the 2005 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income in the county was almost 15 percent higher than the national median.

Gender distribution was an even 50-50 between male and female residents, and about 75 percent of residents are 18 or older, with about 7 percent of those residents at least 65 years of age.

The ethnic makeup of the county is about 82.3 percent white, 7.6 percent Asian American, 1.8 percent African American and an estimated 8.3 percent other races or a combination of races, according to the U.S. census survey.

Snohomish County has a strong armed-services presence, with more than 6,500 military personnel employed at Naval Station Everett, which was built in 1994 and is home to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and other ships.

About 2,450 Native Americans live on the Tulalip Tribes Reservation and in the Marysville area. The Tulalip Reservation preceded the county and was formed as a result of the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty, which was drawn up six years before Snohomish County was born.

Washington Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens met with 81 tribal leaders at Point Elliott, which is now Mukilteo, to devise the treaty with the U.S. government. The Point Elliot Treaty was ratified by President James Buchanan in 1859.

A wealth of history

Snohomish County takes its name from what was the predominant Snohomish tribe. The meaning of the name is debated among language scholars, but according to definitions from the Tulalip Tribes Cultural Resources Department, Snohomish is derived from the root word "sduhub" in the Lushootseed Native tongue. The purest translation is, simply, "man."

Many names throughout the region end in suffixes — -amish or -omish, which mean "people."

Historian David Dilgard from the Everett Library said the "man of the people" translation could be a sort of descriptive superiority of the people, like "brave," or it could mean settlers had asked tribal people what they called themselves and the tribes had answered "us" — and it stuck.

Evidence of early settlement and industrialization can be found in many parts of the county, whether in the red-brick masonry and old-world charm of historic downtown districts or hidden in the forest, in the case of the Monte Cristo mining district on the Mountain Loop Highway east of Granite Falls.

Much of Snohomish County's history gravitates toward the city of Everett, historically known as "the city of smokestacks, where rail meets sail."

Before Everett came alive in what Dilgard described as "a jubilation in the streets" with the advent of rail transportation in the 1880s, there was unbridled free enterprise and a long line of notorious businessmen who made use of what they thought was a never-ending supply of resources.

Snohomish County industry was built upon fishing, timber and mining. Images of lawless ruffians and men behind powerful fortunes swinging the chains of their pocket watches are not far from the truth, Dilgard said, but riches came and went as markets followed a roller coaster of booms and busts.

Some of the more influential moguls in Snohomish County history include Andrew Pope and William Talbot, who established the Puget Mill Co. in 1853.

Henry Hewitt Jr., another lumber baron, foresaw the coming of the Great Northern Railway to the city. In the early 1890s, Hewitt acquired a fortune from East Coast investors that included John D. Rockefeller before a national depression hit in the mid-1890s.

Perhaps the most memorable and certainly violent event in Snohomish County history, the Everett Massacre, occurred in 1916 during a time of labor hostilities. Five members of the Industrial Workers of the World and two sheriff's deputies were killed during a demonstration at the Everett docks. Some 30 other people were injured.

The future

Snohomish County's modern economy is highlighted by aerospace technology and the presence of Boeing's Everett facilities, which employs more than 23,000. Other growth is in the biotechnology, electronics/computer-technology and wood-product industries.

Employment in Snohomish County is steady, with the Washington state Employment Security Department reporting an estimated 4 percent unemployment rate in its most recent 2006 statistics.

A county profile by The League of Snohomish County Heritage Organizations listed Snohomish County as one of the prime targets for relocation across the United States.

Snohomish County continues to grow, with officials predicting a population spike of about 50 percent by 2025, to just shy of 933,000 people.

As of Sept. 1, the most active listings for homes in Snohomish County had price tags of at least $475,000, according to the Multiple Listing Service. The median price of a home in the county in May of 2006 was $323,950.

But considering projected growth and all of the county's perks, making a home in Snohomish County may well be a very wise investment.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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