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Friday, August 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:55 AM

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When chickens ruled the roosts of Alderwood

Times Snohomish County bureau

This was his town's heart, where each summer a parade of horse-drawn wagons, floats and the Pegasus Patrol drill team celebrated Alderwood Manor Play Days. He'd ride in the back of his dad's oil-delivery truck, throwing candy to kids lining the narrow main drag.

On this northeast corner stood Mrs. Lee's building, housing a beauty shop and a locker with rental freezer spaces. Across the street were the local shoe shop, the butcher and a guy who fixed radios. That man also had gas pumps out front, on North Trunk Road, with a car shop around the corner on Birch Street, he recalled.

Then the grown-up Michael Echelbarger, 60, shook off his reverie and focused on the traffic rushing by on the six-lane, modern-day reality of 196th Street Southwest.

The North Trunk of his youth lies beneath the 196th median and the intersection's pair of left-turn lanes, he mused. And the gas pumps and wood-frame shops would be in the middle of today's thoroughfare.

"This was just a country place. Everybody knew everybody," said Echelbarger, the board chairman of the new Lynnwood Convention Center, a glistening civic icon that today dominates that crossroad of his youth.

A half-mile away, on the other side of Interstate 5, an unlikely little city park is taking shape. Wedged between a Lowe's parking lot and a Jaguar dealership under construction, wooded Heritage Park offers a refuge for Alderwood Manor buildings — and people — displaced by the city's progress.

Nonprofit groups operate the cluster of historic structures that attract tourists as well as old-timers who drop by to reminisce about days gone by.

Mabel Schoenholz, 89, recently paid her first visit to the park. While touring a restored cottage, she spied a prominently displayed, enlarged photo of Alderwood Manor Community Church, torn down long ago.

"We were married in that church," she exclaimed.

Bronze chickens — a couple of roosters, a hen, a scattering of chicks — help anchor the old, relocated buildings to a common time and place. The life-size sculptures hearken back to the city's origins as a planned community of gentlemen farmers.

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Alderwood Manor was the brainchild of Puget Mill, which had logged 7,000 acres and needed to unload its vast tracts of blackened stumps. In 1917, the company subdivided the land, between the north end of Lake Washington and what's now Paine Field, and aggressively began marketing it in places as far-flung as New York and Chicago. Over the decades, several communities and cities would emerge from what originally was Alderwood Manor.

A 1907 trolley car now in the park once traveled the Interurban between Everett and Seattle. Alderwood Manor, which lay along the rail line, appealed to people who wanted to work in Seattle but live in the country, on small farms where they could raise chickens and grow a few vegetables.

Newcomers learned the basics of farming and raising chickens at the 33-acre Demonstration Farm on a site that now lies mostly beneath I-5's right of way. The superintendent's cottage and water tower of the old farm — both now in the park — were saved from destruction in the late 1990s, when a new I-5 interchange wiped out most remaining traces of Alderwood Manor.

Babe Ruth the hen

By the 1920s, the community was thriving. With about 1,500 people and 200,000 hens, it was reputed to be one of the nation's top egg producers. As legend has it, one year's crop of eggs, laid end to end, could have stretched from San Francisco to New York. Local hen Babe Ruth held a world record for laying 326 eggs one year.

The Great Depression forced many of the egg farmers out of business in the 1930s, and over the years the old farms gave way to residential subdivisions.

The freeway, which opened in 1964, led to the original community's demise. Following the route of the Interurban, which had stopped running in 1939, I-5 ripped a swath through the center of Alderwood Manor. Its partial interchange at 196th, with ramps to and from the north, led to a proliferation of strip malls that displaced nearly all traces of the old downtown.

Echelbarger's family evolved, too. Two generations became major developers and were responsible for much of the commercial transformation along 196th.

"On the one hand, it's sad. On the other hand, it was gonna happen," Echelbarger said. "When the dominoes start to fall, you can either get out of the way and take advantage of the situation, or else you can let them fall on your head and moan and groan."

When the state Department of Transportation created a full I-5 interchange in 1997, the city saved Alderwood Manor's most significant downtown building: Wickers Store. In its heyday, the 1919 Tudor-style structure had served as the community's general store, post office and Interurban stop.

For decades, the old landmark lingered at the bottom of an I-5 offramp, looking forlorn and out of place. It lost its porch and gas pumps when the freeway came through; its final tenant was an appliance-repair shop. Now it's a renovated showpiece at Heritage Park, where it houses the Snohomish County Visitor Information Center.

The new interchange, however, caused the razing of a dozen other Alderwood Manor buildings. Most were Demonstration Farm structures on the east side of the freeway. The town's original barbershop and farmers' co-op were on the west.

The two remaining bits of the old downtown are easy to miss.

A 1921 Masonic temple — now a Korean church — and an empty, vandalized brick building that had housed Alderwood Manor's first school, used to face each other across a busy street. Now both are marooned in what has become a parking lot, nearly invisible to nearby traffic.

The 1915 two-room schoolhouse, known as Manor Hardware for its last tenant, last year became the first building listed on the city's new Historic Landmarks Register. Its longtime owner, John Milnor, has been working with the city on plans for a $200,000 renovation and restoration. He has replaced the roof and removed interior asbestos, and intends to divide the building into five professional offices.

Museum in the works

The city opened Heritage Park in 2004, using local, state and federal funds to complete its $1.9 million first phase. A $200,000 second phase, now under way, will complete the renovation of the trolley and create a museum on the second floor of Wickers. Future phases will rebuild the water tower's missing tank, create demonstration gardens, enhance wetlands and expand park amenities.

The 3-acre park includes a portion of an original Alderwood Manor farm, including its cottage and barn. The 1919 house, restored by volunteers, is operated by the Sno-Isle Genealogical Society, and the barn is to be renovated for use by the Washington State University Master Gardeners.

The Alderwood Manor Heritage Association saved and restored the superintendent's cottage, which it opens to the public several days a week.

"It seems like a miracle, but it took a lot of hard work," said association activist Marie Little, a co-author of "Images of America: Alderwood Manor."

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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