Lyman, Washington is a small town nestled in the stunningly beautiful Skagit River valley. It has a rich heritage based on its abundant timber, fish and mineral resources and its native American history.
LYMAN'S EARLIEST RESIDENTS: SKAGIT TRIBE
As early as 1870, settlers from the east coast and mid-west traveled up the Skagit River inland as much as 30 miles to where the Skagit Indian village was located, near the present-day site of Lyman. About 2000 native Americans of the Skagit Tribe then lived near current-day Lyman. Until the early 1920’s, when a smallpox epidemic occurred, the Skagit Tribe was robust and healthy. This terrible epidemic reduced their numbers by about 80%.
EARLY WHITE SETTLEMENT: FARMING & LOGGING
During the early years of white settlement, trees were cut and the land was cleared; stump farming was carried out on rich soil before the stumps of the trees were removed. The soil produced wonderful crops and there were no insect pests at that time. Lumber harvesting drew more white men into the area between the Pacific coast and the Cascade mountain range. The early settlers cut down trees and made their living quarters, furniture and fuel from these readily available lumber resources. Logging operations were formally established along the Skagit River in 1873.
With the logging industry prospering, the white settlers began coming in greater numbers. Among the new settlers to arrive around 1880 was Otto Kiement, who was to become a leading figure in promoting the civic growth of Lyman. Kiement owned a trading post consisting of a store, hotel and saloon, all housed under the same roof. This post soon became the hangout for hunters, timber cruisers and adventurers who came to ferret out the mysteries of the trackless wilderness. A post office was also included in Kiement’s trading post after November 28, 1881, when a mail route to Lyman was established by Congress. This route extended sixty miles, from Mukilteo to Tulalip, Port Susan, Stanwood, Utsalady, Skagit City, Mount Vernon, Sterling and ending at Lyman.
RICH, FERTILE LAND FOR FARMING
Among the earliest white settlers in this vicinity were two cousins of Scotch-Irish decent— Henry Cooper and Henry Cooper Leggett. The cousins had traveled from eastern Canada to California where they worked for about 4 years and became American citizens in 1873. They then arrived by sailboat in Seattle, where they lived and worked until 1881, when they boarded a boat bringing farm implements into Skagit River country. They secured employment on a farm in the vicinity now known as the “flats”, and upon hearing reports of the rich, fertile land farther up the Skagit River that could be homesteaded, they traveled by canoe with an Indian guide and finally put ashore at what is the present town of Lyman. They found Mr. A W Williamson, a hop grower, to be the only permanent white farmer in the area at the time.
Henry Cooper homesteaded on 160 acres bordering on the Skagit River. He felled trees on his new property, built a cabin and arranged to bring his wife from Seattle to this home. Meanwhile, Henry Leggett homesteaded 160 acres about one and one half miles down the river from Lyman.
News from the outside, including mail and newspapers, was brought up river by canoe about once a week. The Skagit River was the only source of transportation until about 1881, when a crude road was put into use along the south boundary of the river. The first road was cropped out by Henry Leggett and his cousins to get a wagon through for supplies.
LYMAN'S FIRST COW
The first cow was brought to Lyman from Mt. Vernon on a hazardous three-day journey overland. That 20-mile trip takes less than 30 minutes to travel today. It was necessary to clear a pathway using an ax over the wild timber country along the river.
As the few white families gradually became adjusted to their new life in this Indian country, they learned a great deal about the habits and life of the local Skagit Indians. These native Americans colonized in their family tribes (consisting of all members related by blood) at locations all along the various sloughs on the Skagit River.
Almost without exception, the Skagit Indians were peaceable and congenial with the white settlers. Many of them transported white children across the river to go to school. Because of the ratio of Indians to whites, most of the white children had many Indian playmates.
The Skagit Indians were not a boisterous, war-making tribe. As a rule they were timid and rarely ventured beyond the confines of the valley. Chief Jim Shoemaker’s wife, Nellie, was very friendly with the white women. She assisted with the birth of Lizzie Cooper (Roughton) the daughter of Henry Cooper, the first white child born in Lyman. Most of the present day names for the choice fishing holes are based on the respective Indian tribes, such as Jimmy’s Slough named after Chief Jim Shoemaker, chief of the Skagit tribe.
With the influx of people came the increased need for a school. An early saloon was converted into a school and for the first time the children had a regular teacher. In 1890 a new school building was built on a site near the riverbank. It was used continuously until 1939 when a larger building was erected some distance from the former site.
PLOTTING THE TOWN OF LYMAN
The Town of Lyman was plotted as a town on October 28, 1884 by County surveyor, Mr. George Savage. The first land for lots, streets and alleys was donated and dedicated by Otto Kiement, who was also a realtor, on February 28, 1887. Lyman was named after Lorenzo P. Lyman, who was the town’s first postmaster.
With the population of the town well on its way, a Union Church was erected, which later became the Baptist Church. Shortly afterward, a Methodist, Episcopal church was erected. Each church had a resident pastor.
Lumber and logging industries in and around Lyman continued to be the general attractions for the increased number of settlers. The railroad was extended through the town in 1890. It was first known as the Seattle Northern and later called the Great Northern. The railroad made an impact on the town and people began building their houses to face north toward the railroad track instead of south toward the river.
During this time in Lyman history, there were prominent hotels in operation. Hitchcock and Kelley Lumber Company was formed, a livery stable, a town hall, and the Vanderford and Minkler Mill were established, and by 1905 there was a shake mill about 3 miles along the Skagit River.