On February 26, 1913, Langley is incorporated as a fourth-class town. Voters approved the measure to incorporate on Tuesday, January 28, 1913, and elected its first mayor and council. Platted in 1890 by town founder Jacob Anthes (1865?-1939) and the Langley Land and Improvement Company, Langley is situated on the southeast shore of Whidbey Island, facing east on Saratoga Passage. At the time of incorporation, town population is 469 individuals. The town is a trading center for loggers, farmers, fishermen, and transient workers, with steamer connections to Everett, Camano Island, Seattle and Whatcom (Bellingham). Following annexation of adjacent property in 1975, Langley will be granted status as a Noncharter Code City. In 2012 it will remain the only incorporated city on South Whidbey Island.
From Homestead to Town
Jacob Anthes was only 14 years old in 1879 when he left his home in Gros Gerau, Germany, and headed for the U.S., hoping for adventure and to escape compulsory military conscription. He traveled by ship with a friend and they arrived in New York, and then went to Kansas. Anthes set out on his own for California via the Transcontinental Railroad and proceeded north, along the coast. He reached Seattle in 1880. The promise of homestead land had drawn hundreds to the West and Anthes was hired by a Seattle businessman to care for a homestead on South Whidbey Island. Anthes was too young to take a claim himself but he now had a place to live and he got by cutting and selling cordwood to supply the steamers docking near his residence.
Although central Whidbey had a growing community at Coupeville at this time, much of south Whidbey was wilderness. Jacob walked all of South Whidbey Island and liked best what he saw at the spot that would become Langley. He married Leafy Weeks of Seattle in 1889 and the following year -- finally 21 years of age -- filed a homestead claim on 160 acres and began making plans for a town.
Following Washington statehood in 1889, the establishment of townsites reached a proportion of madness in the region as entrepreneurs anticipated the arrival of the Great Northern Railway and speculated where it would first touch West Coast tidewater. Anthes placed his hopes on South Whidbey Island’s location and resources and sought backing for town development. He received support from Judge James Weston Langley (1836-1915), C. M. Sheafe (ca. 1872-?), James Satterlee, A. P. Kirk (ca. 1862-?), and Howard B. Slauson (1861-1933). With them, Anthes formed the Langley Land and Improvement Company and deeded property to the company for development. The town plat of Langley -- named for the judge -- was drawn in November, 1890 and officially recorded on April 9, 1891.
One of the company’s first projects was building a 999-foot dock, at a cost of $5,000. Anthes opened a general store and post office across the street from the dock. But a severe economic crisis hit the country hard in 1893 and the Improvement Company’s plans were put aside. Even when severe storms destroyed the dock in 1894, there were no funds to repair and, for a time, large vessels were unable to land at Langley. The Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 -- as well as an upturn in the national economy in the early 1900s -- reawakened town development.
In 1902 the Improvement Company deeded land back to Anthes and he began building roads connecting to Clinton and other areas of South Whidbey Island. Langley became South Whidbey’s trading center for loggers, fishermen, and farmers, with steamers linking to Everett, Seattle, Camano Island, and Whatcom (Bellingham).
From a teenager struggling to make a living, Anthes had, through his business ventures, become prosperous, owning the town’s general store, its water system, a post office and a cookhouse/bunkhouse for loggers and brush cutters. He also had real-estate holdings in nearby Everett. Polk’s City directory listings link Anthes to a hotel in Everett as early as 1904 and by 1908 the Anthes family had moved from Langley to Everett’s riverside neighborhood. Polk’s lists Anthes in Everett from 1908 to 1939, the year he died.
Incorporating as a Fourth-Class Town
By 1910. although Anthes still owned a large amount of Langley property, he no longer dominated the town. Business had diversified and the U. S. Federal Census that year lists 142 families living there. The governing body, however, was Island County, with the county seat at Coupeville. Given the small population on all of South Whidbey, Langley’s needs were often of low priority and citizens began talking about incorporation as the way to manage their town’s destiny. An incorporation issue failed in 1910 but three years later, it passed. Citizens voted to incorporate as a fourth-class town on Tuesday, January 28, 1913. The incorporation order was filed with the Secretary of State on February 26, 1913.
Voters elected Frank Furman (b. 1864?) as mayor and James C. Langley (b. 1874, a nephew of Judge Langley), Edward Howard (1863-1927), Henry .J. English (18477-1931), William H. McGinnis (1864-1933), Angus C. McLeod (1847-1931), and Isaac M. Bainter (1859-1937) as councilmen.
The newly elected council began usual duties such as drawing a town budget, but their early decisions also included declaring the Langley Islander (begun in 1910) as the town’s official newspaper, accepting the gift of the town cemetery from the Woodmen Camp, and dealing with the ongoing problem of wandering farm animals on streets and roads.
Town council minutes over the years show the growth and changes of a small rural community, but Langley also gained national attention in 1920 when an effort to clean up city hall (and following passage of the nation’s woman suffrage act) led to the election of an all-female administration, making Langley the second town in the United States to do so. (The first was Kanab, Utah, in 1911).
Langley continued to grow slowly. In 1961 the Port of Langley (now Port of South Whidbey) was established. In 1970 Langley’s population was 525. Five years later, the town annexed property and was reclassified as a Noncharter Code City, retaining its mayor-council form of government. Notice of this status change was filed with the office of the Secretary of State (Elections Division) on January 27, 1975.
In 2012, Langley is the only incorporated city on South Whidbey Island.