Edson, Edward (1860-1944)

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 8/15/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8259

Edward "Ed" Edson was a settler in Lynden, located in Whatcom County, who made numerous contributions to the town's early development.  He operated the City Drug Store in Lynden for more than 50 years. He served as city clerk and councilman, and as mayor on three separate occasions for a total of 14 years. He also played a role in helping to organize what later became the Northwest Washington Fair and the Clam Diggers Club in Lynden.

From Midwest to Northwest

Ed Edson was born on August 30, 1860, at or near the small settlement of Elk Grove, Iowa, and lived in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas as a boy. As a young man Edson took up farming, but found it unprofitable and difficult. Restless and bored, he left Kansas in August 1882 and headed west, with the vague idea of going to California. Instead, he stopped in Laramie, Wyoming, and worked in a sawmill for about a year.  In 1883 his sister passed through Laramie, on the way to join her husband in Whatcom (now Bellingham’s Old Town). Edson joined her and arrived in Whatcom on October 19, 1883. 

Edson settled in Whatcom and went to work as a surveyor. He first passed through Lynden in May 1884 en route to do a survey, and found that Lynden consisted of three buildings -- Holden Judson’s store, Enoch Hawley’s store, and a big schoolhouse -- and virtually no residents. “Rather odd to have two stores and a school house and nobody living in the town,” Edson famously comments in his autobiography. 

A Leading Citizen

Later in the 1880s Edson began working with his brother-in-law, H. A. White, in the City Drug Store in Whatcom. In 1891, he moved to Lynden and bought a drugstore there that had operated, under two separate owners, since 1888.  On January 28, 1891, Edson opened the City Drug Store in Lynden. The store was located in the old Judson building on the northeast corner of 5th and Front streets.  

Edson was a remarkably well-rounded man. Over the next 50 years he served Lynden in a variety of ways. He served as city clerk and councilman, and as Lynden’s mayor from 1896 to 1898, from 1918 to 1926, and from 1936 to 1940. Edson's 14 years as mayor stood as Lynden’s record for longest tenure as mayor until Jim Van Andel passed it in the 1970s.   

Edson participated in a wide variety of other public ventures in Lynden.  In 1897 he met W. H. “Billy” Waples when Waples opened the Lynden Department Store in the same building as Edson’s City Drug Store.  Edson moved the drug store across Front Street in 1899, and moved it again in 1909, just down the block, to a newer, more spacious building near 4th Street. (This location is today [2007] part of the Dutch Mothers Restaurant.) But Edson maintained his relationship with Waples, and in January 1903 the two men incorporated the Lynden Mill and Light Company (though Edson soon sold his interest to Waples).  The company supplied Lynden with its first night street lighting.  Edson served in Lynden’s volunteer fire department, and he was serving on the school board in 1914 when a site was chosen to build the first building for Lynden High School -- an accomplishment for which he was particularly proud. 

Edson participated in ventures a century ago that live on in Lynden today.  Lynden had celebrated July 4 in 1909 and 1910 with a street fair. In 1911, organizers established a full-fledged fair, known at the time as the Whatcom County Fair. Edson served as president of the first Whatcom County Fair board.  By the 1920s this fair had become known as the Northwest Washington Fair, and has since grown into one of the larger regional fairs in northwestern Washington, with attendance topping 200,000 in 2005.  The fair is a six-day event, held during the middle of August. 

Clam Diggers

Edson also played a role in organizing Lynden’s Clam Diggers Club. The origins of this club go back to the 1890s.  In the winter of 1891-1892 Edson and others spoke to an itinerant lecturer who mentioned he had passed through a town that had given a free clam supper to its residents.  Edson and three of his friends were so impressed with the idea that they went to Birch Bay in the dead of winter, retrieved the clams in the middle of the night, and brought them back to Lynden.

Clam bakes were held in Lynden for about five years, but the crowds grew so large that the suppers were stopped. In 1909, Charles Cline revived the idea, and Edson helped him form the Clam Diggers Club.  Membership in the club was originally limited to those living in Washington Territory before it became a state and, later, to their descendants. The annual meeting date was fixed as November 11, the day Washington was admitted to the Union. Edson was an early president of the club, which still meets in Lynden each year. 

Life in Lynden

Edson married Mary Hamburg in 1890 and they had two children, a daughter, Agnes, and a son, Gale (1896-1985).  This first marriage ended in 1898, about the time his mother came to live with his family. In 1920 Edson married Lelah Jackson, and built a home for his new bride on the corner of 5th and Edson streets, where they lived for a number of years. 

Edson worked in the City Drug Store for 51 years, until declining health forced him to retire in 1942. At the time this 51 years was the longest one man had managed the same business in Lynden (though Edson's record would soon be passed by his old friend Billy Waples, who managed the Lynden Department Store for 63 years). Edson’s son, Gale, took over management of the drug store and operated it until April 1962, when he sold it to Charles Parker. 

Edson’s physical health continued to decline during the last two years of his life, but mentally he remained alert. He completed a brief autobiography just three days before he died on December 17, 1944, concluding: “...  the time seems as auspicious for fading out of the picture as was my coming on the scene 84 years ago. I feel that I have lived through the world’s most interesting period up to date and am more than content to retire” (The Lynden Tribune, December 21, 1944).

Sources: Robert Emmett Hawley, Skqee Mus: or Pioneer Days on the Nooksack (Bellingham:  Miller & Sutherlen Printing Company, 1945), 165-166;  Dorothy Koert, Portrait Of Lynden, (Lynden: Lynden Tribune, 1976), 18-19; Mildred Hersman, “Drug Stores In Lynden: The Edson Story” in Gems from the Past ed. by Phyllis Huestis (Lynden: Lynden Tribune, 1984), 29-31; Mildred Hersman, “Whatcom County Fair” in Gems from the Past ed. by Phyllis Huestis (Lynden: Lynden Tribune, 1984), 12-14;  “Half Century Of Service Rendered,” The Lynden Tribune, January 30, 1941, p. 1;  “Final Rites Held For Edward Edson,” Ibid., December 21, 1944, p. 1, 12;  “Northwest Washington Fair,” website accessed August 4, 2007  (http://www.nwwafair.com).

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