Woodway -- Thumbnail History

  • By Tracy Tallman
  • Posted 4/07/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8572

Woodway is a community located in the southwestern corner of Snohomish County, just south of Edmonds. It is known informally as the Town of Woodway and has a population (in 2008) of about 1,050.  In May 1912 founder David Whitcomb (1879-1966) bought the 320 acres of recently logged land that was to form the heart of a community called Woodway Park. It was designed as a wooded residential area with house lots of no less than two acres.  Whitcomb gradually increased the area to 400 acres. In the 1950s encroaching development led Woodway Park to seek incorporation, but it lacked a sufficient number of residents. By joining with nearby areas with "comparable size home sites" (Town of Woodway website), with the subdivision of Twin Maples, and with other adjacent areas, Woodway succeeded in incorporating in 1958 as a town of 660 acres and approximately 400 residents. The town was elevated to a fourth-class city in 1986. It is organized as a "code city," meaning that it is a town with too few residents to be a "city" except by adopting a "non charter code city classification" (RCW 35A.02.010). Woodway is a quiet residential area with elegant homes set among the trees.

Woodway Park and its Founder

David Whitcomb was born in Ohio to a family of envelope magnates.  His father, George Henry Whitcomb (1842-1916) had been associated with the Pacific Northwest since 1898 and was instrumental in helping to build the Seattle business center by erecting on 2nd Avenue the Estabrook building, the Arcade Building, the Whitcomb Building, the Arcade Annex Building, the Amherst Building, and the Washington Annex Hotel. [Bagley: 1916, 484-486]

When David reached his majority, having graduated from George Washington University, he was sent to Seattle to manage his father's real estate holdings. In 1912 he bought the land that would become Woodway Park. It had just been logged by Allen M. Yost (1856-1916) and sold for the then princely sum of $85,000. 

The Edmonds Tribune-Review of May 10, 1912, reported that J. T. Dovey of the Seattle Engineering Company was already hard at work surveying the land.  However, it wasn't until the late 1920s that David Whitcomb's dream was realized.  By then, in a promotional pamphlet entitled simply "Woodway Park," he included house plans developed by local architects and drawings of homes already finished in the area. 

By this time the larger properties -- including 60 acres held back by Mr. Whitcomb for his own estate -- had all been sold.  The unsold properties were much smaller in size -- approximating two acres.  No official plat of Woodway Park was ever filed with Snohomish County, leaving the county assessor's office to create its own plat of the area, still in use today.

David Whitcomb had other interests besides Woodway. He chaired the first Red Cross drive in Seattle during World War I, was president of the Rainier National Park Company, and propagated the Whitcomb cherry from his home in Woodway.  By the time of the 1930 census he is reported as divorced and living at the "Woodway farm" with his son David Jr. and a few servants. Census records show his occupation as "corporation lawyer."  His property was the largest in "Woodway Park" and has today been broken up into parcels of no less than two acres, as per the original covenants.

Woodway in 1912

Snohomish County had just completed its part of the road from Richmond Beach to Edmonds in April 1912. The cement bridge still standing along this road over Deer Creek was being readied for traffic. The only structure on the entire 320 acres was the Brown Owl Lodge where Whitcomb and his family lived while his mansion, still called Westwold, was being built.  The camp set up by his work crew was near the site of this lodge, just north and east of the cement bridge.  Although the property had been recently logged, they had to clear the slash and remove the stumps. The July 26, 1912, issue of the Edmonds paper -- The Tribune-Review -- stated:

 "The entire tract is to be cleared and divided into smaller tracts that will be disposed of to the wealthier people of this northwest, who can afford to put expensive improvements upon them and erect homes that will be a credit to this locality.  It is understood that strict building regulations are to be enforced, and none but the finest most modern dwellings will be erected on this tract.  The idea of Mr. Whitcomb is to provide an elevated building site for each tract sold and this feature will be an attractive one to prospective purchasers."

The Yost Family 

When Allen M. and Amanda C. Yost arrived in Edmonds in about 1890 with their eight children -- six boys and two girls -- they didn't make much of a splash.  They had moved from Pennsylvania, where they had both been born, to Kansas to try farming, but lost all their money when a hail storm wiped out the crop.  Yost had learned carpentry from his father, and had used these skills during his early life in Edmonds. 

Allen Yost died in 1915. At the time the A. M. Yost Estate, Inc. was created, for the family owned a considerable amount of land in the area.  Amanda, who lived to be 92, managed the family finances.  Of their eventual nine children, only two moved away from the Edmonds area -- Joseph became a farmer in the Arlington area and daughter Elsie moved to the Auburn, Washington, area with her husband Walter Russell.  The remaining sons ran the family's interests, which included a lumber mill, the local water company, and the telephone company.  They had a bus line from Edmonds to Seattle and operated the local garage/Ford dealership in the heart of Edmonds.  Their original garage building has recently been gutted is currently being remodeled by Bob Gregg, a local developer.

The Purchase from Allen Yost

On May 4, 1912, Allen M and Amanda C Yost signed an option agreement with David Whitcomb to purchase 320 acres for $85,000 less an acre already deeded to the Great Northern Railway.  One thousand dollars was paid for the option and $19,000 was due in cash before July 3, 1912.  The remaining $65,000 was carried on a contract at 6 percent interest paid semi-annually and due on January 1, 1929.  Any tract of 10 acres or more could be released from the mortgage upon payment of $300 an acre.  There was also an allowance for a 60-foot road running north/south through the property. 

On June 5, 1912, the deed executing the option and transferring the property was signed between the Yosts and Woodway Park Corporation (apparently incorporated in King County).  However, Woodway Park's first sale didn't occur until October 1, 1920, when W. A. Broom bought his lot for $8,900.  In the years between 1912 and 1920 David Whitcomb apparently bought up a few smaller lots along the coast and was able to sell Broom a view lot.  The original Yost land was near the coast, but slightly inland.  The purchase price included surveying, clearing, and the lot's share of the installation of a water system. 

Woodway Covenants

Woodway had deed restrictions that were to run for 50 years from July 1, 1920 (the list here is taken from the "Agreement" between Broome and Woodway Park Corporation):

1)  Only residential use.

2) No tract could be subdivided into less than two-acre parcels and no more than one house could be built on each tract (excepting servant's quarters and other outbuildings).

3) The larger lots could not be subdivided at all, nor could they contain more than two houses.

4) If the owners of two thirds of the tracts in Woodway Park, or two thirds of a municipal corporation, saw fit, an inn, hotel or club-house could be built.

5) No building could be constructed within 100 feet of the roads without David Whitcomb's approval or within 50 feet of the boundary line between the tracts without the approval of the neighboring landowner.

6) David Whitcomb or his successors were responsible for opening and maintaining the roads for five years or until two thirds of the owners agreed to convey the road to a municipal corporation or the county.

7) An area designated as "Deer Park" was set aside for the common use of the residents of Woodway Park and was also the site of the water system.

8) Provision was made for the creation of a future municipal organization.  Under this plan the owners of each tract had one share and all shares were owned by residents.

9) The buyer of each tract, should he decide to sell before January 1, 1922, gave the repurchase right to Mr. Whitcomb for the original purchase price plus the actual cost of any improvements. 

Mr. Whitcomb signed this agreement as President of Woodway Park Corporation and Albert E. Beebe signed it as secretary.  Every future deed was to carry these covenants.

Promoting the New Town

At the time Whitcomb published his promotional pamphlet in the 1930s, only one lot along the waterfront remained to be sold.  Otherwise, four larger inland lots were available, but most of the remaining lots were of about two acres and apparently unsold.

The new owners had all lived in Seattle and were early settlers or business people.  A current history on the town's website states, "The standard of development was modest at the time" and that the homes were not considered "excessive or exclusive."  However, the homes owned by those listed above were all valued between $10,000 and $20,000 for the 1930 census, whereas the homes owned by the Yost family in Edmonds were valued from $4,000 to $8,000.  According to Edmonds: 100 Years for the Gem of Puget Sound, published in 1990, David Whitcomb's estate also included Whitcomb Farms -- with orchards, horses, cattle, and goats, as well as a private airport and polo grounds. 

Original Landowners

The original landowners were designated on the 1930s Woodway Park map. William Arthur Broom (b. 1879) and his wife Etta L. (King) signed their agreement on October 16, 1920, and later made another transaction on March 12, 1928.  He was a commercial banker and a director of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.

Minor Meriwether bought a lot along with his wife Anna on February 5, 1924.  The 1930 census shows him as the president of a construction company.  

Merritt Bloxom (1877-1968) is shown as a "produce broker."  I found no purchase by Mr. Bloxom through 1936, so possibly his land was purchased on July 31, 1924, by the William J. Bryant Estate, Inc.  

Laurence Stephen Booth (b. 1861) and his wife Nellie (b. 1876) bought a lot on March 3, 1927.  Nellie was a sister to Samuel Leroy Crawford (b. 1855) of Crawford & Conover, the real estate development firm that platted much of the land in northwest King County.  Laurence's father, Manville Booth, was the first King County Auditor and Laurence worked as assistant deputy during his father's tenure.  In 1887 he was one of the founders of Washington Title Insurance Company.  

Harry W. Kent (1881-1937) and his wife Annabel (1887-1978) and their two daughters bought a lot on October 8, 1927.  Historian Clarence Bagley writes in 1929, "He [Harry Kent] achieved notable success as a shipbuilder [for Moran Brothers Company] and is now president of the Kenworth Motor Truck Corporation."  

Elizabeth McLaren purchased the Alexander McLaren property on March 27 1928.

Albert H Beebe (b. 1878) appears to have been an investor, living with his wife, Daisy (Dean), and their two children. He bought the property on December 18, 1928.  

When Philip G. Johnson (1894-1944) bought his property on July 16, 1928 he was president of the Boeing Airplane Company.  His late-Tudor country home was built in about 1930 and was sold by his widow to the Congregation of Holy Cross, a community of Dominican nuns, in 1956.  Today the owner is "Dominican Sisters -- Edmonds Congregation" and the property can be rented by non-profit groups and others for retreats.  In 1997 a mudslide originating on this property took the tennis courts and dumped them onto a Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad freight train, sweeping five cars into Puget Sound.  The pool  ended up at the edge of the bluff. It was later filled with earth to stave off further erosion.

C. Groome Gamble made the next purchase in September 1930, but this doesn't show on the map.

Two transactions were made transferring land to David Whitcomb in December 1930.  

On May 16, 1931, Mary Isabel Ives purchased a lot.

Rufus G. King Jr.'s  occupation is listed in the census as "wholesale lumberman."  It appears that his mother-in-law, Florence Marion Towle, actually purchased the property on June 29, 1932.

Orval W. Tupper purchased a lot in December 1933.

M. L. Kirk on the map is actually Mary Louisa Frye Kirk (1864-1937), granddaughter of Arthur A. Denny (1822-1899) and Mary Ann (Boren) Denny (1822-1912).  Milton Wycliffe Kirk (1883-1944) was her second husband and a dentist.  He was younger by nearly 20 years, but outlived her by only seven.  They purchased a lot on May 15, 1936.  Recently their home was torn down and a new home is being constructed.  The sale price in April 2007 was $2,210,000.

The Threat of Annexation

As reported in the Edmonds centennial booklet, 100 Years for the Gem of Puget Sound, in December 1990, "Woodway Park residents were alarmed in October 1957 by a proposal from the Esperance Community Club to include Woodway Park in a large annexation to Edmonds." To avoid this, Woodway filed a petition with the County Auditor’s office calling for an election to incorporate as a fourth-class town. 

They proposed adding the areas of Twin Maples, Totem Pole Lane, the Standard Oil tank farm, and Union Oil property to bring the population up to that required for a fourth-class town.  The centennial booklet explains:

"Anyone not wishing to be included was given an opportunity to withdraw, and a few residents of Twin Maples, as well as half of the Standard Oil property and all Union Oil Property were withdrawn.  In a special election on February 18, 1958, incorporation of the Town of Woodway with a mayor-council form of government was approved by a 16 vote margin.  Chet Cook was the first mayor working with Council members E. Stoddard DeMarsh, Herbert Randlett, Leslie Streeter, Norlin Wolfe and Hal Worthington.  Council meetings were held in private homes until a city hall was built in 1963."

As recently as February 8, 2008, the Edmonds Enterprise reported that Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson asked the City Council for permission to explore options to annex Woodway into Edmonds, and the permission was granted.  Woodway Mayor Carla Nichols reportedly said that Woodway citizens want to remain independent.

Woodway Today

There are no signs directing the unaware traveler to Woodway.  The once spacious properties have mostly been divided into lots of about two acres.  Woodway Park Road is still the shortest route from Richmond Beach to Edmonds and is well traveled, with the speed limit of 25 miles per hour strictly enforced by the Woodway police.  Some of the narrow, winding roadways designed by David Whitcomb curve around trees and contain tight, hairpin turns.  The area is a treat to stumble upon with its stately homes and wooded properties. 

The website for the "Town of Woodway, the Quiet Place" (www.townofwoodway.com) recently published a short history saying that "the Town was elevated to code city status in 1986, although it continues to be known as the "Town of Woodway" with a population of approximately 1050 residents."  The area near the King/Snohomish County line at the coast -- known as Point Wells -- is surrounded on three sides by the Town of Woodway, but the only access is through Richmond Beach in Shoreline (King County). 

The Snohomish County Council will be considering a proposal to build 1,400 luxury condominiums and a marina on the site.  Both the cities of Woodway and Shoreline have expressed interest in annexing the now unincorporated area, and whatever is decided, the property will likely bring change to Woodway.


Plat Book of Snohomish County Washington, compiled under direction of James W. Myers (Seattle: Anderson Map Company, 1910); The Woodway Centennial Committee, Woodway Park (Woodway: The Woodway Centennial Committee, July 1989); Clarence Bagley, History of King County, Washington Vol. 3 (Chicago, Seattle: S. J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1929), 17-18, 738-742, 222-224; Clarence Bagley, History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time Vol. 3 (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916), 484-486; "Edmonds Closest Sister," in Edmonds: 100 Years for the Gem of Puget Sound (Edmonds: The Edmonds Paper & The Edmonds/South Snohomish County Historical Society,  1990), p. 63; "Centennial Profile: From Cars and Buses to Phones and Water, the Yosts Helped Modernize Edmonds" in Edmonds: 100 Years for the Gem of Puget Sound (Edmonds: The Edmonds Paper & The Edmonds/South Snohomish County Historical Society, 1990), pp. 32-34; Chris Fyall, "Edmonds Wants Woodway Their Way." The Enterprise, February 8, 2008, Enterprise website accessed February 10, 2008 (http://www.enterprisenewspapers.com); Diane Brooks, "Hubbub of Modern Life 'Completely Disappears' at Woodway Retreat," The Seattle Times, January 12, 2005  (http://www.seattletimes.com);  An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties; Their People, Their Commerce and Their Resources ... (Chicago: Interstate Pub. Co., 1906), 356; Metsker's Atlas of Snohomish County (Tacoma: Metsker Maps, 1975); "Edmonds to Richmond Beach Road Nearing Completion," The Tribune-Review, April 12 1912, p. 1; "Yost Land South of Town Brings $85,000 to Whitcomb," Ibid., May 10, 1912, p. 1; David Whitcomb Pays $84,000 Cash in Closing Land Deal," Ibid., June 7, 1912, p. 1; "Big Improvements Will Be Made," Ibid., July 26, 1912, p. 1.

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