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About Concrete

Concrete is a town located in north-central Skagit County, Washington, United States. At the time of the 2000 census, the town's population was officially at 790 residents within the town-limits. The town of Concrete is included in the Mount Vernon-Anacortes, Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Early history

The town of Concrete has undergone several incarnations, the earliest being a settlement at the northwestern junction of the Baker and Skagit Rivers, known as "Minnehaha". Amasa "Peg-Leg" Everett was one of the earliest settlers and in 1890, the townsite was platted by another settler, Magnus Miller. Shortly thereafter, a post office was established and the town name changed to "Baker". In 1905, a settlement across the Baker River came into being due to the building of the Washington Portland Cement Company and was named "Cement City". After the Superior Portland Cement Company plant was built in Baker in 1908, it was decided to merge the two towns. Inhabitants of the new community settled on the name "Concrete" and the town was so christened and officially incorporated on May 8, 1909.

Notable buildings and landmarks

The town of Concrete is home to many old and original buildings, as well as a couple of engineering milestones:

Henry Thompson Bridge

Built in 1916-1918 and so named for the Scottish immigrant, local settler, and Skagit County Commissioner who promoted its construction. At the time, its graceful arch was the longest single-span cement bridge in the world and has been listed on the Washington State and National Historic Register since 1976. Until 1972, when the Washington State Department of Transportation re-routed Highway 20 (then known as Star Route 20) outside the town, the Thompson Bridge was the only connecting thoroughfare across the Baker River and into eastern Skagit County.

Concrete High School

Concrete High School  was built in 1952. Constructed with the typical and necessary scholastic appointments and one visible and unusual difference: the central portion of the building was built over the road leading to it. In order to make the best use of the property, the design incorporated the use of South Superior Avenue running under the building as an area to load and unload school buses out of the often inclement weather. The building took the place of the previous high school building in the center of town off of Main Street which still stands today. The interior hallways of the school and the wood shop in an outer, adjacent building were all used during the filming of the Michael Caton-Jones film, This Boy's Life in 1992. Concrete High School's school colors are purple and gold and their team mascot the Lions. CHS's sports teams participate in the Northwest 2B/1A league under the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

Mt. Baker Presbyterian Church

Built in 1908 with a log-hewn outer structure. The church's first minister, Reverend L.C. Michaels did most of the carpentry work and assisted in bringing the logs for the construction down from the surrounding hills on horseback. Originally built for a capacity of 310, the full-basement houses a kitchen, restrooms, and meeting area. The building has been since remodled and some of the original log-structure no longer visible.

The Concrete Herald building

Located in the heart of uptown Concrete on Main Street, the Concrete Herald Building was originally built in 1918 as a Model T Ford garage complete with a gas-station out front. When the building was later converted to be the Brommer Logging facility, a large apartment was added to the upper story. It was shortly after this that Concrete Herald owner and editor Charles M. “Chuck” Dwelley took over the building and made it into a modern printing facility and new home of The Concrete Herald (established in 1910). When Robert and June Fader purchased the newspaper upon Dwelley's retirement in late 1970, the building remained the home for the periodical. When the building and newspaper were sold in 1990, the facility became a printing shop until the current owners turned the first floor into a liquor store franchise through the state liquor control board. The Concrete Herald Building has remained a liquor store to this date. As for The Concrete Herald, local resident and town-council member Jason Miller has given rebirth to the newspaper after purchasing the Upriver Community News from another local resident. As of May 6, 2009, The Concrete Herald is again being published sold in various location throughout Skagit County.

Concrete's Town Hall

Originally built in 1908 as a grade-school, this wooden, clapboard building was originally located on Main Street across from the bank where classes were taught until 1910. When the building was no longer used as a schoolhouse, it was moved to its present location on West Main Street, next to the current post office. In its present location, the building has served alternately as a library, senior-citizen center, the city's current town hall with a satellite office for the Skagit County Sheriff's Department.

Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

Built in 1909, the town's Lutheran church hasn't always been a church. The beginnings of this historic building were as a hospital in the "Cement City" area east of the Baker River. Built by Dr. E.F. Mertz, the doctor and his wife lived in the second-story residence and maintained the hospital facility on the first floor. Dr. Mertz was the only doctor in central through eastern Skagit County for many years as well as for both the town's cement plants. In 1929 the hospital was remodeled to be a grand mansion complete with hardwood oak flooring, mahogany woodwork, imported mural and flock wallpaper, crystal light fixtures and hot water heat radiators in each room. The mansion was then furnished with antique and custom-built furniture and soon became a show place where the Mertzes entertained both local and distant visitors. When both the doctor and his wife had died by 1945, the home, property, and contents was put up for auction and purchased for only $13,500 - well below the 1929 renovation price of $40,000. The purchaser, Concrete Herald newspaper owner and editor Charles Dwelley, sold the home and property in 1953 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The ELC then did extensive remodeling, adding a wing on the east room which would house the sanctuary. The new church was dedicated on Sunday, March 7, 1954 and is still in use by the incorporated Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Concrete Assembly of God

Built in 1910, the two-story building was originally a one-story structure housing an Odd Fellows Lodge in the back room with the front of the building rented out to several merchants, including a popular grocery store. When the second story was built for a larger lodge hall it was modernized to contain a kitchen and indoor restrooms. As Odd Fellows membership dropped significantly in the 1950s, the building was taken over by the Odd Fellows auxiliary Rebekahs Lodge until the 1970s. After that, the main and upper floors of the building were rented out to various businesses over the years, including a local-history museum, antique shop, and the local Eagles Lodge. After remaining empty for a number of years, the building became the Concrete Assembly of God church sometime in the 1990s. The church's congregation has since remodeled and restored the building.

St. Catherine's Catholic Church

Built in 1912 by the Catholics of the community, this picturesque building is located on a hillside overlooking the town. The parish maintains a newer C.C.D. center across the street built in 1964.

The Historic Concrete Theater

Originally built in 1923. Its stage has entertained audiences from vaudeville to boxing matches to silent films and later what was considered "the talkies". Recently it was reopened to host local bands and show second-run film releases but is currently for sale. It is listed on the Washington Heritage Register  and is reportedly host to a few "other-worldly spirits" that are alleged to visit on a regular basis.

Lower Baker Dam

At the time the dam was completed in 1925 and two years later raised to 293 feet (89 m), it was the highest hydroelectric dam in the world. It is currently owned, operated, and maintained by Puget Sound Energy.

Community Bible Church

Built in the mid-1950s, this non-denominational church was erected directly behind the current Mt. Baker Presbyterian Church as the result of a "church-split" by members of the local Presbyterian congregation. While some Presbyterian members felt more drawn to Baptist theology, others were steadfast in their Presbyterian theology. The resolution came when a large number of members left the Mt. Baker Presbyterian Church to build their own, non-denominational church with funds raised to establish their presence elsewhere. Reverend Guy Morris was the original pastor; the Community Bible Church remains the newest church-sanctuary building in the town of Concrete.

The Concrete Post Office

Built in 1960, the Hoover Building is currently home to Concrete's post office. Originally Hoover's Food Center, it was then owned and operated by Concrete resident Hargus Hoover and his sons Jerry and future Concrete mayor, Wayne S. "Jack" Hoover. The United States Postal Service purchased the building in the early 1970s, where it has maintained its presence ever since.

Notable locals

Concrete has had its share of interesting characters—some famous, and some only locally known.

Lady entrepreneurs and telephone pioneers

Two such locally known and enterprising females decided that they would help bring Concrete into the 20th Century in a before-their-time fashion.

Sisters Kate Quackenbush Glover and Nell Quackenbush Wheelock were born in Clay, New York in 1866 and 1877, respectively. They both arrived in Skagit County in 1908 and shortly thereafter, Kate was hired by the Superior Portland Cement Company to manage their telephone exchange. Initially, Kate lived at the exchange building until the phone company became incorporated. Investing her wages over time, Kate was able to purchase controlling interest in the company, renaming the telephone system, "Skagit River Telephone Company". Kate and her younger sister Nell bought the existing telephone exchange building from Portland Cement as well - remodeling it to house the phone system on the entire lower level. After building an outside stairway to the upper level, Kate had the second floor converted to rooms they could rent, charging 50-cents a night.

Set on expanding their phone service to the areas east and west of Concrete, Nell climbed the poles and strung the lines. By 1918, the upriver phone lines extended to Hamilton and connected the Skagit River Telephone Company to the national phone system through Sedro-Woolley. The large logging camps and all government operations such as the local ranger stations and fish hatcheries had lines installed and served by the sisters' phone operation. Nell was also in charge of the work crew that dug and set all the company poles. She had a team of horses she drove to drag the poles into position, directing the pole setting, and she would then finish the job by installing the telephone wiring.

Kate was in charge of the switchboard operation (with the assistance of a young girl they had taken in, Ethel Thompson). The phone service was equipped with hand-crank-style phones that would ring into the switchboard by a live operator and the telephone service these women gave was quick and often personal. In the event that no one answered the line being rung by the operator, Kate or Ethel would often promise to find them as soon as possible and have the call returned. When there was a problem with a line down, or a phone not operating properly, Nell would rush to service the problem. Beyond their telephone enterprise, the Quakenbush sisters were known in Skagit County for their ability to do almost anything they put their minds to. As a trained nurse, Kate sometimes assisted in childbirth as a midwife. Additionally, when she first arrived in the county from the east-coast, Kate worked on the homestead she shared with her then-husband (and later Concrete City Marshal), Joe Glover, helping to "prove up" on their timber claim on the upper Baker River, near Bear Creek. Together, Kate and Nell claimed the vacant lot between their home and their telephone office and built a chicken house - raising thousands of chickens and selling the eggs as well as some of the chickens. Nell and Kate also purchased a large tugboat in order to tow logs to a lumbermill on Lake Shannon and operated a fishing-boat franchise. Building a large float on Lake Shannon (just above the town of Concrete), they had approximately fifty fishing boats available for rent. Nell ran the tugboat for the mill-operation and Kate ran the fishing boat operation on the weekends, allowing them to still run the telephone company during the week.

With modern progress and some personal hardships came change for Kate and Nell's businesses. In July 1935, due to faulty business-dealings and technological modernization, the sisters were forced to sell their communication enterprise to the Skagit Valley Telephone company (later known as Continental Telephone) with service based out of Mount Vernon, Washington - 30 miles (48 km) "downriver". To add insult-to-injury, the bookkeeper the sisters had hired and trusted with Power of Attorney and managing their finances was discovered to have been embezzling funds for quite some time. The bookkeeper was tried and sent to prison, but irreversible damage had been done to the company's finances as the greater portion of the company's bank account had been stolen, forcing Kate and Nell to sell. Following the sale of the telephone company, the sisters moved to an unimproved property near Birdsview, building a small house for themselves along with a barn and chicken houses. Later, with their chicken houses having burned from an electrical short, their debt increased from a lack of fire insurance. Then, having been in poor health since the 1930s, Kate died on November 21, 1944 at the age of 78, deeply in debt. Still suffering from her own mounting debts, Nell now was left with the burden of Kate's debts as well. In order to help pay off their combined debt, Nell bought an old tractor and worked wherever she could and long into her elderly years. Nell stayed in Skagit County up to her death in April 1969 at the ripe old age of 93.

Tobias Wolff and This Boy's Life

Another local notable is internationally-known author Tobias Wolff, who spent a large part his teenage years in the Concrete area. Wolff's memoir This Boy's Life chronicles his early life living in eastern Skagit County and attending Concrete High School (referred to as "Chinook High School" in the novel). In 1993, the novel was also turned into a feature film (of the same name) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Ellen Barkin. The movie's exterior and outdoor scenes of Concrete (as well as some interior scenes) were filmed in the town of Concrete and the surrounding area and a number of local residents were used as extras. In order to fit the "look" of 1950s-era Concrete, the town itself was transformed back in time "Hollywood-style" for the weeks that filming took place in 1992.

Notable happenings

Orson Welles' War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

On October 30, 1938, Seattle's CBS affiliate radio stations KIRO and KVI broadcast Orson Welles' now famous War of the Worlds radio drama. While this broadcast was heard around the country, some of the most terrified listeners were in Concrete.

At the point of the drama where the Martian invaders were invading towns and the countryside with flashes of light and poison gases, a power failure suddenly plunged almost the entire town of 1,000 into darkness. Some listeners fainted while others grabbed their families to head up into the mountains. Other more enterprising locals headed for the surrounding hills to guard their moonshine stills. One man was said to have jumped up out of his chair and, in bare feet, run the two miles (3 km) from his home to the center of town. Some of the men grabbed their guns, and one businessman - a devout Catholic - got his wife into the family car, drove to the nearest service station and demanded gasoline. Without paying the attendant, he rushed off to Bellingham (some forty-miles away) in order to see his priest for a last-minute absolution of sins. The distraught man reportedly told the gas-station attendant that paying for the gas "[wouldn't] make any difference, everyone is going to die!".

Because the phone lines (as well the electricity) were out, the town's residents were unable to call neighbors, family, or friends to verify that their fears were legitimate. Of course, the real story was not as fantastic as the fictional radio drama - all that had occurred was that the Superior Portland cement company's electrical sub-station suffered a short-circuit with a flash of brilliant light, and all the town's lights went dark. The more conservative radio-listeners in Concrete (who had been listening to Charlie McCarthy on another station), attempted to calm neighbors, reporting that they hadn't heard a thing about any "disaster". Reporters heard soon after of the coincidental blackout of Concrete, Washington and sent the story out over the international newswire and soon the town of Concrete was known (if only for a moment) worldwide.

State Bank of Concrete robbery

On April 16, 1931, during the height of the Great Depression, the locally owned and operated State Bank of Concrete was robbed at gunpoint and its employees taken hostage. Two men entered the bank during operating hours brandishing guns and taking $4,491.00 in cash from the bank's vault. After the money had been obtained, the two men then forced bank president George Campbell, bank clerk Ada Seabury, and bank customer George Harper into a car with them and sped away. When town residents spotted loose dollar bills in front of the bank on Main Street and noticed that there was no one inside the bank, town marshall Charlie Bagnell was notified. After a quick investigation, Bagnell contacted "downriver" law enforcement by telephone about the robbery and missing bank employees. The three kidnapped hostages were subsequently released by their captors at an area approximately four miles west of town on the highway known as the "rock-cut" and were soon after picked up by a passing motorist. The three gave descriptions of the criminals to Bagnell who relayed the information to the county sheriff.

A road-block was set up downriver and west of Concrete by the sheriff's department. While driving the side roads off the highway looking for the bandits, searchers came across a fresh set of tire skid marks on what is today known as Cape Horn Road in Birdsview, a small farming community six miles east of Concrete. Following the tire tracks over a steep embankment, the searchers came to a deep eddy on the Skagit River where the getaway car was discovered. Detectives from the sheriff's department concluded that the bank robbers had a boat ready to take them down the Skagit River where they were able to escape completely.

Reportedly, many years later an outdoor writer named Ralph Young hired an Alaska bear-hunting guide on Kodiak Island who told a tale of being one of two bandits who robbed the State Bank of Concrete of $4700.00 in small bills on "April 1, 1930". The guide went on to say that he had lost the entire amount during "a crooked dice game" in Seattle only a few days after the heist. It is unknown if the Alaskan guide's story was true or what became of the bank-robbers.

Historic Concrete grade school destroyed by fire

On April 27, 2008 at approximately 1:45 p.m., the historic Concrete grade school building was reported to be on fire and according to fire officials, was fully engulfed in flames within twenty minutes. Despite the efforts of five fire departments (including Concrete, Burlington, Sedro-Woolley and two rural fire districts), the building was a total loss. Not able to enter the intensely heated building, the firefighters could only contain the fire within the concrete exterior walls in order to keep it from spreading to the adjacent buildings and trees that are located around the structure's perimeter.

After investigation by the ATF, Skagit County Fire Marshall and the Skagit County Sheriff's office, officials determined that arson was the cause of the blaze. According to the Skagit County Sheriff's Department in a press release, three pre-teen boys admitted during an interview that they had been playing with lighters and set a mattress left inside the building on fire. The boys maintained that they believed the fire they started had been extinguished before exiting the building.

The twenty-year owner of the property had initially intended to remodel the exterior of the building with a castle motif. This plan, however, was abandoned sometime in the 1990s, and the property sat uninhabited and the remodel incomplete for an extended period of time. In the years before the fire destroyed the landmark, the building had become known to out-of-towners and locals alike as an eye-sore. Since the fire, the building has been slated for complete demolition. As of August 4, 2009, the long-awaited demolition of the buildings damaged by the fire began under the direction of Lautenbach Industries.

Local events

Annually, Concrete celebrates the seasons with a number of festivals.

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Geography

Concrete is located at 48°32′21″N 121°44′50″W / 48.53917°N 121.74722°W / 48.53917; -121.74722 (48.539084, -121.747188).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 1.2 square miles (3.2 km²), of which, 1.2 square miles (3.1 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (1.61%) is water.

The town lies mostly on the north bank of the Skagit River, and is split into half by the lower Baker River (a tributary to the Skagit River). Mount Baker, a stratovolcano, lies northwest of Concrete and Mount Shuksan lies almost directly north. Both peaks are part of the North Cascades range.

Demographics

As of the census of 2000, there were 790 people, 300 households, and 198 families residing in the town. The population density was 650.3 people per square mile (252.1/km²). There were 335 housing units at an average density of 275.8/sq mi (106.9/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 92.78% White, 2.53% Native American, 0.89% Asian, 1.14% from other races, and 2.66% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.66% of the population.

There were 300 households out of which 37.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.3% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.7% were non-families. 27.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.19.

In the town the population was spread out with 34.1% under the age of 18, 5.4% from 18 to 24, 28.6% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 11.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 97.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.4 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $29,375, and the median income for a family was $34,464. Males had a median income of $34,083 versus $17,083 for females. The per capita income for the town was $12,492. About 8.4% of families and 14.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.4% of those under age 18 and 8.8% of those age 65 or over.

 


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