The Rucker Mill

Construction began on the Rucker Mill during Feb, 1906 on the site of the old Joy's Mill which burned down in 1903. The mill was completed  in March, 1907.
Earliest known photo of Lake Stevens Cove. Mill in distance is Ira Joy’s Hickey Mill, also known as Joy’s Mill. 1893
The land was originally platted by C.A. Missimer in 1889 as the town of "Outing", but was later vacated by Missimer and sold to the Ruckers. The Rucker Mill processed old growth timber and shingles and could mill approximately 75,000 - 100,000 feet of logs per day. The shingle capacity equalled approximately 60,000 per day. The mill employed around 500 people. Other smaller shingle mills were in operation in Hartford less than a mile to east (currently part of the City of Lake Stevens). One of the original shingle mills is still in operation in the Hartford area. The Rucker Mill burned at least twice (1917 and 1926), but was not rebuilt after the last accident. The newspaper articles covering the fire (Everett News and the Everett Herald, January 7, 1926) both quoted W.J. Rucker as stating that the mill would be reopened within 90 days. The value of the damage to the plant was $200,000 - a large sum for the times, although both papers stated that the mill was insured. The mill was the center of social and economic life to the lake community.

Although most references to the name "Rucker" includes "Brothers", it was Wyatt Jasper, not Bethel who was responsible for most of the "wheeling and dealing" the two did in the Lake Stevens and Everett area. W.J. Rucker was born in Noble County, Ohio, in 1857. In the spring of 1888, he liquidated his business connections and moved with his mother and brother to Puget Sound. Rucker's intent was to take advantage of the positive investment climate in the region because of the expansion of railroads and plethora of other wealthy investors. He explored the entire region for opportunity starting in Fairhaven (Bellingham), moving south to Anacortes, then to Mukilteo.

Wyatt Jasper Rucker (1857-1931) and Bethel Rucker (1862-1945) taken in 1910. Rucker Mill  construction started in1906.

According to History of Snohomish County (Vol. II, Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1926), Rucker determined that Port Gardner offered the most opportunity and "...secured a rowboat, and while he was ostensibly trolling for salmon, he was really ascertaining the depth of the water in front of what is now the busy waterfront of Everett." This activity prompted Rucker to make the first purchase of his estimated thousands of land transactions in the Everett/Lake Stevens areas. In fact, Rucker was involved in logging, farming, milling, banking, transportation, and real estate. The Rucker's presence in the area stimulated the building of roads, rail facilities, and the overall economic development and settlement of the area. The Rucker Brothers, together with Henry Hewitt, Jr., filed the third plat in the City of Everett in 1892. The Rucker's filed one of the first plats, that was not later vacated, in what is now the City of Lake Stevens in 1908. That plat consisted of the vacated plat of the town of "Outing" (Lake Stevens) filed and vacated by Missimer.

In 1924, Rucker purchased the Northern Pacific Railroad Company's Hartford to Monte Cristo Line. The railroad was an important economic link for milling, logging, mining, and tourism. The line served to bring tourists to the "Big Four Inn" resort above Silverton near Monte Cristo. This inn was owned and operated by the Rucker Brothers

The Hartford Eastern Railway's white “Galloping Goose” railcar stops at Big Four Inn on way to Monte Cristo. ca 1928-1933

When the Rucker Brothers arrived in the area, it was transitioning from strictly logging to milling. Logging operations required smaller crews than mills, and were more transient. Mills required more "structure" to be successful because of their relative permanence compared to a logging camp. For example, employees needed permanent housing, families needed schools and shops, the mills needed roads and rails, etc. Lake Stevens literally grew from the mill and its ancillary development. The Grimm House survives as a component of the structure supporting the Mill and the community that sprung up around it.

Lumber mills played an instrumental part in the development of the town of Lake

Stevens. Logging was first introduced in the Lake Stevens area in 1888 when

William Hulbert Sr. founded the Hulbert Lumber Company. During this time period

logs were dumped in the lake and then loaded onto railroad cars on a trestle located

at the north end of the lake and then hauled through a ravine and deposited into the Ebey Slough. Logs were then transferred to mills in Everett.

 

Several small, family owned sawmills were erected around the lake in the 1890’s by H.W. Illman, C.A. Messimer and J. A. Falconer. However, the first significant business, and largest to be established in the city of Lake Stevens, was the Rucker Brothers Shingle Mill. Jim Mitchell, in his book “My Town,” remarked, “If I was one of the Ruckers, I probably would have named the town ‘Ruckerville.’ We wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t built the mill.” In 1905, the Rucker Brothers Timber Company built a railroad spur linking Hartford Junction with the lake. This link provided a means to transport timber to the mill which opened in 1907 and was said to be the “world’s largest sawmill.”

Having adequate transportation was a major factor in locating a saw mill and the Rucker’s saw potential in Lake Stevens which was less than 10 miles from Everett, just one mile from a major railroad at Hartford and close to an unlimited supply of timber that could be harvested. In addition, the saw mill could easily be built on the flat land on the north east end of the lake. However, this area consisted of a swampy portion that included the natural outlet of the lake (by the current Boys and Girls Club). It was easier to create an artificial outlet between the lake and Catherine Creek thus “The Ditch,” which townspeople called it, was created. The mill and many businesses were subsequently built on pilings over both the swampy land and a creek.

THE IMPACT OF THE RUCKER BROTHERS MILL ON LAKE STEVENS

A postcard of the Rucker Mill taken from the current North Lake Shore Drive. The sender of the postcard noted 1909 as the date. "Rucker Mill where we worked and noted where the shingle mill and sawmill were located. Dan was an engineer in Shingle Mill and Dad an engineer at the sawmill.

This is a view of the Rucker Mill, circa 1908, looking south with the water tower visible in the center background. A boardwalk followed the present day Grade Road from Lake Stevens to the nearby town of Hartford. The Grimm House, now located next to the town museum, can be seen on the right. The railroad spur to Hartford can be seen on the left of “The Ditch,” the name townspeople gave the artificial outlet that the Rucker brothers created. Photo loaned by Jim Mitchell.

1927 map showing the North Cove of Lake Stevens. The yellow area shows where the Rucker Mill was located, in the area that is now downtown Lake Stevens. Red shows the route to Hartford and where the "ditch" is located. Note that Hartford is labeled but Lake Stevens hasn't made it on the map, yet.