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Monroe is a city in Snohomish County, Washington, United States. It is located at the confluence of the Skykomish, Snohomish, and Snoqualmie rivers in the Cascade foothills, about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Seattle. Monroe's population was 17,304 as of the 2010 census and was estimated to be 19,776 in 2019.
Monroe was originally founded in 1864 as the town of Park Place, located at the river confluence among several existing settlements in the Tulaco Valley. The townsite was previously a trading post used by the indigenous Skykomish people. Park Place was renamed to Monroe in 1890 to honor U.S. President James Monroe, and was moved northeast to be near the tracks of the Great Northern Railway, which was constructed in 1892. Monroe was incorporated in 1902 and was selected as the home of a major condensed milk plant and the state reformatory.
Monroe became a suburban bedroom community in the late 20th century, serving commuters to Everett, Seattle, and the Eastside. It is home to the Monroe Correctional Complex, which absorbed the original reformatory in 1998, and the Evergreen State Fair, which runs annually in late summer. The city is located at the junction of two highways, U.S. Route 2 and State Route 522, which were expanded in the late 20th century to serve commuters.
Main Street and Lewis Street in downtown Monroe
The confluence of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers had originally belonged to the indigenous Skykomish tribe, who predominantly occupied the area between modern-day Monroe and Index. The confluence itself was known as Tualco (Lushootseed: squa'lxo), and a nearby Skykomish village named S'dodohobc acted as a trade post between several Coast Salish groups. A separate settlement near modern-day Monroe was used by the S'dodohobc band of the Snohomish people. The land around the confluence was cleared into a prairie and used to cultivate berries, hazelnuts, and other plants. The Skykomish were among the tribes to sign the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, effectively ceding their traditional territories, including the Tulaco and confluence areas.
The area around modern-day Monroe was surveyed by George B. McClellan and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during their expedition to find a suitable pass for a railroad across the Cascade Mountains. The Treaty of Point Elliott was not fully ratified until 1859, but the first American settlers had already arrived and claimed squatters rights to homestead in the Skykomish Valley. Robert Smallman, an English immigrant, arrived in 1855 and was the first to homestead on the land around modern-day Monroe. He was followed by Henry McClurg, an appointed county commissioner, who settled in the area with his wife Martha in 1860. McClurg later founded the settlement of Park Place in 1864, on a site one mile (1.6 km) west of modern-day downtown Monroe. Two other settlers arrived in 1860: Salem Woods, who claimed a small prairie to the northeast of Tualco and was later elected county sheriff; and Charles Harriman, a territorial legislator who settled in Park Place.
Park Place and Tulaco, located on opposite sides of the Skykomish River, grew with the arrival of more settlers in the 1860s and 1870s. A local school district, the second in the county, was established in 1869 by McClurg, and Park Place gained a post office in 1877 with Woods as postmaster. A ferry crossing the Skykomish River was established in 1882, several years prior to the start of regular steamship service on the river as far east as Sultan. The first roads in the area were surveyed in 1882, including an 11-mile (18 km) wagon road connecting Park Place to Snohomish in the west. During the 1880s, settlers in Park Place and Tulaco received their first shipment of dairy cattle and also began planting hops, which would briefly become a cash crop until the arrival of the hop aphid and economic panic of the 1890s ruined the harvest.
The original Park Place post office and general store were abandoned and replaced by a new building that opened in 1890. John Vanasdlen, operator of new store, petitioned for the reopening of the post office but was rejected by the U.S. Post Office Department, which only allowed a single-word name for new offices. "Monroe" was chosen by Vanasdlen, with the input of McClurg, to honor of U.S. President James Monroe. The new post office for Monroe was granted by the U.S. Post Office Department on March 19, 1890.
The Great Northern Railway chose a route over Stevens Pass in the late 1880s for its transcontinental railroad connecting Seattle to St. Paul, Minnesota, bringing new development to the Skykomish Valley. Monroe at Park Place was platted in 1890 and gained several new businesses, including a blacksmith, grocery store, a second hotel, and a butcher. The final survey for Great Northern in 1891 placed the railroad tracks one mile (1.6 km) northeast of Park Place, bypassing the settlement in favor of a straighter alignment to cross the Snohomish River south of downtown Snohomish.
The Wagner and Wilson sawmill, one of the largest in Monroe at the beginning of the 20th century
The railroad built a small depot named "Wales" on the 40-acre (16 ha) homestead of Jack Stretch, who platted a settlement on the north side of the tracks that he named "Tye City" for Great Northern's locating engineer George Tye. Great Northern completed their railroad through the Skykomish Valley in January 1893, following additional work near Snohomish to rebuild a bridge that had been destroyed in a flood. In late 1892 and early 1893, several merchants in Park Place moved their buildings to the south side of Tye City using teams of oxen, horses, and a steam thresher. After the relocation of Vanasdlen's general store and post office, the settlement became known as Monroe.
The completion of the railroad attracted lumber operations to the Monroe area, boosted by the opening of the first shingle mill in 1894 and the first sawmill on Woods Creek in 1897. A bridge across the Skykomish River was opened in 1894 to replace the ferry and the town's first church was established two years later. The county government chose a 40-acre (16 ha) site north of Monroe for a 20-bed poor farm at the modern-day site of the Evergreen State Fairgrounds; it later became the Valley General Hospital. A cooperative of Monroe-area farmers built the city's first creamery in 1895, which was destroyed in a fire four years later and later rebuilt. By the end of the decade, Monroe had also gained a new school building, telephone service, a local newspaper, a full-time doctor, and paved sidewalks.
On the morning of September 16, 1901, a fire started at the Odd Fellows community hall and spread to nearby buildings, destroying the only complete block of businesses in Monroe. The fire caused an estimated $8,100 in damage, but the businesses and buildings were rebuilt and within two years a permanent fire department was established. Monroe was incorporated as a fourth-class town on December 20, 1902, following an 88–37 vote in favor. At the time of incorporation, the area around Monroe had over 900 residents, five general stores, eight saloons, six restaurants, four sawmills, and five shingle mills. A new town hall building was completed in November 1908, costing $7,000 and paid for using a saloon license tax; the building now serves as the home of a local history museum.
The new town government granted a municipal water franchise to a private company in 1903, sparking a conflict with local water companies. A competing water company unsuccessfully sued the town for franchise rights, but later acquired the original franchised company to operate Monroe's water. The town government proposed to acquire the system through a buyout, but their offers were rejected. A separate gravity water system was constructed by the town in 1923 that bankrupted the private system. The town government also granted franchises to private companies for electricity and a hospital in 1903. Monroe gained a new road to Snohomish in 1904, which was followed a year later by a new bridge over the Skykomish River on Lewis Street (now State Route 203).
The state government chose Monroe as the site of the state's second reformatory in 1907, ahead of competing bids from Arlington and Sultan. The first inmate at the facility's temporary buildings in August 1908; construction of a permanent building, now part of the Monroe Correctional Complex, began in May 1910 and was completed later that year at a cost of $1.5 million. The Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company opened a milk condensery in Monroe on August 29, 1908, serving 2,000 visitors on "Condenser Day". The plant was the largest producer of Carnation brand condensed milk and brought the city's population to 2,500 within two years of opening. Within a year, the plant was producing 250,000 pounds (110,000 kg) of condensed milk per day; the Carnation condensery was later closed in 1928 and destroyed in a fire on March 23, 1944.
By the early 1910s, Monroe and the Cherry Valley were home to seven school districts serving rural communities in the surrounding area. A union high school was proposed to serve the students graduating from the seven districts and was opened on September 1, 1911. A new train depot was constructed by the Great Northern Railway in 1909 to serve the mainline as well as a branch line traversing the Snoqualmie Valley that was opened two years later by the Milwaukee Road. The local timber industry declined and was replaced by a larger reliance on agriculture, namely dairy, vegetable, and berry farms on the logged-off lands around Monroe. One of the largest farms in the area was a 2,000-acre (810 ha) lettuce farm and meat-packing plant owned by Charles Frye, later the benefactor of the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.
The freestanding Carnation Condensery Stack, constructed for a condensed milk plant that closed in 1928 and burned in a fire in 1944
During the 1920s, several of the larger industrial employers in Monroe expanded their operations and attracted new businesses to the area, including an early radio station. The county government opened a new 100-bed hospital on the poor farm complex in 1925 at a cost of $92,000, to provide services to local residents. By the end of the decade, the town had gained new churches, a new masonic hall, a larger condensery plant, and a movie theater. A greenhouse operated by the Great Northern Railway was established in 1926 to supply passengers and decorate trains with fresh flowers. The complex later expanded to include ten greenhouses, but were demolished in 1962.
At the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, several lettuce farms in the Monroe area had folded and been acquired by the Frye Company, which provided employment through the decade for 1,000 residents. The farm was foreclosed in the late 1930s by a subsidiary of Great Northern after lettuce prices had declined. Service organizations in the town ran charity assistance programs for unemployed residents and their families, raising money from large employers to fund food and clothing donations. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) began civic improvement projects around Monroe in 1933, including repairs to damage caused by a major flood in February 1932. The WPA also funded road improvements and a new middle school with a small auditorium that is now home to the Wagner Performing Arts Center.
The local granges of the Monroe area began organizing agricultural fairs and parades in the 1930s on a semi-regular basis. The county also had its own regular fair that was hosted in Snohomish and Granite Falls until the 1920s. The granges hosted the first Cavalcade of the Valleys in 1941, which was followed by the Snohomish County Fair at the poor farm grounds in 1946. The event was renamed the Evergreen State Fair in 1949 and has been hosted annually in Monroe ever since. The fairgrounds were bisected by U.S. Route 2, the successor to an earlier highway across Stevens Pass, which opened in 1949.
Following the Great Depression and World War II, Monroe's economy became more reliant on agriculture and smaller industries. A frozen food processing facility was located in Monroe until 1958 and was later replaced with a seafood processor. By 1949, the local government had twice rejected proposals to become a third-class city because of the increased operating costs needed; it also lacked a full-time fire department. The Valley General Hospital was established in 1961 to replace the county-run general hospital on the poor farm complex. A major earthquake struck the Puget Sound region on April 29, 1965, causing severe damage to the original Monroe High School and its annex. The high school campus was demolished and replaced by a new building that opened in October 1968 and served the city until the modern campus was built in 1999. Great Northern was consolidated into the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1970, and the Monroe train depot was demolished in October of that year.
State Route 522, a new state highway connecting Monroe to Bothell, was opened to traffic on February 10, 1965. The easier car access made Monroe into a bedroom community for Everett, Seattle, and the Eastside region, with new suburban subdivisions being built around the city and annexed by the end of the decade. A new state prison, the Twin Rivers Corrections Center, was opened in 1984 and brought new jobs to the area despite opposition from residents.
The former Frye lettuce farm in western Monroe was sold in the late 1980s to an Eastside-based real estate developer, which proposed the "Fryelands" residential and industrial neighborhood. The Fryelands industrial park, once proposed for a Boeing 777 parts facility, was developed adjacent to another industrial park that was opened a decade earlier. The residential component of the development sold out in 1993 and began construction that year alongside other subdivisions in western Monroe. As part of mitigation for the Fryelands project, an artificial lake named Lake Tye was created to provide wetlands and a park for residents. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of the city doubled to over 13,000.
The increased residential development in Monroe caused worsened congestion on State Route 522, which was named one of the most dangerous highways in the United States. The state government began a widening and safety improvement program in 1995 that has continued since then, gradually building four-lane sections for the highway and upgrading the remaining two-lane sections. During the 1990s and 2000s, several large strip malls and big-box stores were built along U.S. Route 2 north of downtown. The North Kelsey development in the early 2010s brought a controversial Walmart to Monroe, which was challenged by neighborhood activists for violating the city's plans for a pedestrian-friendly retail neighborhood. Since 2000, the Downtown Revitalization and Enhancement Association of Monroe (DREAM) has sponsored revitalization projects in downtown Monroe to preserve the city's main street. More recent development in Monroe has been concentrated in the northern hills, which were annexed into the city in the 2000s.
Monroe is located in south-central Snohomish County near the confluence of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers, which form the Snohomish River. The area is in the western foothills of the Cascade Range and is bisected by U.S. Route 2, a major cross-state highway. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.11 square miles (15.82 km2), of which, 6.05 square miles (15.67 km2) is land and 0.06 square miles (0.16 km2) is water. The city limits are generally defined by Lake Tye and Fryelands Boulevard to the west, the Skykomish River to the south, Woods Creek to the east, and to the north by Milwaukee Hill and other foothills. Monroe also has an urban growth area that includes 251 acres (102 ha) of unincorporated areas on the north side of the city limits. The city had annexed 1,367 acres (553 ha) of the urban growth area between 1993 and 2011.
The city lies at the eastern end of the Snohomish River floodplain, with elevations that range from 40 to 210 feet (12 to 64 m). The south and east edges of the city along the Skykomish River are within a 100-year flood hazard zone and also include habitats for migratory birds and game animals. The residential neighborhoods of Monroe lie within the watersheds of French Creek and Woods Creek, which both drain into the Skykomish River before its confluence with the Snoqualmie and Snohomish rivers. The surrounding area includes hills and plateaus that were formed from glacial till and gravel deposits from the Skykomish River. Monroe also sits on a local fault line that produced a pair of minor earthquakes on July 12, 2019, that were felt as far as Seattle and Vancouver without causing damage.
Aerial view of Monroe, looking east from Fryelands and Lake Tye
Monroe has a general climate similar to most of the Puget Sound lowlands, with dry summers and mild, rainy winters moderated by a marine influence from the Pacific Ocean. The majority of the region's precipitation arrives during the winter and early spring, and Monroe averages 177 days of precipitation per year. Monroe's location in the foothills of the Cascade Range brings additional precipitation compared to nearby communities, with 48 inches (1,200 mm) annually compared to 33 inches (840 mm) in Everett. Monroe rarely receives significant snowfall, with an average of 8 inches (20 cm) per year since 1929.
July is Monroe's warmest month, with average high temperatures of 76.4 °F (24.7 °C), while January is the coolest, at an average high of 44.9 °F (7.2 °C). The highest recorded temperature, 102 °F (39 °C), occurred on July 29, 2009, and the lowest, −3 °F (−19 °C), occurred on January 18, 1950. The highest recorded snowfall, 60.4 inches (153 cm), also occurred in January 1950. According to the Köppen climate classification system, Monroe has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Csb).
On March 30, 2017, an EF0 tornado struck Monroe and damaged several recreational vehicles at a dealership, but did not injure any people. Tornadoes are a rare occurrence in Western Washington, but the Puget Sound Convergence Zone is able to provide the necessary conditions to create one.
Monroe has an estimated workforce population of 7,644 residents and an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent as of 2015. Only 15 percent of employed residents work within city limits, while the rest commute to other cities for work. The most common locations for jobs employing Monroe residents are in Seattle (15%), Everett (9%), Redmond (9%), Bellevue (8%), and Kirkland (4%). The average one-way commute for the city's workers was approximately 30.8 minutes in 2015; 75 percent of commuters drove alone to their workplace, while 14 percent carpooled and 3 percent used public transit. The most common occupations for Monroe residents are in the education and health care sector (19%), followed by manufacturing (15%), retail (13%), and professional fields (12%).
The city of Monroe has 9,466 jobs, primarily employing residents from within the city and in smaller communities to the east. The city's largest employer is the Washington State Department of Corrections, which operates the Monroe Correctional Complex and provides more than 1,100 jobs. Other large employers include the Monroe School District, the Cadman quarry, the Evergreen State Fair, EvergreenHealth Monroe, and large retailers. The city also has a large industrial park in the Fryelands area that was established in the 1990s and was fully developed by 2008, providing 24 percent of jobs in the city and 2.2 million square feet (200,000 m2) of space. The largest non-industrial job sectors include professional services, government, and retail, particularly big-box stores along the U.S. Route 2 corridor.
Aerial view of Monroe from the south, including the Monroe Correctional Complex, Evergreen State Fairgrounds, and Fryelands industrial area.
Monroe is located at the intersection of three highways: U.S. Route 2 (US 2), which travels eastward from Everett and over Stevens Pass to Eastern Washington; State Route 203, which follows the Snoqualmie River south towards Fall City and North Bend; State Route 522, an expressway which terminates in Monroe and connects the area to Seattle and Bothell to the southwest. Other major roads in Monroe include Main Street, which continues beyond the city limits towards Snohomish and Sultan; North Kelsey Street, which continues north to Chain Lake; and Fryelands Boulevard on the west edge of the city. US 2 is routinely congested through the Monroe area and plans for a highway bypass have been proposed since the 1970s, but it remains unfunded.
The city is bisected by the Scenic Subdivision, a major railroad owned by BNSF Railway that is used for freight and Amtrak's Empire Builder passenger service. Public transit in Monroe is provided by the countywide Community Transit system, with two local bus routes traveling along the US 2 corridor between Everett and Gold Bar, with some trips during peak periods continuing to the Boeing Everett Factory. A commuter bus route from Snohomish to Downtown Seattle runs during peak periods on State Route 522 and Interstate 405, stopping at a park and ride lot in Monroe with 102 stalls. Snoqualmie Valley Transportation operates a daily shuttle service between Monroe and Duvall on weekdays.
Monroe also has a privately owned airfield, First Air Field, located adjacent to the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. The single-runway facility handles an average of 50 takeoffs and landings per day and has 73 aircraft based there.
The city's public utilities are provided by the municipal government, regional agencies, and private companies. Electrical services in Monroe are provided by the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD), a consumer-owned public utility that serves all of Snohomish County. The Snohomish County PUD delivers electricity to Monroe via a transmission corridor from their Snohomish substation to two substations in the city. Puget Sound Energy provides natural gas service to the city's residents and businesses using a pipeline from Canada. Telecommunications services, including telephones, cable television, and internet, are split between Verizon and Comcast. The city government has a waste disposal contract with Waste Management, which provides curbside garbage, recycling, and yard waste collection.
The city government manages tap water and sewage services, which includes treatment and delivery. Monroe's tap water is purchased from the City of Everett and sourced from Lake Chaplain in the Sultan River basin, which travels via a pipeline to the north of the city. Sewage and wastewater is collected and cleaned at a sewage treatment plant that discharges into the Skykomish River. The largest customer for the city's water services is the Washington State Department of Corrections, which also has its own sewage treatment system.
Monroe has a 112-bed general hospital operated by EvergreenHealth and formerly known as the Valley General Hospital. It was opened in 1949, replacing a facility at the State Poor Farm, and was expanded several times with funds from voter-approved tax levies. It was merged into the EvergreenHealth system, based out of Kirkland, in 2014 and renamed to EvergreenHealth Monroe Medical Center the following year. The city also has several small medical clinics, including those operated by Providence Health & Services and SeaMar Community Health Centers.
A non-profit arts council for Monroe was founded in 2003 and sponsors art projects and events in the city using small government grants. The arts council sponsored the creation of a 80-foot (24 m) mural depicting the ecosystem of local rivers that was installed on a building in downtown Monroe in 2004. The arts council renovated an elementary school auditorium into the city's performing arts center in the 2010s after a plan to build a dedicated facility was shelved.
Part of the 1981 drama biographic film Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was filmed in Monroe. The 2002 horror film The Ring and its sequel, The Ring Two, were both partially filmed in Monroe and Stanwood. A scene in the pilot for the web television series The Man in the High Castle was filmed at the Lewis Street Bridge on State Route 203.
The Wagner Performing Arts Center in downtown Monroe
The city is home to the annual Evergreen State Fair, a county fair which takes place in late August and early September at a fairground located northwest of downtown Monroe. It is the second largest fair in Washington state, behind the Puyallup Fair, and attracts approximately 350,000 over its twelve-day run. The city also has an annual parade during the opening weekend of the fair in late August. The 200-acre (81 ha) fairgrounds are owned by the county government and also host other events year-round. The fairgrounds also include the Evergreen Speedway, a racetrack that hosted the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series from 1995 to 2000.
The Snohomish County Explosion, a semi-professional basketball team playing in the International Basketball League and the National Athletic Basketball League, hosted its games at Monroe Sports Arena on the high school campus from 2008 to 2010 between stints in Everett.
The Reptile Zoo, formerly the Washington Serpentarium, is a roadside animal park for reptiles that is located on U.S. Route 2 east of Monroe. The 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) building houses 150 creatures and attracts 40,000 annual visitors. It was previously located in Gold Bar but moved to the Monroe area in 2003.
Monroe has 14 parks with a total area of 207 acres (84 ha), of which 62.6 acres (25.3 ha) is designated as usable space. The city government's parks and recreation department maintains the parks and organizes recreational events for residents alongside private organizations like the YMCA. Monroe also has 14 miles (23 km) of multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trails that connect neighborhoods and parks. The city's largest park is Al Borlin Park, a 90-acre (36 ha) nature preserve with hiking trails located on the peninsula formed by the Skykomish River and Woods Creek. The city is also located near two county-owned parks: Lord Hill Regional Park, a 1,300-acre (530 ha) nature reserve with wilderness trails; and Fairfield Park, a facility with several soccer fields near the western city limits.
The largest community park in Monroe is the 64.5-acre (26.1 ha) Lake Tye Park, which comprises sports playfields, a skate park, and a 49-acre (20 ha) artificial lake that is stocked with fish. In the 2010s, a private developer proposed construction of a water park on Lake Tye, but the plan remains unfunded. In 2014, the city government proposed constructing a seven-mile (11 km) pedestrian and bicycle trail to Snohomish that would connect with the regional Centennial Trail.
The Monroe Monitor and Valley News is a local weekly newspaper that is published in Monroe by the Pacific Publishing Company. It was founded in 1899 as the Monitor and later acquired two other newspapers operating in the Skykomish Valley: the Monroe Transcript in 1908 and the Valley News in 1985, based in Sultan. The area is also served by The Everett Herald and The Seattle Times, the daily newspapers in the northern Puget Sound region.
Monroe has a public library operated by the Sno-Isle Libraries system, which serves most of Snohomish County. The city's first library opened in 1906 at a private home and later moved to the city hall, where it remained until a dedicated library building was opened in 1966 by Sno-Isle. The library building was expanded by Sno-Isle in 1987 and replaced with the current library building in 2002, located near the civic campus. The new library cost $6.8 million to construct and has 84,000 items in a 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2) building. The Monroe library serves a population of 36,622 residents, including areas surrounding Monroe, and circulated over 291,000 items in 2014.
Monroe's former city hall, now used as a historical museum
Monroe's local historical society was established in 1976 and maintains a museum that opened in 1982 at the former city hall in downtown Monroe, built in 1908. The museum has pieces of local memorabilia, including a carved canoe and equipment from closed businesses, and a large collection of historical photographs. The historical society also hosts an exhibit during the Evergreen State Fair at the Shannahan Cabin, a historic home built in the 1880s and moved to the fairgrounds in the 1960s; the cabin is also listed on the county's register of historic places. The fairgrounds are also home to the Western Heritage Center, a county-owned museum that has a collection of agricultural and industrial artifacts that were donated for display.
The downtown area has several historic buildings that were constructed in the early 20th century and preserved by local owners and groups. At the northeast end of downtown is a 150-foot (46 m) landmark steam stack, the last remnant of a Carnation milk condensery plant that was built in 1908 and burned down in 1944.
The administration building for the Monroe School District, located in a former downtown elementary school
The EvergreenHealth Monroe Medical Center