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Concrete, Washington

Concrete is a town in Skagit County, Washington, USA. The population was 790 at the 2000 census. It is included in the Mount Vernon-Anacortes, Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The town's beginnings

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:

The Henry Thompson Bridge was 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 it is currently listed on the National Historic Register. Until 1972, when the Washington State Department of Transportation re-routed Highway 20 outside the town, the Thompson Bridge was the connecting thoroughfare across the Baker River and into eastern Skagit County.

When the Lower Baker Dam was completed in 1925 and two years later raised to , it was the highest hydroelectric dam in the world as of 1927. It is currently owned, operated, and maintained by Puget Sound Energy. The Historic Concrete Theater was 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 has reopened to host local bands and show second-run film releases. It is listed on the State Registry of Historic Sites and is reportedly host to a few "other-worldy spirits" that visit on a regular basis. The official website for the theatre can be viewed at: http://concretetheatre.net/

Concrete High School was built in 1952 with the typical and necessary scholastic appointments and one visible and unusual difference: the center of the school 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 (the only street leading to the property) 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. Concrete High School maintains a website found at http://www.concrete.k12.wa.us/hs.html

Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church hasn't always been a church. Its beginnings were, in fact, as a hospital built in 1909 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 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.

Notable happenings

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. He 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), calmed neighbors 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) world-wide.

On April 27, 2008 at approximately 2:00 p.m., the historic 'Old Grade School' building caught fire. Despite fire fighters' efforts, the building could not be saved. According to the Skagit County Sheriff's Department in a press release, two 11 year olds and one 12 year old boy were later interviewed and allegedly revealed that they had been playing with lighters and set a mattress on fire, claiming that they thought they had put it out before they left.

Though an initial attempt was made to remodel the exterior of the building with a "castle motif", this was abandoned, and the property had sat dormant for over 20 years. Firefighters from nearby Sedro Woolley, Burlington and other surrounding areas responded to help battle the blaze. Not able to enter the intensely heated building, they could only contain the fire within the concrete exterior walls and keep it from spreading to surrounding businesses and trees that are located just to the rear of the structure. Though the adjacent part of the former school building was not visibly harmed, the three story building—a long time landmark (and arguably an eyesore), was a complete loss.

Notable locals

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

Two such locally known and enterprising females decided that they would help bring Concrete into the 20th Century in a before-their-time fashion. In 1912, sisters Kate Glover and Nell Wheelock set out to build and install the first phone service in eastern Skagit County. Nell climbed the poles and strung the lines; Kate took care of the switchboard operation. The phone service was equipped with hand-crank-style phones that would ring into the switchboard serviced by Kate. The service these two gave was quick and often personal. In the event that no one answered the line being rung by the operator, Kate or her niece 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. Naturally, with progress came change, and the sisters ended up selling their phone company to a larger company that based their service out of Mount Vernon, "downriver". Gone was the personal service and caring that the two sisters provided, but their names have remained legend in Concrete.

Another local notable is internationally-known author Tobias Wolff, who spent a large part his teenage years in the Concrete area. His 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). The novel was also turned into the 1993 feature film (of the same name) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Ellen Barkin. Wolff's troubled and often turbulent world living in the area with his abusive stepfather is portrayed rather frankly in the movie, and raised some cries of protest from his stepfather's three children. The exterior scenes of Concrete (as well as some interior scenes) were filmed in 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.

One of the more famous locals is Liam Walsh, who has recently moved into the area from Ireland. Liam is an upstanding member of the thriving Irish community in Concrete and is rumoured to hold large "sessions" in his local residence, where tuborg is the beer of choice. Liam has a long and illustrious Irish history which includes being a member of the prestigious "Greystones Crew" who are known for their wild antics and notoriously delish lives in general.

Festivals and celebrations

Annually, Concrete celebrates the seasons with a number of festivals. The beginning of February brings the Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival which attracts visitors from all walks of life and around the country to see the largest convergence of bald-eagles in the contigious United States. The weekend festival includes an interpretive center, vendors, lectures, and Native story-telling and dancing. The official website can be found at http://www.skagiteagle.org/bef/index.html

The Old-Fashioned Concrete Fly-In is held around the end of July for one weekend and brings small aircraft and their pilots to Concrete Municipal Airport. Homemade, antique, and various other small aircraft are on display along with food vendors and souvenir booths. Frequently, helicopter and airplane rides over the Skagit River with spectacular views of Mount Baker and the North Cascade Mountains are available for a fee.

Cascade Days is a summer weekend celebration that offers live music, a parade, fire-fighter and logging contests, bed races, a chili cook-off, and historic-town tours. Once a celebration that offered a professional carnival, street dance and a festival queen contest, Cascade Days has a notorious past that caused the festival to be cancelled for a number of years due to brawls and drunk-and-disorderly charges given to more people than local law enforcement could handle. Starting in the 1980s the efforts of locals brought a new kind of celebration which changed its name from "North Cascade Days" to the "Concrete Good Old Days". When that festival was deemed to need a new face, the town decided that it would be appropriate to bring back some of the former flavor and re-adopted the name "Cascade Days" in 2005. Cascade Days is held annually the third weekend of August. More up-to-date information can be found at: http://cascadedays.com/ and http://www.concrete-wa.com/attractions.html

Geography

Concrete is located at (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.

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.

References

External links

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